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16 June 2017updated 09 Sep 2021 6:08pm

Jo Cox helped transform Britain for the better, let’s remember her with joy

Despite the pain, we are hoping this anniversary will be a time for optimism – and even some fun.

By Iona Lawrence

On the first anniversary of the murder of Jo Cox in her constituency of Batley and Spen, her friend Iona Lawrence, now director of the Jo Cox Foundation, writes about how the occasion is being marked and the impact the Labour MP’s death has had on the country.

Those who knew Jo well recognised her extraordinary qualities as an MP, as a mum, but most of all as a human being of deep conviction and enormous warmth.

We loved her and could see that her capacity to make a huge contribution to politics and the future of the country was boundless.

All of that promise was taken away when she was murdered by a heartless fascist pursuing a warped ideology, with no thought for the impact of his actions on her family and friends.

He failed in everything he set out to do, apart from taking from us a beautiful woman, and depriving her husband and two children of her love and companionship.

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He wanted to silence Jo. As her husband Brendan Cox has said so eloquently, he did exactly the opposite. Her values and beliefs shine on a year after she left us.

In fact, from being a relatively young MP just starting out in her political career and unknown to most outside Westminster, she has become a symbol of something profound and of lasting significance.

Her words in her maiden speech to parliament have echoed around the world and continue to do so. We are far more united, she said, and have “far more in common than that which divides us”.

She was speaking about her own constituency of Batley and Spen, where we will be remembering her today. But her words apply just as much to the whole country, and resonate with all those with love in their hearts and a true sense of community all over the world.

We saw that determination to unite and remember what we have in common after the tragic events on Westminster Bridge, in Manchester and in Borough Market in London. We’ve seen it again in response to the awful tragedy at Grenfell Tower this week.

It shouldn’t and doesn’t need horror on that scale to show the best of what people are made of, but at times of great sorrow, the power to do good that often lies below the surface unseen comes vividly to light.

Jo would have been proud of how British people have come together in recent weeks. And she would have been especially cheered that, rather than turning on those already marginalised in society, we embrace them and hold them close.

After their brutality, the terrorists would have had us blame all Muslims and become more closed and insular. We did the opposite and admired the many Muslim doctors, nurses, hospital staff and security service personnel who stepped up to the mark without a thought.

When it was clear so many of the victims of the devastating fire in west London were not just among the most disadvantaged in society, but also immigrants, or the families and loved ones of immigrants from all around the world, we cried out for them even more loudly.

The weekend, and starting today in Batley, we remember Jo with The Great Get Together. Amid all the pain, we are hoping it will be a time for optimism and even some fun. An opportunity to reach out to others in our communities, including those we don’t know or aren’t used to spending time with.

Whether it’s over a picnic table, or at a fun day, or one of the many special events around the country, we can embrace our fellow women and men, and entertain our children, in the spirit of openness and inclusivity which was at the heart of Jo’s politics and the way she lived her life.

I hope this weekend will have a lasting effect, just as the response to Jo’s murder has done. Maybe, having had a taste of community sharing and caring, the habit will take hold.

It’s not a very British thing to talk to strangers or even catch the eye of somebody on the street who we don’t know. But this weekend, give them a smile or a cheery wave. Jo used to do it all the time.

We will always miss her and we will never stop loving her, but she would have wanted us to get on with what needs doing and that is why Brendan felt The Great Get Together was the best possible tribute to her memory.

So I hope today won’t be a sombre affair, although many of us will have sadness in our hearts. Jo was, above all, a doer. Let’s get out there this weekend and do something worthwhile.

If you’d like to join us, it’s not too late. Take a look at www.greatgettogether.org and see what’s happening near you. And give someone, somewhere, a hug for Jo.

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