By Leon Spence
In just a few short weeks I will come to the end of my term of office as a county councillor in Leicestershire. The four year term that I have served as the representative for my community of Whitwick has been one of the great privileges of my life.
In that space of time I have had the opportunity to work with people of all political persuasions who, over the years, I have come to respect and admire.
It was always my intention to leave my valedictory column as a county councillor until I had indeed finished doing the job, but then, last week, circumstances changed and I feel the need to say what I have long intended to right now.
Last Wednesday was the last council meeting of my term of office and it was always going to be something of a strange affair. As colleagues talk in the corridors and over lunch about the forthcoming elections and inevitably about whether they will be coming back – even when they occupy the very safest of seats politicians tend to be a pessimistic lot – I felt more than a little detached.
For the first time in the best part of ten years I knew that I wouldn’t be coming back; I didn’t have to pretend that I hated all the canvassing, I didn’t have to fake the embarrassment of seeing my name up on posters. I know that come the start of May I won’t have the sleepless nights over whether electoral victory will be the physical manifestation of all of that worn shoe leather.
For want of a better phrase I will be back to normality. I can’t wait.
So when I sat down for the start of the meeting, a rarity with the most threadbare of agendas, I knew it was simply a matter of getting through it; having the wherewithal not to look too bored for the cameras each time they panned past me; nodding and smiling in the right places as colleagues or opposition ramped up to the most party political of rhetoric. You would have thought there was an election coming.
So it perhaps comes as little surprise that as the meeting progressed I felt social media calling and flicked on the 24-hour bear pit that is Twitter.
It was only at that point, as I sat in my council chamber for the last time, that I became aware of the awful events that were developing 100 miles away in London and the subsequent lock-down of an altogether more historic and important elected body.
Over the years, like most western democracies, Britain has had to deal with its fair share of terrorism.
Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, bombings, both in Northern Ireland and on the mainland, were something we got used to.
Then we lived through the atrocity of 7/7 and we got used to the loss of life of Britons abroad; whether on that tragic day in September 2001 or on the beaches of Tunisia.
The murder of PC Keith Palmer last week was a tragedy, as were the deaths of three other innocent souls.
But let’s be honest, as a terrorist attack this supposed ‘lone wolf’ extremist, a man who I will not even give the dignity of naming, was a pathetic failure who did nothing to represent his religion and who will be forgotten in double-quick time.
No, the point that I want to focus on today is not the non-entity that perpetrated these attacks, rather the British spirit that responded to them.
There is a photograph that was taken in the wake of last week’s attack of a suited man, perhaps in his mid-forties or early fifties, his face covered in blood. The man is looking frustrated and helpless but it is there that the photograph ceases to tell the story.
The man in question is Conservative MP for Bournemouth East and junior Government minister Tobias Ellwood, and during last week’s atrocity Mr Ellwood didn’t retreat from danger like the vast majority of us would do but put his army training to the fore and, putting the threat of risk to himself to one side, went to see what he could do to assist.
The blood in that photograph on Mr Ellwood’s face was not his own but that of PC Palmer who he tried so very hard to save; the look of frustration was the face of a hero who did all he could to save a fallen man, who, despite all of the MP’s efforts, lost his battle.
The men who should be remembered following that attack in London are not the perpetrators but men like PC Palmer who died defending our democracy, and those like Tobias Ellwood MP who, with others, risked his life to protect our society.
But here is the point that I would like to make. Mr Ellwood, as well as being a hero, is an extremely loyal member of Theresa May’s government. Now, I am on record as being an admirer of Mrs May but it is probably fair to say that I haven’t completely agreed with all that her Government has done.
I am sure there are times when Mr Ellwood will have voted a different way to the position I believe to be right. Similarly, I feel absolutely certain that many of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and SNP MPs who lauded him last week will have disagreed with him on some fairly substantial issues.
And yet, virtually unanimously, all of those politicians acknowledged the true decency of Mr Ellwood.
By and large, ‘decent’ is exactly what the vast majority of politicians are.
The tears that were last year shed for Jo Cox, another MP at the centre of an horrific attack, were genuine across the house.
Speak to MPs and you will hear that Douglas Carswell, another Member of Parliament who has been in the news this week, is thought of for the most part as a thoroughly decent man.
In Britain we are very lucky to have the diligent, honest representatives that we do.
Anyone who has had the opportunity of working with the vast majority of them would attest to the same.
But, of course, not everybody has that opportunity and it is undoubtedly much easier to question the motives and character of someone you do not know.
Our political representatives do a marvellous job of balancing complex issues. They don’t always get things right but they do weigh the evidence and arrive at decisions that they believe to be the best option at a given point in time.
I have absolutely no doubt that for most who enter public life, politics and serving our communities and our nation is a vocation.
Truth be told it isn’t a surprise that people like Tobias Ellwood put himself at risk last week; it’s what people who have a sense of service do.
I think many of us would be surprised how many politicians, given the same opportunity and same circumstances, would have done the same.
Politicians may not put their lives at risk with the same regularity as our soldiers or policemen, but for most their sense of duty is equal to those who do.
Leon is a councillor, writer and charity trustee. You can follow him on Twitter @cllrleonspence
Picture: Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood (centre) helps emergency services attend to PC Keith Palmer. His response typifies the sense of service and duty that the overwhelming majority of British politicians have.
Picture by: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire/PA Images.