Jo Cox, one of our finest and most principled politicians, is dead and a man from Birstall has been charged with her murder. By the time this appreciation appears, many words will have been written about Jo and even more tears will have been shed. She was an outstanding MP and a truly lovely person whose presence warmed everyone around her. Writing this just three days after her death, I still find it difficult to watch the television news without crying and still occasionally harbour the hope that it’s all just a bad dream. But it isn’t. She’s gone, leaving a grieving family, friends and colleagues – and a terrible sense of loss and bewilderment in the communities around Batley and Spen where she grew up and represented so well. She was a true Yorkshire lass who was loved by her constituents.
She was no ordinary MP. Despite her relative youth, she was a seasoned campaigner, having worked for national charities like Oxfam. She brought huge experience to her job as MP, being elected for her home patch of Batley and Spen as recently as 2015. In the short time between being elected and her death, she achieved some remarkable things. Her international work focused on Syria. She intervened in parliamentary debates on the tragedy, bringing a distinct, humanitarian perspective to the conflict. Behind the scenes she played an energetic role in trying to bring about a resolution to the conflict and forced the government to take a more enlightened approach towards refugees and their re-settlement in the UK.
Truly, she was returning to her working class roots in the area
Equally important, her work as a constituency MP was outstanding. Batley and Spen has some very deprived communities and is ethnically diverse. The suspicions that some local people had about a Cambridge-educated MP were quickly dispelled when she proved her warmth, engagement and understanding of her people. Truly, she was returning to her working class roots in the area.
I got to know her through her work with the local community group Friends of Batley Station. She backed this campaign to bring the station back to its former glory with enthusiasm and energy. Only two weeks before her murder she supported the community gala at the station, marking the completion of the station’s refurbishment. It was great fun – and Jo really brought a sense of fun and excitement to her activities.
She was a member and great advocate of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, the campaign for democratic devolution in the north. She was the only MP in this parliament to actually pay her subs to be a member! Working with her on these issues revealed a politician who wasn’t prepared to toe anybody’s line and was totally committed to working in alliance with politicians from beyond Labour. This happened with Syria and many other issues. She was critical of the Corbyn leadership but wouldn’t ever support backroom conspiracies by the right to undermine him. If she had critical comments to make, she did so openly. She was a woman of real principle and we are all much diminished without her.
Courtesy of Chartist magazine. Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Julie Ward, Labour MEP for the North West
Like me, Jo was in her first term as an elected representative and, like me, she came from a campaigning background. Her longstanding and tireless work supporting Syrian refugees (and other people caught up in conflict or suffering) mirrors my own continuing work aimed at raising awareness of today’s most urgent crisis.
Younger and far more educated than me, Jo was a rising star in the field of international aid, becoming senior policy adviser for Oxfam GB as well as leading on the charity’s trade reform campaigns in Brussels, where I now work. Her election came a year after mine amidst a growing refugee crisis in Europe and it now seems increasingly likely that her care and concern for Syrian refugees in particular provoked hatred of her.
Compassionate, driven women who speak up the loudest are not immune from homegrown hatred
Like many of us, Jo was a victim of online abuse. I have been on the receiving end of violent, threatening and sexually abusive social media posts, which I try to ignore by blocking accounts. The abuse started as soon as my name was announced on the regional list but the temperature ramped up the minute I won a third seat back for Labour in the European elections of May 2014. I stood against Nick Griffin, the now disgraced BNP leader and infamous Holocaust denier, and conducted much of my campaign in towns where the BNP had taken their “Truth Van”, screaming Islamaphobic hate from megaphones outside school gates to waiting parents.
What seems clear from Jo’s death is that compassionate, driven women who speak up the loudest against the greatest global injustices are not immune from homegrown hatred. In a climate of fearmongering where the “other”, it seems, is always to blame for domestic woes, we risk a good deal more than we bargained for. One has to ask oneself, is it worth the risk? Jo leaves a devoted partner and two children, as well as a political party newly invigorated by many women just like her.
Visit gofundme.com/jocox where Jo Cox’s friends and family are raising funds to support causes closest to her heart.