I beg to move,
That this House has considered the legacy of Jo Cox—
the positive legacy of Jo Cox.
It is wonderful to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving us time for this debate and the House authorities for allowing us use of the Chamber, where we have a shield to mark Jo Cox. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for co-sponsoring the debate, to all colleagues here today, and to all those who have supported the debate, including the former Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who cannot be with us this afternoon but was very supportive.
I think that most hon. Members recognise the importance of honouring Jo’s memory and celebrating the love that she gave and her contribution here—a positive contribution that continues today. It has been a long six years since I sat here to listen to a new-ish friend making her maiden speech, including her immortal line that
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
So much has happened since then: three Prime Ministers, two more general elections, the European referendum and a global pandemic.
We sought this debate some time ago, before the Batley and Spen by-election was even called. Today it is genuinely an honour to sit next to Jo’s sister. I look forward to hearing her maiden speech from the same place—albeit with a little less hair and perhaps more girth. [Interruption.] Me, I mean.
My hon. Friend the new Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) won the seat in her own right. I am sure that some chose her because of the family history, but many more supported her because of her dreadful opponent and the despicable campaign and divisive, aggressive tactics of the vile Galloway, who clearly has more in common with Donald Trump, given that both have made baseless legal claims about losing elections. As anyone who knocked doors in the constituency will know, my hon. Friend is infamous. I campaigned there—I actually got sunburnt in Yorkshire, which was unexpected, but I knocked doors and found people who went to her yoga class and who know her from school and work. She has her own claim and her own story to tell, and I am sure that she will make her own massive impact here on behalf of her constituents.
It is six years since Jo arrived here with what her husband Brendan called her relentless optimism. Her passions were obvious, her commitment marked and her energy uncontainable. We were both elected in 2015 and took on the organisation of socials for our intake of new MPs, including on the family houseboat just two days before she was taken from us. One of the planning sessions was on the Terrace here. Someone—it may have been my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern)—mentioned the tug of war for Macmillan outside Parliament. Jo being Jo, she disappeared straightaway to throw her energy and all her tiny body mass into that effort—a memory that typifies her spirit.
In that horrific moment when Jo was taken, our country was at a crossroads and many of us feared that the attack risked opening up a seam of division and unleashing more extremism. I am thankful that the great British public saw her murder as the totally monstrous, unjustifiable act that it was and that there has been unity in condemning the motives behind it, as well as an extraordinary effort to better support one another—a trait that has been demonstrated even more over the past year during covid, through volunteering, community spirit and pop-up mutual aid organisations.
Even life in London, despite our population of 7 million, can be an atomised existence, incredibly lonely for some; but we have seen more people get to know neighbours and support one another through this crisis, further strengthening communities such as mine with a greater sense of commonality and solidarity, something that Jo championed and would have been pleased to see. I think we should be capitalising on that spirit, learning from the post-war Attlee legacy of truly building back better after the war, but sadly I fear that we are missing the moment, and failing to deliver a post-covid legacy that benefits the whole country in the way that we all still benefit from the Attlee Government’s creation of the NHS, for example.
Today, however, I wanted to flag up not just the fact that Jo achieved a lot in the short time she was here with us, but the fact that she continues to deliver now on the issues and values on which she triumphed in her life of love. As I said earlier, I am very grateful to the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford for co-sponsoring the debate in the spirit of cross-party unity which I think Jo also exemplified. I look forward to her contribution today, and note in advance that she was not just the country’s first but the world’s first ever Minister for Loneliness. It is good to see the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) here as well, as the Government in which he served helped to ensure that £10 million has been distributed across 14 countries through the Jo Cox memorial grant fund. That support and resource has empowered tens of thousands of women, and has supported more than 1,000 women into elected office.
Jo was passionate about tackling isolation and loneliness, and the foundation has delivered a legacy through, in particular, the Great Get Together events. I have the privilege of representing an area with one of the biggest Great Get Togethers anywhere in the country, and I love representing such a positive local community, whose vibrant, welcoming nature makes such events so special and successful. I say “events” because in 2019 I went to six on the same day, including the largest, which sprawled up Redcross way and Union street and beyond. I look forward to the More in Common Borough and Bankside activities that are already being planned for next year.
Jo was a friend and a fantastic west Yorkshire MP colleague, and it is such an honour to have Kim now as our west Yorkshire neighbour. Jo’s “More in Common” values are also the values that Kim and her family have championed so much, and we pay tribute to them too, in west Yorkshire and throughout the country.
Thank you; well said.
Across the country, some 20 million people have now been involved in Great Get Togethers, which is a testament to the positivity that Jo helped to inculcate. Even in this covid crisis, in June more than 1 million people participated in a socially distanced Get Together.
There are of course issues that Jo would have still been championing today, and that we need to step up on in her name and in all our interests. The rise in online hate and extremism continues in the UK as elsewhere. As the former chair of the all-party parliamentary group on counter-extremism, I am very aware of the alarming statistics on the growth of Prevent referrals about far-right groups. In the most recent year for which statistics are available, 105,000 hate crimes were recorded by the police, an 8% increase on the previous year. Our focus must be on tackling division and hatred, wherever it comes from—including anti-Muslim prejudice and the startling rise in antisemitism, a feature of both far-left and far-right groups.
I cannot fail to mention Afghanistan today, as I think Jo would have been campaigning against the abandonment of UK promises to the women and girls now left subject to Taliban rule. Jo would have been highlighting the refugee crisis created by the collapse of the democratically elected Government, and the need for our Government to deliver more to help neighbouring states, but also to assist more Afghans who worked for our country to reach the UK and escape harm.
I am mindful that our country’s Afghan failure follows the aid budget cut and the abolition of the Department for International Development. Jo, along with the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) and my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South, wrote an excellent piece called “The Cost of Doing Nothing”, which remains valid, and on which I am sure both those Members will speak today. It makes me nervous that the UK looked decidedly isolated internationally, with the US ignoring us and the suggestion from the Foreign Office in March that an alternative alliance could be built to replace American forces ultimately leading to nothing but our scrambled exit and capitulation to the Taliban.
However, the purpose of this debate was to be positive. Before I sit down, I want to pay some personal respects to people who have shone an amazing beacon through some very dark times. Through the Great Get Together events, I have met the Batley Way bike riders who cycle down all the way from Yorkshire to Flat Iron Square in my constituency, where they finish their bike ride with a pint, and they are met by Jo and Kim’s parents, Gordon and Jean. We have all seen Gordon and Jean interviewed, and observed their amazing spirit. They are two of Britain’s finest, and I am very pleased to see them here today. You are the best of us, and it is a pleasure to have got to know you both. Your contribution to this place is two wonderful, special people, and through them and their service you have improved our country and provided opportunities the world over. Thank you for sharing them with us.
A great many Members want to speak, and I am really looking forward to hearing their contributions. I thank everyone for being here and marking this anniversary, and the positive legacy of Jo Cox.
It was a privilege to co-sponsor the application for this debate with the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), who spoke very much from the heart, and I enjoyed his opening speech.
It is always an absolute honour to speak in debates such as this, especially a debate that is celebrating the legacy of Jo Cox. I did not have the good fortune of getting to know Jo, but through my subsequent role as loneliness Minister, I have had the pleasure —I think!—of meeting her sister, the new hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). I look forward greatly to hearing her maiden speech, even though I have put on mascara for the first time in months and she is bound to make me cry! The fear for my ankles means that since she joined the House I have not yet returned to women’s football. She has a fearsome reputation, and I am getting far too old to be hobbling around wearing bandages. Her wonderful parents, Gordon and Jean, are in the Public Gallery today; I will definitely go and give them a big squidge after my speech, so they had better brace themselves for some Crouchy loving.
As we heard from the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Jo’s legacy is much wider than the issue of loneliness, but that is the issue with which I am most familiar. The commission that was established in her name to look at the issue in further detail recommended, among other things, the appointment of a Minister and the development of a strategy. Thanks to my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), not only was I that Minister, but we produced a cross-Government strategy within eight months which has provided a template for discussion around the world.
It was an enormously humbling experience for me to be that Minister. I was the world’s first loneliness Minister, and curiosity about the brief reached all four corners of the globe. But this is what Jo did: she took an issue at which others had cast a glance, and then catapulted it into the stratosphere. Like many in this House, I had spoken about loneliness and isolation in older people before Jo was elected, but when she came into this place she did not just focus on the stereotype; she broadened it beyond imagination, and rightly so. While loneliness continues to plague older generations, younger people suffer equally crippling rates of loneliness, as do young professionals moving to cities for work, those isolated through disability, and—as Jo herself noted—those on maternity or paternity leave.
Why does loneliness matter, given that it is a feeling that most people will experience at some point in their lives? Well, the reason is that prolonged and extreme exposure to loneliness can seriously affect an individual’s wellbeing and ability to function in society. As loneliness has been shown to be linked to poor physical and mental health, and poor personal wellbeing with potentially adverse effects on communities, it was a no-brainer that we needed to work through solutions to combat it.
The statistics on loneliness will no doubt be quoted a great deal today, and they should be: we need them to remain in the political consciousness. Levels of loneliness in Great Britain have increased since spring 2020. Between 3 April and 3 May 2020, 5% of people—about 2.6 million adults—said that they felt lonely “often” or “always”. Results from the Opinions and Lifestyle Survey show that from October 2020 to February 2021, the proportion increased to 7.2% of the adult population—about 3.7 million adults. Mapping trends across the country also shows the types of places where a higher proportion of people felt lonely often or always, and differences in personal wellbeing. Areas with a higher concentration of younger people and areas with higher rates of unemployment tended to have higher rates of loneliness during that particular study period. Local authority areas in the countryside also had a lower loneliness rate than, for instance, urban or industrial areas.
These latest statistics reiterate what we learned from the preliminary work for the strategy, which was that all our views about who suffers from loneliness were not always entirely accurate. As an emotion it shows no prejudice. The chief executive fighting battles in boardrooms was as lonely as the retiree missing the banter of the workshop. The difference was sometimes who would, or would not, seek or receive the support or reconnection that they needed.
As the statistics show, covid has increased the numbers but many of the solutions we proposed in the strategy have not been available, thus exacerbating the problem. The Royal College of General Practitioners was amazingly helpful when it came to developing recommendations, in part because GPs themselves were seeing an increasing number of patients whose interaction with their doctor was because they were lonely. It was with that in mind that one of the core recommendations was to use social prescribing to reconnect people, and I genuinely believe that in the run-up to February last year it was gaining massive traction.
The pandemic has been a major setback, for obvious reasons, and if I had one ask of the Minister—unfortunately for him, it is actually two—it would be that there should be a major relaunch of the social prescribing programme for tackling loneliness. We have all seen really good examples of social prescribing initiatives, including in Batley and Spen, and all of us across the House and our constituents would benefit from ensuring that that programme is relaunched. My other ask of the Minister is to join me in campaigning for a wellbeing budget, similar to those in other countries, in which reducing levels of loneliness would be one target. I do not have enough time in this debate to rant about why a budget based just on GDP is simply not enough, but I will be applying for a separate debate on why wellbeing should be front and centre of our post-covid recovery. That includes many of the issues that Jo campaigned on.
As a Minister, and afterwards too, I have had the pleasure of meeting many people involved in supporting those who suffer from differing and often complex levels of loneliness. I have seen brilliant but extremely simple creative ideas such as friendly benches. I have watched men solder and build things in a shed. I have done interviews and podcasts with people around the world, all of which have started with a confession from those on the other side of the mic that they too have felt severely lonely. I have seen pubs put up signs welcoming people in for a chat. I have heard about businesses that support existing staff with befriending networks, and others that help those retiring to reintegrate into society. Every time I see a project, hear a story or talk in general terms about loneliness, I personally find it a humbling experience, but I recognise that the progress we have made on identifying and tackling the issue is truly leading the world, and quite frankly, we have Jo Cox to thank for that.
Thank you, Mr Speaker, and thank you to my friends—my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch)—for securing this debate. It is with a huge amount of pride and a significant amount of nervousness that I make my maiden speech today. It has been an honour and a privilege to have been the MP for my home constituency of Batley and Spen for 10 weeks now, although if I am honest, like much of the last five years of my life, it has all been a bit of a blur. Following the result of the by-election on 1 July, after several weeks of running round the streets of the area where I live asking people to put their faith in me, with not enough sleep and far too much chocolate and caffeine, I quickly found myself on a train to Hogwarts—sorry, I mean Westminster! Nobody gave me a book of spells or taught me how to play quidditch, but here I am. I am sure every new MP experiences the same mixture of pride and responsibility that I am feeling right now, but as the House does my family the great honour of paying tribute to my sister, I hope that Members will understand that I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I would give literally anything not to be standing here today in her place.
We have already heard what an extraordinary contribution Jo made to politics in the tragically short time that she sat on these Benches. The love and respect that she earned across this Chamber is a testament to the very special qualities that she brought to the job and to the kind of person she was. Others are better qualified than I am to reflect on her talents as a parliamentarian, and for me she will always be many other things before an MP: a compassionate and caring humanitarian; a proud Yorkshire lass; a friend to many, including a significant number of those who are sat here today; a loving daughter—I am delighted that our parents, Jean and Gordon, are here today; a fantastic sister-in-law and wife; an outstanding mum to Cuillin and Lejla, who remain full of Jo’s energy, optimism and spirit; and the best big sister anybody could ask for.
Jo’s murder ripped the heart out of our family. I have spoken on many occasions about my ongoing disbelief and devastation following her death, and it still does not feel real, today more than ever. It was devastating for the people of Batley and Spen, too, because so many of them had also taken her to their hearts. The constituency has much to be proud of, and I will come on to some of those things, but I am sure that I speak for all of us when I say that we take no pleasure in being known as a place that has had four MPs in the space of just seven years. My predecessors—Jo, of course, but also Tracy Brabin, Mike Wood and indeed Elizabeth Peacock before them—all made their mark in very different ways. I come to the job, as I am sure they all did, with a determination to do things in my own unique way. I could not do anything else. People may make comparisons, and they are of course entitled to, but I am very much my own person and I will always be true to myself, proud of where I come from and ready to crack on and get stuff done, no matter how big the challenges may be.
Batley and Spen has been through a lot in recent years, but time and again, when others have sought to set us against each other, we have come together. When we have been riven by violence or the politics of hatred and division, we have shown the best of ourselves. Generosity, warmth, respect, tolerance and love: those are the true qualities of the people I am proud to represent. Jo said in her maiden speech that
“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 than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
I believe those words are as true today as when she said them—perhaps even more so. But my sister would never have pretended that we do not have our differences and disagreements, and nor do I. Of course we do, and the world would be a very dull place if we did not, but we should also have the ability to respect each other’s opinions when we disagree and the good sense to know that our communities can thrive only when they embrace each and every one of us. I am very clear that we cannot pick our equalities.
I am Batley and Spen born and bred. I have lived and worked in almost every part of the constituency: Heckmondwike, Cleckheaton, Gomersal, Batley, Liversedge, Staincliffe and Littletown. While the towns and villages that make up the constituency all have their own unique character, of which they are justifiably proud, the problems people face are often very similar. No matter where you live or what your background might be, the potholes in the road are just as deep, the dangers posed by speeding drivers are just as terrifying and the impact of crime and antisocial behaviour is just as devastating. There are no easy answers to many of these problems, but having had discussions and meetings with literally hundreds of my new constituents over the summer—on Kim’s summer tour—it is clear to me that we all have a responsibility to play our part in tackling these issues, whether as individuals, organisations, communities or families. It is no good thinking that dealing with these issues is always somebody else’s problem.
We should never ignore the importance of family and community and of working together. Across Batley and Spen, and indeed across the country, whatever your household looks like, the pandemic has reminded us just how much we need our family and friends and the wider community. For Jo and for me, the values we learned from our parents and the empathy and compassion that they instilled in us enabled us to make a difference in our own ways. We have seen so much of this in recent times. Our schools and colleges, our churches and mosques, our community organisations and sports clubs and our families and friends have helped to bind us together to face the common challenges we shared. I am incredibly proud of the work of the Jo Cox Foundation in this regard—it is such a valuable part of Jo’s legacy. By building a network of More in Common volunteer groups and hosting the annual Great Get Together weekend in June, on Jo’s birthday, the team have worked tirelessly to tackle loneliness and build togetherness in communities up and down the land.
There is something else we have in common in my part of the world: we do not like being taken for fools. With respect, I say to the party opposite that fine words about levelling up are all well and good, but what we have seen instead in Batley and Spen over the last decade are drastically reduced police numbers, huge cuts to the roads repair budget, growing poverty and inequality, and queues outside our food banks. There are areas of my constituency that are desperate for investment, and I will be holding the Government to account to ensure that Batley and Spen gets its fair share of whatever levelling-up money is going, so that it goes to the people and communities who need it most.
We need new opportunities for our young people, the chance to breathe new life into our villages and town centres and support for the many excellent businesses we are lucky to have. We need more jobs, but good quality jobs doing what we do best in manufacturing and services, not huge, soulless warehouses full of robots. That is the only way to ensure a bright and prosperous future.
That is my vision for Batley and Spen and, indeed, the country: happy, healthy, united communities working together across the sectors to tackle our problems, to support each other and to celebrate our successes, and where everyone feels included and that they have a role to play.
I look forward to making the case for the people of Batley and Spen as their new MP. We have all had to get used to using technology to keep in touch in recent times. I am very much a people person, so I am pleased that the business of the House is getting back to normal, although I hope it is with an appropriate amount of caution and without complacency.
I am told that one of the first skills I need to master is bobbing up and down to get your attention, Mr Speaker. As I have a background in sport and fitness, I hope that is one thing I will be good at. I might even add a few squats and lunges so I get a bit of a workout, and everybody is welcome to join in, of course.
When I do get the opportunity to speak, it will be an honour to bring a bit of Yorkshire straight-talking grit and common sense to the debates in this place. Like Jo, I will be happy to work with MPs of all parties, in the interests of both my constituency and the country as a whole. Indeed, I am grateful to the many Members on both sides of the House who have been so generous in welcoming me here.
I am quite new to politics, so I am the first to admit that I have a lot to learn. I have already nearly sat down on the wrong side of the Chamber a couple of times, although while it might be the wrong side for now, I am sure that day will come. I have got lost in the maze of corridors in this remarkable building more times than I care to mention, but fortunately someone has always helped by pointing me in the right direction. Thank you if you were one of those people.
I am sure I will make more mistakes because I am only human, as we all are, and I think sometimes people forget that. We all have family and friends and, if we are lucky, maybe even some interests and hobbies outside politics. Putting yourself forward for public office is a brave thing to do, wherever you sit in this place, and I appreciate that now more than ever.
Since my election, the one thing that people keep saying to me is, “Kim, please don’t change,” and I do not intend to. I will always stay true to my roots and identity. If I can be half the MP my sister was, it will be a huge privilege to get on with the job of representing the wonderful people of Batley and Spen.
It is a tremendous delight, indeed a privilege, to follow the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). On the strength of what she told the House today, no one on either side can be in any doubt that we will all look forward to the issues she takes up and to hearing what she has to say—in my case, from across the Chamber. I know she is going to make a tremendous contribution on behalf of her constituents.
It is 34 and a half years since I made my maiden speech, listened to by my father who was sitting on these Benches. We are all so pleased that the hon. Lady’s parents are here today to hear what she had to say and to see her maiden speech in the House of Commons. She spoke with enormous eloquence about her constituency, but she also spoke so kindly about her predecessors. I, of course, served first with Elizabeth Peacock, who was a formidable colleague, and the hon. Lady follows in the finest tradition of people who are outspoken and forceful on behalf of their constituents. The whole House will have enjoyed what she had to say today.
I knew Jo well, and I first met her when I was in El Fasher in Darfur, Sudan, with David Cameron in about 2006. She was there at a meeting to fight for the rights of women who were being brutalised, murdered and raped in Darfur. She was a huge presence then, so long ago. I also remember her for the trademark scarves she used to wear.
Jo approached me when she was elected to this House to ask whether I would join her in co-chairing the all-party group for friends of Syria, which I continue to co-chair with the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern). Jo came along and asked whether I would join her, and I said I would be delighted. We worked together very closely in trying to deal with that huge humanitarian crisis, which saw more than 5 million Syrians on the move.
I well remember going with Jo to have tea with the Russian ambassador, who complained that I had said in this place that the behaviour of the Russians in bombing Aleppo was no different from the behaviour of the Nazis in bombing Guernica during the Spanish civil war. The Russians, wrongly in my view, took exception to that comparison. I will never forget that occasion because Jo, with her principled approach and self-evident decency, shredded that experienced diplomat and left him unable to speak. I have written about that episode, along with others, in my book, which is being published on 12 October—I am advised that it will be available in at least some good book shops.
When this House met following the murder of the sister of the hon. Member for Batley and Spen, it fell to me to pay the main tribute from the Conservative Back Benches. It was one of the most miserable occasions in my nearly 35 years in this House. Today, in my very short speech on Jo’s legacy, I want to share two areas where she set us all a very good example, on whichever side of the House we stand.
First, on almost any issue before the House, we would know in advance where Jo stood. That is an important point, because she was someone of such clarity and decency that, whatever the issue, those who knew her would know where she stood. She had a brand. Most of us do not have a brand or, if we do, we rather wish we did not, but she did. That is something to which all Members of Parliament should aspire—that the position we take on issues is clear and understandable.
Secondly, Jo was an example of something the public do not always appreciate about this place but which sees this place at its very best, and that is working across parties to find agreement with those who may, in many other areas, have a different political opinion. She epitomised that principled clarity of views and beliefs on so many occasions, and not just in the Select Committees, all-party groups and other ad hoc groupings that this place has in abundance. It is one of the best aspects of the House of Commons, and one that is most appreciated by our constituents when it comes to light, that where it really matters we can work together in the public interest and in the interests of those we represent and who have done us the great honour of sending us to this place.
The speech by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen epitomises that fact, and today’s debate is very much about it.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (MrI congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) on securing this debate, which is such an important occasion for us here in this House to reflect on Jo’s legacy, but, perhaps, above all else, I congratulate my hon. Friend the freshly minted hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). I, too, joined her on the campaign trail in Batley and Spen. It really was quite an experience. I genuinely believe that Kim personally knew about 50% of the people and of every family on every street that we met in that constituency. We also had a chance to play some football in the streets, which I think was a vote winner. It certainly should be counted into the majority.
I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate. I had the privilege of knowing Jo—[Interruption.] I did not realise that this would happen so quickly.
Does my hon. Friend agree that, without question, everybody in here can understand how difficult this is for many of us, but also how much we delight in celebrating our friend whom we miss so dearly? Everybody will understand that some of us may need a little time in this debate.
I thank my hon. Friend for her intervention, but I am not sure whether that has helped me to pull myself together, but I will give it my best shot.
I had the privilege of knowing Jo for around 20 years. I shared an office with her for a year before she was so cruelly taken from us. We were elected in 2016, and I am still in that same office now, and not a day goes by when I do not think of her hurtling into our office in her cycling gear, having a chat with my staff and talking about one of the most amazing campaigns that she would be working on. These campaigns ranged widely from reducing loneliness in society to standing up for refugees and fighting for the Labour party’s values, Britain’s democratic values and compassionate values internationally.
Jo was truly driven by giving a voice to the voiceless and by speaking truth to power. If I was really lucky she would bring her beautiful children into the office. I am not sure whether they are here with us today—I do not think they are—but it was always wonderful to see them. If I was really, really lucky I would receive a dinosaur drawing or even get the chance to read them a story. It is these personal memories of Jo that I continue to cherish most every day.
I knew Jo for a far shorter period than my hon. Friend, but we were both candidates in West Yorkshire in the run-up to the 2015 general election. We had meetings as candidates and calls. Sometimes there were things that the rest of us were not prepared or able to articulate, but Jo would always almost read what we were thinking, think the same thing and articulate it more bravely and strongly than the rest of the group of candidates. We could see that bravery and strength after she became an MP. In the legacy and the foundation and what happens now, we can all learn from that and hold on to that as a really strong part of the legacy here in this place.
It is going to be alright, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is going to be okay.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Jo had an amazing, almost telepathic, ability to connect with people, to read the mood and to read where people were going in a conversation. That was one of the reasons that she was such a persuasive person and such a great campaigner.
I remember what Jo stood for and her dedication to the values that she held so passionately—values that I hold dear, that the Labour party holds dear, and, I know, that many Members across this House hold dear. These values represented the very best of our country: compassion, community, solidarity, internationalism and a belief that our great country can be greater still. She cared about our place in the world because she cared about the lives of the people she had committed herself to serving and understood the way that global politics affected the everyday communities in Batley and Spen and across the length and breadth of our country.
Jo was an internationalist to her fingertips, believing that we can do more good by working together with our friends and neighbours than we could ever do on our own. She wanted Britain to continue to be an open, tolerant and generous country—a country that engages with the world with its head held high, instead of turning its back on it. She wanted Britain to face the big challenges of the 21st century—from climate change and terrorism to the stresses and strains of globalisation and the impact that they have on our communities—with our eyes and our hearts open, and with the strength in numbers that comes from standing shoulder to shoulder with our democratic allies in Europe and beyond.
The years that have passed since Jo’s death have been difficult for Britain politically, but I have always taken inspiration from the core messages that she sought to espouse through her politics. She was relentlessly committed to unity over division as encapsulated perfectly by her famous comment that we have
“far more in common than that which divides us.”——[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 674.]
She also believed passionately in standing up for what was right and she always spoke truth to power. She encapsulated, I believe, what an MP should be, viewing our opposite numbers as opponents, not as enemies, never afraid to take on an argument, but always willing to work cross-party if there was an issue where progress could be better achieved by working together in the national interest.
Jo worked tirelessly across party lines because she understood that, in our complex and inter-dependent world, compromise is a sign of strength, not of weakness. Jo was a pragmatic idealist in every sense of the term and I hope that we can honour Jo’s legacy by seizing every chance that we get to discard narrow party politics in favour of doing the right thing for the communities that we represent. I feel that a great way to honour that pragmatism would be for all parts of this House to make more effort to work together to meet some of the major challenges facing our country today—from climate change to social care.
Out of the deep darkness of Jo’s death must now come the shining light of her legacy, so let us build a politics of hope, not fear; of respect, not hate; of unity, not division. While we will all cherish Jo’s public legacy, I will also always cherish the private Jo. I will miss her counsel, her companionship and, above all, her friendship. She was a relentlessly positive person who could lift my spirits after the toughest of days. She was a true friend whom I miss every day that I walk through that office door. If ever I am feeling low, I just need to look at the example provided by Jo’s family, one of whom is sitting on the Green Benches next to us today. They have shown such remarkable courage and dignity in the past few years. To paraphrase Jo’s sister, my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen, we will not be beaten, and we must channel all our energy into ensuring that Jo’s legacy is honoured.
Today I want to end by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen—I shall never stop taking pleasure in saying that. She stood for office with such courage given the circumstances and she spoke today in her maiden speech with such heartfelt passion about why she has stepped up, why she has taken responsibility, and why she will help us to carry forward the legacy of her sister. I know that she will serve those same Batley and Spen constituents with the same grace, commitment, goodwill and determination that Jo did before her, and she need not worry, because whatever happens from this day on, my word, she has done her sister and my friend and this House proud.
Madam Deputy Speaker, thank you for calling me despite me charging into the Chamber, barely a second late. You may think that it is because my timekeeping is poor, but it was actually a tribute to my friend Jo Cox, who, in my recollection of working with her for a very brief period, almost always came in with a crashing door, a burst of colour and an “I’m sorry I’m late.” As many Members have already said, in those moments when she would burst in, she brought with her an extraordinary ball of energy, an extraordinary passion and an extraordinary strength that I am delighted to see have returned to this House in the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). She has demonstrated that the family who gave birth to one extraordinary individual and raised her has achieved it a second time. For that, I pay the most extraordinary tribute to a fantastic mother and father.
I am going to share with the House my experience of working with Jo, because together we had put together almost all of a paper on the cost of non-intervention. Both of us had seen, in different ways, the impact that intervention—military intervention in my case, humanitarian in hers—had had on lives around the world. We had seen the problems in Iraq and the failures in Afghanistan, and we were aware that in many parts of the world, including in the United Kingdom, there was a desire—almost a hope—that we would never do it again: that we could turn away, look past and pretend it was not happening. But we cannot—and Jo knew that, because what she also brought to this place was the reality of the lived experience of somebody who actually knew the cost. She was somebody who really saw the price, whether in Darfur or Syria, and who knew what that intervention meant to the lives of the most vulnerable and most at risk in countries around the world.
Together Jo and I pulled together most of the paper “The Cost of Doing Nothing”, which was published by Policy Exchange. But, sadly, before it was able to come out—indeed, before it was fully finished—we know what happened. That was a terrible moment, I am sure, for everybody. My memory of it was phoning her number many times, and sadly, like everyone else, getting no answer.
I pay huge tribute to my friend, the hon. Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern), for the extraordinary courage that she showed after that, in taking up the work that had been done—not imposing herself on it, but ensuring that what was published was in keeping with the words that Jo herself would have written. I also pay another tribute: to my friend, Brendan, who is up in the Gallery and who helped us.
While the hon. Gentleman is heaping out praise, let me refer back to what the right hon. Member for the royal town of Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) said earlier. I would not ever wish to speak for Jo, or ever claim that I could, but I know what she would be thinking at the moment and over the last few weeks: she would be heaping praise on the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) for the interventions that he has made. If she and her legacy give him any courage in what he is doing, he should know that she is—in my eye and in my mind—standing shoulder to shoulder with him.
I am enormously moved, and as somebody who is my girth and size knows, that is quite hard to achieve.
It has been in thinking of the work that Jo and I did together that I have been motivated and given strength to speak out in recent weeks, because I know that these are not political issues in the narrow sense, but issues that unite the core of our country.
Let me come to my last point. The hon. Member for Batley and Spen has already demonstrated that she knows perfectly well how to find her way around Hogwarts and that she knows exceptionally well how to make her voice heard in this place. She knows, I can tell the House, how to make friends across parties. In that, she needs absolutely no advice. The one thing that I think we all need to remember—I do not single her out especially, as this applies to us all—is what this place is for. It is too easy to think of it as a place for soundbites and video clips, as a place where we pass a quick Bill or make a cheap point.
What this place is for is to have the fights that a democracy needs to have, to have the arguments that free people need to express, to test ideas, to challenge each other—respectfully, yes, but to challenge each other—and to try to make the best for this amazing country, which we are privileged to be in. That is sometimes hard to remember; I admit my own failings. It is hard to remember when too often the accusations are of immorality or deceit, or the supposition is that parties define individuals, rather than that they are defined by the individuals who make them up.
What Jo demonstrated—and, for me, what made her not just a great friend but an amazing parliamentarian and, more importantly, a great Briton—is that she knew the purpose of this place; she knew that absolutely fundamentally. She knew that it was not to back down or make cheap compromise, but, as my friend the hon. Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) put it, to make compromise from a position of strength and principle, to choose the battles to fight and to make sure that they were won, in a way not that ground down her opponents, but which brought them with her. And that she achieved—remarkably, in under two years. I still cannot believe how brief the period was. I have been here for six years and have consistently failed since, but Jo demonstrated that and that is what I try to remember here.
As I pay tribute to a fantastic maiden speech, demonstrating all the passion that we knew the hon. Member for Batley and Spen had, let me say to her that she is taking up an extraordinary mantle. She carries with her the thanks, certainly of this House and, I am sure, of the whole country for demonstrating that courage is the willingness to come forward even when it is difficult, and particularly when it hurts.
It is an honour to follow the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat). It is also very appropriate, as will become clear when I continue with my speech, but before I get to those points, let me thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch), who has just popped out from her place, for securing this debate. It is important that we put on the record the positive legacy of Jo. It gives me great heart to listen to speeches from both sides of the House about just what has been achieved in Jo’s name.
I thank the right hon. Member for the royal town—I think I have got that right—of Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell), not just for the excellent speech that he gave just now, but for five years of friendship, for which I am very grateful. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock), who has also been dedicated in the work that he has done.
Today’s debate marks five years since the murder of Jo Cox MP, then the Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen. She was a Member of Parliament for a short time, but her life had already shown, even before she came to this place, just how much good could be done by a person with a simple determination to serve those in the world who needed her. In the five years that have passed, many people in our country have begun their own journey into public service, inspired and comforted by Jo’s words and spurred on by her example. That is the legacy that we record today.
Above all else, I must congratulate the new Member for Batley and Spen, my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), on her brilliant by-election victory and her maiden speech. Sometimes a win really helps—and what a win that was. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon, I really cannot explain how happy I am to describe her as the new Member for Batley and Spen. I came to know her in the worst possible circumstances, but having made friends with her has been nothing but a gift, even when she made me do 1980s aerobics—and also the women’s parliamentary football team. As my hon. Friend said, she is her own person and will represent her hometown in her own way, but she has shown a courage over the past five years that is worthy of a sister’s love.
To Brendan, Cuillin, Lejla, Jean, Gordon and all Jo’s friends and family, I say thank you for all you have done: you have been a light in the dark. To Jo’s friends Kirsty McNeill, Eloise Todd, Iona Lawrence, Nicola Reindorp, Ruth Price and so many others, I say thank you. I thank Jo’s friends here in this place—those who have already spoken and those who will speak, but especially those on the other side of the House—for showing that the words on Jo’s plaque count just as much on the Government side of the House as they do on the Opposition side. Finally, I thank everyone in Batley and Spen for putting up with us during the by-election. The towns of Batley and Spen are rightly known across the country for the kindness and care they have demonstrated.
Today’s debate is a chance for us all to reflect. We reflect on Jo’s life; the contribution that she made to her own community and our whole country; and the efforts of Jo’s family and friends on tackling loneliness, on the role of women in society and in politics, and on the humanitarian imperative.
Others will rightly talk about Jo’s legacy in our country. I have seen at first hand in Batley and beyond what an impact she has had. Her words have gone on to have very real meaning in every connection made and every friendship built. But Jo’s activism echoed not just in this country but around the world, and her loss was felt not just in the UK but in every place in the world where Jo had worked. Her belief in the humanitarian principle that everyone in the world is entitled to the basic protection of their life and liberty led her to meet people from the four corners of the earth, and when she died, they grieved just as we did here.
That was why, in 2018, the then Department for International Development established a development grant programme in Jo’s honour. It funds women’s empowerment organisations and the prevention of identity-based violence. The Jo Cox memorial grants get UK aid money exactly where it needs to be: backing women’s leadership and using protection approaches to stop violence before it escalates. That humanitarian principle that Jo fought for is made real by this work, and I thank all the civil servants in DFID, as was, and the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office now for working so hard to make it happen. She is not present, but I also thank the right hon. Member for Portsmouth North (Penny Mordaunt), who played a leading role.
In other aspects, however, we all must go further. I have met many Syrians in the UK who spoke with Jo in the year that she served in this place, when she gave voice to the horrors taking place in their country. They miss her now just as I do. In truth, life for Syrian civilians has worsened year after year. From Aleppo to Idlib and all over the country, civilians are displaced and forced to live in deep fear for their families. It goes on and on.
Jo advocated for a strategy to protect civilian life in Syria, and five years later that is exactly what we are still crying out for from the international community. Jo spent a decade campaigning for global acceptance of the responsibility to protect doctrine and, looking at events in Syria since she was killed, it is clear that she was right to do so. On Syria, Jo said that we must
“put the protection of civilians at the centre of our foreign policy, not…sit on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands more are killed and millions flee for their lives.”—[Official Report, 12 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 136.]
She was right to say that.
That which Jo feared has happened since, and it is happening right now. The International Crisis Group reported that in Daraa province in the south-west, the regime had renewed attacks throughout August on Daraa city’s besieged al-Balad neighbourhood, where fighting killed at least 32, including 12 civilians, and displaced 38,000 people by 24 August. That is not five years ago, or 10 years ago: it is two weeks ago. On 12 August, the UN special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, warned that civilians face shortages of basic goods and said that the
“near siege-like situation must end”.
Ignoring starvation and terror in our world will not make it go away.
As the hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling and I said in the pamphlet that he should have published with Jo, knee-jerk isolationism is not in Britain’s interest any more than it is in the interests of those in the world who need our leadership. All it does is make us look powerless in the world and careless about the international norms that we helped to create. The argument that Jo made in this place—that we have a responsibility to use the tools at our disposal, be they diplomatic, development or defence capabilities—to protect, where and when we can, was the right argument, and it has rung ever more true over the past five years than it was on the day Jo made it.
However, I believe that in the current public response to the Afghanistan crisis we are seeing Jo’s legacy. As Jo said, she had met battle-weary elders of Afghanistan and understood the impact of conflict. When she was killed, the then Chancellor, George Osborne, credited her with changing both attitudes and policy when it came to refugees. He said that she would never know how many people’s lives she had changed, and he was right.
Finally, let me say this. In Jo’s honour now, we all have a duty to see the common humanity we share with those who are the victims of conflict not of their making. Whether in Afghanistan or Syria or elsewhere in the world, there will be circumstances that cause humans to flee. Our country should be proud of every person who finds safe refuge here, as Jo’s friends and family should be proud that her defence of refugees made people think again and, crucially, changed the minds of those in power. That is Jo Cox’s legacy. Our responsibility is to live up to her principles.
I will be brief. I did not know Jo Cox, but I intrude on this debate because it is about her legacy. I did not know her, but we did have some friends in common outside politics, and I had the pleasure of having some contact with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) before the election, and with Brendan. It strikes me that we are really debating this concept of having friends in common, and we are talking about friends in the Commons.
I am struck by everything that has been said about Jo, much of which was new to me. My impression of her, having done some work with the foundation after her death, is of someone who worked very deliberately to cross divides, build bridges and live up to her statement that we have “more in common”. I want to reflect briefly on that phrase and wonder what it actually means. What is it that we have in common? What is it that binds us together? Without presuming to speak for her, but from listening to the debate so far and from knowing what I do about her, I think it is—and it is what I think as well—that we have in common the things that we care about. What we care about fundamentally, and what we are all here to work on in this place, is our families, our communities, our country and our common humanity. We have all sorts of different expressions of those affections and attachments, but those are really what life is about.
I just wanted to make the point—I hope it is not too politically partisan—that while we might agree that those are the things that matter, we do not necessarily agree on how to fulfil those obligations and how to serve those affections. In a sense, that is what this argument is about, but the fundamentals are the same. These are the things that matter. We serve a common set of ideals and obligations. I look forward, in a friendly way, to debating with the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) about how on earth we can strengthen our families, communities and country across this House.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger). As a current chair of the Labour Women’s Network, it is an honour for me to rise today to pay tribute to Jo Cox, its first ever elected chair. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) for securing this special debate. I speak today despite the fact that I did not know Jo personally. From hearing friends speak, I regret that considerably.
Jo led the Labour Women’s Network from 2011 until her election to Parliament in 2015. Jo is remembered by our organisation as an activist, a feminist, a humanitarian, a friend, a parent, a politician, a leader and a doer. Crucially, Jo is remembered as a sister, most importantly a sister to my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) who made an enormously moving and passionate speech. I know she will be a fantastic representative in this place.
Jo embodied sisterhood to all women: to the women she knew, who still feel echoes of her straight-talking support and gutsy humour encouraging them; but also to women like me, whom she would never meet, on whose behalf she eagerly sought to turn gender equality on its head. The Jo I hear about from LWN colleagues was proudly political and a proud intersectional feminist. Her sisterhood embraced women in all their diversity.
I stand before you, Madam Deputy Speaker, as part of Jo’s legacy: as the first black chair of the Labour Women’s Network and as part of the parliamentary Labour party, which is 51% female. Having spoken to many of Jo’s friends, they suspect that Jo would only pause to applaud that historic achievement for a moment before rolling up her sleeves and urging the rest of the House to crack on and catch up. Jo herself said:
“One of the reasons I am entering politics is because only 23% of the House of Commons is female. If women don’t make that 50/50 then the people taking decisions about our communities are never going to be reflective of the needs.”
The House is now 34% women. That should be noted as part of Jo’s legacy, but I am sure we can still feel her impatience for speedier change.
In that spirit, the Labour party and the LWN created the Jo Cox Women in Leadership Scheme, on which I was a trainer. It has offered intensive personal and political development to almost 175 women from every region of the UK. Among them are train drivers, firefighters and carers. The youngest participant was 18; the oldest mid-60s. Some 30% were women of colour, 20% were disabled and 25% were LGBT. They include Seyi Akiwowo, the founder of the unstoppable digital self-care campaign Glitch; Bex Bailey, named Time magazine’s person of the year for her role in the Me Too movement; and the award-winning sound engineer Olga Fitzroy.
The scheme uses Jo’s own approach of tough love and hard work to inspire an army of feminist changemakers. We remind participants that Jo, too, hit set-backs and made mistakes, faced abuse and wavered. Nevertheless, she persisted and in Jo’s name ultimately 300 women, graduates of the scheme, will likewise persist. Few women graduate from the scheme without internalising the voice of its architect, Nan Sloane, reminding them to
“Get into the room, take up the space, take politics seriously and never apologise for yourself.”
I also want to take the opportunity to thank our hard-working officers Clare Reynolds and Jane Heggie and the rest of the executive committee.
Alumni of the programme include my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill), now the shadow Secretary of State for International Development, and my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), now the chair of the women’s parliamentary Labour party. These are all roles that, had things been different, we could well have seen Jo taking on herself. We hope she would be proud to see the graduates of the leadership scheme ably carrying the batons.
As the years pass, Jo’s colourful legacy continues to grow brighter. We see it in the Jo Cox Foundation, which leads incredible work in her name. We see it in her amazing children. We see it in every glass ceiling smashed, every gesture of sisterhood and every act of brave persistence from generations of women she has inspired.
I was not sure if I was going to be speaking today, Madam Deputy Speaker, which is why I am not dressed appropriately, so forgive me for my attire—I would have worn far more appropriate trousers—but I felt that I just had to contribute.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) gave a splendid speech. I am incredibly anxious that she wants us all to get fit. She will realise that in this place fitness, whether physical or mental, is not promoted in any way whatsoever. I must put on record that she is already doing wonderful work. She has already reached out to me and asked what support she can provide all Members in this House in helping Afghan men, women and children to be extracted out of Afghanistan. She is already considering what she can do within the capacity and the power that she has to support the most marginalised.
I am not sure what more I can add in reference to Jo that has not already been said so far, because I agree with everything, but I think that two things should be put on the record. Perhaps they have not been mentioned because these two skillsets are normally promoted by the men in the House, not the women. Jo was a natural born leader. She had the ability to deal with the smallest problem in her constituency and also, on the same day, to deal with the biggest problem on the international stage. That is incredibly rare for a person to be able to do, but she could do it. Jo did not mind who she worked with if she could achieve her endgame, which was always giving a voice to the voiceless and ensuring that those who are overlooked are represented in this place and internationally as well.
The other thing we do not talk about often when it comes to women is how clever they are, but Jo was just intelligent—she really was. She could speak on so many issues that mattered so much. Her voice would have been so relevant over the past two months in this place. She was just clever, on the local stuff, the transport stuff, the potholes stuff, the foodbank stuff, the international stuff, the terrorism stuff, the humanitarian stuff—issues around China, Russia and the middle east. She just knew so much. Quite often it is very difficult as a woman to come across as clever and also to ensure that people will still work with you, and Jo had the skill to do that.
Jo and I had a few difficult run-ins. We often did media together. I was obviously on the other side of the TV screen or next to the presenter, but we always came off in a positive way, had a hug and talked about what we were going to work on next. Just as my hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) has done so much tremendous work on Afghanistan—I believe that Jo would have been proud—we worked together on the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, and no doubt she would have been one of the strongest voices on that too.
Jo had a huge impact on both sides of the House. Although she is gone, she will never, never be forgotten. On the rare occasions when Jo has pulled us all together it is important to note that it just takes one strong individual to achieve so much in a short period of time. I hope that we can remember that as we deal with far more difficult issues going forward. I want to put on record my thanks. Her family must be and should always remain incredibly proud.
Despite being elected on the same day as Jo Cox, I cannot say that I knew her. I knew who she was, and in the months after she died, I almost felt I did know her. I certainly felt I should have known her. But I did not. However, I wanted to be here today, along with my hon. Friend and colleague the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), to pass on the love, best wishes and solidarity from my party to her friends and family and the communities who no doubt still grieve her loss.
We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us. That is worth repeating. It was of course what Jo said in her maiden speech, and she was right. I share Jo Cox’s positivity about human beings and their capacity for humanity, but it is not always easy to stay positive about that. She is one of the people I always think of if ever I start to feel cynical. I think also of the late Bashir Ahmad, who was the first Muslim Member of the Scottish Parliament and only ever saw good in people. I think of my late maternal grandmother, Sarah Purdie, who shared everything she had with whoever needed it, for whatever reason, and judged nobody. And I think of Jo Cox. They all believed in the goodness of people, and so should we, because we will achieve more by reaching out to demonstrate what we have in common than by turning away.
While we are reaching out, we do of course have to keep ourselves safe, and that is one of her legacies. We all take our personal safety and that of our support teams a lot more seriously. This place takes it more seriously. We are all safer now because of Jo Cox. Let us not forget: it is not just MPs and their teams; all elected members, including councillors, face unacceptable abuse and threats. They deserve to be safe, too.
Jo sadly was not safe, and she paid a terrible price for her beliefs, but we should try not to remember her as a victim, although of course she was. Certainly when I hear her name, I picture her not as a victim, but as a kind of warrior woman: confident, strong, principled and fearless. Yes, I know she had many more battles she would have wanted to fight on behalf of other people, but she probably fought more in her almost 42 short years than most people will ever do. I imagine that she would rather be remembered for that, than have her memory defined by someone representing the wickedness in the world that she spent her time fighting.
Finally, I turn to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). I will not look at her, because she is going to get me going. She is the real reason I did not race up the road to Glasgow last night, as I usually do at the first opportunity. I want to offer her support, solidarity and sisterhood for the road that she has embarked upon. Most of us had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for. She has come into this with her eyes wide open, having experienced the very worst of electoral politics so close up. Still she put herself forward. That takes courage and a certain element of steely determination, which is something she clearly shares with her sister.
There was so much I could say about her speech today, but I will pick up on one thing. It was a wonderful speech and what a maiden speech should be. It was wide-ranging, but I will just pick up on one thing that I really loved, which is how she says the name of her constituency. She says “BAT-ley!” I do not know whether anyone else has noticed that she never says it “Batley”—she puts the “battle” into Batley, and it is wonderful to hear. Her speech, the way in which she conducted herself in the days and months after Jo’s death, and the way she handled what looked like a pretty nasty by-election—incidentally, as a Scottish National party Member I want her to know that I cheered out loud when her result came through—all demonstrate that she is more than Jo’s sister and that she will be a formidable Member of this House in her own right.
I would not dream of telling the hon. Lady what to do, but I do want to say that however she wants to approach this role is exactly how she should approach it. If she wants to spend her entire time in here doing what Jo would have done, that is not a bad shout, but she has already let us know that she wants to plough her own furrow, and that is also a good thing. I feel sure I will not be the only one saying that to her. I do hesitate, because we do not know each other, so who am I to give advice, but I want her to know that she is her own person and she won that by-election because she is Kim Leadbeater. She should be every bit as proud of herself for that, as she is proud of her sister and her sister’s wonderful legacy.
There are very few Back-Bench MPs who will have a lasting legacy after they have left Parliament, but Jo Cox is one of those people. I never knew Jo, but from the fondness with which she is remembered by colleagues, I know that she epitomised all that is goodness, and inspired us to be kinder to each other and to care about everyone in our communities.
On the issue of communities, I campaigned for my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), and it was clear that she was everywhere in the community. I even met someone who had been to her gym classes and was still willing to vote for her. That shows what an amazing person she is and what a fantastic presence she has in her communities.
One area of work that I know Jo Cox was passionate about was tackling loneliness, and the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness was one of the first things I got involved with when I was a newly elected MP in June 2017. It was led by my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) and the former Member for South Ribble, Seema Kennedy. The commission sought to start a conversation about loneliness that would lead to a less lonely and more connected world. That work is crucial and more relevant than ever.
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of meeting some covid-bereaved families and listening to their stories about lost family members and loved ones. A woman told me about the physical and mental impact of losing family members, which was then compounded by the loneliness she experienced as a result of various lockdowns. Another told me of the inadequacies of bereavement support services, and I am sure we all know people who have struggled with loneliness during the pandemic and in bereavement. The way that our communities have rallied round to support each other and those struggling in the pandemic is exactly the spirit that Jo Cox was talking about when she said that we all have more in common than that which divides us.
Loneliness affects many older people. Age UK states that about 10% of people aged over 65 say they are chronically lonely, with 1.7%—or 200,000—saying they have not had a conversation with a family member for more than a month. Carers also experience loneliness. Carers UK estimates that eight out of 10 carers feel lonely or isolated as a result of looking after a loved one. The impact of loneliness is felt even more profoundly by refugees. Many will have been separated from their families and loved ones having fled war or persecution. As well as making the arduous journey to get to the UK, they will have that loss to experience as well. That is why family reunion is so essential in these cases and something that we should all champion as much as we can.
The health impact of loneliness is well documented, and it has been estimated that in chronic cases it has the equivalent harmful effect of smoking 15 cigarettes a day. Lonely people are also more likely to have mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. Loneliness is also associated with high cardiovascular disease and strokes. All those issues were raised by the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness, and I am pleased that the Government not only produced a strategy but even appointed a Minister for loneliness. That is remarkable, bearing in mind that we debate so many things but few things actually happen. That is one positive that has come from Jo’s legacy.
Meaningful relationships are key to solving loneliness. We can all look to start a conversation as a first step. Much work still needs to be done to heal the divisions in our society, but with initiatives such as “the Great Get Together” spearheaded by the Jo Cox Foundation—I need to get invited to Bermondsey and Old Southwark to go to the many that my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) attends—it is clear that Jo’s legacy in bringing people together will be long lasting. As this debate has shown, Jo Cox was the best of us and will continue to be an inspiration to us all.
It is a real pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) and her incredibly moving maiden speech. That she won her seat on my birthday was a great birthday present.
I was not lucky enough to know Jo or to be able to call her a friend. However, she had a direct effect on my life that I would love to be able to thank her for in person. We all remember where we were when we heard the terrible news that day, the shock and disbelief, and watching the news over and over, hoping that the headline would somehow change, and desperately willing for it not to be true. A few months later, there was an announcement at the Labour party conference that one of Jo’s legacies would be to help women like me—members of the party who wanted to progress as councillors or activists, or maybe even one day follow in her footsteps and stand to be an MP. The Jo Cox women in leadership scheme was launched. I applied—at midnight on deadline day, as always—and did not expect to hear anything back, but at least I had tried.
Fast-forward a couple more months and there was a little bit of a buzz on social media: women I knew of had started to talk about checking their inboxes. It emerged that a couple of thousand women had applied for about 50 places. There was no way on earth that I was going to get one of them. So my poor mum was on the verge of calling an ambulance when she got a snotty, sobbing and totally incoherent phone call from her daughter, who had found an email from Labour Women’s Network in her spam folder with an offer of a place in the scheme. Women like me—a nobody struggling to raise my boys while working part-time as a teaching assistant and filling every other minute with running my local branch of the Labour party—do not often get breaks like that. It was my Charlie Bucket moment; I had found my golden ticket.
Jo’s gift to me was a group of women from across the UK: 55 sisters, all with different strengths, backgrounds and experiences, and all with different reasons for applying to the scheme. I have made lifelong friendships with some incredibly special women, all of whom have made an impact. We had had just two of our training sessions when the snap election was announced in 2017. I had sat with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Camberwell and Peckham (Ms Harman) in a hotel bar and told her I was thinking I might practise standing as an MP in 2020 in an area that she knew well. We joked that it was never, ever in a million years possible for Canterbury to be anything other than the safest Conservative seat in England. So, with absolutely nothing to lose, I practised standing in 2017, with that brilliant group of women on my phone 24/7. Ten of those women stood for Parliament in 2017, and two of us got here: the first woman ever to represent Canterbury and the first Sikh woman ever to be elected, my hon. Friend—my great friend—the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill).
Those other women have all kept making a difference, too, in continuing to stand for Parliament and in becoming councillors, community leaders, leaders of non-governmental organisations, activists, union pioneers and women on the frontline of the public sector and the fight against the covid pandemic. They are women such as Michelle Langan, who leads the Paper Cup Project in Liverpool to help to change the lives of rough sleepers in her region; Dr Kindy Sandhu, Coventry City councillor, academic extraordinaire and activist; Caroline Penn, formidable former Brighton councillor; Dr Allison Gardner, AI ceiling breaker as a leading woman in a traditionally male strand of academia; Denise Christie, firefighter and a regional secretary of the Fire Brigades Union; Anna Smith, deputy leader of Cambridge City Council; Salma Arif, the first female British Asian health lead on Leeds City Council; and our much-missed sister Assia Shah, who we sadly lost at the end of last year while she was working as a hospital chaplain and caring for those with covid.
I wish I could read the names of all those women—not just some in the first cohort of the scheme with me, but the outstanding women I have met who continue to inspire and change lives for the better in their communities and the wider world. All of us owe our thanks to Jo not just for the incredible opportunity her legacy has given us, but for the lead she took and the work she did for humanitarian causes around the world and for the women who undoubtedly would be worse off if she had not shone a light on their needs.
I was inspired by Jo’s passionate commitment to stop Brexit and by her humanity and compassion for displaced people seeking asylum. I am certain that she would stand here today and make her views heard on the idea of sending people in boats back to direct harm. Jo talked about what we have in common, and that is something that inspires me every single day of my life. One thing I have in common with Jo is our friendship with my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle), who has always been a great support—an encourager, a joker and a fantastic ally. Thanks to him for securing this debate today so that we can remember Jo and thank her for the real difference she brought to so many lives.
It is an honour to speak in this debate and to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield). Like her, I was not lucky enough to know Jo, but Jo’s work has touched the lives of many in my constituency and of myself as well. I would also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) for securing this important debate.
I would like to start by welcoming my hon. Friend the recently elected Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) to Parliament and by thanking her for her powerful maiden speech. Can I just say that it was an absolute pleasure to come up to Batley and to support such a relentlessly positive, optimistic and outward-looking campaign?
Remembering Jo and honouring her legacy is not something that we must do with words just once a year at a debate; it must be with our actions in our work every day as well. Jo championed many important causes, such as refugee aid, fighting loneliness, internationalism, and empowering women and girls—to name just a few. On that note, I would like to focus on Jo’s work on combating loneliness and how we can continue her work today.
Loneliness is an issue that does not discriminate based on age, gender, background or ethnicity. It is often debilitating, damaging to our mental health and can affect us all equally. Almost from the beginning of Jo’s parliamentary career, she worked to bring to light the causes and effects of loneliness so that we may better understand and tackle it. She co-established a cross-party loneliness commission with Seema Kennedy to do just that. That commission brought together 13 organisations to highlight the scale of loneliness across all areas of society and at different stages in everyone’s life. Partly because of the awareness that that commission brought to loneliness and mental health more broadly, those issues receive greater consideration and resources today.
There is still much work to be done, and the Jo Cox Foundation, which campaigns relentlessly to combat loneliness, cannot do it alone. In my patch of Coventry North West, grassroot community groups have worked to ensure that no one in my community feels alone. During the pandemic when we were all socially distancing, loneliness and poor mental health became a more pressing issue. Those groups stepped up to stop the spread of loneliness. Holbrooks community centre in my constituency has organised many community events and provides a safe space for residents to come together and socialise, and Grapevine in Coventry has done much to stamp out isolation and to support vulnerable people, planning events such as socially distanced gatherings at our local parks. With our high streets and town centres struggling, the Government must consider more innovative ways to empower such groups. They must also consider how we can better support community pubs, repurpose community and disused buildings, and make our green spaces more accessible to combat isolation and loneliness. My constituency would certainly welcome such support. I am incredibly grateful to be able to honour Jo and her work, and to speak on such an important issue.
It is an honour to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi), and I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for securing this important debate. I congratulate my wonderful hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater)—as others have said, it is fantastic to be able to say that—on her excellent, indeed sublime, maiden speech. I have no doubt that she will go on to do great things and I am excited to be able to watch and, I hope, help her in any way I can. No one knew Jo better, and that love and admiration shone through today. I know Jo would have been very proud, as indeed her whole family rightly are.
Sadly, we all remember hearing the news on that horrific day in June 2016, as well as the conversations that followed with friends, family and, particularly for MPs, our children. Jo’s children, Cuillin and Lejla, were much younger than mine, but I have no doubt that children of MPs, like my Joseph and Emily, who kiss goodbye to their mam or their dad when they head off for a regular constituency day, were united that day, both in fear for their parent’s safety, but also in heartbreak, love and understanding for Jo’s children.
I have always reassured my family, as I am sure we all do, that I am safe in my work. Although the weeks and months after Jo’s murder were difficult for everyone who knew her in so many ways, we have all been comforted by Jo’s words that we all know so well:
“we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”—[Official Report, 3 June 2015; Vol. 596, c. 675.]
Jo put those words into action and, like me, as we have heard she was a pragmatic idealist. Also like me, she believed in cross-party working—for any advice on setting up all-party groups, I’m your girl! I truly believe that in order for something to succeed, it must be done with the support of colleagues across the political spectrum and across the House. Anyone who knows me in this place will know that I stand by that.
Soon after becoming an MP Jo set up the cross-party loneliness commission, together with the former Member for South Ribble. I am proud of my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) who was able to continue Jo’s work on that important issue. Loneliness is not just a problem for the elderly, as the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) said in her excellent contribution. As I discovered when my daughter went to university, although surrounded by many young people, she was desperately lonely and felt very isolated for the first few months, so I would add students to the list that the hon. Lady gave earlier.
As we heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), the Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness found evidence that loneliness can adversely affect a person’s health, so it is indeed a public health issue that we all need to take seriously. I am sure that Jo would have been working throughout the pandemic, among other things, to keep people connected and help tackle loneliness, as I know the Jo Cox Foundation has been doing.
Last December, as the then shadow Minister for Veterans, I asked the then Veterans Minister, the hon. Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), to support and promote the Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Winter Get Together for veterans. I am pleased to say that we were both able to attend a very large virtual roundtable discussion with hundreds of veterans, hosted by the fabulous Jo Cox Foundation and the Royal British Legion. That was just at the beginning of this year—in February, I recall—and it was excellent.
As we have heard, Jo achieved so much in such a short space of time as an MP. We will never know what might have been, but I am confident that it would have been magnificent. Jo’s legacy lives on in the organisations, charities and work that continue in her name. Through the Jo Cox women in leadership programme, we are seeing more women who love and act like Jo enter politics, such as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Preet Kaur Gill) and my wonderful hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield). We are all the better for it.
It is an honour, as well as heartbreaking, to sit under the Jo Cox memorial plaque, a reminder of the impact that she had across the Chamber and, indeed, the world. It is our duty to ensure that Jo is remembered and that her legacy lives on. On days like today, I am confident that it will.
Like everybody else, I thank the hon. Members for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) and for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) for bringing this debate forward today. It has been incredibly moving for everybody. We all remember where we were and what we were doing when the news came through. I was coming back from a surgery myself. I could not believe that that could happen to anybody, and certainly not that it could have happened to Jo.
I was reflecting this week on the day we all came back here—the memorial and the tributes that were paid, and how we all felt that day. I was sitting up at the back, and I could not take my eyes off Brendan, and Cuillin and Lejla, up in the Gallery. They were those tiny wee bits of children, and I felt so awful for them about what had happened. I think we can all agree that we all think of them and keep them in our hearts. They can be incredibly proud of their mum’s legacy and the things that she has done, which we still hear about today in this place, and that so many of us have come to remember her and to thank her for what she has done.
It is interesting that this House remembers Jo often and speaks of her often. I noticed that the Library briefing—I tried to research this myself and could not quite do it, so I am glad that the Library did—says that her name had been mentioned on 129 occasions since the last election, prior to today, when, obviously, there have been many more mentions. That really reflects that while she may not be in here, she is always with us and always in our thoughts. I think that is important. That legacy, of course, has brought us here. It has brought us here in emotion, in love and in solidary with one another. Keeping those values is very important, too.
We welcome Jo’s sister, the new hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater), who has already achieved so much in coming here and being here. We look forward very much to seeing what she will do in this place for her constituents—the causes she will champion and the things she will do. She will do her constituents very proud, I am sure. My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) was absolutely right that we all cheered at seeing the hon. Lady elected. It is unusual, I suppose, that we would do that, but the context was very different. We are delighted, particularly given the awfulness of that campaign, that she got through that and that she is here with us in this place. It is an absolute joy for democracy and for the values that we all share.
The Jo Cox Foundation has not been talked about enough, although lots of people have mentioned it. I want to mention some of the things that the foundation does. I have been to and enjoyed the Great Get Togethers. There is the More in Common Network, the Connection Coalition, which is really important, and the local Yorkshire projects, which stand as a local legacy to her work. There is the work around civility in politics. It is so important that we find ways to agree and disagree respectfully, and to work with one another whatever our common causes and across political divides, wherever possible.
Many have mentioned the international work, and the Jo Cox memorial grants through the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office are more valuable today than they ever have been, with the situation in Afghanistan. The work on loneliness was mentioned and is incredibly important, and I thought the reflection about the widening of that scheme and the widening of the concept that Jo took to it was very interesting. I know from speaking to many of the refugee groups in my constituency how much that loneliness work has meant to them—to have their pain and isolation recognised and to take positive steps to try to change that and make that right.
I want to reflect on some of the things that were said about the Labour party from a Scottish Labour perspective. I did my best to reach out across political divides and I contacted Labour MSPs and former MSPs who I thought would have something that they wished to say. I wanted to make sure that her legacy in Scotland was also recognised. My predecessor, Anas Sarwar, now MSP for Glasgow, organised a Great Get Together event and, very charitably, given the circumstances in which he and I know each other, invited me along. He had no obligation to do so but he reached out across the party political divide and organised a wonderful event at his constituency office, which brought the community together and allowed people to have those conversations and be together. I hope that we will be able to make that happen more in the years and months to come.
I also reached out to Kezia Dugdale, the former leader of Scottish Labour and a very good egg, I would say. She is working for the John Smith Centre at Glasgow University. Kez was Scottish Labour leader at the time Jo was taken from us. She reflected on—the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) also mentioned this—the power of Jo’s sisterhood. Kez described Jo as
“the ultimate feminist, lifting women up, giving her time to mentor people and open doors.”
She felt that the Jo Cox women in leadership programme that the Labour party has is that fitting tribute, as others have said, including the hon. Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield), because it is about not only political education, but helping women to organise and prepare for life in politics. Far be it from me to commend the women going into the Labour party but it does sound like a very good scheme and a very meaningful legacy. Kez said that
“for me and many women like me, Jo’s legacy was about supporting women to realise their own power and agency to effect change”.
I think we can all agree, whatever party people want to stand for, that that is definitely something worth valuing.
I also heard from Monica Lennon, MSP, who I understand has had the privilege of meeting the new hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) at events. She is also very delighted for her to be here. Monica reflected the power and essence of Jo’s legacy in bringing our diverse communities together—people from different parties and people from different backgrounds in a space where we can chat and be together. Her feeling was also of solidarity. She said that women of all political parties have looked out for one another more since Jo’s death and that we can all take inspiration from the way that she lived her life. I think that is incredibly powerful, regardless of whoever has said these things, and I thank those colleagues in the Scottish Labour party for getting in touch with me to do that, because they also miss her and thank her for all that she has done.
In reflecting that there are those who have come to this place as Jo’s legacy, it is really important to remind ourselves, in all our qualities, what we should be and how we should approach things.
I have written down some words that have been mentioned today: passion, enthusiasm, commitment, clarity, decency, principle. Being a campaigning MP, in whatever aspect, and a humanitarian; having commonality of cause; bringing a voice to the voiceless; being intelligent and proud of it; having humanity and seeing the goodness in people—those are all qualities that we should seek in Members of Parliament. They are always qualities that we and the public recognise, but we should talk about them more as a way to bring people who have them into this place and make our politics better.
I want to take a small second to thank all the people who have spoken so far and say to them all how much I appreciate them, how much I like them and how much I thank them for being in this place and sharing this strange world that we all inhabit. We do not say that enough when we have the chance, so I will close by thanking everyone who has spoken; saying my appreciation to Jo’s family, who are here, and her friends; and wishing everybody the very best on what has been a very difficult day for so many of us.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) for securing this debate and opening it with such an important reminder not just of what we have lost but, as all hon. Members have said, of what we have gained from the life of Jo. I thank all who have attended; whether they have spoken or sat and reflected, their presence means so much to us.
Today we have searched for words to show our affection and admiration for our dear friend Jo. Her legacy has left its imprint around the world. In contrast to the dark moment that stole her life, the light through which she lived her life and that she shared with others has ignited hope, lit movements and sparked a generation of people to step into a space where they too can make change and make a difference to the people around them.
My hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater) has more than stepped into that space today, in her own unique way. In one of the most personal and passionate speeches ever heard in this House, she has moved us all—or certainly will with one of her work-outs. As a younger sister myself, I recognise the unique bond between sisters, and today the Leadbeater family spirit filled this Chamber.
Just as the memorable words of Jo’s maiden speech called us to draw together through recognising the unity we share, overwhelming that which divides us, my hon. Friend’s speech today will echo not just in this place, but across nations in years to come; indeed, today it has sparked unity in our place and perhaps a fresh start for politics to bring us closer together to do the job that we were called to do. But it was the powerful words first spoken by Jo that have called on our communities, time and again, to draw close and seek our common bonds, and that have beckoned us to share our lives in unique ways.
Jo did. As so many of us recently witnessed in Batley and Spen, Jo’s legacy is sewn into the hearts that she touched in her own community. As we knocked on doors, people were eager to share how Jo had been there for them, spoken for them and, above all, turned her words into actions. She knew the honour of being sent to Parliament to speak for them—a task that she diligently devoted herself to, as we have heard today. She reached out across the House to draw people into her space and turn their attention to the cause, whether she was highlighting the acute humanitarian crisis in Syria or listening with compassion to those who have known the searing pain of loneliness. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) for all that she has done in continuing Jo’s work on Syria, putting the victims of conflict at the heart of all we do. Her tenacity has furthered Jo’s legacy.
Jo sought answers, laboured for solutions and focused on the transformation that she believed politics could bring. As my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) reminds us, she strove for unity over division and to stand up for what was right, speaking truth to power. My hon. Friend the Member for Barnsley Central (Dan Jarvis), who cannot be with us today, wanted to pay this tribute:
“Jo was such a good friend and a wonderful human being. Compassionate. Kind. Honest. Funny. Courageous. She was a doer with an infectious enthusiasm.
Jo’s legacy as a humanitarian shines strong and her memory will continue to inspire for generations to come. We miss her dearly.”
Jo, of course, spent time working in the EU, and there, too, her legacy continues. The chair of the Labour party, my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds), has said:
“Jo’s legacy is keenly felt by so many people within the Socialist and Democrat group and reflected in the naming of her own square in Brussels, ‘Place Jo Cox’. Jo’s message, continues to be a rallying cry for a grown-up politics which promotes the incredible things people can achieve when they come together.”
It is those words “more in common”, which we read daily, of which we remind ourselves at the start of each session and from which we draw perspective as we look to the coat of arms placed above these Benches. We embrace those words: we must have more in common. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West), who cannot be here this afternoon, said:
“When in the Chamber, I look at Jo’s plaque and think how I can make a positive contribution the way Jo did; inclusive, warm, intelligent and challenging. Jo lives on in our contributions both to address our, at times divided communities, always with a sense of urgency and hope.”
It was communities here and around the world that Jo served. Having seen the difference that the Royal Voluntary Service was making to the lives of older and vulnerable people in her constituency, she became determined to tackle the issue of loneliness. Jo’s support to ensure that no one, of any age or from any background, experienced loneliness led to a commission on loneliness, to the subsequent strategy and to a named Minister for loneliness—and it is such a pleasure to see the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) back in the Chamber today. It was her legacy that moved the agenda forward as the commission became a strategy, and in October this year it will mark its third anniversary. Its importance has been noted by us all over the last 18 months as we have navigated our way through the covid 19 pandemic. It is not without significance that my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous), for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) have all drawn on that in their speeches today, recognising its role among the bereaved and those who have been so challenged in our times, those experiencing chronic loneliness—and at this time, of course, refugees too.
My hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) reminded us all of the inspiration that Jo gave us, as women, not least through the Labour Women’s Network. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) talked of the power of women in leadership. Jo’s feminism came through in all that she did, whether on the international stage or in her constituency. The Jo Cox Foundation, founded in her memory and formed by friends and family, is growing Jo’s legacy, with a vision
“for a kinder, more compassionate society where every individual has a sense of belonging”.
It now marks the Great Get Together, bringing communities together—and I look forward to my invitation to Bermondsey next year to join colleagues in that place of unity. With organisations such as the More in Common Network, the Connection Coalition, Civility in Politics, Building a Fairer World and local projects in Yorkshire, the Jo Cox Foundation is certainly advancing Jo’s legacy.
Others also wanted their words to be quoted today. The Freedom Fund, for which Jo worked before coming to Parliament, said:
“Jo was a powerful champion for the world’s most vulnerable and marginalised. She was one of those rare people who really did fight tirelessly to make the world a better place. And with it all, Jo was warm, funny, fearless and effective.
Jo also worked for Oxfam leaving a significant and far reaching legacy. She worked on the Make Poverty History Campaign, to increase aid, cancel debt, improve trade for the world’s poorest countries, and advocated for the protection of civilians globally.
An inspiring, positive and energetic leader who was passionate about justice and equality. Oxfam’s vision of a kinder, fairer world—a world less divided by borders, money, race or gender—is rooted in Jo’s values. Her work and her impact is still felt across Oxfam and the development sector today.”
It was no mistake that Jo, a passionate advocate here and around the world, was a Labour MP. Her politics mattered. She was an active member of the GMB too, and Neil Derrick, the regional secretary, has paid this tribute:
“Jo radiated happiness and it was infectious—you couldn’t help but smile when in her company, as many of us did. She wanted to do so much and had so many plans to try and improve things, not just for her constituents, but for GMB members across the region. A little bit of Jo lives on in every one of us, every time we do a good deed or show compassion to one another. We are incredibly proud at GMB to call Jo one of our own.”
And as hon. Friends have said today, she is one of our own. Jo’s search for a fairer and more just world drove her in all she did. At this time of such failed global politics, Jo would have been not just identifying the challenges but gathering people to advance solutions, build bridges and determine a better path forward.
The hon. Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat) reminded us that Jo showed us what this place was for, the purpose for which we are called to serve and, as the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) also said, knowing where we stand.
Above all, Jo was an extraordinary woman: a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a colleague and our friend. In leaving us, she has challenged us all to take up her call and create a far fairer and more just world where we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.
It is an honour to respond for the Government in this important debate and I congratulate the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Neil Coyle) on securing it, but I hope the whole House will agree that it is right to turn first to the extraordinary speech from the new Member, the hon. and brave Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). She spoke movingly about her journey to this place, what it means to be here and her passion to diligently represent the area that she loves and that Jo Cox loved too. If I may, I will pick out two areas of her speech specifically. The first is what she said about public service.
Every day in this Chamber we see that, for doing this job, some Members of Parliament have made the ultimate sacrifice. We all, in one way or another, make sacrifices doing it, but there are too many shields on these walls. We all know, though, that Parliament, this place, is where we can make the lives of our constituents and this whole country greater still. As the hon. Lady said, both she and her sister sought to reach across party lines to do that. We are strongest when we can make that work and when we can “crack on and get stuff done”, as she said. In so doing, perhaps we will make the divisive, damaging, fractured politics that we have seen in recent years a little bit less painful. Over the last few years, we have lived through some of the most polarised times in British politics. From the tone of today’s debate, we all think that we should do better. I know from speaking to Members across this House that Jo Cox worked across party from the moment she was elected, and I know from speaking to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen herself before this debate that she will continue that legacy. We have, as so many have said, more in common than that which divides us, wherever we sit in this House. We forget it too often.
The second thing to say is that while this debate is not focused solely on the Jo Cox Foundation but on her legacy as a whole, it is the foundation that will ensure that so much of that work lives on. Legacies are always about the future, not the past. Those values of stronger communities, a better public life and a fairer world are all things that the past 18 months have shown to be more vital than ever. Whether that is, as Jo put it herself, to
“turbo-charge the public’s awareness of loneliness”
or to tackle the scandal of online hate, this Government are committed to tackling the issues that the foundation is involved in. That is because those issues mattered profoundly when she identified them and they still matter profoundly today. I could talk at great length about how the Government are supporting the superb initiatives that have been mentioned a lot today, including the Jo Cox memorial grants and the Jo Cox Foundation’s Great Get Together campaign. Collectively, Jo’s legacy is already benefiting tens of thousands of people across the world, but I will highlight three areas.
The first is intimidation in public life and the behaviour that can stop talented people, particularly women and those from minority backgrounds, standing for public office. We recognise that in the past several MPs have referenced abuse as a reason for standing down. To humanise that, it means there is hardly a woman in Parliament who has not received a death threat, even though many men have not. It means the police judge that we need security in our homes, and it means an emotional toll on our families who worry that this job poses far more risk than it is worth, as the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) said.
For all those reasons, and more, the Government are taking action to tackle this culture. I do not think that today is a day to introduce partisan politics, but let me say simply that the need to tackle intimidation of every sort drives the Government’s agenda, from online safety to defending democracy.
Secondly, as Jo said:
“Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate.”
The covid-19 pandemic has, as so many Members have today, highlighted the importance of social connection to everyone across society. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) and for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies), and our former colleague Seema Kennedy, for all the work they have done on loneliness.
The Government are proud to have continued to play our part in building on the pioneering work that Jo Cox started. The Jo Cox Commission on Loneliness carried out invaluable work that informed the Government’s 2018 tackling loneliness strategy—the world’s first Government strategy of its kind. It evolved into nearly £50 million of investment, the world’s first loneliness Minister and huge progress in destigmatising an issue on which there remains so much to do.
Thirdly, Jo Cox’s work had strong roots in her local area. Like Jo, we believe that local people understand what is needed in their community, be it local and grassroots action on tackling loneliness or on a host of other issues. We can all take action, no matter how small, to reach out with kindness to those around us, and we should never underestimate the huge impact that can have in our communities.
The hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark was the first, but by no means the only, Member to mention the importance of family to Jo and the hon. Member for Batley and Spen. It is great that the family join us today in the Gallery. There are clearly some formidable genetics up in the Gallery, and I worry that there are now some formidable genetics on the Opposition Benches. It was kind of the hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark to invite us all to Bermondsey for another Great Get Together.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford and the hon. Members for Coventry North West (Taiwo Owatemi) and for Enfield, Southgate (Bambos Charalambous) mentioned loneliness. One of the things I suspect the hon. Member for Batley and Spen will learn is that Thursday afternoons are a particularly great opportunity for Back Benchers to press the Government to take action on a host of issues, and she saw an adept way of doing that from my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford.
The hon. Member for Batley and Spen may also learn that she will not always get the straightest and most immediate answer from the Dispatch Box, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford knows that both the issues she raised are under serious consideration by the Government and that her views are shared elsewhere. Those two issues, particularly social prescribing, are hugely valuable.
Among other things, the hon. Member for Batley and Spen might learn from my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) that it is genuinely true that friendships go across parties, and I hope we can continue that. She may also learn that there is no place in which she cannot promote a book, but that is a separate issue.
My hon. Friend the Member for Tonbridge and Malling (Tom Tugendhat), who is no longer in his place because he is carrying out his duties as Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, made a genuinely important speech about why we are all here. I think we all value his contribution. We can all learn how to turn being late into a politically useful point, too.
The hon. Members for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock) and for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) talked powerfully about the persistent emotional impact of Jo’s presence and about her internationalism. We all learned even more than we had from previous tributers about the ongoing impact Jo has had on so many people.
My hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) spoke about the value of debate, which is why we are all here. The hon. Members for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) talked about the value of the Labour women’s network, highlighting the progress that has been made in this House and, indeed, in the Labour party on improving diversity. We all share those ambitions, and I can think of a couple of Tory Prime Ministers who would definitely agree.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wealden (Ms Ghani) talked about the value of leadership, which she has shown on a number of issues, and I know she will continue to do so.
Turning finally to the contributions of the hon. Members for Glasgow North East (Anne McLaughlin) and for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss), both talked about cheering the result in Batley and Spen. I must confess that it is easier for a member of the SNP to cheer that result than it is for a member of the Conservative party, but that does not mean that we cannot celebrate the arrival of the hon. Lady and all her qualities.
The Government are proud to continue the legacy that we have discussed today. Whether it is through supporting women and girls internationally through the Jo Cox memorial grants, working at a national level to address intimidation in public life and tackle loneliness or supporting people to connect in their local communities, we continue to be inspired by the life and the work of Jo Cox and her belief in a kinder and fairer world for everyone.
I want to end by saying simply one thing: we have heard powerful speeches today watched by honoured guests in the Gallery, and I know that there are others, including the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend the Member for Maidenhead (Mrs May), who had hoped to be here, too. Today has been an exceptional parliamentary moment and that is because we have been here to commemorate an exceptional life. We see that shield in this Chamber every day, a pointed reminder that Jo Cox’s legacy is permanent in our minds and in this place. I know that the hon. Member for Batley and Spen will do justice to it and we should all work to honour it as well.
Thank you again, Madam Deputy Speaker. I also thank the House authorities and the Backbench Business Committee for giving us a chance to pay our respects here in the Chamber and, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South (Alison McGovern) put it, to reflect.
It has been tough for many of us, and, as we saw, completely understandably so for my hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon (Stephen Kinnock). We also heard what an inspiration Jo remains, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield) put it. All contributions made it clear that Jo’s work, passions, loves and values live on through Members across this House. The message that has rung out clearly throughout this debate was the importance of cross-party work. We heard that from the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and also from my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). We would not have had the debate if it were not for the cross-party work. I thank again the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Tracey Crouch) who talked about Jo’s spirit of getting things done—not just raising an issue, but getting it sorted, which, I think, is a demonstration of the Yorkshire grit that we heard about in the maiden speech.
What a brilliant maiden speech—an amazing maiden speech. It was brilliant that such a warm welcome was given to the new Member for Batley and Spen from across the House. It was also brilliant to hear how rightly proud the whole family is of the positive legacy of Jo Cox. Going forward, we all have a duty to continue Jo’s efforts five years on. We could all benefit from being a bit more Jo. It would certainly improve some of my social media contributions.
It was also clear from the maiden speech that it is not just Jo’s positive legacy that lives on, but that relentlessly positive family spirit that lives on through the new Member for Batley and Spen. We could all benefit from being a bit more Jo, but we could also all benefit from being a bit more Kim. We will all have the chance to do it when we welcome the Batley riders to Flat Iron Square at a Great Get Together in June next year.
This has been an incredibly moving and thoughtful debate and it has been a real honour to hear all your extremely powerful contributions about Jo’s legacy. Many congratulations to the hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Kim Leadbeater). It is a great to welcome another Yorkshire woman to the Chamber. She will be an incredibly effective contributor, and I get the feeling that she will also bring a certain liveliness to our debates. Many congratulations to her. She is very insightful and I was very proud to hear her contribution. It is wonderful to have her family here as well and I am sure that they share in that pride.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the legacy of Jo Cox.