There is a phrase which for the rest of my life will be synonymous with one person, their life and legacy. More in common.
Five years ago this week, my friend and former colleague Jo Cox was assassinated on the streets of the UK. She was a British Member of Parliament, a mum of two, a daughter, a sister and a friend. She was also brave, dedicated and determined, campaigning for better outcomes not just for the communities she represented in Batley and Spen but also for better British foreign policy, a people led foreign policy that sought to support people on the ground. In her short period in Parliament, Jo became one of the leading voices on the plight of the Syrian people and the need for aid.
On Friday 16 June 2016, I was in a meeting in my office when one of my team interrupted to tell me that Jo had been attacked as she was doing her job in the community she represented. A few hours later, we received the horrendous confirmation that she had died. That evening I sat with my family and sobbed, remembering Jo, thinking of her husband Brendan, their children and her family.
I also reflected on what this meant for British democracy.
This was the murder of an elected politician on the streets of the UK. Jo was targeted by a right-wing political extremist because of her work seeking to represent all communities. Her voice, a voice for the unempowered, for the silenced, for the persecuted, had been ended.
Life is fragile, democracy even more so, it requires all of us to recognise not only its value but also its relevance and the need for all of us, every day, to make the case for democratic values. Jo’s assassination was a vicious assault on our democratic values, which required a global response – that duly followed in the days after her death.
You could ask why Jo’s murder is relevant for Index? Her actions as an MP and her legacy are at the core of who we are and why we were established. In her maiden speech in the House of Commons she addressed the issue of division in the UK and throughout the world, arguing that: “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
It’s this shared belief in humanity that drives the work of Index – that we will be a voice for the persecuted wherever they live, so that those in repressive regimes can be heard.
Today I’ll be thinking of Jo’s family and friends and remembering her laugh and tenacity. But today is also an opportunity for us to reflect on Jo’s legacy and the words of her maiden speech – “more in common”. As the debates on cancel culture and woke behaviour continue and people become increasingly toxic online – these are the words we need to hold onto and seek to make a reality wherever we live.
Rest In Peace Jo, your memory really is a blessing and we miss you.
Jo Cox, 22 June 1974 – 16 June 2016