When I heard the news last Thursday afternoon of the attack on my colleague and near neighbour in West Yorkshire, Jo Cox, I could hardly believe it. Then, a few hours later, came the terrible news that she had died of her injuries – murdered by a man allegedly screaming “Britain First” before shooting her in the face, then twice more and stabbing her as well, I wondered whether this could possibly be true, it was too much to take in, especially on the streets of the quiet town of Birstall between Leeds and Bradford and just six miles from where I live in Leeds.
Jo Cox came to see me in March 2014 to ask whether I could take some portrait photos of her to be used in her bid to become the Labour candidate for the Batley and Spen constituency, following the announcement by sitting MP Mike Wood that he was retiring. When Jo arrived at my constituency office on that Friday in early Spring, I saw a tiny, lively articulate young woman who, having grown up in Batley had moved to London, married, and had two children – at that time aged just 2 and 4. She told me that she lived on a houseboat on the river Thames and cycled everywhere, which, as a fellow cyclist, immediately made me like her.
A couple of days later, Jo collected the CD containing the photos from my home in Leeds. She stayed for a cup of tea and told us a little about her work for Oxfam in International Development and Humanitarian Relief in some of the world’s most war-torn countries. It was another interest shared and I wished her well in the coming selection battle.
By September of 2014, Jo had been chosen to contest the marginal Batley and Spen seat for Labour and in the May 2015 general election she was duly elected with a swing to Labour and a majority of more than 6,000.
Jo immediately made herself known an liked in the House of Commons. It wasn’t just just her bubbly personality and obviously commitment to her new profession, but in her knowledge and passion for her subjects of interest – Development Aid and Foreign Affairs – on which she regularly spoke in the Chamber. She was often to be seen in the voting lobby ready to cycle home in her Lycra and helmet, wanting to get home quickly to her family after the day’s business in Parliament.
Judging by the huge numbers of people, from all backgrounds and walks of life – as well as the large number of MPs – she had quickly established a very close friendship with all the people she touched in her daily life both in Parliament and in the constituency. At 8pm on Thursday 16th June, at St Peter’s Church in Birstall, all those who wanted to express their grief and love for the MP who had only served them for just over a year, turned up to mourn her cruel and untimely death. It was a testament to Jo’s character and generosity of spirit that so many were there for her that night and that since that terrible day we have heard much more about the small woman with enormous personality who meant so much to so many.
We will all really miss Jo’s presence in our House of Commons but I am certain that what she stood for will never be lost or forgotten.