On the 16th of June 2016, MP Jo Cox was murdered while campaigning in her constituency as part of the Remain campaign in the Brexit referendum. The man who did this, who I will not name, was believed to be a Leave supporter, however, more importantly he was an erratic man who was not supported by any campaign or organisation. This brutal attack sent shock waves throughout the nation, and highlighted how Brexit had caused a dangerous divide in society. After her death, Cox’s maiden speech in the House of Commons from 2015 went viral, a speech that called for unity and community no matter what, the phrase “we have far more in common than that which divides us” and served as a call to action to fix our society that has splintered in to the Us and Them.
It has been a year since her tragic death, and many things have happened in that time. Brexit, Trump, the snap General Election, terror attacks across the world; several recently in London and Manchester. The United Kingdom seem as far away from being united as is possible. It is in times like these that we desperately pray for something, anything, that can cello-tape us back together. On the anniversary of Jo Cox’s death, we are compelled to remember her life, and suddenly our beacon of light appeared. Jo Cox, before becoming the MP for the Bailey and Spen constituency, worked for the charity Oxfam as their head of policy and advocacy. While in politics, Cox founded the Friends for Syria group, an all-party parliamentary group that advocated and campaigned for many issues relating to the Syria Crisis and the Syrian refugees coming to Britain. The more we delve into Cox’s past, the more we paint a picture of an ordinary woman, who used her power to help those in need, and to truly do good for everyone she was responsible for. Jo Cox embodied the spirit that we crave for, the spirit that can hopefully inspire understanding and cooperation in all aspects of life, and bring us together in a time when we have become so deeply divided.
This was the thought process behind the Great Get Together, an initiative from Cox’s widower Brendan Cox. The Great Get Together is hosting street parties, fundraisers, and all manner of events across the country with the aim of bringing communities together to celebrate the life of Jo Cox. The initiative is being supported by celebrities like Jamie Oliver and the hosts of the Last Leg (a political satire comedy show) as well as politicians and charities across the country. The great thing about these events is that they call on us to strike up conversation with those who we don’t normally encounter, or those who we disagree with, and actually see our views and the views of others from a different point of view.
This seems like a simple thing, but in reality, talking with the opposition and actually listening and understanding is probably one of the hardest things that we could do. We have seen how recent political rhetoric has centred around the idea that there is a Us and there is a Them, that there are the Good guys and the Bad guys, and that we will have to war with them to achieve the good. Whether it was the Remoaners vs. the Quitters (Remain vs. Leave) during the Brexit campaign, or the Snowflake Liberals vs. the Basket of Deplorables during the US Presidential Election, we can see how politics and recent events are increasingly divisive. Society seems to be constantly divided into two opposing trenches, shooting at each other and throwing bombs in all directions, yet no one decides to emerge over the top, walk across the no-mans land, and listen.
We have seen both the Left and the Right become increasingly arrogant in their positions. No matter who you are or where you stand politically, we always assume that our way is the right way, that we are the reasonable ones while the other have, as we would say in Scotland, “a few screws loose.” But that is never how politics works, there isn’t always a right and wrong answer. In the United Kingdom, there are very prominent class divides, there is also a range of different faiths practiced, and many races of people originating from all over the world, all compacted into four different countries under the same British nationality. It is fair to say that it is difficult to find one shared experience, we all see different situations through our own diverse perspectives, and that will always result in many different solutions to a problem. That doesn’t make our views right or wrong, it means that we are coloured by our different experiences and different circumstances.
So, how do we resolve these differences? The answer is not complicated, it is, in fact, as simple as it gets: listen. We have to listen to each other, and truly listen, not listen the way we do in 8:30am lectures on Monday mornings, but get right to the core of their words and form a full picture. This is, of course, difficult when listening to those who have views and opinions that you personally find vile or cruel or idiotic, but keeping composure and respecting each others time to speak is so important. It is only if we listen that we can truly understand those who are not like us, and understanding is crucial for cooperation and forming a community that celebrates diversity while priding its unity.
Now, this notion is criticised by many as promoting compliance, weakness, and softness when facing our opponents, but this criticism is flawed. Just because we listen and understand our rivals does not mean that we have to agree, it calls for us to evaluate our own beliefs and alter them in order to make them representative. In reality, it is easy just to shout and scream and dismiss our opponents as we boost our own egos higher and higher. What really takes guts is to admit where our own perspectives are limited, sit down and ask questions, learn about the people who seem so far away from us. It is vulnerable, it is uncomfortable, but it is so important.
This vulnerability was parodied on Friday night during The Last Leg’s Great Get Together special, as they forced politicians famously apposed to each other into an elevator, and called on them to find things thy had in common. This ended with Michael Gove (Leave) and Ed Balls (Remain) dancing to Gangnam Style together, and First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon and the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson celebrating everything that is great about Scotland. These short sketches really hit home, highlighting that no matter how much we disagree on, there is always something that we have in common. Whether it is our strength in the face of adversity, which we have seen in the reaction to the terror attacks in London and Manchester, or our need to help those in need, shown this week in the vast amount of donations of clothes, food, and shelter to those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire that happened earlier this week. When terrible things happen, our differences don’t matter, we unite together and show the best part of what it means to be British.
But should it take a terror attack or a fire for us to come together? We need to banish hate, not only when it is plastered across the front pages. Many who knew Jo Cox have spoken recently about what made her so special, and most of these voices have praised her ability to see the good in all people and her positive attitude when addressing everyone, no matter if they supported her or not. And that is why she has now become our glimmer of hope, our Statue of Liberty shining the light over the golden door. Not because she was the loudest or the most controversial, but because she embodied what it truly means to unite and not to divide. It’s not a realisation that has shock value, or in any way controversial or “edgy”, but doesn’t negate its profound importance in our current climate. We must come together, we must engage with those we disagree with, we must respect our opponents by listening and understanding (and not use their opinions to wipe up our vomit or light our barbeques). It isn’t a perfect solution, and there will be mistakes made, but as long as we approach problems with compassion and understanding, we can get this country back together again. As we move forward, we should ask ourselves, what would Jo Cox do? She isn’t a Saint, but she is what we need right now.