Jo Cox was passionate campaigner, activist and humanitarian; a proud Yorkshire lass and internationalist; and a devoted mum, daughter, sister, wife, friend and MP.
She was driven by her belief that a fairer, kinder and more tolerant world was possible and dedicated her career to helping those less fortunate than herself, whether in Batley and Spen or around the world. She believed passionately that even the greatest challenges could be overcome. On 16 June 2016, on her way to a constituency surgery to meet with local residents of Batley and Spen, Jo was murdered because of her beliefs.
Jo lived by the words she expressed in her first speech in Parliament:
We are far more united and have far more in common than that which divides us.
Growing up in YorkshireJo grew up in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire as part of a close family, with her parents Gordon and Jean and younger sister Kim, with whom she was best friends.
Jo was shy during her childhood, but excelled during her school years at Heckmondwike Grammar School, becoming head girl and an accomplished swimmer.
Studying at CambridgeJo became the first member of her family to go to university, gaining a place at Pembroke College at Cambridge University to study Archaeology and Anthropology, but later transferred to Social and Political Sciences. Having come from a working-class, Northern background, Jo initially struggled to adapt to life at Cambridge and experienced loneliness during her early months of studying. In true Jo style, she overcame this difficult start and went on to achieve academic success and forge life-long friendships.
After graduating from Cambridge University, Jo headed into the jungles of Borneo for three months as a member of Operation Raleigh to work on conservation projects.
Starting her political careerJo had thought about the idea of becoming an MP for her local constituency since visiting Parliament at age 15. Upon graduating in 1995, Jo worked as a parliamentary adviser to labour MP Joan Walley before moving to Brussels to become a political advisor to Glenys Kinnock MEP.
While working for Glenys Kinnock, Jo campaigned for the EU to establish a new code of conduct for Arms Sales (adopted in 1998). She worked on international trade, joining a delegation to South Africa in 2001. She later became Chair of the Women’s Labour Network.
Fighting for a fairer worldJo joined Oxfam in 2001 as Head of the European Office in Brussels and was instrumental in the ‘Make Trade Fair’ campaign aiming to remove unfair tariffs that stopped developing countries from trading with the EU.
Together with Amnesty International, she pushed for a global arms trade treaty, which was eventually adopted in 2014. She returned to England to start her role as Head of Policy and Advocacy at Oxfam in 2005, playing a key role in the Make Poverty History campaign.
At the 2005 World Summit, Jo argued for the international community to agree to a “responsibility to protect” doctrine and intervene when governments fail to stop crimes against their citizens. Her deep care for humanitarian issues, particularly related to conflict in Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo, led to her appointment as Head of Humanitarian Campaigns for Oxfam in 2007 (based in New York). There she played a key role in the publication of the report ‘For a Safer Tomorrow’ (2008) which advocated for the protection of civilians around the world.
Protecting women and childrenJo passionately fought for the rights of women and children, directing the Maternal Mortality Campaign with Sarah Brown at White Ribbon Alliance, working to ensure women are at the heart of the global economic recovery. She also worked for organisations including Save the Children and the NSPCC.
Becoming a motherJo married Brendan Cox in 2009 and together they had two children; Cuillin and Lejla. Jo loved being a mum. She was never happier than when she was with her children. She embraced motherhood with her usual enthusiasm, and even though she found it exhausting at times, she loved every single minute. Jo always put her children first, even voting in the Chamber of the house in her cycling clothes so she could make it home for bedtime.
Becoming a Member of ParliamentIn early 2015, Jo heard that the current MP for Batley and Spen was retiring. Despite the poor timing with having two young children, she chose to seize the opportunity to make her dream of becoming MP for Batley and Spen – her home constituency – a reality. That year, she was selected from an all-women shortlist to become the Labour candidate in the 2015 general election. After a tough campaign, she went on to win with 43.2% of the vote, increasing the Labour majority.
Her impact in ParliamentIn her short-time in parliament, Jo made a huge impact and gained respect across the house. She set up the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) Friends of Syria to help politicians understand the crisis and possible policy options. With Tom Tugendhat MP, Jo started working on the report ‘The Cost of Doing Nothing’ making the case for action to protect civilians from atrocity in conflicts around the world.
She campaigned passionately on a range of local, national and international issues, including education equality, improving support for children with autism, achieving a 50:50 parliament, tackling loneliness and protecting civilians in conflict. Jo Cox’s final questions in parliament focused on protecting children in war zones. She was a much-loved MP in her constituency of Batley and Spen.
Jo’s legacy and the creation of The Jo Cox FoundationThe public reaction to Jo’s death – in Yorkshire, across Britain and around the world – showed that the values she lived by are widely shared. The way in which so many people continue to respond so positively years after she was killed is testimony to the fact that those values are enduring and unshakeable.
Inspired by Jo, in 2016 her family and friends set up The Jo Cox Foundation. The charity channels the energy and determination generated by Jo’s life and tragic death into practical efforts to make change on the issues that she was passionate about.
On 9 September 2021, MPs held a debate in the House of Commons on the positive legacy of Jo Cox. Politicians from all parties gave emotional and heartfelt speeches about Jo, her time in parliament and her legacy after her tragic murder.