The coarsening of our political discourse might have played a partby John McTernan / June 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Killed in the line of duty.
There are public servants who know that there is risk—however small—when they go out to work. Soldiers. Police officers. Fire fighters.
But members of parliament?
The shock of the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox yesterday came from the sheer brutality of the attack. Then, like an aftershock, came the sense of outrage that she was killed at work, just doing her job. And that job—as friends, colleagues, journalists have attested to so well—was helping people with generosity, diligence and, so often, flair.
Senseless violence makes us mourn, and it freezes us in despair. But like a lightning bolt it doesn’t just have destructive power; it sheds a fierce light. We suddenly see ourselves and our country illuminated starkly, and it is not a comfortable experience. We learn of the hate mail that Jo Cox had been receiving, though not connected to this attack, and not solely aimed at her: other female MPs are targets too. And if we think, we can recall the vile—and at times violent—misogynist abuse received previously by Jess Phillips, Luciana Berger and Stella Creasy.
Ask around and you will find that many staff who work with MPs and who handle surgeries know about FTAC—the Fixated Threat Assessment Centre. FTAC was set up in 2006 and is a joint police and mental health operation to deal with the threat to prominent public figures from the fixated. As it says in the FAQs section on the FTAC’s website: “The fixated are those who have an obsessional pre-occupation (often delusional) with a person or a perceived grievance, which they pursue to an irrational degree.”
“The intense preoccupation in many cases drives out everything else, alienating friends and relatives, undermining social networks, and dissipating financial resources. The fixated are, in consequence of their fixation, isolated individuals.”
FTAC receive around a thousand referrals a year, and take up around 150 new cases a year. Again, if you talk to MPs or their staff you will learn that behaviour has to be very serious before it can be referred, well beyond what most of us would regard as…