Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Jo Cox: Others can speak of her far better

I did not know Jo Cox, the MP murdered whilst doing constituency duties. I am not a fan of party politicians but I have to lift my cynicism when talking of the constituency work which the vast majority of MPs do diligently even if they find it difficult dealing with someone who is not a supporter.

I listened to the House of Commons tributes and without exception found them moving, relevant and appropriate without political grandstanding. I was fortunate that after the Commons tributes, the BBC played recorded coverage of the Lords tributes.

One contribution seemed to stand out and because Parliamentary Copyright encourages us to make use of parliamentary material, I can republish the tribute so that a few more people can stumble across it, appreciate it and ponder its message.

It was said that Jo Cox “would want us to be talking about the policies as much as the personality.” This tribute did just that.

Baroness King of Bow (Lab)

I knew Jo because we both worked for the Kinnocks, for the Browns and for the Labour Women’s Network—which Jo chaired—and we both had a habit of ending up in refugee camps. In the run-up to Jo’s election as an MP, she told me that my diary of being an MP had nearly put her off. “The thing is,” she said, “my constituency could never cause me as much grief as yours”. This is the only thing Jo was wrong about.

Jo has suffered more than any one of us in Parliament. Jo has given more than any one of us in Parliament. Therefore, Jo now represents more than any one of us in Parliament. She represents civilisation in much the same way as her murderer represents barbarism. Glenys—my noble friend Lady Kinnock—told us that Jo was no saint but let me tell you why she was an angel. She is one of a tiny percentage of the world’s population, a truly infinitesimally small percentage, who genuinely care about other people’s children as much as they care for their own and then act on that.

Apart from being an angel, Jo was also a proper policy person. She would want us to be talking about the policies as much as the personality. Because she was angel, she would most likely be the first to point out that we must not just rage against her murderer. We must seek to understand what leads an isolated, mentally ill man to kill. What is that whipped him up into a frenzy? Who is it who whipped him up into a frenzy, because it was not Jo? Or did all of us whip him into a frenzy? Was it Britain’s public discourse that whipped him into a frenzy? Then our cultural discourse must change and that must be Jo’s legacy—a kinder, more tolerant Britain.

In that kinder Britain, one of the first questions must be: just how many isolated and mentally ill people are there among us? Which policy failures have contributed to their plight? Why are those isolated mentally ill people not our priority, rather than our afterthought? Why are we not heeding the police when they say that the single biggest factor shared by extremists who carry out terror attacks, whether Islamic extremists or white British nationalists, is untreated mental health issues? Jo would ask why our mental health services are Cinderella services—in fact, she asked that in Parliament. Another question that she always asked was why poorer communities in general and refugees in particular are always the ones to pay the highest price.

A few weeks ago, speaking in favour of the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs on refugee children, Jo said:

“Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death, or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary … Who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror … Children are being killed on their way to school … I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole”.

It is hard to think about Jo’s two precious babies today, even if they have an extraordinary family and a father, Brendan, who radiates love and is surely the most dignified man in Britain. Jo concluded:

“Any Member who has seen the desperation and fear on the faces of children trapped in … camps across Europe must surely feel compelled to act. I urge them … to be brave and bold”.—[Official Report, Commons, 25/4/16; cols. 1234-35.]

That is what Jo said and that is how I conclude this tribute to her. I urge everyone who contributes to Britain’s public discourse to be brave and bold—bold enough to be kind and brave enough to be tolerant. I ask parliamentarians to transcribe Jo’s kindness into legislation, because that is how we drain the hate that killed her. Tragedy brings focus. Jo represents us now in a way that others do not. Jo’s words mean even more now and, unless we heed the tone of her words, her life could have been lost in vain. Not just for the sake of Jo but for the sake of British democracy, that can never be.
Hansard, House of Lords, 20 June 2016, Vol 773 | Jo Cox MP, 3:13
Contains Parliamentary information licensed under the Open Parliament Licence v3.0.

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