Like so many of Jo’s friends, I approached the second anniversary of her tragic murder last Saturday with a mixture of sadness and pride. Jo’s murder left a devastating hole in our lives and bequeathed us with her example and a legacy of work that we have sought to continue in her name.
The Prime Minister’s announcement today of the £20million Building Connections Fund is a fitting tribute to Jo’s work on loneliness as an MP and comes just days ahead of the second The Great Get Together this coming weekend. Together these events build on Jo’s belief in stronger, better-connected communities to help strengthen the fabric of society to tackle loneliness, marginalise extremism and much more.
This progress comes in what has already been an extraordinary year for some of the causes Jo cared most deeply about.
This is a year that was kicked off with the appointment of Tracey Crouch MP as the world’s inaugural loneliness minister which was shortly followed by Penny Mordaunt MP’s announcement of the £10million Jo Cox Memorial Grants to support work overseas to empower women and prevent atrocities. In May another handful of brilliant women were elected in the local council elections following their involvement in the Labour Party’s Jo Cox Leadership Programme. And so much more.
This progress on such a diversity of issues has an important thing in common. This change is being driven by women. Fittingly given it is the historic 100th year since some women gained the vote in 1918.
One of Jo’s most powerful qualities was her ability to lead collaboratively, relentlessly encouraging and supporting those around her to seek and drive change. Nowhere was this truer than in her feminism.
When asked what sort of feminist she was, Jo simply said ‘a massive one’. The ‘best women’ at her wedding were dressed in green, lilac and white - the colours of the Suffrage movement. One of them aptly summed it up after her death by saying: “Half holding you upright, half shoving you forward. That’s what it meant to have Jo’s arm around your shoulder.” And she chose Lily Allen’s feminist anthem Hard Out Here as one of her favourite songs on a drivetime show for Leeds Radio.
Yet Jo wasn’t blindly encouraging, she was consciously so. Day in, day out she lived by the conviction that we have ‘more in common than that which divides us’.
More in common isn’t a platitude. It is hard to live by, but Jo lived by it which proves it is possible. I believe we all have an obligation to reach for that, guided by her example and inspiration.
Long before the act of hatred that took Jo from us, she was worried about what was happening in our world, and in particular the disturbing decline in tolerance, compassion and understanding.
The values that we hold dear are simply a construct, only as strong as the foundations underlying them and the scaffolding that we create.
Extremists on all sides would have you believe that Jo was unique, that what she stood for, her values, her causes and her approach are the preserve of a minority.
But what I’ve learned in the past two years is that they are wrong. That there are millions of people who are sick and tired of these messages of hate and division.
They are coming together up and down the country to support their neighbours struggling with loneliness. They are coming together to welcome refugees. They are coming together to support women to use their voice to drive change. They are coming together to reach across divides and build bridges in their communities in the belief that we really do have more in common.
Jo never asked ‘what do you think’ but always ‘what should we do’. Jo wouldn’t forgive us if we gave up on that.
So what should we do?
So many women have been inspired by Jo’s example. To them I would say: push yourselves, those around you and most importantly women who aren’t like you at all to speak out, agitate for change and run for office.
And to everybody, let’s celebrate Jo’s life and values by joining the Great Get Together this weekend. It’s not too late to organise something yourself or find one near you on our website. What matters is that you reach out, bring people together and have a good time. The Great Get Together is simple in its premise, but like Jo, the smallest and kindest things really can change the world.
Iona Lawrence is director of the Jo Cox Foundation. For more information on The Great Get Together, visit the website here