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17 June 2016

“It is her laughter I will remember the most”: Yvette Cooper pays tribute to Jo Cox

She was always ready to listen, to be creative, to think the unthinkable, and to change her mind.

By Yvette Cooper

It’s hard to believe and harder to bear. Jo, who seized life and shook it up, has had hers stolen away.

Passionate, creative, forceful, funny, she did nothing by halves.

When others threw up their hands concluding a problem was too difficult to solve, Jo weighed in.

Searingly honest with herself and everyone else, I never saw her opt for the easy path. One of those rare people who walks towards problems rather than walking away. Outspoken. Brave. And she was always ready to listen, to be creative, to think the unthinkable, and to change her mind.

For someone who had been in Parliament for just 12 months she had a huge impact. Setting up the all-party Syria group, drawing on her years of international experience and aid work, summoning ministers to Parliament to answer questions, sharp challenges to the Prime Minister. Refugees fleeing conflict and persecution have lost a passionate champion.

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Rarely conventional (she lived on a boat on the Thames, for heaven’s sake!) she managed to be loudly, proudly Labour and build respect, friends and alliances across parties and across public life at great speed.

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Tory MPs texted me in tears yesterday. So did journalists. BBC Radio Leeds presenter Andrew Edwards and I didn’t dare let our eyes meet as we talked in the studio yesterday, for fear both of us would break down on air.

Jo was a fierce advocate for democracy and women’s equality too – chairing the Labour Women’s Network and breathing new life and energy into it when the rest of us were depressed and defeated after the 2010 election.

Ever a proud Yorkshirewoman, when her home constituency of Batley and Spen was suddenly seeking a Labour candidate in 2014 she was the obvious person to stand. But I know she hesitated – concerned that the time wasn’t right for her family and that her children were too young. Many of us encouraged her to stand because, frankly, if Jo couldn’t manage it, then no one could. And she did an amazing job juggling both.

I didn’t see her in Westminster this week, but we’d exchanged a few messages about her article on the EU and immigration – classic Jo, facing up to the tough issues. And she’d joked about calamine lotion for her kids’ chicken pox. Fiercely proud of her family, a fantastic mum to two small children.

But it is her laughter I will remember most. Eyes sparkling, almost cackling with amusement at something ridiculous that had happened. Always ready to host a party, always keen to heal division and bring people together.

All those photos of her on the front pages today, all smiling. It’s so hard to believe anyone could bear enough hatred to kill Jo Cox.

But as her husband Brendan said so powerfully yesterday, “She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.”

That’s how we should remember and pay tribute to Jo now.