AS part of The Yorkshire Post’s new series – What the next Prime Minister can do for Yorkshire – Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, writes about tolerance.
I THINK it is fair to say that we are living through some of the most turbulent, frustrating and fascinating times in British politics.
Before my sister was murdered, I had always been interested in politics but never really politically active. However, since Jo was killed, I have been thrust into the political arena in a way I had never imagined, anticipated or desired.
I get asked to comment on things I never thought I would; but I have built my confidence over the last three years to appreciate that I can – and perhaps even should – use my unenviable position as the sister of a murdered MP and my voice as a ‘normal person’ from Yorkshire (whatever the heck that is) to stand up, and speak up, for our wonderful county and put it on the map for the right reasons.
So, what do we want the next Prime Minister to do for Yorkshire?
The first thing I would say is a point which I would address to all politicians. I think it is vital that the new PM conducts himself in an appropriate way for someone in a position of such importance. There is understandable anger and frustration across many parts of the country, and I think we need the leader of the country to lower the temperature as well as address these emotions and listen to people’s genuine concerns.
For me, language matters. The toxicity of public discourse has reached a new low in the last three years and politicians of all persuasions have a responsibility to do something about it. Fuelling the frustration only adds to it and people in positions of responsibility have a duty to behave responsibly.
Secondly, the new PM needs to remember, and listen to, the North. I don’t know if the new leader has much connection to the North of England or to Yorkshire, but he needs to understand our concerns.
I spend a lot of time travelling from my home in Cleckheaton to London and Westminster in my role as an ambassador for The Jo Cox Foundation and I am constantly trying to bridge those worlds. It’s not easy.
Towns like Dewsbury, Batley, Heckmondwike and Huddersfield (and many others across Yorkshire) are so far removed from the Westminster bubble that it is difficult to know where to start. But I think it is vital for the PM to understand the big differences that exist across the country in order to represent the whole nation.
This brings me to communities. The new PM will have to work very hard to heal the fractured communities and families across our region, as well as rebuild people’s faith and trust in politicians. Brexit has exposed and arguably caused some deep divisions.
On such a contentious issue it is impossible to satisfy everyone, but whatever the eventual outcome, in the coming months the PM must show leadership in bringing people back together. Not an easy task, I know, but it will be his job to help us all to focus on our commonalities rather than the things we disagree on. And to highlight the amazing work that goes on up and down the country every day, by people working hard to build strong compassionate communities, address loneliness and unite people.
It is these people who have inspired me to keep going for the last three years. They have embraced the Great Get Together weekend on Jo’s birthday in June. And many have formed ‘More in Common’ groups across the country, like the amazing one we have in Batley and Spen. It is these people who have shown what Britain is really about.
So, while we’re at it, I’d also like to ask the new PM for a public holiday after The Great Get Together weekend to give hardworking people across Yorkshire and beyond more time to spend together.
Other people from our region have been vocal in demanding a genuine Northern Powerhouse, better transport links across and economic regeneration, and I would push the new PM to address these issues.
But for me, I would urge him from day one to prioritise being a calm and unifying presence, and remembering that, as Jo said in her maiden speech in Parliament, “we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us”.
It won’t be easy, but if he does that, I, for one, will feel more hopeful about the future of the county and country I love.
Kim Leadbeater is Ambassador for The Jo Cox Foundation; Chair of More in Common, Batley & Spen, and Jo’s sister.
TOMORROW: Kate Hardcastle.