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Jo Cox represented the best of parliament and the best of Labour

That these institutions attracted someone of Cox's calibre suggests they are in better health than many suggest. 

Jo Cox was a Labour MP. The shift in tense denotes the horror of what occurred yesterday. For the first time since the murder of Ian Gow by the IRA in 1990, a member of parliament has been killed. That Cox was attacked outside her constituency surgery, the forum where she served so many, enhanced the senselessness of her death. 

She was elected just a year ago to represent Batley and Spen, the seat where she was born in 1974. But the tributes to her were worthy of a veteran. They were a measure of how much she achieved and of how much more she would have done. 

Some arrive at parliament to become somebody; Jo Cox already was somebody. After working as a political adviser to Labour MP Joan Walley and Glenys Kinnock MEP, she spent nearly a decade as an Oxfam aid worker, serving in war zones including Afghanistan, Congo, Palestine and Sudan. There are many organisations that would have gratefully employed her. But Cox never doubted the position she wanted: MP. "The job I've always dreamed of" was how she described it after her election. In an age when parliament is commonly denigrated, it should be remembered why: because it remains the pre-eminent arena for those who want to improve the world. 

And Cox did. Her internationalism moved her to establish the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Syria and she ceaselessly championed the cause of that benighted country's people. In her speech in support of the ultimately successful campaign for the government to accept more child refugees, she drew on her experience to move MPs' consciences. "In the shanty towns of Calais and Dunkirk, the aid workers I spent a decade with on the frontline as an aid worker myself, tell me that the children there face some of the most horrific circumstances in the world. Surely we have to do the right thing tonight and support the Dubs amendment." 

It was no accident that the party Cox chose was Labour. From a non-political background, she was moved to join after "the realisation", while studying at Cambridge, that "where you were born mattered, that how you spoke mattered ... who you knew mattered. I didn't really speak right or know the right people." Labour, a party purposefully founded to give those like Cox representation, was the natural choice. 

Her internationalism, too, shaped her decision. "Our party has a proud record," she wrote in October 2015. "From the thirties and the International Brigades, where thousands from our movement stood shoulder to shoulder against fascism during the Spanish Civil War, to the modern day humanitarian interventions led by Labour in Sierra Leone and Kosovo, stopping ethnic cleansing in its tracks." 

She added: "I don’t believe this internationalism is an accident. Rather, it stems from our ideology, from our belief in equality and justice. Our belief that all people have the same right to peace, justice and prosperity no matter where they live. Where we act (not only stand) in solidarity with those oppressed and marginalised." 

Cox's fierce awareness of the necessity of power to improve human lives made her determined to achieve a Labour government. It was the seemingly distant prospect of doing so that led her to write a self-critical piece with fellow MP Neil Coyle, regretting her decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn (who paid dignified tribute to her) for the leadership. They warned that "poor judgment and a mistaken sense of priorities" were "offering the Tories the prospect of power through 2020, 2025 and beyond". 

Jo Cox was a Labour MP. There are innumerable ways in which the parliament and the party she served can be improved. But as long as they attract figures of the calibre of Cox, they will be in far better health than many suggest. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.

Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.