Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott on why the murder of her colleague Jo Cox has left many female MPs feeling vulnerable.
There are certain shocking events that you will always remember where you were when you first heard the news. The death of Jo Cox is one of those events for me. I was working in the House of Commons library, when a staff member texted me about the attack. Hours later I heard she was dead.
It was shattering news. Most MPs pass away through illness or old age. But Jo’s death was as peculiarly horrific as it was untimely.
As she came out of her advice surgery, witnesses saw the attacker drag Jo by her hair; shoot her three times including in the head; knife her; kick her and then leave her lying in her own blood.
I believe that each and every Member of Parliament has been rocked by these events. My immediate thoughts were for her two small children. Sadly it is often an MP’s partner and children who pay the price for the politician’s public life.
But, having your mother gunned down in cold blood, is a price no child should have to endure.
I have been an MP for over twenty years, but we have never been more vilified than now.
So it is sad that it took Jo's horrible death to illuminate how hard most MPs work and how dedicated many MPs are. Jo was killed coming out of the regular session where she gave advice to her constituents in her Yorkshire constituency, something that is very much part of the regular routine for most of us.
Far from being some remote elite figure, Jo was a Yorkshire girl representing the area she was brought up in. She juggled family with her duties in her constituency and attending debates in Westminster. For Jo, her great passion was development and humanitarian causes.
Her career, before she entered parliament, was in aid and development. Once in Parliament she campaigned, in particular, for Syrian refugees. But Jo was not alone in juggling family life with Westminster, and feeling passionately about great causes.
Difficult as it is to persuade the public, most MPs, of whatever party, come into politics to make the world a better place. We may all disagree wildly on how to achieve this, but that is the common aim.
Since Jo’s death, I have discussed events with a number of other women MPs. Obviously, it was a horrifying event for everybody.
But it is hard to escape the conclusion that, the vitriolic misogyny that so many women politicians endure, framed the murderous attack on Jo.
It has been revealed that Jo contacted police on several occasions over threats made to her before her murder. And while the exact circumstances surrounding those threats have yet to be disclosed, it seems that new media has turbo-charged a culture of misogyny and violent threats.
When I first became an MP you had to go to the trouble of actually writing a letter (usually in green ink) to threaten a politician. Now the internet means the haters can send abuse and rape threats just by pressing a computer key. Anonymity means people can abuse you in terms they would never dream of, if they were face to face.
Like some other women MPs, I receive daily threats and racist abuse online. And my staff have already contacted the police three times in 2016 because of particularly serious threats. But mostly we don’t complain.
Our staff try and shield us from the worst of it, we block our Twitter abusers and get on with the job. But Jo’s death has left many women MPs feeling particularly vulnerable.
Jo Cox was a remarkable woman with the best years of her life ahead of her. Her death leaves two motherless small children. It is also a huge loss for her husband, her family, her constituents and her friends. And we, her Parliamentary colleagues, will always mourn her untimely passing.
Diane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
Photos: Rex Features