As Saffron Walden Mayor I was asked to ‘say a few words’ at the Great Get Together/More In Common On The Common on Saturday in memory of Jo Cox MP. Here is what I said:
It is a privilege to be able to address you today, as the Mayor of Saffron Walden. But it is to mark a very sad occasion.
Jo Cox appears to have been the very essence of what a young politician should be. She was energetic, engaging and worked tirelessly for her community.
She was also fearless. Something for which she paid the price a short way into her term as Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen for just over a year before she died.
Most accounts refer to Jo as having been ‘murdered’. But this was not a murder. This was an assasination. Her death was to serve the warped purpose of a warped mind.
And her death is not just an insult to her and a disaster to those who loved her. It is an attack on all of us; it is an attack on the democracy in which we live and in which most of us believe.
It is an attack on the freedom of people to speak freely; and in particular, on the freedom of our elected politicians to speak as they see fit.
As we enjoy this beautiful part of England, on a lovely summer’s day, forgive me if I remind you of the events which took place in that church – the local Parish church of St Mary the Virgin – during the English Civil war. Events which, according to some, formed the basis of our representational democracy; the principle that one person is selected and chosen to act on their behalf. We use it still – every time we vote for councillors and members of parliament.
The attack on Jo Cox was designed to un-make all this. It does so by making others less willing to follow Jo’s path. The inevitable outcome is that fewer and fewer people will put themselves forward for this kind of public service. And Jo was precisely the sort of person we need in Parliament.
Our democracy is not just vulnerable to assassins who lurk on the streets. Untruths can assassinate ideals and ideas, just as surely as the untimely death of a politician. Political assassination can occur through the press, through the media.
It falls to us to guarantee the physical safety of our politicians and other elected representatives; and also to make sure that the truth can still be heard. Both are hard tasks; but if we are not equal to them, then we shall be party to the ending of English democracy.
Enjoy this lovely day and the fact that we live in a town where ‘togetherness’ is so important to us. But please – do not forget – that Democracy is not a given. It needs our work and our vigilance to maintain it.
Cllr Dr Richard Freeman, Town Mayor, Saffron Walden 17th June 2017