Jan's tribute, delivered on the Sunday afternoon of Labour Party Conference, followed another from Rachel Reeves MP and a short film in which friends and colleagues shared their memories of Jo
Friends, Rachel’s tribute and the memories shared in the video encapsulate Jo Cox, a woman who I knew, admired and yes, loved for many years. Jo inspired love.
Reflecting on Jo’s capacity to love and reach out to the world makes especially poignant the video clip of Jo standing next to a placard with the words “I demand a world where there is no violence against women and girls”. We must continue to make those demands.
Jo was a beautiful woman, inside and out; she was brave, she was bold. She was clever, she was compassionate, she was adventurous and she was fun. She was a tiny bundle of boundless energy whose enthusiasm for life was infectious. She was truly extraordinary but also utterly normal and understood the daily concerns of her constituents, the community in which she grew up.
Jo was a Mum who adored her children and put them first, she was a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. I don’t know anyone else with such a wide circle of friends as Jo and Brendan. She had a fantastic capacity for connecting with people, no matter where they came from.
One evening last September I sat round a fire with Jo, Brendan, Lejla and Callum on the banks of the River Wye outside their cottage. We ate apple and blackberry crumble – blackberries that Jo and the children had gathered in the woods, apples from a tree in the garden that Jo had carved out of the Forest.
This September, together with her beloved family and many friends, I was in the same garden, but Jo was no longer with us. Brendan and their wonderful children were burying Jo’s ashes under the apple tree. We wept, but it was also an opportunity to celebrate Jo’s life and remember all that she did to make this world a better place.
Many of us say that we are actively engaged in politics because we want to change the world, but that is exactly what Jo did, from Batley to Bosnia and from Syria to Spen. She worked with, and for, those fleeing war and hunger, with the poorest and the disposed. She was a powerful advocate who gave a voice to the voiceless and fought passionately against injustice and for human rights. She was a great human being.
Despite the fact that Jo had worked in the most difficult and fragile parts of the world, where the lives of human beings are degraded through poverty, hunger or conflict, she never ceased to love people and love life. As Brendan said in a brilliant article for the New York Times, “Jo was positivity personified”.
Everyone at this conference will share my pride that Jo was Labour. She was Labour to the core and rooted in our values of tolerance, human rights and social justice, in this country and throughout the world. But she also understood that in order to bring about real change you sometimes have to reach out to people of a different political persuasion. She knew how to build bridges and also how to disagree in an agreeable way.
Someone wrote in the memorial wall to Jo in Parliament Square, “You can’t kill democracy”. It is true that democracy is fragile, that we have to nurture it through participation. I am delighted to say that the memorial wall will soon be coming to The People’s History Museum in Manchester, the national museum of democracy, where people will be able to pay tribute to Jo but also to discuss her legacy.
Public service, including politics at national, local and European level should be celebrated not denigrated. As President Obama reminded Brendan and the children last week when they met in the White House, Jo’s selfless service to others had made the world a better place. It is a terrible indictment that our politicians are vulnerable and targets of hatred. But it shouldn’t be like that. Jo’s life was a testament to the fact that, as she said, “We have far more in common than that which divides us”.
Friends, we have much work to do to if we are to eradicate divisions in our Party, our communities, our country and our world.
One of the defining issues of our time is the fight against hatred and division, in this country and the wider world. One of the reasons that Jo was murdered was her commitment to bringing people together, to nurturing understanding between individuals and communities. She was concerned about the rise of prejudice, populism and extremism throughout the world but – and again I quote Brendan – “she knew from a lifetime of activism that most people are good, and that human empathy is a powerful force for change”.
Jo believed that we could and must defeat hate, even a hate so strong that it could be deadly. It is therefore no accident that one of the recipients of Jo’s Fund is Hope Not Hate. We cannot and must not be overwhelmed by growing fear and intolerance in our communities, our country and our world. We have to work harder to fight against division and hatred and to stand up for tolerance and diversity. Jo’s memory is spurring us on.
It might be usual to end a tribute with silence, but Jo was never silent. She spoke out against injustice and spoke up for human rights. She spoke with passion, she spoke of life and she spoke of her love for humanity. So let us celebrate her life, let us hope not hate and let us love like Jo.
Baroness Jan Royall of Blaisdon is a Labour Peer and a former leader of the House of Lords
Published October 2016