In praise of public servants

Yesterday in Versailles, France honoured two murdered police officials. A national ceremony of homage led by the French president with hundreds of policewomen and men in dress uniform, all accompanied by drum rolls, funeral music and honour guards. Both were made posthumous members of the Légion d’Honneur.

Jessica Schneider Jean-Baptiste SalvaingCommandant Jean-Baptiste Salvaing (42), a very popular officer, and his companion, Jessica Schneider (36), an administrative assistant at the station where they both worked, were stabbed to death; he as he arrived at their home after work, she when the attacker burst into the house after the first killing. The couple’s three year old was present when the attacker slit his mother’s throat.

Neither was on duty, nor on a stake-out or chasing a suspect; she was at home with her child, possibly thinking about dinner, her working day, what they might all do at the weekend. Her partner coming home after tough day at office – the state of emergency is still on in France.

Jo Cox MPBritain is mourning the murder of a young MP who was in her constituency, a place she had grown up in. She was holding an open advice surgery for her constituents – an intrinsic part of an MP’s working life, often ignored by media and critics. An energetic and passionately sincere rising Parliamentary star Jo Cox (41) was respected across the political divide. According to eyewitnesses, she was shot three times – once near the head—and stabbed multiple times. Parliamentarians of all political shades united to condemn the attack and mourn the loss of this mother of two young children. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition (head of Jo Cox’s political party) and the Speaker of the House went to Birstall yesterday along with other Parliamentary colleagues to honour their murdered colleague.

Some have screeched police brutality, moaned about insensitivity and flinched at images of police charging rioters on TV. At a more mundane level, people find police checks tiresome, holding them up on their journeys. I was stopped locally for a routine check after the November killings in Paris. None of us is comfortable with burly men and women in uniform carrying heavy weapons on Charing Cross commuter platforms or at CDG Airport in Paris. We would far rather do without any of this.

And it’s been fun badmouthing MPs about expenses even if some were perfectly allowable, although duck houses were a tad off.

Yes, there are bad hats, twisters and corrupt public officials and these should be exposed and sanctioned. They work for us, we pay their salaries and they should not break our trust.

But much of the hype is exaggerated or even untrue. Public servants like police officials and MPs go into these jobs wishing to do good. A lot of their work consists of the quiet stuff; for MPs reading and writing papers, meeting constituents, serving on committees, promoting constituency and international initiatives and representing their party and Parliament; for police officers, similar administrative work, especially when heading a unit, but all the time dealing with the fall-outs from society, the accidentally and intentionally criminal and the mean, vicious and terrorist elements in society.

Both groups work long hours under pressure and sometimes make mistakes. Don’t we all? But they have been subject to persistent carping and attack, often not justified. I believe I’m thinking of the word ‘respect’.

The deaths of public servants Jean-Baptiste Salvaing, Jessica Schneider and Jo Cox have pulled us up short – they should.




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