This is no Diana moment – Jo Cox forged real bonds across party lines
Is there an Irish parliamentarian who would arouse similar affection and admiration?
Two roses on the empty seat where murdered MP Jo Cox used to sit in the House of Commons. The roses had been placed there for a special session where members of parliament had the opportunity to pay tribute to their former colleague. Photograph: PRU/AFP/Getty Images
Even the most cynical viewers must have been struck by the sincerity of the tributes to Jo Cox in the House of Commons on Monday.
One after another, in a crammed chamber, MPs wearing white roses and many wearing the purple, green and white of the suffragettes as a homage to Cox’s passionate feminism, gave their loving, wistful memories of a young colleague and mother who would have been celebrating her 42nd birthday today.
Several sat down again in tears. At the finish, they cheered her to the rafters, lifting their gaze to her husband and two small children in the gallery. Similar emotional scenes were being played out in Cox’s West Yorkshire constituency, where Birstall town centre has become a carpet of flowers. More than 30,000 people also contributed to her memorial fund, bringing it to more than £1 million (€1.3 million) in a few days.
It is said England lost its famous stoicism in the hysteria surrounding the death of Princess Diana, where strangers who could never hope to meet a glamorous princess, never mind aspire to be one, sobbed uncontrollably and demanded that everyone else sob with them.
But this is no Diana moment. Jo Cox forged bonds across party lines that were real and imitable. In her emotional speech, Rachel Reeves, a Labour colleague and close friend of Cox, mentioned a constituent who said “she hadn’t known Jo but that her death had made her want to be a bit more like her. A better person, a better mother, a better daughter, a better wife.”
Over the weekend, someone wondered if there was an Irish parliamentarian alive who would arouse similar affection and admiration. How many of them, if lost to us, would make us feel we had lost, not the most likable, clubbable or funniest of us, but the best of us? “Are you joking?” went most of the company.
Then again, what do we really know of our parliamentarians?
I would like to say I had heard of Jo Cox before last Thursday. I would like to say I had been struck by her maiden speech last year in which she spoke of the rich diversity of her own Batley and Spen community, arguing that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than the things that divide us”. Those words have been repeated so often in recent days they may be embedded in our psyches, yet at the time they probably came across as a bit worthy, coming from a touchy-feely Labour politician. However, evidence that Jo Cox meant every syllable is there in her working life.
Can anyone, for example, quote a few lines from Senator Lynn Ruane’s maiden speech just a few weeks ago? Or who heard Eamon Ryan’s speech about love last week and was moved enough to read it through and to be motivated or even changed by it?
Leinster House has its share of cynical careerists and a few so lacking in self-awareness or wit that their election is genuinely baffling. But many more are there to make a difference in their communities and – close up – radiate the energy and commitment of a Jo Cox. They are as appalled as the rest of us at the cute hoorism, demagoguery and moronic heckling that passes for debating in the chamber.
In his affectionate tribute to Cox, Andrew Mitchell, as true blue a Tory as they come, described admiringly how she was “restlessly dismissive of party political manoeuvring, which she saw as a barrier to progress”. Many of our parliamentarians – especially women – have said something similar.
Behind the scenes, they engage in the mundane business of consensus, compromise and incremental change, and by their labour, have kept the country free of Farages, Trumps and parties such as Liberty GB. That surely, is something worth celebrating, yet is rarely acknowledged. In fact, their very humanity is rarely acknowledged, as is plain from the foul abuse inflicted on them.
Anger and hatred
Last weekend, Liberty GB posted Cox’s photograph and her quote about celebrating diversity under the headline: “Death of a Fool.” Martin Durkin, climate change denier and director of Brexit: The Movie, tweeted (then deleted) this: “Is it surprising the mood is ugly? The EU has taken from us our rights and freedoms. People are seething with resentment and anger.”
Our British brethren intent on voting Leave might just take one last look at the new rulers they plan to wake up with on Friday morning.