I doubt there is anyone who has not felt appalled and sickened by the senseless murder of Jo Cox MP last week on the streets of her constituency. Much has been written about it and will continue to do so over the coming days and weeks so I’ve been hesitant to write here, to add to the many words of analysis and condolence.
But as one who used to work in the sector Jo did before becoming an MP only 15 months ago, I want to express why I find this so hard, so sad, and yet also share a glimmer of hope.
You see although I didn’t know of Jo Cox, I felt I ‘recognised’ her. Her life working for justice for the oppressed and marginalised in the charitable sector was very close to what I used to do before I had children. Being brighter than me, she got a much cherished job in the Policy team at Oxfam, the overseas charity that is known for its well funded and high calibre Policy & Campaigns team. I worked as Conflict Policy Officer for World Vision, another global humanitarian charity, and during that time I have worked with her colleagues on joint NGO campaigns such as the Landmine Ban, Rwanda Genocide, Sudan and Palestine. I know that world.
I’ve also toyed with the idea of going into politics. But unlike Jo, I do not possess either the sheer stamina, determination and, lets face it, diplomacy to do that whilst raising children. I have deep respect for someone who can do both, and well, as she appears to have done.
To think she visited so many war torn countries, most likely campaigned against the spread of ‘small arms’ (guns) as I had done – this was part of Oxfam’s big campaign Cut Conflict in the late 90s – only to be killed in her own constituency by a mad man with far-right tendencies and a hand made gun feels just too, too awful. She herself wrote in an essay last December on A Progressive Internationalism, recently re-published by the Fabian Society,
“I believe the left is now in a fundamental fight about our future approach to international affairs: one where we decide whether to channel UK resources, diplomatic influence and military capability in defence of human rights and the protection of civilians; or one where we stand on the sidelines frozen by our recent failures.”
Jo clearly never stood by the sidelines. And for that, she got shot. This is the hard, harsh reality that when we take a stand, we will come under attack. We expect that attack to be just verbal in this country, and for the most part it is, but to be at the receiving end of such a vicious cold blooded assault in her Yorkshire constituency is something that is truly disturbing. We don’t expect the cost to come this hard and this harsh.
The third reason I find this murder so disturbing is that was a very visible sign of what can happen when we do not respect each other’s political opinions and let fear and hatred become part of our public discourse on how we run the country. Only the evening before the attack, I went with a friend to a debate on the EU Referendum in St Albans Cathedral where the main speakers were our local MP, Anne Main, and the MP for Hitchin & Harpenden and former Secretary of State, Peter Lilley. I went not to help me decide how to vote as I’d pretty much decided, but to listen to both sides, to see if there was anything I’d not taken account of, and above all to support a democratic debate in what has up till now been little better than statistical mud-slinging.
Yet we found ourselves sat amongst a group of loud, obnoxious and angry Leave voters who kept talking over the Remain speakers and making it hard for us to hear. After asking them to keep it down so we could listen they retorted “Its a free country!” After a while, we realised the best course of action was get up and move seats. Shortly after the Chair politely asked for respectful listening which sadly fell on deaf ears.
I fear greatly if we cannot listen to one another. Democracy is dead if we cannot allow others to hold views different from our own. And its no longer a ‘free country’. Thankfully, Anne Main and Peter Lilley who were speaking for Leave campaign, acted impeccably and spoke incredibly well. That said, I still wasn’t convinced….
Yet for all the deep sadness of a beautiful life of a mother of two cut short coupled with fears for British democracy, I am heartened that her example is shining out. People are hearing that MPs aren’t all self-serving, power hungry suits. During my time as Conflict policy officer with World Vision I came into contact and even worked with many MPs whose sheer hard work and conviction struck me deeply. I’ve seen how there are many people in power in our country who often sit in committees till midnight, get paid less than they would in industry, and fight the corner of those less fortunate than them. So, when someone next sneers cynically or apathetically about politicians, remember the likes of Jo Cox.
If there was one thing Jo Cox would have wanted, she’d have wanted us to listen to one another. Let’s do that before we cast our vote on the 23rd June.
Lets not turn our shock and fear into anger and greater division. Lets not “repay evil with evil”. Let’s not let the darkness triumph over the light.
RIP Jo Cox. What a woman. The world will miss you.