First published on ProgressOnline
You don’t have to be close to a star to know it shines bright. Jo Cox was a star in Labour’s bleak sky. Her personality bubbled, her generosity was unending, she was a loving wife and brilliant mother. Her slight and five-foot-nothing figure contained a giant in the making. She spoke in the chamber with authority, with her colleagues in a spirit of collaboration, and with Labour supporters in a way they could connect with.
I judge my politicians on this standard: do they say things I wish I had thought first? Jo never disappointed. I know her colleagues and constituents agree. There is a tendency from some – new MPs included – to keep your head down and go with the flow. As she spoke on Syria, women’s rights and for her constituents, Jo did nothing of the sort. Instead she led her colleagues in debate and laughed with them in the bars. This combination of brilliance and generosity is why she got so much done in just 405 days in parliament; rarely alone but in coalitions, Jo so often leading the pack.
Politics is in shock because Jo was simply going about her work. She was with the poorest and most needy in her home patch. In so many ways it could have been any of the 650 that sit on those green benches. How we move on is not easy but there is a smidgen of hope that as an MP is murdered in the line of duty the public view of our elected representatives as an expenses-fiddling, self-serving-elite might recede, even just a little bit. Disagree with politicians all you like, but in each is a vocation, a drive and passion for change. Those who talk about ‘reducing the cost of politics’ are talking nonsense, and they know it. Often politics is done on the cheap. Money will be needed to be spent ensuring Jo is not the first, but the only MP, lost in such a horrific way.
Labour has the added burden that one of our brightest lights has been extinguished. Robbed from the debate of today but also of a future cabinet member, standard bearer and policy pioneer. One day our politics will value again those who speak truth to power, those who do not take the path of least resistance, those who want their words to change and inform our world. Jo would surely have been a beneficiary of this – indeed, she would have made this change in attitude happen – and been at the top of our great party taking our country to the difficult places we must not avoid. She had high hopes for our party. Back in January she wrote for the Observer, saying ‘the Labour party is not and must not become just another pressure group. Its role is to be a potential party of government, to translate progressive demands and ideas into actionable policies that change lives.’ That work continues in her honour.
Jo, you will be missed, including by those who never met you or knew that in you they had a champion. For those who witnessed your excellent work and know the gulf you leave behind, we have some very big shoes to fill.
Richard Angell is director of Progress