Last week, the House of Commons held a moving debate to mark five years since the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. Jo was elected to represent the parliamentary constituency of Batley and Spen at the 2015 General Election, having spent several years working for the international humanitarian charity Oxfam. She was married with two young children.
On 16 June 2016, she was on her way to meet constituents at a routine surgery when racist Thomas Mair shot her twice in the head and once in the chest with a modified .22 hunting rifle, and then stabbed her 15 times outside a local library. Her killer, who is now serving a life sentence without limit, was born in Kilmarnock but had spent most of his life in England. The toxic anti-immigration rhetoric of the Brexit campaign, then in full flight, helped fuel Mair's hatred of the liberally minded left. He saw them as the main enemies of white people. For him, Jo was a 'collaborator', a traitor to his race and a legitimate target. Thankfully, the debate did not focus on Thomas Mair at all, but only on the fantastic legacy of Jo Cox.
Many of her friends struggled with the emotion of the occasion as they remembered their former colleague. Her friend of over 20 years, Stephen Kinnock, broke down as he told of their time sharing an office, the privilege of getting to know her beautiful children when she brought them in with her.
He said: 'Jo was an internationalist to her fingertips, believing that we can do more good by working together with our friends and neighbours than we could ever do on our own. She wanted Britain to continue to be an open, tolerant and generous country – a country that engages with the world with its head held high, instead of turning its back on it'.
Can you imagine what she would have had to say about the shameful abandonment of the Afghan people?
The debate provided a fitting occasion for Jo's sister, the brave Kim Leadbeater, to make her own maiden speech as the newly elected MP for Batley and Spen. Time and time again, MPs talked of Jo's hope, energy, enthusiasm and optimism, and how all of these qualities have continued to deliver benefits long after her death. Over 20 million have participated now in the 'Great Get Together' events as well as the 'More in Common' volunteer groups and the Jo Cox Foundation. 'More in Common' refers to the famous line in her maiden speech in 2015: 'We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us'.
In June 2016, a number of artists got together to record a Friends of Jo Cox tribute, The Rolling Stones song, You can’t always get what you want
You can't always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well, you just might find
You get what you need
Also in June of that year, Oxfam announced it would release Stand as One – Live at Glastonbury
, an album of live performances from the 2016 festival in her memory. Proceeds from the album went towards helping the charity's work with refugees.
George Burns is credited with the famous quip: 'Sincerity – if you can fake that, you've got it made'. Jo reminded us that politicians at their best don't have to fake it.