After voting in the biggest referendum of my lifetime, I went to pay my respects at the memorial to Jo Cox MP outside the Houses of Parliament. Like so many people, when I heard the news of her shooting and then her death, I couldn’t quite take it in: it’s not the sort of thing that happens in this country, it happens in other countries. It feels so unreal. That may sound deluded or arrogant but the targeting of an MP in the street by a right-wing extremist is such a shock, as the murder of Lee Rigby, the 7/7 bombings, the nail bomber’s attacks and the IRA bombings were a shock. The fact that it has happened takes a while to sink in; I kept hoping it wasn’t true.
Jo Cox wasn’t a famous MP, I found myself explaining to a non-British person this weekend: she was a backbencher, a constituency MP who was simply doing her job on the day she was attacked and killed.
It was sobering, reading the messages left alongside the flowers, from fellow MPs, members of the House of Lords, friends, and strangers who just felt moved to say how sorry they were, as the London traffic raced by. I could see how much she was loved and respected by her colleagues.
Her death has reminded us all that as much as MPs have been derided in the past few years, most of them stood for parliament because they believe in something and want to change the world for the better.
It was also especially poignant for me when I found out that she was the mother of two young children. I lost my mother at the age of 5, and I can only hope and pray that her children are able to draw strength from this outpouring of love for their mother.
The EU referendum campaign and the reaction to the result in favour of Brexit have been angry and fractious. And I haven’t been immune to this: I too have been angry. Jo Cox’s death hasn’t been the only act of violence. Since the result was announced there have been reports of people being abused in the street and told to “go home”. And the anger doesn’t show any signs of subsiding.
Perhaps the poster outside Methodist Central Hall sums up the choice we should make now – it certainly is one option for uniting a very divided and angry country.
Or perhaps we can just remember Jo Cox’s quote on her memorial: “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”