The brutal killing of British politician Jo Cox (www.jocox.org.uk, @Jo_Cox1) shocked and touched the world last year. Presidents and prime ministers condemned the attack and offered condolences through tweets. Vigils and gatherings were held throughout the UK, and abroad as well, in places like Dublin and New York City.
Born Helen Joanne Leadbeater on 22 June 1974 in Batley, West Yorkshire, England, Jo Cox was the pro-immigration and pro-EU Labour MP for the constituency of Batley and Spen. She was stabbed and shot multiple times by a far-right extremist called Thomas Mair on 16 June 2016 in the village of Birstall where she was about to hold a surgery. The murderer kept shouting – “Britain First”.
Jo Cox’s career, personality, views and values have since come to be defined by the tag #MoreInCommon on social media. The phrase goes back to her maiden speech in the House of Commons, which she gave in June 2015 upon assuming her role. The address contains the following lines – provocative indeed when you consider the fact they were delivered in a heated climate of increasing divisiveness and xenophobia:
Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, the thing that 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 than that which divides us.
(It should be noted, however, that Jo Cox wasn’t ignorant of or blind to cultural differences and did realise the need for immigrants to integrate into their new environment.)
Jo Cox’s husband Brendan (@MrBrendanCox, blog) – who met her in 2005 (while they were working for Oxfam) and married her in 2009 – has kept his wife’s memory alive in the book Jo Cox: More in Common (2017). He was driven by four objectives – (1) he wanted to process his own emotions in the aftermath of the tragedy, (2) he wanted to capture a set of stories for the kids, Cuillin and Lejla (aged 5 and 3 at the time of the attack), about their mum, (3) he wanted to tell Jo’s story and finally, (4) he wanted to continue Jo’s fight. Jo Cox: More in Common is published by Two Roads Books (@TwoRoadsBooks). Royalties will go to the Jo Cox Foundation (@JoCoxFoundation, More In Common).
The book – political and personal, local and global – beautifully portrays Jo Cox in a variety of roles – wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, leader. She comes to the fore as a tiny, energetic, deeply passionate girl of humble beginnings who often struggled with shyness and self-doubt – who went on to study Social and Political Sciences at Cambridge, later worked in the field of international aid and development in Brussels and New York, who travelled the world and then returned to her native soil to serve her community in the capacity of an MP.
I am not personally too interested in party-politics and didn’t read this book to gain any kind of political insight so that I could take sides. I went through it to know more about the individual Jo, and how she came to develop the values she was committed to. Brendan Cox sheds light on her many strengths that made her admirable and the imperfections that made her endearingly annoying (she could explain the intricacies of the conflict in Syria and yet forget that she must not put down a hot mug on a newly varnished sideboard). He informs us of Jo’s achievements (working at the European Parliament, reaching out to and winning over the Asian population of her constituency) and her challenges (two difficult pregnancies, the sexism at Westminster that she had to face).
Brendan Cox tells us of her formative years – her experiences at Cambridge (where she was looked down upon by upper class students – “posh, pretentious bastards”). Her subsequent trips to regions like Southeast Asia and South Africa continued to make her aware of inequality, injustice, the power of privilege, and instilled in her a desire to make the world a fairer, kinder, more empathetic and more tolerant place. As Brendan Cox gives expression to his grief and loneliness, he remains, in the end, infinitely grateful and feels supremely lucky to have known his wife. “No matter how long I live,” he writes, “I know I will never come close to Jo’s kindness and compassion, but her example will always make me better.” He hopes it will inspire others to be their best selves. Why shouldn’t it?
Excerpts from the chapter “The Trial”:
We are not here to plead for retribution. We have no interest in the perpetrator. We feel nothing but pity for him; that his life was so devoid of love that his only way of finding meaning was to attack a defenceless woman who represented the best of our country in an act of supreme cowardice. Cowardice that has continued throughout this trial.
The killing of Jo was, in my view, a political act, an act of terrorism – but in the history of such acts it was perhaps the most incompetent and self-defeating. An act driven by hatred which instead has created an outpouring of love. An act designed to drive communities apart which has instead pulled them together. An act designed to silence a voice which instead has allowed millions of others to hear it.
The defendant, concluded the judge, had ‘affected to be a patriot’. Jo Cox, instead, was ‘not only a passionate, open-hearted, inclusive and generous person…but a true patriot’.
Featured: Photo taken at the birthday memorial for Jo Cox, MP, at London’s Trafalgar Square by User “Garry Knight”, Public Domain, Flickr