LIKE all of us who knew Jo Cox, and many who didn’t, having to watch again scenes from the day she was murdered in Birstall and hearing in a detail we’d rather not know of events from that day, has been incredibly difficult.
The sadness tinged with anger that I feel is quickly checked when I am reminded of how Jo’s family are responding to their unimaginable loss: with immense, strength, courage, love and humanity.
Brendan, Kim, Jean and Gordon have not only been great examples to us all, their love and strength is drawn from, and reflects, Jo and how she lived her life. As the verdict and sentencing in her murder trial are delivered, it’s her life and not the manner of her death that we should remember.
I first met Jo (then Leadbeater) nearly 20 years ago as we both found ourselves working as young researchers in Parliament as part of the wave of new MPs and their staff after the Labour landslide victory in the 1997 General Election.
Those were heady days, full of hope, optimism and energy. Jo and I quickly bonded as we recognised ourselves in each other – we were both Northern (me from the other side of the Pennines), state-educated, ordinary, young women.
Back then, that made us different from most others in the Westminster world. It would be something that we would discuss many years later as we both became Members of Parliament for our home town (city in my case) and we still pushed against barriers that we faced.
Jo was exceptionally bright and combined this with an open, warm and bubbly personality.
She quickly excelled in the arena that was her passion: international development and aid.
From working with Glenys Kinnock to becoming Head of Policy at Oxfam, we all knew she’d go far. I remember hearing her on the radio when she must have been in her late twenties, handling a tough interview on the formidable Today programme with confidence and ease.
Her background – “a Yorkshire lass” – was becoming a great asset as she was able to communicate complex and hidden issues to a much wider audience.
By the time she had decided to put herself forward to be the MP for Batley & Spen, Jo had a very clear sense of why she wanted the job and what she would do with it. Her only reservation was the impact becoming an MP would have on her young children Cuillin and Lejla. I had been elected a couple of years earlier and my children were a similar age. We discussed it at length and I reassured her. I reflect on that discussion a lot, but I would give the same advice today and I know Jo would too. She wouldn’t want fear to stop aspiring women from trying to change the world.
Parliament can easily swallow up new MPs with its myriad of processes, bills, committees and with the overwhelming number of demands and issues which cross your desk. That Jo was able to make such a massive impact so quickly, a bigger impact that some MPs are able to make in 10 years, proves how determined and focused she was.
She was relentless in demanding action to deal with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in Syria. She stood up for and brought together her community in Batley & Spen. And she selflessly and generously supported many others, from other MPs to school children in her constituency, fulfil their potential and make a contribution.
The love and empathy which she showed to so many – drawn from her very close and loving family – inspired her to establish The Loneliness Commission, which is such an important cause often forgotten in the public debate.
There’s no doubt for me that Jo would have been a very senior and important figure in the Labour Party, and in national and international politics, for many years to come.
It is her causes and the manner in which she determinedly pursed them that inspire The Jo Cox Foundation, an organisation set up in her name which people can donate to here Click here to donate.
As we hear the verdict and sentencing, instead of feeling anger and hatred, let’s remind ourselves of Jo’s life and be inspired by her love and caring. Let’s channel that either formally into her Foundation or by loving more like Jo, by calling on a neighbour, taking action against an injustice or by remembering we have more in common than that which divides us.
• Lucy Powell MP is the Labour and Co-operative Member of Parliament for Manchester Central.