Millions expected to mark fifth anniversary of Jo Cox’s murder

Communities still united by her ‘More in Common’ message and legacy

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It is five years since the murder of British Labour politician Jo Cox by a neo-Nazi extremist in a quiet Yorkshire market town.

The killing of the mother of two shocked the world and her family created the Jo Cox Foundation in an attempt to ensure some good came out of the tragedy.

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 16:  Flowers surround a picture of Jo Cox during a vigil in Parliament Square on June 16, 2016 in London, United Kingdom.  Jo Cox, 41, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was shot and stabbed by an attacker at her constituicency today in Birstall, England. A man also suffered slight injuries during the attack. Jo Cox was reportedly shot and stabbed while holding her weekly surgery at Birstall Library, Birstall near Leeds and later died. A 52-year old man has been arrested in connection with the crime.  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Flowers surround a picture of Jo Cox at a vigil in Parliament Square, London, in 2016. Getty

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said his thoughts were with Cox's family and friends.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, said she would have been very proud of the foundation.

"Today is the fifth anniversary of our dear friend and colleague Jo Cox," he said.

"Jo had already changed so many lives for the better. She was passionate about creating a more fair and just world and I know she would have gone on to create so much more and that she would have been so proud of her foundation and what it is doing in her name.

"There is not a day that goes by that we do not miss Jo."

'Moved by her commitment to universal values of compassion'

Former UK home secretary Jacqui Smith, chairwoman of the Jo Cox Foundation, told The National Ms Cox's legacy would live on through the group's work in supporting causes that were close to her heart. At a series of nationwide events this weekend people will come together in community picnics as part of the Great Get Together initiative.

“I miss Jo’s friendship and spirit but I’m proud that the foundation set up in her name has achieved so much,” Ms Smith said.

“Through the Great Get Together and our community work, we’ve proved that we have more in common than that which divides us.

“Our international work has delivered projects Jo would have loved to work with. Jo’s approach to her time as an MP was passionate but respectful and our campaigning on public life will tackle the abuse that deters others from following in her footsteps. In her name we will continue to build the foundation’s work with her life and her values at its heart.”

G3YG0G Previously unreleased photo dated 06/06/16 of Labour MP Jo Cox (right), who has been shot in Birstall near Leeds, an eyewitness said.
Jo Cox is seen taking part in a charity event in 2016. Alamy

In Cox's maiden speech to the British parliament a year before her death, she delivered her More in Common message, a phrase that has now been coined by the foundation to continue her legacy.

"Those who were fortunate enough to know her personally were touched by her humanity, kindness, good humour and tireless energy," Su Moore, chief executive of the Jo Cox Foundation, told The National.

“Those who know her only by reputation or have learnt about her since her death are moved by her commitment to universal values of compassion, selflessness and a belief that a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world is not just possible but achievable.

We hope it will be an occasion once again to remember how Jo lived, not how she died
Su Moore

“The words in her very first speech to parliament still ring true, that 'we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us'.

“In the months after her murder, more than 40,000 people donated over £2 million ($2.8m) to the Jo Cox Fund. This was distributed to three organisations working on issues close to Jo’s heart – the Royal Voluntary Service, Hope not Hate and the White Helmets in Syria – and it also helped to establish the Jo Cox Foundation."

Ms Moore said the anniversary was an opportunity for people to reflect on everything Cox was – "an MP, a campaigner for human rights and social justice, an aid worker, but above all a mother to two young children, a daughter, a sister, a wife and a friend and colleague to so many".

“While the anniversary of Jo’s death is, of course, a moment of reflection, we hope it will be an occasion once again to remember how Jo lived, not how she died,” she said.

Millions expected to hold community events to mark MP’s death

A year after her death Cox's sister, Kim Leadbeater, set up the Great Get Together to encourage communities to join together and host events to help lonely people build support networks.

BRIGHTON, ENGLAND - JUNE 23: Today's Great Get Together, the third such event in memory of Jo Cox MP,  on what would have been her 45th birthday, in the Prestonville neighbourhood on June 23, 2019 in Brighton, England. (Photo by Andrew Hasson/Getty Images)
A Great Get Together event in memory of Jo Cox takes place in Brighton in 2019. Getty

In its first year, held around the anniversary of her death and birthday, more than nine million people held events across the country and to date more than 18 million people have taken part.

This year, refugee groups are expected to participate.

"I would have much preferred for my sister to be here carrying on the work she started on loneliness and so much else, but while this is sadly a bittersweet moment for our family, I know that Jo would be extremely proud," Ms Leadbeater said.

First Minister of Loneliness

In continuing Cox's work helping people to feel less isolated, the Jo Cox Loneliness Commission resulted in the UK appointing the world's first Minister for Loneliness and £20 million ($28.2 million) has been invested in projects.

The work on tackling abuse suffered by politicians led to an overhaul of the system and a code of conduct expected by members of political parties who  signed up to it.

LLONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 22:  Members of the public attend a memorial event for murdered Labour MP Jo Cox at Trafalger Square on June 22, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. On what would have been her 42nd birthday, Labour MP Jo Cox is remembered worldwide in a series of #moreincommon events today. The Labour MP for Batley and Spen was shot and stabbed in the street on June 16 and later died. A fund set up in her name has raised over £1.23 M GBP to date  (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Members of the public attend a memorial event for Jo Cox at Trafalgar Square, London, in 2016. Getty

The Jo Cox Memorial Grant Trust, which aims to prevent atrocities and support women internationally, distributed £10m in grants in partnership with the UK's Foreign Office to more than 20 projects in 14 developing countries, benefiting more than 35,000 women.

"In Uganda we ran a forum for women and democracy," Ms Moore told The National.

“It helped 88 women and 66 actually won office as a result.

“So many people did not know Jo but have still been touched by what she has done. Her legacy will continue because it still resonates with everyone. People’s lives are still being changed in her name.”

Kate Ferguson, founder of Protection Approaches, is working with one of the groups.

“In October 2019 I flew to Bangui, the capital of the Central African Republic, as part of an international training team led by the Auschwitz Institute for Peace & Reconciliation,” she said.

“I was there because of a fund set up in memory of Jo Cox by the UK’s Department for International Development to improve the prediction and prevention of identity-based violence, including mass atrocities, around the world.

“From the moment of our first meeting, which was about what more the UK parliament could do for Syrians, as she clattered across the foyer of Portcullis House from a vote in the Commons on childcare access in Parliament, I felt I would want to work with Jo for the rest of our careers. As her friend John Bew said, she was perhaps the best foreign secretary we would now never have.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told The National: "The UK government is proud to support the Jo Cox Foundation to continue its vital work.

"The foundation ensures Jo’s memory lives on through their work to improve the lives of women around the globe, from supporting girls' education and women’s empowerment to preventing gender-based violence.

"Over the last year, thousands of women across Lesotho, Swaziland, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Uganda have benefited from their grants, giving them support and training they need to enter politics or secure leadership positions.

"By working together, we can help make the difference that Jo Cox wanted to see in the world.”

Jo Cox’s sister takes on political mantle

The former aid worker’s sister this year decided to take her work to the next level by standing as the Labour candidate in a by-election next month in Cox's former seat.

Ms Leadbeater told The National that following in her sister's footsteps was one of the hardest decisions of her life.

“Whether to stand was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make,” she said.

“In the end, what decided it for me was thinking how upsetting it would be if someone who doesn’t love this community got the job. I’d be really worried about the damage that would do to this community.

CLECKHEATON, ENGLAND - JUNE 10: Labour party leader Sir Keir Starmer and Batley and Spen by-election candidate Kim Leadbeater visit the Jo Cox Community Wood created in memory of Jo Cox MP, the sister of Kim Leadbeater, on June 10, 2021 in Cleckheaton, England. Kim Leadbeater is campaigning for the Batley and Spen seat after MP Tracy Brabin stepped down to become West Yorkshire’s Metro Mayor. The Batley and Spen seat was once held by Kim Leadbeater's sister Jo Cox MP, who was murdered by a far-right extremist in 2016. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer with Batley and Spen by-election candidate Kim Leadbeater as the party faces concerns from Muslim voters. Getty

"As an MP I would be a strong local candidate, speaking up for the place where I was born and have lived in all my life. Whatever background people have, they have the same concerns when I speak to them."

She said her family would “never be the same” after the tragedy, but they have helped each other through the “dark times” and her parents are supporting her decision to become a politician.

“As Jo used to say to me: 'If good people don’t step up, then nothing will change',” she said.

Cox was a staunch campaigner on Syria and her supporters have criticised the government for failing to act on her calls for action.

Experts say she has not left a political legacy, but those at the foundation vowed to continue raising awareness of her causes.

“In response to her murder many people promised to do things differently and to help drive out the hatred and extremism that disfigured public life,” Ms Moore said.

“Not all those promises were kept. Divisions continued and, in some cases, deepened. Five years on and women, whether in public life or not, don’t always feel safe going about their daily lives.

Passion for the causes lives on

“Issues that Jo cared so passionately about – loneliness, the plight of civilians in conflict zones like Syria, the need to honour our commitments to those most in need around the world – still demand urgent action," her sister said.

“Jo can’t be with us as we face today’s challenges, but we can be guided by her spirit and her values. Jo’s family and the foundation that carries her name are determined to follow her inspiration and look ahead with optimism and a belief that the world Jo believed in so passionately remains within our grasp.

“We’ll continue to place Jo’s values and beliefs at the centre of all our work for the next five years and beyond.”