Five years after she was murdered by a far right activist, Nick Lowles reflects on Jo Cox’s legancy and how we must heed her words and remember that we have “more in common”. 

Five years ago today, Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered by a white supremacist as she was holding a surgery in her Batley & Spen constituency. Jo was a passionate campaigner who committed her life to challenging injustice wherever she saw it and nothing made her prouder than to represent the community she grew up in.

Jo was a strong supporter of immigration, whilst acknowledging people’s concerns. She was a proud defender of Britain’s multicultural society, but she understood that some people were worried about the changing world around them. Rather than dogmatically imposing her views on others, Jo sought to listen to alternative views in order to find the common ground.

Her now-famous maiden speech in the House of Commons exemplified how she viewed life.“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us,” she told her fellow MPs as she talked about the pride in representing Batley & Spen.

She saw the good in people and tried to bring people together around the things they agreed on rather focusing solely on the issues that divided people.

Sadly, her life was taken before she could really take advantage of her new platform in Parliament. At lunchtime, on 16 June, 55-year-old Thomas Mair shouted ‘Britain First’ as he attacked her with a gun and a knife. The murder took place amidst the horribly divisive and acrimonious EU referendum and increasing media antagonism and vitriol against MPs and other public servants.

Brexit – and the forces the debate unleashed – divided the country and poisoned the political discourse. Friends, families and communities were split. People stopped talking to one another, or if they did it was often in the most aggressive and uncompromising way. Everyone was right, everybody else was wrong.

Stirring the pot were politicians, campaigners and newspaper editors. They demonised opponents as the enemy within and as traitors, ridiculing those who held a different opinion. Social media companies got rich on creating the algorithms that reinforced and promoted the division and hatred. Eastern Europeans were targeted for racist attacks and MPs chased down the street, spat at and threatened.

Jo Cox stood against all of this. Yes, she was a passionate supporter of the EU, but she refused to partake in the division and nastiness that dominated so much of the campaign. That simply wasn’t how she did politics.

Today, politicians of all parties will pay their respect to Jo, but if they really want to remember her then they should pause and reflect on the way Jo did politics.

There is a very real danger that the increasingly toxic language around ‘culture wars’ – that is being weaponised by some politicians, campaigners and the media – risks a repeat of the bitterly divided society that dominated the 2016 EU referendum and ultimately cost Jo her life.

In a democratic society it is only natural that people have differences of opinion on key issues, and often these can be strongly and passionately believed. However, we really need to find a better way to have these discussions before they further divide us and encourage violence. There is an even great responsibility on politicians, media and social media companies to act responsibly and not deliberately stoke tensions and divisions.

Inflammatory language can have real life consequences so getting our politicians and media to tone down their political rhetoric, which stokes and creates divisions for short-term political, really would be a fitting tribute to Jo Cox.

Our thoughts today go out to Jo’s family. HOPE not hate will continue to work to keep her underlying message of hope alive.