OK, this is supposed to be a creative writing blog, but yesterday we lost a particularly wonderful human being and I feel the need to just pay my respects.
This week began with the most horrific act of violence in Orlando, and has continued to lurch from the surreal to the horrific ever since, as the political debate over Europe becomes ever more violent and divisive. Whatever side you’re on, I think we can agree that this is getting scary now. We don’t seem very far from the fascists, communists and anarchists fighting on the streets in the 1930s, and history warns us where that led. And yesterday, after Tuesday’s positively bizarre flotilla on the Thames, with Sir Bob haranguing Nigel Farage in what a friend of mine described as ‘the worst Titanic remake ever,’ a lonely, unemployed, working class white guy with mental health problems became so alienated that he thought the answer to whatever problems he was facing, or whatever he believed, was to brutally murder a public servant and mother of two while she was doing her job.
Any unnecessary death is a tragedy, but the loss of Jo Cox MP is particularly hard to bear, even for those of us who admired her but never met her, because she was so full of life. She was exactly the kind of politician we need to save us from all this madness and horror, this relentless swing to the far right, to isolationism, racism and paranoia and all that it will inevitably bring down upon us. The media and Parliament are calling Jo a ‘Rising Star’ and they’re right. She was a working class Yorkshire lass, the first member of her family to go to university (Cambridge), and after a career working all over the world for OXFAM she was elected to represent her home town last year, a place that she loved. Jo was the kind of MP most of us can only dream about: she knew her constituents, she cared about and understood their needs, and she celebrated their diversity. She was a laugh, too, taking her work very seriously and herself not at all, eccentric in all the best ways. Among a crop of politicians that seem ever more self-interested, cynical, and sometimes downright terrifying, she was the brightest and the best, tirelessly fighting for the rights of Syrian refugees while the popular trend is to either ignore them, keep them away, or scapegoat. And although the reasons for her murder are as yet unclear, anecdotal evidence is already suggesting that her humanitarian and inclusive agenda probably got Jo killed.
Jo had achieved a tremendous amount in her life, and in her first year in Parliament, and would have continued to ascend. We need politicians like Jo Cox, today more than ever. We cannot spare them. The loss to her friends and family is inestimable, the loss to our country is almost as great.
She leaves behind a grieving husband, Brendan, and two kids, a boy and a girl, Cuillin and Lejla. This is what her husband said of her publically yesterday. It has been widely quoted, but I think it still needs to be shared as much as possible:
‘Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people.
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 poisionous.
Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.’
The Guardian ran a particularly moving editorial yesterday, which I’m going to take the liberty of partially reproducing here…
The Guardian view on Jo Cox: an attack on humanity, idealism and democracy
The slide from civilisation to barbarism is shorter than we might like to imagine. Every violent crime taints the ideal of an orderly society, but when that crime is committed against the people who are peacefully selected to write the rules, then the affront is that much more profound.
The killing, by stabbing and repeated shooting in the street, of Jo Cox is, in the first instance, an exceptionally heinous villainy. She was the mother of two very young children, who will now have to grow up without her. It is also, however, in a very real sense, an attack on democracy. Violence against MPs in Britain is mercifully rare. Only three have been killed in recent history: Airey Neave, Tony Berry and Ian Gow, all of them at the hands of the Irish republicans. Two others, Nigel Jones and Stephen Timms, have been grievously wounded, the latter by a woman citing jihadi inspiration and rage about the Iraq war. Whatever the cause, an attack on a parliamentarian is always an attack on parliament as well, which was as clear in Thursday’s case as any before.
Here was the MP whom the citizens of Batley and Spen had entrusted to represent them, fresh from conducting her duty to solve the practical problems of those same citizens in a constituency surgery. To single her out, at this time and in this place, is to turn a gun on every value of which decent Britons are justifiably proud.
Jo Cox, however, was not just any MP doing her duty. She was also an MP who was driven by an ideal. The former charity worker explained what that ideal was as eloquently as anyone could in her maiden speech last year. “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration,” she insisted, “be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
What nobler vision can there be than that of a society where people can be comfortable in their difference?
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For more about Jo’s background and work, there’s a nice piece here by Heather Stewart, the Political Editor of the Guardian, while the Internet is presently lit up by tributes from all sides of the political spectrum.
Rest in Peace Jo. You deserved better. I can send nothing but love to your family, friends and colleagues. I can’t begin to imagine the pain. God bless.
‘Brexit is no answer to real concerns over immigration’ – a measured piece on the referendum by Jo Cox published in the Yorkshire Post, Friday, June 10.
‘Meeting Jo Cox: a brush with dedication, passion and eloquence’ – Jo Cox interviewed by Julian Borger in London just before she headed north to campaign for remain in her constituency, published in The Guardian, Friday, June 19.
If you’d like to contribute to the Jo Cox Fund, click this link for details.