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Angela Smith tribute to Jo Cox

House of Lords, 20th June 2016

The murder of Jo Cox MP, almost defies words. It is so devastating and heart-breaking that any words feel inadequate to express the scale and depth of the loss.

The loss to her husband Brendan and their children, to her parents, her sister, her family – but also that wider family of friends, colleagues and constituents.  It’s a loss that has affected everyone who knew her, and so many more who hadn’t yet got to know her.

It's not just the loss of who and what she was – but also the loss for what would have been and what more she would have done. So it’s a loss that is so profound and overwhelming that we, individually and collectively as a nation, are the poorer for it.

Jo was clearly very special. She was exceptional.  A physically tiny Yorkshire lass – she couldn’t have been more than 5 foot high - she was morally and intellectually strong.  Driven by her values, she knew she had a role to play in creating a better country and a better world.

And for the all too short time she was in Parliament she brought those values, with all the skills, experience and knowledge from her past roles with Oxfam and NGOs, working with Glenys Kinnock, and for Gordon and Sarah Brown, to her life as a Labour MP.

We’ve heard her described as a force of nature; decent and determined. She made people feel good about themselves and what they could achieve.  She was passionate and serious – and she was good fun.  As one of her friends in the House of Commons said: “She was the best of us, and she made the best of us”.

She saw that that a role in politics should be a force for good. A force that could make lives better. And that is what brought her – like so many others – into politics. 

Our democracy will be seriously weakened if this outrage stops our brightest and our best from stepping forward into public life. When good people of passion and principle tell their family and friends that they want to be a councillor or a Member of Parliament – I want their families to be proud of them.  Not fear for them.

Yet the level of vitriol and violence contaminating our public and political life will deter some of the people that we need the most.

Almost every MP can report threats and abuse, sometimes violent. And although social media makes it easier, it’s too easy just to blame the internet. All of this has coincided with the deterioration of political debate.

Of course we must argue our differences on policy with emotion and conviction.   But too many have gone beyond that. The tone of the debate and the language - particularly around immigration and asylum seekers - shames many. And the drip feed of denigration and abuse, poisons the very air that we breathe.

So those of us who can speak out, and those who report and write, need to think very carefully about past actions and words and the way forward. In the words of Jo’s husband Brendan, Jo would have wanted us to: “…all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.

The hope for the future is that the good in society comes to the fore - as we have seen in the reaction from the public, both home and abroad at this terrible time. And as we saw in the amazing courage and bravery of Bernard Kelly who risked his own life and the love and loyalty of her assistant Fazila Aswat.

Over the weekend, my husband drew my attention to a 1968 drawing of Martin Luther King standing over a cross-legged Ghandi, saying “They think they’ve killed me”. What that was saying was that despite his death, because of how he had inspired others, his values, his commitment and his passion lived on, and through others achieved and still achieves great things.

Jo’s legacy has to be that same inspiration.

An inspiration to others to continue her work.

An inspiration to us all to be better.

An inspiration to those who have encouraged hatred and bitterness that they have to stop.

And more than anything else, an inspiration to others to fulfil her promise and her legacy.

In the Batley book of condolences, this message was left.  I can think of no finer tribute: “You told me I’d do great things.  I’m going to prove you right and I’m going to carry on your legacy”.

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