I’ll never forget 15 June 2016. That was the last time, after 20 years of friendship, that I saw Jo Cox. That was the last time she came bursting in, a bundle of positive energy in her cycling gear, to grab her work clothes out of the cupboard she kept in our shared office. Talking with such love, tenderness and humour about Lejla and Cuillin, her wonderful children.
The next day, while doing her job, serving the people of Batley and Spen, the place where she grew up, Jo was assassinated. And we should be in no doubt, as the verdict makes clear, that this was a political assassination.
It was a political act, an attack on my friend and our democracy carried out in a cold, calculated and clinical manner. Jo was killed because of who she was and because of what she stood for. It is important that we understand this, because otherwise we will learn nothing.
Words matter. If you engage in a politics of fear, hate and division; if you talk about a “breaking point”, you cannot expect there to be no consequences. But Jo showed us a better way, one of love, unity compassion and bravery – in stark contrast to the cowardice of her killer.
But this terrorist act has, as Brendan Cox put it, been utterly self-defeating. This was “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.”
This shows us that out of the deep and painful darkness of Jo’s death, shines the bright the light of her legacy. So we must, together, build a better politics: a politics of hope not fear, of respect not hate, of unity not division and of love not hate. That is how Jo lived her life, how she served the people of Batley and Spen, and how she stood up for dispossessed communities all over the world.
Jo gave a voice to the voiceless, she exemplified the best of our country, and put her convictions to work for everyone she touched. Jo worked tirelessly across party lines because she understood that in our complex and interdependent world, compromise is a sign of strength not weakness. Jo was a pragmatic idealist in every sense of the term.
So with the trial now over, it is important that we remember Jo for who she was and what she did, rather than for what happened to her. As painful as her absence is, we must cherish the times we had with her and understand just how blessed we were to have had her with us for as long as we did.
As we work to overcome the divisions of the past year, it is up to every one of us in public life to do all we can to heal the wounds that scar our nation and communities so that we can reunite and rebuild. As we work towards that goal, we must draw inspiration from Jo, her life and work.
And as we will all cherish her public legacy, I will also cherish the private Jo. I’ll miss her counsel, companionship and above all, her friendship. She was a relentlessly positive person who could lift my spirits after the toughest of days. A true friend, I miss her every day I walk through that office door.
And so if ever I am feeling low I just need to look at the example provided both by Jo’s family – who have shown such remarkable courage and dignity in recent months – and by Jo herself. To paraphrase her sister, Kim, we will not be beaten, and must channel all our energy into ensuring Jo’s legacy is honoured.
She would not allow us to do anything else. We cannot allow our democracy to be intimidated, Jo certainly would not. And so we must now work to build a more respectful and united country. That is how we honour Jo: a proud Yorkshire lass who dedicate her life to the common good.
Jo, we love and salute you and will never forget you.