Tom Richmond: Jo Cox was a shining light of hope who put people first

A photo is left amongst floral tributes in Birstall, after Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death in the street outside her constituency advice surgery.
A photo is left amongst floral tributes in Birstall, after Jo Cox was shot and stabbed to death in the street outside her constituency advice surgery.
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UNLIKE the irreplaceable and inspirational Jo Cox who Yorkshire, Britain and the world now mourns, Gabrielle Giffords was the American congresswoman who did survive an equally senseless attempt on her life five years ago.

And when she says that the Batley & Spen MP’s murder “is a manifestation of a coarseness in our politics that must stop”, these poignant words of defiance must be heeded. Praising the courage of this “rising star”, Ms Giffords added. “The scores of events that I and so many others like Jo Cox have hosted represent the importance of a democracy connected to its citizens.”

Even though there are times when politics does not help itself, whether it be the distasteful EU referendum or the even more tawdry presidential contest in America, it should not have taken the shocking murder of this ‘local lass’, a champion of compassion, for there to be an appreciation of the work that our maligned representatives undertake on behalf of all.

If the tone, and terms, of political debate is so toxic that iron bars stand between MPs and the public when they attend constituency surgeries, such as Thursday’s fateful forum at Birstall Library, the very principle of democratic representation will be bankrupt if security has to take precedence over accessibility.

Born and bred in Batley, and the first member of her family to attend university, it is a painful and tragic irony of fate that Jo Cox, just 41, lost her life so close to her home town when she had spent so much time working with the impoverished in so many of the world’s troublespots.

To describe this Labour politician as MP for Batley & Spen, in addition to being a loving wife and doting mother to her two adorable children now left without a mum, does a dreadful disservice to a one-off whose constituency had no boundaries because she was a beating heart of humanity whose mission was to make the world a better place. What is the crime in that?

It is also a measure of Jo Cox’s contribution, since being elected in May last year, that flags flew at half mast, EU referendum campaigning was halted out of respect and the even more pointless football hooliganism in France was knocked off the front pages. This was borne out by the moving tributes from her constituents – Jo’s people. Two stood out. One was a youngster who wrote a letter requesting that a school crossing patroller be reinstated. A mundane matter, she made it important and persuaded Kirklees Council to think again. No fuss or fanfare, just an MP doing their job.

The other was a family of an autistic child whose needs had been repeatedly overlooked by officialdom and were the subject of a passionate and pugnacious debate in Parliament earlier this year. Their tribute was profound – Jo Cox, they said, listened when others did not. When every door appeared to have been slammed in their face, she opened them and this family were proud to call their MP their friend as they mourned their champion.

Why does this matter? Jo Cox was not unique, even though the focus is understandably on her as the police had the grim task of removing her blood-soaked coat, bag and possessions from the pavement where she was shot and knifed to death.

Her example is emblematic of the brilliant community and policy work undertaken by most MPs on our behalf. Their reward? Brickbats – or, worse still, torrents of vitriol and personal abuse on social media – from an ungrateful public when the probity of a tiny minority of MPs brings politics into disrepute.

It was summed up by Stephen Kinnock who entered Parliament on the same day as Ms Cox. They shared adjoining offices – and he likened this doughty Yorkshirewoman to a human dynamo who never stopped working. “She was a politician but, above all else, she was a person,” he said.

Yet, while this killing prompts much soul-searching about the public’s relationship with MPs, it would be remiss of a sorrowful Westminster establishment not to ask whether its tribalism has fuelled the irrational “hatred” identified by the aforementioned Ms Giffords.

Jo Cox was her own woman. She was a Labour MP prepared to think the unthinkable – military intervention – over Syria and set out her reasons with conviction. And, when she wanted to highlight the bloodshed in the Middle East, she reached out to Andrew Mitchell, the former International Development Secretary.

Some on the Labour benches would never have dreamt of working with the Tory ‘enemy’. Not this five foot Yorkshirewoman who towered above so many in such a short space of time. “She was utterly fearless. Last year, we went to see the Russian ambassador in London, to give him a rollicking about the terrible way his country has behaved in Syria,” recalled an ashen-faced Mr Mitchell. “He’s a professional diplomat and a pretty tough case. But Jo got the better of him: it was her mixture of charm and steel. The best word I can think of for her is ballsy. I have no doubt that if Jo had lived, her talent and determination would have taken her to the Cabinet one day...she’d have done a great job.”

Mr Mitchell, a polarising figure, went further. “Here was a newly-elected Labour MP who had so little time for the petty aspects of party-political life of Westminster.” If only others followed her example. As such, it makes it even more heart-wrenching that it took Jo Cox’s murder to bring about the most constructive day’s campaigning in the EU referendum to date – silence.

A brave, brave politician whose final column for this newspaper, only on Friday of last week, was an unequivocal defence of immigration.

Batley, Birstall, Yorkshire, Westminster and the world beyond are all the more poorer without Jo Cox, a humanitarian and shining light of hope who put people and principle first and paid for this with her life.

tom.richmond@ypn.co.uk