The husband of murdered MP Jo Cox has urged all political parties to suspend general election campaigning for one hour later this month to pay tribute to local groups working to unite communities across the country.
Brendan Cox said the groundbreaking initiative, scheduled for Sunday May 21, will seek to get candidates and party leaders to come together to remind voters of the values they have in common as they attend events held by voluntary groups.
Revealing his plan to HuffPost UK, Cox said the election truce would also act as a prelude to the Great Get Together, a nationwide series of street parties, bake-offs and other events that will mark the first anniversary of the death of his wife, soon after polling day next month.
Jo Cox, the 41-year-old Labour MP for Batley and Spen, was shot and stabbed by far right extremist Thomas Mair outside her constituency surgery in Birstall, West Yorkshire last year.
Since Jo’s death, Brendan has helped found the Jo Cox Foundation, a group that promotes the causes and charities she felt deeply about, from the plight of innocent civilians in Syria to British pensioners suffering from loneliness.
The Great Get Together has the support of high profile backers from the Duchess of Cornwall to Jamie Oliver and Bear Grylls. The Royal British Legion, RNLI, Scouts and Girl Guides all have events planned.
It will take place on the weekend of 18-21 June in a bid to promote community cohesion and to unify the country after the election on June 8.
Cox told HuffPost UK that he wanted to see an election campaign that was robust but not divisive, and hoped that the “extremes” of “left and right” would be driven to the margins.
“On the 21st of May, four weeks out from the Great Get Together, we are reaching out to all political party leaders and asking them on that day to mark that moment by going out into their communities and trying to put the spotlight on organisations bringing communities together,” he said.
“Whether that is the local scout troop, the Rotary Club, lots of the organisations who spend almost day in day out, almost all voluntary organisations, trying to build closer communities, trying to break down the divide between different communities.
“I think during an election campaign, of course there’s going to be disagreements, of course there’s going to be raised voices.
“But actually finding a moment, which we hope will be the 21st of May, to say ‘yes of course we disagree with each other on all these things, but still the things that bind us together are more important’.
“’And we are going to take an hour out on that day to raise the profile of those initiatives and give them the support that they need’.
“I think there will be some rival candidates doing things together. We also hope that the party leaders will do some things on that day as well.
“We’ve started the conversation with all the political parties and we are going to be writing out to all of the political candidates to encourage them to take part in whatever way shape or form on that day the 21st of May.”
He also said that viral star, 75-year-old ‘Brenda from Bristol’, had spoken for many last month. “Brenda from Bristol captured the feelings of many when she told the BBC ‘Not another one!’. Brenda said there was “too much politics”. I would say there is too much bitterness and hatred.”
The Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, co-chaired by Tory MP Seema Kennedy and Labour’s Rachel Reeves, was an example of the consensus his late wife wanted to see, he said.
The idea for a wider celebration came to him last December as he thought about ways to build Jo’s legacy and help their two young children, Cuillin and Lejla, to remember their mother.
“Where it started was in the run up to Christmas, which was a big moment personally, thinking about the next big moment which was going to be the anniversary and wanting that from my point of view to be a bit like Jo was,” he said.
“Jo wasn’t somebody who would want be remembered with people wearing black and lighting candles. She would want to be remembered for her energy and her enthusiasm and also for what she went into politics for in the first place, which was bringing communities together.
“That was the very personal driver for me. And then secondly and more importantly I think I had a sense that there’s an opportunity here to bring people together.
“What Jo’s murder was designed to do was to tear communities apart and it felt to me that if there was a legacy coming out of that that bringing communities together would be exactly what Jo would want.”
A memoir, taking in memories of family and friends, will also be published to mark the anniversary and raise funds for the Jo Cox Foundation.
Speaking in a wider interview, which to be published later on Tuesday, Cox stressed that nationwide event was designed as a tribute to his late wife’s political philosophy but also as a legacy of her attempts to build empathy between different groups.
“It has tapped into something much deeper in our consciousness. People are sick of this narrative that we all hate each other because of how we voted for Brexit or in the election upcoming or previous, or in the Scottish referendum. I think people are looking for this sense of togetherness.
“One of the things about being British is that we love that sense of bringing our communities together but we also need an excuse to do it. We are not good at just reaching out without an excuse. I hope The Great Together will be that excuse that we sometimes need.”
Go to The Great Get Together website for more details on what’s happening in your area or how to get involved.