By Rithika Siddhartha and Sarwar Alam
THE HUSBAND of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox has spoken of being overwhelmed by the nationwide response to the Great Get Together last weekend, when tens of thousands of street parties were held in memory of his wife.
Brendan Cox set up the Jo Cox Foundation in her memory and planned the informal get-togethers to celebrate what we have in common, rather than what divides communities, and which was a central theme of the late MP’s first speech in parliament.
In an interview with Eastern Eye last week, Cox said he wanted the anniversary of his wife’s death to be a reflection of who she was, someone who had an “amazing enthusiasm and zest for life”.
“Jo loved getting together with her community,” Cox said, adding, “We all want to live in closer communities.
“We are at a stage where some of our communities are fragmented a little bit, but you can’t just wish that you live in a closer community, you actually have to do something about it.”
It is estimated that 100,000 parties were held across the UK last weekend (17-18), with Cox attending celebrations in Batley and Spen, the constituency his wife represented and where she was murdered last June by Thomas Mair, as well as in London, where he lives with his son and daughter.
Cox said: “Jo’s killing was designed to divide communities, it was driven by hatred, and it was about trying to pull as apart.
“And I could think of no better response to that than a moment that actually brings the country together.
“It shows that our country, with its diversity and differences, that actually we have more in common than the things that divide us. That was the stuff that Jo talked about.”
She was fatally injured on June 16, 2016, a week before the EU referendum, by Mair who shot and stabbed her multiple times. He was known to be a Nazi sympathiser with links to the far-right and is serving a life sentence for her murder.
Cox said his wife’s legacy would be getting communities closer together and breaking down barriers, and that it was for both people and government to make it happen.
“That sense of community spirit and closeness comes from the community and you can’t do it top down,” he said.
“Having said that, there’s a bunch of policies that ministers can do to get out of the way to make to easier to facilitate it… whether that’s in housing or education, we can’t leave it to government, it’s not something the government can do by itself.
“I think we all have an opportunity, it’s a positive thing to reinvent our own communities.”
Following the referendum last year, the general election earlier this month and the terror attacks in London and Manchester, instances of hate crime have gone up, with those from ethnic minorities bearing the brunt of the attacks.
Cox acknowledged that while Britain chose to leave the European Union, “the narrative that we all hate each other because of the way we voted in the election of the referenda (Scotland and Brexit), I just don’t think that’s true.
“For most people, what is much more important to them are family, communities, or their faith or a thousand other things and politics probably takes about one per cent of their headspace.
“While the media and the public debate focuses on the areas that we disagree with each other, I think communities are crying out for togetherness.
“Definitely, politics can polarise, but I also don’t think it represents who we really are in this country.”
He added: “What extremism has at its core, whether it is Islamist inspired or Nazi/ fascist inspired, as it was in the case of my wife – what they have at their core is the same thing, which is the fear of others and the hatred of others.
“(But) that hatred has never divided our country and never will define our country.
“We all have that responsibility to drive that to the extreme within our own communities, to address hatred in all of its forms.
“The way that we will defeat extremism is by building closer communities and by getting closer with our neighbours, by knowing each other.
“It’s easy to hate people in the abstract, it’s very hard to hate people when you know them.”
To a question on whether liberalism was at threat in western democracies, Cox cautioned against taking such values for granted.
“We have been complacent for too long in terms of assuming that the values and institutions that we build which underpin liberal democracy are in some way sacrosanct and don’t have to be fought for.
“The reality is that the rise of (US president Donald) Trump and (French politician Marine) Le Pen, (anti-EU Dutch politician Geert) Wilders, all of those show actually how fragile those institutions are, also values are.
“Unless you actively fight for them and go out and support them, they can crumble and change very quickly.
“Those institutions and values will only persevere if we wake up out of our complacency and say actually this is a live fight – this is something we have to reassert, every generation needs to fight for the values that define it and the institutions.
“Even in the worst moments of Manchester and the London attacks, the way that those cities responded was to show that the sense of togetherness, solidarity, and the importance of maintaining and safe guarding our values was even more important, more powerful so that gives me great hope.
“I’m very optimistic, but that is based on the continued mobilisation of that silent majority who all took for granted that the values that we have are always the values that we will always have.
“The silent majority has realised that they have to reassert those values all over again.”
Cox, who put together the plan with a small team, said he was not sure yet if the celebration would turn into an annual event, but said there was a “huge desire for people to rebuild communities”.
“The Great Get Together isn’t going to solve any of that, but it’s one example of the sort of thing that we should do more of.
“I also think that once you’ve done it once, it becomes easier to do it again. I hope it sets off a chain reaction in communities where people feel closer and they are more connected and more willing to do more things together,” he said.