AN EXTRAORDINARY MP killed in the line of duty while doing her utmost to help others, it is tragically poignant that Jo Cox should be murdered while she undertook routine daily duties in the West Yorkshire constituency where she grew up and which she was so proud to call home.
She was born to help the less fortunate – striving to help those in need was her vocation – and the outpouring of grief amongst her Batley & Spen constitutents, and politicians around the world, spoke volumes about her impact before her life was ended so senselessly outside her surgery.
A true politician of the people, she was equally at home championing all those community causes close to her heart or speaking with eloquence, insight and passion on the floor of the House of Commons where her reasoned words on a range of subjects – not least foreign affairs after a distinguished career as aid charity Oxfam’s head of campaigns – had earned the respect of friends and foes alike.
Fun-loving, she was incredibly proud of the fact that she and her young family lived on a houseboat when in London – one of the most endearing images is the one posted on Twitter by her heartbroken husband Brendan of his late wife, who was due to celebrate her 42nd birthday next Wednesday, with a wide smile as she posed by the vessel.
The first serving British MP to be killed since 1990 when the IRA Troubles were at their height, these events – thankfully rare – are an awful reminder about the day-to-day vulnerability of politicians in an open and accountable democracy, as two little children come to terms with the fact that their Mum will not be coming home.
Only those involved in defence and national security matters receive armed protection as a matter of course and it would be deeply regrettable if public servants became less accessible as a consequence of this awful attack outside Birstall Library.
As emotional vigils were held in Jo’s memory, it goes without saying that these personal protection arrangements need reviewing urgently. Furthermore serious questions need to be asked about her alleged assailant’s motivation and how they were able to have such dangerous weapons in their possession as they mingled with market day shoppers – just how and why could such a popular politician be killed in the prime of her life?
At such a dispiriting time for politics when the relationship between Westminster and the electorate is so strained, these questions are even more fraught – and difficult – because Jo Cox was one of the new generation of MPs striving to rebuild the trust broken by others.
This was illustrated by the poignancy of the tributes from Jo’s constituents as they spoke, movingly, about a vibrant politician who genuinely shared their concerns and was committed to fighting injustice and discrimination.
Born in Batley, and educated at Heckmondwike Grammar School and Cambridge University, this job was tailor-made for Jo after her previous valuable experience campaigning for Oxfam.
On an otherwise difficult night for Labour last May, the pride of this ‘local lass’ was self-evident when she increased Labour’s majority – testament to her broad appeal – and she soon made her mark at Westminster with a succession of speeches and interventions brimming with conviction.
Her first question was on the challenging issue of mental health, while her maiden speech made reference to her constituency having “some of the best fish and chip shops in the country, and some of the best curries in the world” before concluding: “I am Batley and Spen born and bred, and I could not be prouder of that. I am proud that I was made in Yorkshire and I am proud of the things we make in Yorkshire.”
Her later interventions continued in a similar vein. She was a MP prepared to challenge conventional orthodoxy, not least in her refusal to rule out further military intervention in Syria and only last week she made a passionate and cogent defence of immigration in The Yorkshire Post.
A rising star who will now never fulfil her potential – Jo Cox dreamt of being Prime Minister – the brave, courageous and heartfelt statement of her grief-stricken husband should now stand as a permanent tribute as politicians remember this irreplaceable MP and reflect on how they conduct daily debate. “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous,” he said.
The wisest of words, spoken on the most difficult of days, they epitomise a daughter, mother, politician and humanitarian who truly strived to do her best for everyone she came across in her all too short life.