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She had said people had more in common than the things that divided them, and on Monday afternoon the British parliament proved her right.
With rare unity, grace and emotion, Westminster paid tribute to the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox. Several of her former colleagues were moved to tears; many expressed hope that her death would initiate a more compassionate politics.
Cox, the first serving British MP to be killed in 26 years, had been elected only 13 months earlier. But in a special hour-long session, politicians from all parties left little doubt about her lasting influence — as a local campaigner for her Yorkshire constituents, a humanitarian concerned with Syria, a feminist and a friend.
“Many described her as a rising star,” said a fellow Yorkshire MP, the Conservative Stuart Andrew. “Personally I think she was a star, full stop.”
David Cameron said Cox was a “voice of compassion” who “proved so often the power of politics to make our world a better place”. The prime minister, who first met her on a trip in 2006 to Darfur, the conflict-plagued region of Sudan, added: “Quite simply, there are people on our planet today who are only here, and alive, because of Jo.”
The atmosphere in the House of Commons would have been extraordinary at any moment in British parliamentary history; given the bitter EU referendum campaign being waged by many of those present, it was surreal.
Almost all MPs wore a white rose, the flower of Cox’s native county of Yorkshire. The sole empty seat in the chamber was Cox’s own, taken by one red rose and one white rose.
Heckling, one-upmanship, fiddling with phones — the defining features of the Commons — had evaporated. Tributes were paid by those who had known Cox and those who had not, by those who had experienced violence and those who had not.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, called Cox’s killing “an attack on democracy”. But he also made clear Britain’s democracy should learn from it. “We all have a responsibility in this House, and beyond, not to whip up hatred or sow division,” Mr Corbyn said. “In her tragic death, we can come together to change our politics — to tolerate a little more and to condemn a little less.”
Mary Creagh, a Labour MP, praised Cox for having “an open mind and an open heart”. Stephen Kinnock, the Labour MP who shared an office with Cox, made perhaps the most political intervention, contrasting her humanitarian beliefs with an anti-immigration poster launched by the UK Independence party hours before her death.
“She would have responded with outrage and with a robust rejection of the calculated narrative of cynicism, division and despair that it represents. Because Jo understood that rhetoric has consequences,” Mr Kinnock said. “When insecurity, fear and anger are used to light a fuse, then an explosion is inevitable.”
On social media, such comments might have provoked a backlash. Inside the Commons there was, for once, only understanding. And when other speakers touched on old political sores — such as the relationship between Gordon Brown and David Miliband — there was no acrimony, only amusement.
Outside the chamber, Cox’s constituency staff had returned to work. Police had met MPs to discuss security measures, which are likely to include a greater role for London’s Metropolitan Police. The referendum campaign had returned.
Inside the chamber there had been the idea that MPs might mingle, breaking up the usual party divisions. In fact, given the funereal atmosphere, politicians felt more comfortable alongside their closest friends.
More surreally, formality demanded that, following their tributes, MPs had to call a vote on a motion of approving tributes. The Speaker, John Bercow, called for MPs to give “the loudest unified response in the history of this House”. They duly roared approval and moments later broke into a spontaneous round of applause, normally frowned upon.
As the MPs filed out, Cox’s widower and son waved at them from the gallery. Westminster, in all its centuries, can have witnessed few such uplifting sights.
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