The terrible price of refusing to remain silent

A vigil held for Dom Phillips and Bruno Araujo Pereira. Photo: Victoria Jones/PA Wire/PA Images

On Friday 16 June 2016, my beautiful and kind former colleague Jo Cox was murdered for no reason other than she was doing her duty, representing the people of Batley and Spen as a Member of the British Parliament to the best of her ability. Jo was a democrat, a wife, a mother, a daughter, and a friend to lots of us.

When we lost her, the foundations of our democracy were shaken but her legacy cannot and must never be defined by the heart-breaking and evil events of 16 June. Her family will not allow it, and neither must we.

Having said that I woke up this morning feeling a little sick and very sad. I’m honestly not sure that this day will ever be easy for those people that knew and loved Jo, but as I had my morning cuppa and listened to the news, every story reminded me not of her murder but of how angry she would have been about each news item and how determined and driven she would have been to make a difference. Because that’s who she actually was.

Jo’s legacy is not her murder but her love. It’s not the hate-filled extremist that stole her from us, it’s her determination to leave the world in a better place than she found it. It’s not the silence she left behind but rather the laughter and words she gave us. Which drive so many of us today.

That’s her legacy, which has been embraced by her family and institutionalised by the Jo Cox Foundation. And today as we remember Jo, we cannot forget the instructions she gave us to make the world better.

Which brings me to two more families who are in mourning today – those of  Dom Phillips and Bruno Pereira.

Once again two people have seemingly been killed for refusing to be silenced. For refusing to take the easy route. For standing up for those people whose voices aren’t as loud.

Dom Phillips was a brave and inspirational journalist, determined to not only tell the stories of indigenous people affected by climate change but to offer solutions for how we could help save the Amazon. His death in the Brazilian rainforest must not be allowed to define his life or his legacy. He is so much more than the people who have silenced him.

But today my thoughts and prayers are with those who are struggling with their grief – as they seek to make sense of these horrors.

The only words I can give are those of Jo. She left us with one core premise – we have more in common with each other than the things that divide us. Whether that’s across the political aisle, or in every one of our communities, this basic fact of our collectively humanity is something that we must hold onto.

Sir David Amess: 26 March 1952 – 15 October 2021


Sir David Amess, MP for Southend West in Essex. Photo: John Stillwell/PA Archive/PA Images

On Monday afternoon British politicians united in memory of a fallen colleague. In shock, those that knew him best spoke one after another of the good man that they knew – Sir David Amess. After a weekend of tears and horror, as once again we tried to come to terms with another brutal attack on our democracy, it was the stories of the man who embodied British democracy – who dedicated his life to his constituents and who as one of the longest-standing parliamentarians in the UK had offered a smile and a word of support and friendship to every new member as they joined him in Westminster – which provided comfort to his friends and colleagues.

I was one of those who benefitted from that smile and support and it’s his smile that I will strive to remember in the months and years ahead, but it’s also a smile I have struggled to emulate in the hours since I learned of his brutal murder on Friday.

Sir David’s murder was an act of terrorism. It was an attack on every democratic value that we hold dear. It was devastating. It also wasn’t the unique – to either the UK or democracies around the world. Ideologues and extremists have throughout history targeted our elected representatives as the ultimate attack on our democracy. Assassination is the ultimate attempt to silence opposition, to incite fear and to undermine the very values that we live by. By its very nature it is also an attack on our collective free speech. And this was an attack that personally shook me to my core – again.

Friday brought back every horrendous memory of Friday 16 June 2016, the day that my colleague and friend, Jo Cox, was assassinated by a far-right extremist. On that Friday I was in a meeting when a member of my team asked me to follow them into the hall to tell me Jo had been attacked. My mum arrived at my office is tears and in the days that followed I and my former colleagues, in the middle of our grief, had to decide how, and if, we could still do the jobs as elected representatives.

We collectively decided to keep going, to take precautions but fundamentally to make sure that our democracy held strong. That isn’t to say that that decision came without cost. Our families worried every day about our security. Our political discourse got increasingly toxic and abuse and threats became even more prevalent. Within weeks of Jo’s murder I received thousands of pieces of abuse and death threats which meant I had to move home.

This level of abuse and intimidation of our elected representatives is unacceptable. Things have to change. Our democracy is precious and we need to cherish it, to defend it and most importantly to defend it. So for Jo, for Sir David and for everyone that bullies and extremists have tried to silence – we must say enough is enough. Things have to change. This is too important to leave to chance.

And to my former colleague, the man with the generous smile – Sir David, may you Rest in Peace. And may your memory be a blessing for everyone who knew you.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

Remembering Jo Cox five years on

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_single_image image=”116906″ img_size=”full” add_caption=”yes”][vc_column_text]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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]