A year ago last Friday, 16th June 2016, MP for Batley and Spen Jo Cox left her weekly constituency meeting. As she walked out of the library, she was brutally attacked and murdered by Thomas Mair. He had staked out the building, an apparently premeditated attack. As an avid supporter of equality, inclusiveness and justice, Cox practised her beliefs in a way most politicians merely pay lip service to.
What has changed over the past year?
Over the past year, the world has come up against intra- and international tensions. The civil war in Syria rumbles on, as it does in Yemen. In politics, unexpected election results have further reinforced the narrative of them and us. A horrific set of global terrorist attacks by those, such as Mair, punished others for their own self-hatred, rejection of reality and cowardice.
Cox’s death came at a heightened political divide with the voting electorate split nearly down the middle. The Brexit campaign pushed us into different corners of the ring, exchanging vocal jabs with one another, seeing who could land the hardest blow. Stigmatising the other, whether by religion, social background, political opinion or race. In her maiden speech to parliament, Cox said, “We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.”
Whilst that may be so, we are still stuck with political legislation that almost advocates that division and inequality. Benefits were curbed to £20,000 per year (£23,000 in London) under David Cameron. Public sector workers including nurses (who will no longer receive a bursary to support them) had their pay frozen for two years when the Conservatives took power and have been on the receiving end of a capped 1% wage increase.
When we look at how the other half live, we also need to question the legislation as well. Even the middle class are Just About Managing (JAM) whilst £1 million property owners are exempt from inheritance tax. Those living on a generous wage are living within their means and within law that gives them a tax break, which is why some ownership should lie on the doorstep of Westminster, like those that lost out in the scrapping of youth housing benefit.
Building Bridges at the Great Get Together
This weekend, Jo’s husband Brendan Cox and her family organised the Great Get Together in memory of her. 114,000 events were held across the UK. It aimed to bring together those of differing perspectives and opinions to celebrate what they had in common. Communities could swap sandwiches at picnics, share samosas at iftars and meet their neighbours at street parties up and down the country. It brought people together on a scale not seen since the Diamond Jubilee, at a time the UK needs it most.
On the Great Get Together, Jo’s former husband Brendon Cox said,
Politics at the moment is so divisive…We spend so much time talking about the areas we disagree with each other on, actually finding a moment like this when we just get together with our neighbours and have a good time in parks like this and streets up and down the country, I think is exactly what we need.
Events like this foster new friendships, dispell misconceptions and promote much-needed integration in communities.
Finding Commonality in the Coming Year
The UK has been blighted by much tragedy in the past couple of months, which have united us in the aftermath of each terrible event. A spate of extremist attacks as well as last week’s horrific fire at Grenfell Tower have shown a collective British spirit of generosity, kindness and togetherness. However, we must fight inequality and division before adversity pushes us together. It needs to be a proactive effort rather than a reactive one. Us as individuals need to find and celebrate our commonalities. Those in government need to fill the cracks in poor policies that the stigmatised or the isolated slip through. We should celebrate that we aren’t a homogenous country with a homogenous opinion and homogenous background. When democracy is successful, differing schools of thought should be able to coexist in symbiosis, not tearing strips out of strangers based on tabloid sensationalism.
Feature Image: Twitter