An unusual combination of MP and activist
Jo Cox MP was exactly the kind of new leader that society and politics needs right now and we didn’t really know what that might look like until the bright media spotlight was thrust on her, sadly for the wrong reasons. She was the first female Member of Parliament to be murdered, and brutally so last Thursday in her home town and constituency while serving her community. The country was reeling in shock and for the rest of that day and following day… there was no other news.
The more we heard the more we were able to build up a picture of an extraordinary politician and inspiring leader. We listened to work colleagues talk about how wonderful a loving mother she was, with a bright, brilliant intelligence; a ferocious campaigner; a champion for the dispossessed, disadvantaged and vulnerable all over the world with the street cred of having spent most of her adult life working in social justice actually on the ground and working in refugee camps. Not only that but she was effective. People spoke of her energy, passion and practicality and her ability to take on major issues. Apparently she worked with Sarah Brown (wife of ex-PM Gordon) on MDG5, the only Millennium Development goal that by the mid-decade had not had any impact. The issue of maternal health was simply not on the radar of world leaders .. until she put it there. Sarah has since written that the number of deaths of women in childbirth then halved when she championed the issue.
If only we had known all this before, we could have loved her while she lived! And how it would have given us hope that change might be starting to happen. We have got so used to being disillusioned with the whole system that it became easy to forget, or we didn’t see, that a new breed of politician has been coming in to Parliament. I certainly did not know that inspiring individuals like Jo Cox had been motivated to serve the country by standing for election and working inside the House of Commons. Thankfully, she was not alone. On the very night of her death another female MP joined Westminster having been elected to replace the Tooting seat vacated by our new Mayor of London. Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, is another professional, passionate leader who is local born and raised in Tooting and works as an A&E doctor at the local St George’s Hospital.
A new set of values
As people shared their experience of Jo the most commonly quoted traits and values were:
- always listening and
- having a huge heart.
Reading through that list one would not normally think that we are talking about a politician, in fact it was this image of a hard-working loving mother and skilled community champion that added to the pain of the tragedy. These are not qualities that are brought so openly to the political arena. Recently, we have seen a huge increase in negativity in the debate between public figures. The appalling personal insults and low quality of dialogue has made many people disengage right when we need to be able to listen and understand how to decide on the future of the country. Our political leaders have not been role models for emotional intelligence and when things get nasty it might be seen to give permission to other people, who may not have full command of their emotions, to express themselves with very inappropriate action … as witnessed last week in an extreme way.
What good can come from this?
BBC new presenter Joanna Gosling asked Jo Cox’ s friend and fellow MP, Stephen Kinnock, if this might mean we could see “a gentler politics?” He replied that there needs to be a reflecting so that the tone of anger is dialed down and that politicians are in fact very good people who need our respect. Jo’s own wish would be for a society of tolerance, hope not hate. Her drive and compassionate approach to all that she did got her noticed by politicians on both sides of the house in the short time she was an MP, just over a year. Compassion is so rarely brought to bear where big decisions are made in countries and corporations and yet it is exactly what society needs to create change. Only last week I attended a Summit in Berlin called Femme Q where we heard how feminine intelligence will be key to creating change the world with compassion being in the top five traits that leaders need to embrace to create change. Jo Cox was certainly a trail-blazer in feminine leadership.
Jo’s one fault …
Lord Kinnock spoke movingly on live TV, unable to hold back his tears, recalling, as a family friend of twenty years, that he had encouraged her. He was impressed with how she used her high intelligence to solve practical problems and her fight for common sense and fair play. Poignantly, he said “this was a woman who could not be stopped”. He drew attention to her one fault … in his opinion she was too modest and he advised her to push harder .. for herself, to get heard. This is often the plight for so many women leaders focussing on what is dear to them but unwilling to drew attention to their achievements, letting them speak for themselves. Rather tragically in this case, attention has been drawn to Jo and her work, but a little too late for her to know how highly regarded she was.
Personally I believe there will be a ripple of change. People will absolutely remember the amazing mother and fearless champion who might want day have made it to the top as a party/country leader. She has set a high benchmark for a new breed of politician who’s loyalty to their community is their priority and who bring new values to play a very different game of politics that actually brings change. That’s my prayer for Jo Cox.