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Oona King tribute to Jo Cox

House of Lords, 20th June 2016

I knew Jo because we both worked for the Kinnocks, we both worked for the Browns, we both worked for Labour Women's Network - which Jo Chaired - and we both had a habit of ending up in refugee camps.

In the run-up to Jo's election as an MP, she told me my diaries of Westminster nearly put her off. "Thing is", she said, "I know my constituency would never cause me as much grief as yours." This is the only thing Jo was wrong about.

Jo has suffered more than any one of us in Parliament. Jo has given more than any one of us in Parliament.
And therefore Jo now represents more than any one of us in Parliament. Jo represents civilization, in much the same way as her attacker represents barbarism.

Glenys told us that Jo was no saint but let me tell you why Jo was an angel. Because she is one of a tiny percentage of the world's population who genuinely care about other people's children, as much as their own. And then act on it.

But apart from being an angel, Jo was also a proper policy person. She'd want us to be talking about the policies, as much as the personality.

Because she was an angel, she'd most likely be the first to point out we mustn't just rage against her murderer. We must seek to understand what leads an isolated and mentally ill man to kill? What is it that whipped him into a frenzy? Who is it that whipped him into a frenzy? Or did all of us whip him into a frenzy, did the balance of our cultural discourse whip him into a frenzy?

Well then our culture must change. And that must be Jo's legacy: a kinder more tolerant Britain.

And in that kinder Britain, one of the first questions is "just how many isolated and mentally ill people are there among us? Which policy failures have contributed to their plight? And why aren't those isolated, mentally ill people our priority, not our afterthought?

Why are we not heeding the police when they say the single biggest shared factor of extremists who carry out terror attacks (whether Islamic extremists, or white British nationalists), is untreated mental health issues?

Why are our mental health services, Cinderella services? And why do poorer communities in general, and refugees in particular, always pay the price?

This is what Jo said just a few weeks ago, when speaking in favour of Lord Dubs' amendment on refugee children: "Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death, or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary. Who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror? Children are being killed on their way to school. I know I would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hellhole."

And it's hard to think about Jo's two precious babies today, even if they have an extraordinary family, and a father, Brendan, who radiates love and is surely the most dignified man in Britain. 

Jo concluded: "Any MP who has seen the desperation and fear on the faces of children trapped in camps across Europe must surely feel compelled to act. I urge them to be brave and bold."

And that is how I conclude this tribute to Jo. I ask everyone who contributes to Britain's public discourse to be brave and bold. Bold enough to be kind. Brave enough to be tolerant. And I ask parliamentarians to transcribe Jo's kindness into legislation, because that's how we drain the hate that killed her.

Tragedy brings focus. Jo represents us now, in a way others don't. Jo's words mean even more now, and unless we heed her words, her life has been lost in vain. And for the sake not just of Jo, but for our democracy, that can never be.

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