Jo Cox's sister Kim Leadbeater vows to hold government to account in maiden speech

Ms Cox was murdered by a far-right terrorist five years ago

The sister of murdered MP Jo Cox has vowed to hold the UK government to account over its "levelling up" policy in her maiden speech to the House of Commons.

Kim Leadbeater was elected in May to represent the UK’s opposition Labour Party in the Batley and Spen constituency - the seat held by her sister before her murder five years ago.

Ms Cox, a mother-of-two aged 41, was killed by right-wing extremist Thomas Mair as she left her constituency office in Birstall, near Leeds in the north of England, in June 2016 – a week before the Brexit referendum vote.

On Thursday, Ms Leadbeater, 44, a personal trainer and campaigner, said she was privileged to be the MP for Batley and Spen and said the policy, which ministers say will improve living standards across the UK, was merely "fine sounding words".

"It has been an honour and a privilege to have been the MP for my home constituency for 10 weeks now although, if I’m honest, like much of the last five years of my life, it has all been a bit of a blur," she said.

"But as the House does my family the great honour of paying tribute to my sister, I hope members will understand that I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I would give literally anything, not to be standing here today in her place.

"Jo’s murder ripped the heart out of our family. I have spoken on many occasions about my continuing disbelief and devastation following her death – and it still doesn’t feel real – today more than ever.

"Putting yourself forward for public office is a brave thing to do, wherever you sit in this place, and I appreciate that now more than ever and since my election the one thing that people keep saying to me is ‘Kim – please don’t change’ and I don’t intend to. I will always stay true to my roots and identity.

"If I can be half the MP my sister was then it will be a huge privilege to get on with the job of representing the wonderful people of Batley and Spen."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to “level up” the economy by improving living standards across the UK and to boost living standards in the "forgotten" parts of Britain.

"I say to the party opposite that fine sounding words about ‘levelling up’ are all well and good, but what we’ve seen instead in Batley and Spen over the last decade are drastically reduced police numbers, huge cuts to the roads repair budget, growing poverty and inequality and queues outside our food banks," Ms Leadbeater said.

"There are areas of my constituency that are desperate for investment and I will be holding the government to account to ensure that Batley and Spen gets its fair share of whatever ‘levelling up’ money is going – so that it goes to the people and communities who need it most.

"We need new opportunities for our young people, the chance to breathe new life into our villages and town centres and support for the many excellent businesses we are lucky to have. We need more jobs - but good quality jobs - doing what we do best in manufacturing and services, not huge soulless warehouses full of robots. That is the only way to ensure a bright and prosperous future."

Speaker of the House, Sir Lindsay Hoyle told Ms Leadbeater that MPs all still think of her sister, and told her she will be "a great" MP.

Her speech followed a debate, put forward by Labour MP Neil Coyle, on her sister's legacy.

He said Ms Cox had left a "positive" legacy and would have been against the "abandonment" of people in Afghanistan.

In her speech, Ms Leadbeater also reflected on her sister’s first speech in Parliament.

“Jo said in her maiden speech that as she travelled around the constituency, she was surprised time and time again by the fact we are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us. I believe those words are as true today as when she said them," she said.

“Perhaps even more so. But my sister would never have pretended that we don’t have our differences and disagreements, and nor do I.

“Of course, we do, and the world would be a very dull place if we didn’t, but we should also have the ability to respect each other’s opinions when we disagree and the good sense to know that our communities can only thrive when they embrace each and every one of us.

“And I am very clear that we cannot pick our equalities.”

The Jo Cox foundation hopes that the debate about her legacy will help keep Ms Cox's memory alive.

“One of the things Jo really believed in was working across party, that it's actually only by working with politicians who don't necessary agree with you that you can make change happen, so I hope there's something that comes out of this, that lots of these MPs from different parties will remember there are actually some core issues that they do agree on," said its chief executive Su Moore.

Updated: September 10th 2021, 7:06 AM
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