Yesterday afternoon, West Yorkshire police announced that Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, had died after being shot and stabbed near Birstall Library, where she was holding a constituency surgery. She was the first MP to have been killed since Conservative Ian Gow was assassinated in a car bombing in 1990.
Writing for the Telegraph, Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell described his "fearless" friend as "a five-foot bundle of Yorkshire grit”. Born in Dewsbury, educated at Cambridge, Cox was a valiant local campaigner who openly celebrated the diversity of her community. She sought to unite her constituents; to dissolve barriers of fear and prejudice between races. In her maiden address in the House of Commons, the Batley MP stated: “what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we… have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
After being elected to Parliament in May 2015, Cox pushed vociferously for Britain to bolster its support for Syrian refugees. Speaking in a House of Commons debate in late April, Cox made an impassioned plea for Parliament to support the Dubs Amendment, which called for 3,000 unaccompanied asylum seeking children to be allowed entry to the UK from Europe:
“Children [in Syria] are being killed on their way to school, children as young as seven are being forcefully recruited to the frontline and one in three children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war. Those children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness, and I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole... Any Member who has seen the desperation and fear on the faces of children trapped in inhospitable camps across Europe must surely feel compelled to act.”
It’s evident that Jo Cox was a spectacularly talented political campaigner. Prior to her election in 2015, she worked for Oxfam – first as the head of their EU office in Brussels, then as head of policy and advocacy in the UK, and finally as the leader of Oxfam International's humanitarian campaigns. Yet, she did not pursue hollow prestige. She channelled her influence to empower disadvantaged individuals. A politician with a strong moral conscience, Cox was not just in it for herself.
In Britain, we compete to puncture the self-importance of politicians. It’s a national sport, and one that serves a vital function. Indeed, we must place pins on the throne of power, to prevent politicians from resting too comfortably. In the present circumstances, however, our petty critiques must be put on hold. The murder of Jo Cox was an attack on our democracy, and an attack on the principle of healthy dissent. In the wake of this tragedy, we must unite in condemnation of this abhorrent act; we must stand together to pay credit to a devoted public servant, who we have sadly lost.
And so we say – thank you, Jo. Thank you for all your work as a political activist. Thank you for struggling tirelessly for a more tolerant society. We’re proud that you represented us, and the green benches of the Commons chamber will forever enshrine your legacy.