It was an honour and privilege to speak in the debate on Jo Cox’s legacy.
She was a dear friend and colleague who always spoke truth to power, while valuing unity over division and was willing to work cross-party in the national interest.
We can learn so much from her.
Stephen Kinnock: It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) on securing this debate, which is such an important occasion for us here in this House to reflect on Jo’s legacy, but, perhaps, above all else, I congratulate my hon. Friend the freshly minted hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). I, too, joined her on the campaign trail in Batley and Spen. It really was quite an experience. I genuinely believe that Kim personally knew about 50% of the people and of every family on every street that we met in that constituency. We also had a chance to play some football in the streets, which I think was a vote winner. It certainly should be counted into the majority.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I had the privilege of knowing Jo—[Interruption.] I did not realise that this would happen so quickly.
Jess Phillips: Will my hon. Friend give way?
Stephen Kinnock: I would like to give way, thank you.
Jess Phillips: Does my hon. Friend agree that, without question, everybody in here can understand how difficult this is for many of us, but also how much we delight in celebrating our friend whom we miss so dearly? Everybody will understand that some of us may need a little time in this debate.
Stephen Kinnock: I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, but I am not sure whether that has helped me to pull myself together, but I will give it my best shot.
I had the privilege of knowing Jo for around 20 years. I shared an office with her for a year before she was so cruelly taken from us. We were elected in 2016, and I am still in that same office now, and not a day goes by when I do not think of her hurtling into our office in her cycling gear, having a chat with my staff and talking about one of the most amazing campaigns that she would be working on. These campaigns ranged widely from reducing loneliness in society to standing up for refugees and fighting for the Labour party’s values, Britain’s democratic values and compassionate values internationally.
Jo was truly driven by giving a voice to the voiceless and by speaking truth to power. If I was really lucky she would bring her beautiful children into the office. I am not sure whether they are here with us today—I do not think they are—but it was always wonderful to see them. If I was really, really lucky I would receive a dinosaur drawing or even get the chance to read them a story. It is these personal memories of Jo that I continue to cherish most every day.
Alex Sobel: I knew Jo for a far shorter period than my hon. Friend, but we were both candidates in West Yorkshire in the run-up to the 2015 general election. We had meetings as candidates and calls. Sometimes there were things that the rest of us were not prepared or able to articulate, but Jo would always almost read what we were thinking, think the same thing and articulate it more bravely and strongly than the rest of the group of candidates. We could see that bravery and strength after she became an MP. In the legacy and the foundation and what happens now, we can all learn from that and hold on to that as a really strong part of the legacy here in this place.
Madam Deputy Speaker: If at any point, the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) wants me to call a speaker from the Government Benches and then come back to him, he should just tell me.
Stephen Kinnock: It is going to be alright, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is going to be okay.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Jo had an amazing, almost telepathic, ability to connect with people, to read the mood and to read where people were going in a conversation. That was one of the reasons that she was such a persuasive person and such a great campaigner.
I remember what Jo stood for and her dedication to the values that she held so passionately—values that I hold dear, that the Labour party holds dear, and, I know, that many Members across this House hold dear. These values represented the very best of our country: compassion, community, solidarity, internationalism and a belief that our great country can be greater still. She cared about our place in the world because she cared about the lives of the people she had committed herself to serving and understood the way that global politics affected the everyday communities in Batley and Spen and across the length and breadth of our country.
Jo was an internationalist to her fingertips, believing that we can do more good by working together with our friends and neighbours than we could ever do on our own. She wanted Britain to continue to be an open, tolerant and generous country—a country that engages with the world with its head held high, instead of turning its back on it. She wanted Britain to face the big challenges of the 21st century—from climate change and terrorism to the stresses and strains of globalisation and the impact that they have on our communities—with our eyes and our hearts open, and with the strength in numbers that comes from standing shoulder to shoulder with our democratic allies in Europe and beyond.
The years that have passed since Jo’s death have been difficult for Britain politically, but I have always taken inspiration from the core messages that she sought to espouse through her politics. She was relentlessly committed to unity over division as encapsulated perfectly by her famous comment that we have
“far more in common than that which divides us.”——[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 674.]
She also believed passionately in standing up for what was right and she always spoke truth to power. She encapsulated, I believe, what an MP should be, viewing our opposite numbers as opponents, not as enemies, never afraid to take on an argument, but always willing to work cross-party if there was an issue where progress could be better achieved by working together in the national interest.
Jo worked tirelessly across party lines because she understood that, in our complex and inter-dependent world, compromise is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Jo was a pragmatic idealist in every sense of the term and I hope that we can honour Jo’s legacy by seizing every chance that we get to discard narrow party politics in favour of doing the right thing for the communities that we represent. I feel that a great way to honour that pragmatism would be for all parts of this House to make more effort to work together to meet some of the major challenges facing our country today—from climate change to social care.
Out of the deep darkness of Jo’s death must now come the shining light of her legacy, so let us build a politics of hope, not fear; of respect, not hate; of unity, not division. While we will all cherish Jo’s public legacy, I will also always cherish the private Jo. I will miss her counsel, her companionship and, above all, her friendship. She was a relentlessly positive person who could lift my spirits after the toughest of days. She was a true friend whom I miss every day that I walk through that office door. If ever I am feeling low, I just need to look at the example provided by Jo’s family, one of whom is sitting on the Green Benches next to us today. They have shown such remarkable courage and dignity in the past few years. To paraphrase Jo’s sister, my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen, we will not be beaten, and we must channel all our energy into ensuring that Jo’s legacy is honoured.
Today I want to end by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen—I shall never stop taking pleasure in saying that. She stood for office with such courage given the circumstances and she spoke today in her maiden speech with such heartfelt passion about why she has stepped up, why she has taken responsibility, and why she will help us to carry forward the legacy of her sister. I know that she will serve those same Batley and Spen constituents with the same grace, commitment, goodwill and determination that Jo did before her, and she need not worry, because whatever happens from this day on, my word, she has done her sister and my friend and this House proud.