Place Jo Cox a reminder that ‘poison of hatred’ must be rejected by all
2018-11-01 14:44:49 -
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Brussels honour for murdered MP is an opportunity to end hatred, racism and violence, says Michael McGowan

 

The autumn sun greeted guests from across Europe with a warm welcome to the EU capital when I attended the inauguration of Place Jo Cox in Brussels, in honour of the British MP who was murdered by a far-right terrorist a few days before the 2016 EU referendum.

Jo Cox was murdered where she was holding her constituency surgery in Birstall, Yorkshire on 16 June 2016 by Thomas Mair, who was jailed for life for the killing.

Jo was the Labour MP for Batley and Spen in the north of England, and had worked for seven years in Brussels with Oxfam and the European Parliament.

The small square in Brussels next to the well known music venue, Ancienne Belgique, where Jo Cox was a frequent visitor was packed and buzzing for the unveiling ceremony.

I campaigned with Jo when she was elected to the House of Commons. We were both born and brought up in the same area and were pupils at the same school, Heckmondwike Grammar. Her father Gordon Leadbeater also attended the same school and we were contemporaries.

The special ceremony on 27 September was led by Jo’s parents Jean and Gordon Leadbeater and her sister Kim, as well as Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party in the UK.

Kim Leadbeater said it was still impossible to comprehend her sister’s death at the hands of a far right terrorist. She said she had hoped that the assassination would be a warning of the dangers of hatred, racism and violence, adding: “Despite many people working extremely hard to show that Jo’s murder was not in vain, I’m not at all sure this was the case.”

Kim said the family had hoped there would be sea change in political discourse after her sister’s murder on the streets where she grew up.

Such a development for the good in British politics has not yet come to pass, but the inauguration was “an opportunity to reflect on this”, she said.

Jeremy Corbyn appealed for people to remember the values that had shaped Jo’s life, noting that she loved the “internationalism, the globalism” of Brussels.

He recalled her words in the House of Commons shortly after being elected, in which she appealed to all sides of the political divide in the UK to acknowledge they had more in common than that which divided them.

Corbyn said: “In Jo’s memory, we must recommit to the values of peace and justice that Jo fought for every day. We must stand up for the values of reaching out to support those in need all across the world. We will never forget Jo. In her memory, let us build a better world.”

Udo Bullman, German leader of the group of Socialist MEPs, was also present. “It is a fitting tribute by the city of Brussels to name a square in her honour, recognising the time she spent here and the values of inclusion and tolerance that she stood for,” he said.

Among the Labour politicians in attendance was Tracy Brabin MP, Jo’s successor for Batley and Spen; Richard Corbet, MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber, and Sir Keir Starmer, the UK shadow Brexit minister responsible for international relations.

The naming of the square in Brussels in honour of the late Jo Cox is an important example of how local government can show international solidarity especially at a time when nationalism, isolationism and hard-right politics are dangerously and rapidly gaining ground.

It was an initiative of the city of Brussels, a demonstration that councillors in local government are elected through the ballot box in the same way as members of parliament.

The mayor of Brussels, Philippe Close, said Place Jo Cox should serve as a reminder that the “poison of hatred” had to be rejected and that barriers should be brought down rather than erected.

“Whatever the end result of the Brexit negotiations, the United Kingdom will always be part of Europe,” he said.

Michael McGowan is a former MEP and president of the Development Committee of the European Parliament.

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