The moment I realised the importance of politics

I’ve never written about politics before. It’s never seemed completely appropriate for this blog and, as eloquent political speakers in the world go, I am definitely not one of them.

But today, the news of Jo Cox, Labour MP, being murdered after a constituency meeting in a West Yorkshire library has brought me to tears… and brought me to blogging.

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Image via The Guardian

I didn’t know Jo Cox. I’ve never seen her speak and didn’t know of her professional or political history until today. But when my Guardian app popped up with news of her shooting, I felt utter despair.

In the last few weeks I have been consumed by the hatred in this world. I have watched Donald Trump continue time after time to be a sexist, racist, misogynist; I have watched the horrific events in Orlando take place, I have seen unbelievable lies spread by the UK’s ‘Brexit’ campaign to leave the EU, and I have read more articles than I can count on the horrific story of Stanford rapist Brock Turner and the judge’s appalling justification for his six months sentence.

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And  with all of this in my head, in the world, I felt unable to cope with the news that one of our MP’s  could be shot and stabbed to death on the streets of Yorkshre in broad daylight. A woman who once said;

“I never really grew up being political or Labour. It kind of came at Cambridge where it was just a realisation that where you were born mattered, that how you spoke mattered … who you knew mattered. I didn’t really speak right or knew the right people. I spent the summers packing toothpaste at a factory working where my dad worked and everyone else had gone on a gap year. To be honest my experience at Cambridge really knocked me for about five years.”

The Guardian article went on to say that “Cox [became] an aid worker in developing countries, and became Oxfam’s head of global policy. Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy, who previously worked for Cox said: “Jo is a brilliant committed activist for social justice with boundless energy and kindness who made a huge contribution at Oxfam.”

I haven’t always been in to politics. My grandparents were Conservative voters through and through, and by stark contrasts my parents were Liberal Democrat supporters. Politics were never discussed in our house; I can’t remember a time growing up when the decisions we were making were related to our government or my parents political viewpoint and so, when I turned 18 and had the right to a vote that many women before me had fought to achieve, it just didn’t matter to me.

When I got together with R, I felt slightly (very) out of my depth. His family start and end most dinner times with conversations related to politics (food is the only topic that comes in the middle) and challenging each other’s political views was not only accepted, it was expected. I didn’t even know what my political views were, never mind how to articulate them.

But that said, I cared deeply about societal issues form a young age, I just didn’t relate this interest to any political agenda. In my first sales job, I felt a bit uncomfortable that I was selling products to the pharmaceutical industry – and I couldn’t understand why it was acceptable for the medical community to be influenced by big businesses. When I started working for a Further Education College, I regularly got into debates about the need to promote apprenticeships and vocational education to young people of all abilities and not just ‘the poor kids who were crap at school’. I argued about fair access to quality education, and the importance of practical skills and the service industry – and the need to respect and admire these skills instead of comparing them to Economics degrees from Oxford University.

It was only when I left education and moved in to Social Housing that I realised the very direct link between my views and the political parties. I designed employability programmes for the long-term unemployed, worked with the DWP’s Work Programme and became all too aware of the horrors facing the people living in our benefit system. Horrors that could happen to any one of us. I started working on programmes that helped people survive the Bedroom Tax, I worked to promote careers in construction and engineering to young women, and I joined the diversity network when I became all too uncomfortable that our board of executive directors included five white men in their fifties, and just one woman.

Finally, my career took me to social responsibility. I feel like the job I have found is the job I was always meant to have. I manage the impact my company has on society, and work to ensure our strategy and operations leave the country in a better place than we found it. I spend my day talking about the need to look beyond the balance sheet and see the value in culture, in employment, in health and wellbeing, and in positive societal change.

And so today, when Jo Cox was shot by a man allegedly shouting ‘Britain First’ in the week before our country votes on whether or not to stay in Europe, I realised just how political I have become.

I don’t understand every news article, every policy, every debate, but I understand that Tory policies do not prioritise and protect the people I believe need our support and protection. Thanks to the Tory government and the right-wing press, I feel our working class are demonised at every opportunity, the disabled and long-term sick are left at the bottom of a very big pile, food bank usage is at an all time high, and our public services are breaking and under the threat of privatisation.

I understand that my job exists because there is a need for us as a society to take responsibility to support local communities and promote equality across Britain. I understand that without a group of people fighting day in, day out for the country we want to live in, I am scared of what it will eventually become.

Dramatic? Maybe. I thought about this earlier in the week when @meandorla and I were on Twitter feeling sad about the world.

As I thought about all the horrible things that have happened in the world before now – world wars, apartheid, the holocaust – I figured that surely things are getting better. Surely. But somehow, right now, it feels like it’s all about to get worse.

With all of these thoughts whirling around my head, I got off the train, got into my car at the station car park, and sobbed as I listened to Radio 4 break the news of the murder of Jo Cox. Whatever comes next, I just hope it’s positive.

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