Tonight, when news of the death of Jo Cox was confirmed, I was cooking dinner with an old friend. We cried in each other’s arms for a couple of minutes and opened a bottle of wine. Then we watched Much Ado About Nothing, a play that includes a scene of formulaic grief at the tomb of a woman who isn’t really dead.
No such last-minute reprieve will restore Jo Cox to life. And some of us are beginning to wonder if the same might be said of civility, public order and democracy in our country after the last few wretched weeks. It also speaks volumes about the events of the few months that vigils, though sincerely motivated, deeply felt and comforting to many, are in danger of becoming formulaic. Ritual is important, yet it also carries the risk that if it is repeated it can become a substitute for true soul-searching and positive action.
If I was an MP tonight, I would want to spend a few moments on my knees in the chapel at Westminster Hall, regardless of my religion or lack of it, in quiet reflection and humility. What would be the best way to honour the memory of Jo Cox and the values she embodied? It would be to stop hating. It would be to turn our backs on the politics of lies and confrontation. It would be to acknowledge that we share a common humanity and our differences are not worth anybody dying for. It would be to turn our back on headline-grabbing stunts and to recognise that politics is a serious business. It would be to behave in a principled and grown-up way, to restore civility to our public discourse, to stop pretending that appealing to people’s fears, prejudices and self-interest is the right way to be running a democracy. It would be to work together to make this world a better place, and to expect that people who are lucky enough to have a vote are encouraged to use it thoughtfully and responsibly, regardless of their nationality, ethnicity or social class.
It would be to step back from the brink, to look at the awful monster that has been unleashed and to restore some moral values to our political discourse.
Do that, and it might just turn out, one day, that although she was denied the long and distinguished political career she seemed destined for, in her apparently senseless murder Jo Cox did succeed in making a difference.
We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.
Jo Cox, Maiden Speech, June 2015