BY Alison Bellamy
She was undoubtedly a breath of fresh air and a force to be reckoned with in a political world which can often be petty, egotistical and cruel.
Even for those of us who have or want nothing to do with politics, Jo Cox made her mark. And whatever your beliefs, she fought relentlessly for what she believed was right and just, particularly when it came to sticking up for those who were suffering injustice.
One comment I saw made by a young Syrian man was that ‘she brightened up your day’. How very appropriate.
In recent months she had visited the primary school my own young children attend as part of her local constituency work in Batley and Spen Valley. My little girls were talking non-stop about Jo Cox and what an MP did and how lovely she was. You can imagine how entranced the kids would have been as she simply and clearly explained herself.
As my local MP, Jo Cox was immediately likeable. Not all MPs are. The overwhelming tributes which have flooded in from around the world pay justice to that. Canadian politician Nathan Cullen said in tears: “She used her voice for those who had none, dedicated her passion to those who needed it most.”
I last saw her in Scope charity shop in Batley, happily chatting to people while perusing the clothes for sale and looking at brightly coloured blouses and I was struck by how extraordinary it was to see an MP in a charity shop buying her clothes. The same clothes she would probably wear in parliament to fight for people and debate life changing decisions. She may have been small in stature but her passion and heart were massive.
I imagined the things she had seen as part of her humanitarian work abroad in Africa and Syria and felt proud and pleased she was choosing to buy recycled clothes. She fought tirelessly against injustice, child poverty and spoke up for Syria. After many years of being an aid worker she ended up being the head of humanitarian campaigning for Oxfam worldwide and had also worked for Save the Children and the NSPCC.
She met her husband Brendan when working abroad and together they were known for their humanitarian beliefs, as they made their home when in London on a converted barge on the River Thames, where they raised their two young children aged three and five. She had recently told colleagues about putting calamine lotion on her child’s chicken pox.
As a mum of two myself, I can barely think about what is left behind. And the heart-numbing and beautiful words written by husband Brendan in the hours after her death must have been the hardest thing he has ever had to do.
Yet they say it all: “Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo’s friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.
“Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.
“Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full.”
She had always worked hard, was the first from her family to go to university after attending Heckmondwike Grammar School and then Cambridge University, where she studied social and political science at Pembroke College, graduating in 1995.
At the age of 40 she won the dream role of being MP in the area where she grew up, replacing retiring MP Mike Wood.
Her mum Jean was a school secretary and her dad Gordon worked in a toothpaste factory in Leeds, where she also had summer jobs while studying. Her sister Kim works at Bradford College.
She had called repeatedly for Britain to do more to help the victims of Syria’s civil war and had spoken out in favour of taking action against Syria, to stop the brutal way its people were and are suffering.
She had set up a parliamentary group on Syria and staged Commons debates on the plight of the refugees. She argued forcefully that the UK Government should be doing more both to help the victims and use its influence abroad to bring an end to the Syrian conflict.
Ms Cox, was the national chair of Labour’s women’s network and a senior advisor to the anti-slavery charity the Freedom Fund.
One of her most significant interventions was over the decision to intervene in Syria, when she disagreed with her leader Mr Corbyn, who does not support military action in the region. She said at the time: “Syria is our generation’s test, our responsibility. A conflict so horrific that more than half of its people have been forced to flee their homes. Yet the international community’s response through the UN has been woefully inadequate. ”
She was loved by all who knew her, especially those in her beloved West Yorkshire constituency.
In her maiden speech in 2015 she told how proud she was to represent her local area: “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”
Tributes came in from around the world and all the political greats with Jeremy Corbyn describing her as a ”much-loved colleague“ and David Cameron and Hilary Clinton among others praising her work and legacy.
But it is perhaps the words from her own people, those she represented, that best sum up her dedication.
Mehboob Khan, leader of Kirklees council, tweeted: “I knew Jo well, she was a fantastic MP in Kirklees, who only wanted to help people in Batley & Birstall”
Her friend Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff, who is MP in the neighbouring town to Batley, tweeted: ‘All my love, thoughts and deepest sympathies to friends & family of Jo Cox. Such a horrific crime and massive loss. There are no words.’
Author Ismail Patel, Chairman of the Friends of Al Aqsa, tweeted: ‘Greatly saddened to hear the murder of Jo Cox MP She was a great person champion of Justice Human Rights and worked tirelessly for the needy.’
Mohamed Mulla, chair of the Indian Muslim Welfare Society, said: “She always fought for her constituents irrespective of race or faith. There is no place in our society for any form of extremism or violence instigated through radical thoughts.
“It is a huge loss to all locally. And an even greater one to those close to her especially her husband and two young children. Our thoughts and prayers remain with the family.”
Ml Muhammad Mota, chairman of Rabetah al-Ulama al-Islamiyyah, the Institute of Islamic Scholars in Batley, said: “Jo was passionate about serving humanity, evident in her unrelenting support for the plight of the victims and particularly the children in Palestine and Syria.
“Rabetah had the opportunity to work with Jo. She understood her community and actively sought to bridge divides.
“Alongside her humanitarian work, Jo made it a priority to combat hate and Islamophobia. Sadly, we are once again reminded of the consequences of violence and hatred, and the poison of those who demonstrate a flagrant disregard for human life.”
“Jo was always prepared to listen. She will be deeply missed by the whole community and Batley and beyond. Our deepest thoughts and condolences are with Brendan and the children in the difficult days ahead.”
What rings out to me is the significance of the message in her maiden speech about us all having far more common with each other than things that divide us and she certainly worked passionately to prove that, irrespective of the hate that killed her; from mosques, to churches to diverse communities, people of all races, religions and beliefs have come together irrespective of background to unite against hate and celebrate the great life of Jo Cox.