House of Lords, 20th June 2016
Jo was beautiful inside and out, she was brave, she was bold. As the world now knows, she was a truly extraordinary woman, but she was also utterly normal. A working class Yorkshire lass with a strong family, she was a Mum who adored her children and put them first, she was a wife, a daughter, a sister and a friend. She understood the community which she served, it was her community. She had a fantastic capacity for connecting with people, no matter where they came from.
Jo was intrepid, feisty and fearless, whether climbing mountains – including when pregnant – or working in countries torn apart by conflict or challenging authority.
She was bright and intelligent, a tiny bundle of boundless energy whose enthusiasm for life was infectious. It is absolutely true that if you bumped into Jo during the day and had a quick hug, your day got better.
Her life, so cruelly and tragically ended, was devoted to changing the world. Many of us say we want to change the world, but that is exactly what Jo did, through her work with those fleeing war and hunger, with the poorest and dispossessed, and through her work as a Member of Parliament. 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.
Jo loved this country but was a real European and a citizen of the world, recognised by the World Economic Forum as a Young Global Leader. The fact that on Wednesday, her 42nd birthday, events are being organised to celebrate her life in New York, Nairobi, Washington DC and Brussels as well as in Batley and Spen and in London is a testament to her global reach. She literally touched lives throughout the world.
In my book, Jo was the best sort of politician. She was Labour to the core, rooted in our values, but she understood that there are good people in most Parties and that sometimes, in order to bring about real change, you have to reach out to those of a different political persuasion. She knew how to build bridges but also how disagree in an agreeable way.
Jo’s murder was a tragedy with a terrible and lasting impact on her family, but it was also an attack on our society and on democracy. As an optimist I hope and believe that it will have a lasting effect on the way on which we do politics and the way in which politicians are regarded by the public and the press. Public service should be celebrated. Politicians follow a noble profession at national and local level, most do a great job but they are too often undermined by the corrosion of cynicism and from a contempt that is dangerous and contagious.
Someone wrote in the memorials to Jo in Parliament Square, “You can’t kill democracy.” My Lords, we will not let that happen, but democracy is fragile, our politicians are vulnerable and the targets of hatred. Jo’s life and her words were a testament to the fact that there is more in our communities and in our country that unites us than divides us, and the sight of the Prime Minister and Jeremy Corbyn laying wreaths at the memorial in Birstall gave a strong message of political unity. There are times for heated debate but there are also times for us to stand together.
Despite the fact that Jo 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. She was generous in her friendship and had the widest circle of friends, she was fun.
I will remember Jo for many things. But my fondest memory is of an early evening last summer, sitting next to the River Wye around an open fire on which we had cooked our dinner – in summer at the cottage that was the only way for the adventurous Cox family to cook. Her beautiful children were running around whilst Jo, her beloved Brendan and the other grown-ups put the fractured world to rights.
Westminster and the world will remember Jo in so many ways. The tone of decency and tolerance was set by Brendan in the remarkable words he crafted so soon after the vile murder. May that tone continue in our politics and our public life and may Jo’s unquenchable spirit live on.