Tom Middlehurst, Head of Policy, SSAT, writes…
On Thursday 16th June I was travelling back to London from Knowsley after a day exploring the implications of the Conservatives’ plans for increased academisation with maintained primary school heads. Early on into my train journey, the news that MP Jo Cox had died in hospital from her wounds began to appear on social media.
I had never met Jo, but had heard positive comments from her politician colleagues, and others of all political persuasions. I was surprised how much the news affected me. As other people in the carriage heard the news there were audible gasps and under-the-breath expletives. I found I had tears in my eyes.
An elected MP, a wife and a mother of two young girls, had been shot three times while carrying out surgery duties in her constituency. Whatever the motives of her attacker, this was an attack on all of our democracies and political freedoms.
Whatever the motives of [Jo Cox’s] attacker, this was an attack on all of our democracies and political freedoms.
In what had already been a deeply upsetting and unsettling news week, I wanted to do something.
I felt compelled to send a message to my local MP, Labour’s Lyn Brown. Lyn and I have clashed several times and share little political ideology. However, rightly or wrongly, I wanted to let her know that I value what she does as my MP and the political service she carries out. Lyn’s public reply to me moved me even more deeply. On such a dark day, it is right to set political differences aside and recognise that all MPs put themselves on the frontline daily, and get very little thanks.
I decided that, as had happened on the following Monday with vigils for the victims of the Orlando shooting taking place in gay comunities across the globe, it is important to come together in times of conflict. I tweeted Lyn again using the hashtag #ThankYourMP. I then suggested to various prominent journalists and tweeters that on Thursday evening we all #ThankYourMP, regardless of our political convictions, for the public service they provide.
On such a dark day, it is right to set political differences aside and recognise that all MPs put themselves on the frontline daily, and get very little thanks.
The result was overwhelming, with positive messages of gratitude coming from thousands of constituents to MPs of every party. I am very proud that, through generous tweets and retweets and many others supporting the idea, the hashtag soon trended at number one in the UK, and continued to through that Thursday night and into Friday.
Inevitably some people used the hashtag to express feelings of frustration at their local MP, and at Westminster in general. However, the overwhelming response was positive and affirming.
Since, I have received unpleasant trolling due to my decision to promote #ThankYourMP. I understand people’s frustration at the political classes, but I am astonished that, in light of Thursday’s event, we cannot come together to appreciate the work that all MPs put in.
In my role at SSAT, I am privileged to meet and work with many MPs from all parties. I have yet to meet an MP who stands for office for any self-promotion or self-motive. What unites all MPs is that they genuinely want to make the world better – they just fundamentally disagree about how to achieve that, and what ‘better’ means.
In the largely left-leaning education sector, it is easy to demonise Michael Gove, Nicky Morgan and Nick Gibb. But does anyone, anyone, really think they want to harm children? I have little doubt, my own political persuasions aside, that Gove’s reforms were based on a desire for social justice; making state education closer aligned to private education and therefore making the most disadvantaged students’ experiences of schools more like those of the most advantaged.
We can, and should, disagree and debate educational policy and departmental decisions. But it’s deeply unhelpful and unthinking to make pantomime villains of any politicians.