It was the most shocking day in British politics this century just five years ago, on 16 June 2016, a week before the Brexit vote, when brooding tensions came to a head in one horrific act of violence: the murder of UK MP Jo Cox. Jo was on her way to meet with constituents in her community when she was attacked. She was doing her job. She was killed for her beliefs by a right-wing extremist. It was only 13 months since she had been elected to parliament as a Labour MP.
Jo Cox made an instant impression, driven by her belief that a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world was possible. She was deeply committed to protecting the world's most vulnerable communities and was one of the best advocates and defendants of the responsibility-to-protect cause. Her maiden speech had a wonderfully uniting and unifying message:
Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir. While we celebrate our diversity, 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—
with each other—
than that which divides us.
It reminds us of my own local community, made up of many generations of Australians and First Nations people alongside new Australians from across India, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.
Jo Cox was trolled relentlessly and understandably really struggled with that. She worked to ignore it as much as she could, but that is absolutely a challenge. I know there are many on all sides of politics in this place, both current and former politicians, who have struggled with such activities as well. Politics can be brutal. We are elected to public life with a certain understanding that we will be targeted and put down just as much as we will be sought after. But the life of a politician shouldn't come with the caveat of expected violence and malicious behaviour. Generally we believe we are free of such things in Australia. We thought that too of the UK.
Things that used to be deemed unacceptable in public discourse have now become more common. Jo Cox was not just an MP doing her duty; she was also one driven by ideals. Recently, on the anniversary of her death, Jo's family said:
We remain optimistic that her vision of a country where we are better at recognising what we have in common is gradually getting closer.
They continue to urge people to remember we have more in common than that which divides us, a very strong belief of Jo.
Jo's sister, Kim Leadbeater, is standing as a Labour candidate in an upcoming by-election in Jo's former seat—something that I would imagine would be ridiculously difficult, given the circumstances that went on. I am sure that she will do her sister proud. Vale, Jo Cox.