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A young woman asked me if politics was dangerous work. I want a different answer



I

t has been a week of mourning in politics. Last Friday I was conducting my constituency surgery like hundreds of MPs around the country. The surgery is where residents come to raise specific cases with me. This time it included a young pregnant woman facing eviction and a resident whose life was being threatened. I help where I can, by writing on their behalf, putting them in touch with the right organisation, or sharing ideas on what to do next.

Surgeries are the bread and butter of our job and probably the place where, as an opposition MP, I can have the most impact. After my meetings ended, I glanced at my phone and saw several missed calls from my mother. It didn’t take me long to realise that our colleague Sir David Amess had been stabbed while running his own surgery. I took a moment to process the news before calling to reassure my mother, feeling dismay. It was only five years ago that my friend Jo Cox was murdered on the way to her surgery.

On Saturday, I met up with my office manager Oliver who was understandably shaken as he accompanies me to surgeries. We spoke about how the best part of my job was interacting with and representing residents. I didn’t fight to win the country’s most marginal seat because I wanted to sit in dark committee rooms in Westminster. I did it because I wanted to represent and engage with the more than 100,000 people in Hampstead and Kilburn.

I did a walkabout on a local council estate the next day. A resident said, “I didn’t really think politics was a dangerous profession.”

Back in Parliament on Monday, I listened to the tributes for Sir David in the chamber. The truth is that his killing was an attack on democracy. As in any sector with a sudden high rate of violence at work, there should be a root-and-branch review of how MPs work.

On Tuesday, I spoke in Parliament about the plight of my constituent Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and attended the Maintained Nursery Schools rally in Parliament Square. It was surreal to get back to normal parliamentary business after what had happened.

Local religious figures at a meeting on Wednesday said they were concerned about my safety. They wanted to know what the next step was, but the truth is there are no immediate solutions. However, we know where some of the broader issues lie. We need to remind ourselves that we iron out political differences at the ballot box, not through violence. We need to stop abuse on social media that is dressed up as political discourse. We also need a conversation about the other public sector workers at heightened risk due to failed services in the communities they serve — the lack of funding for mental health services and cuts to the police and community centres to name two.

Yesterday, I spoke at a local school where young women asked me if politics was a dangerous line of work. I don’t want to put them off from entering politics, but also don’t feel I can be mendacious. We need to change our political culture and discourse. The next time I’m asked that question, I want to give an emphatically different and stronger answer. We owe it to the next generation.



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