'Jo was never one for sitting in meetings; she knew social justice requires all of us to get stuck into making change happen' - Tribute to Jo Cox MP + E17 Community Commemoration Event 2/3 July 2016
I’m writing this as a public letter to all residents of Walthamstow to set out my appreciation at the messages so many of you have sent following the brutal murder of my friend and colleague Jo Cox, the MP for Batley and Spen, and your comments on the work that MPs do.
Jo Cox was my mate. Before either of us were elected to any office we knew each other through campaigning- both of us being passionate about equality and getting more women’s voices heard in public life. You couldn’t help but want to spend time with Jo because she was so committed to the causes she cared about and also a lot of fun – and when she was elected to parliament in 2015 I was delighted because I knew she’d be an amazing MP and that we would get to spend more time together.
In just under a year she came to led the way in fighting for Syrian refugees and for the UK to play its part in ending the civil war in Syria – challenging the Government and us opposition MPs alike not simply to be concerned, but to act. I have no doubt that there are people alive today due to her efforts- and I know how she loved her home community in Batley and Spen too. I’d regularly proclaim Walthamstow to be God’s Own country- to a proud Yorkshire lass like Jo this was sacrilege!
24 hours on from her brutal murder I cannot comprehend she’s gone- when I return to Westminster I will still expect to see her in a corridor in parliament cycling kit in hand, rushing to vote and to get back in time for bedtime for her children whilst demanding that we sort out catching up and me promising cake when we did. We have lost one of the best public servants not just Batley and Spen, but Britain had, and I know our parliament and our democracy will be poorer for it.
Over the coming days many people will talk about what this heinous crime means for the safety of those who become representatives and the temperature of public life and public debate. I take my lead on this from Jo- I know how much she loved the work she did in her constituency, how much she valued time out of Westminster and being with the community she cared about and what impact it had on her policy and political campaigns. Like Jo I would never wish to be apart from my constituency – even when sometimes our discussions are heated! The insights I learn from having the privilege of being your MP and working with you all influence the work I do everyday- whether on payday loans, housing policy, healthcare or tackling harassment. I also am extremely proud of the team who work with me- and we are a team- and will brook no disrespect of the long hours and commitment they show to seeking to help residents in Walthamstow.
What Jo said of Batley and Spen in her maiden speech to parliament could also be true of Walthamstow:
"While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us"
At its best Walthamstow and its residents embody that spirit of common concern and commitment to each other as well as appreciation for the influence and interests living in a diverse area offers all of us. Its why I proud when I see so many of you standing up to those who would threaten our capacity as a community to live together and seeking to make this a better place for all, whether in your volunteer work or community campaigning. And its why I know its vital we also defend together our ability to debate respectfully and disagree as well as collaborate, challenging those who want to exclude and shut down others simply because they are different.
This is no easy option – in a diverse community facing many problems it would be easy to spend time looking for someone to blame, rather than taking on the sometimes difficult and longwinded task of trying to change things for the better. But Walthamstow at its best does not give up and it does not allow itself to be divided in such ways. In being able to secure a brighter future not just for our community but also our country we must never take that spirit for granted, and never stop working to ensure everyone is truly welcome to contribute to our shared success.
It is in this way I believe we can ensure love triumphs over the frightening hatred that so many of you have spoken of in these past hours, and which took away our beautiful friend Jo. I urge all residents to read the statement from Jo’s remarkable husband Brendan and to help us ensure her legacy is the energy and compassion of her life, not the brutality and horror of her death. Brendan said:
“Today is the beginning of a new chapter in our lives. More difficult, more painful, less joyful, less full of love. I and Jo's friends and family are going to work every moment of our lives to love and nurture our kids and to fight against the hate that killed Jo.
Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it everyday of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her.
Hate doesn't have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous. Jo would have no regrets about her life, she lived every day of it to the full."
In the light of these events we have currently suspended campaigning activities around the European Referendum until Sunday 19th June, and parliament will be recalled on Monday 20th June so that we may pay our respects to her – I also want to ask Walthamstow to do this in our own unique way too. Jo was never one for sitting in meetings; she knew social justice requires all of us to get stuck into making change happen. That’s why I’m asking residents to join me in a weekend of action in her memory.
In recent weeks we have been working together to raise the money to buy three caravans to be sent to Calais to help the refugees. On the weekend of the 2nd and 3rd July after the European Referendum we will be coming together as a community to refurbish, paint and stock these caravans ahead of taking them to Calais, so that the refugees Jo was so determined to help in the camps there may have more stable accommodation in which to live. We will also be collecting at this event for our local foodbank Eat or Heat – Jo was also equally active helping the Batley Foodbank. We’ll be dedicating this weekend of work and the outcomes it achieves to Jo’s memory- so if you would like to help us with this weekend of action or with the items required for the caravans or eat or heat please do get in touch by replying to this email. If you cannot join us on this weekend, you can also make a donation in Jo’s name via this website which has been set up by her family to support the charities and causes she felt so strongly about:
Thank you once again to all those who have been in touch- and for being part of our wonderful Walthamstow community,
Stella Creasy, Labour and Cooperative MP for Walthamstowp.s. The Working for Walthamstow e-newsletter will return on Monday 20th June 2016