BRENDAN Cox’s wife Jo was killed while working in her constituency five years ago — the last fatal attack on a British MP.
Devastated Brendan, now 42, was left to bring up their two children.
Today, he reflects on Friday’s killing of Sir David Amess in Leigh-on Sea, Essex, the chilling parallels with Jo’s death and how the Tory MP’s murder left him devastated.
“MY phone rang with the name of a long-time friend of mine who I hadn’t spoken to for a few weeks.
As I went to answer it, I wondered why he was calling in the middle of a Friday and, for a fleeting second, I hoped that nothing awful had happened.
I never used to have that reaction, but since Jo was killed five years ago, I often have these moments when I imagine the worst.
Today, awfully, the worst had happened.
“An MP has been stabbed” he told me. “I wanted you to know before you heard it on the news.”
My first question was whether the MP had children. Five I was told.
My reaction was immediate and physical. I put the phone down and cried with my head on the table, shaking uncontrollably.
I was back in that day five years ago when I received another call from a friend to tell me Jo had been attacked.
I remembered the panic, the feeling of adrenaline coursing through my body.
I remembered the minutes of desperate hope as I ran for the train to be close to her, followed by the long and awful hours of despair.
And, of course, I remember having to tell my children.
In this case, the worst was quickly confirmed — long time MP Sir David Amess had died having been stabbed multiple times.
When I was able to form thoughts my first was whether I could help his family.
Having been through something similar I wanted the family to know that anything I could do, any advice or just solidarity, I would give gratefully.
It’s one of the ways I have processed my own grief since Jo died; reaching out to people who are going through the worst moments of their lives, especially when children are involved.
Trying to use my own horrific experience to some end.
The family are all that matters now.
All our love should be directed to them. I remember it from my own experience.
The love that wrapped my children and I up.
Friends who stayed with me, family who swept us up.
I also remember the public reaction, the love and kindness of total strangers.
I remembered my five-year-old son saying — as members of the public lined the route of the funeral — “I knew people loved mummy, but I didn’t know this many people did.”
I hope we can do for David’s family what so many people did for ours.
To share their love and kindness, whether or not they knew him, and regardless of their politics.
Of course, we also need to think about the implications of this terrible act.
How do we safeguard our democracy from a handful of extremists who are willing to kill innocent and defenceless people for the sake of their ‘cause’?
We can’t sustain a democracy effectively if our MPs are targets like this.
We face the unenviable choice of enhancing their security — and in doing so making them less approachable and accessible, or continuing as we are, but at huge personal risk
I hope we can find a middle way.
But it’s the extremism that underlies these attacks that we really need to focus on.
Focussing on security will be the most immediate priority, but it’s never going to be fully effective.
So what else can we do?
The first thing we should recognise is that the different brands of extremism are just different labels for the same product.
They are driven by the same things.
The person who killed Jo and the person who killed David are in every way alike.
They simply use different excuses for their evil.
In my view they are driven by five things.
Firstly, they are driven by hatred. An extreme belief that anyone who doesn’t agree with them is so worthless that they deserve to be killed.
I put down the phone and cried…I was back in that day when I learned Jo had been attacked.
Secondly, and perhaps most obviously, their aim is to spread terror.
What this means is that their target is not primarily the people they attack and kill, they aim to spread their terror through society.
Their aim is to make us all fearful.
Thirdly, they seek to divide us.
Most terrorist groups have the same strategy — you can read it in the ramblings of the leaders of the Islamists or the white supremacists.
Their attacks are designed to turn community against community.
To provoke violence. To lead to a spiral of violence that ultimately creates the type of failed state where their extremism has a chance of imposing itself.
Fourthly, they are often seeking personal notoriety or meaning.
The people who end up launching these sorts of attacks are often lonely and isolated, they may have criminal backgrounds or drug and alcohol problems.
They feel they have failed in life and their attacks are often an attempt at finding meaning.
EXCUSE FOR EVIL
In that context they strive for belonging, status and recognition from their fellow band of extremists.
Their greatest dream is for infamy, that they are remembered for something other than their long years of irrelevance.
Fifthly, they want to undermine our democracy.
In David’s case and in Jo’s this is most obvious.
But in all cases of terrorism there is an underlying agenda to undermine democracy. Why?
Because it’s our most potent weapon for holding our society together. So it is clear what terrorists want us to do.
They want us to spread their hatred, to live in fear, to blame whole groups for their attacks, to amplify division and to undermine our democracy.
But that’s where our choices lie.
We don’t have to respond in this way. And I don’t think we will.
Their worst nightmare is that instead of dividing us these attacks pull us closer together — as I believe we did following Jo’s death.
POWER OF DEMOCRACY
Their worst nightmare is that we hold the individual responsible, not the community from which they came.
That we strengthen our faith in our democracy and that we deny them notoriety.
They fear that we will remember David’s name forever and forget his attackers almost immediately.
We can all play a role in this because we, the British public, are the ultimate targets of these attacks.
And our responses will dictate if they are successful.
So please take a second to say something positive to an MP or a councillor today, to thank them for being a part of our democracy (whether or not you agree with them, in fact even better if you don’t).
Challenge anyone who tries to blame Friday’s attack on a particular religion or country — they are doing the work of terrorists for them.
Think twice if you’re the type of person who uses social media to call someone evil just because you disagree with them.
And please remember David’s name as someone who tried to make his community better.
These might feel like little things but ultimately they are more important than all the locks and alarms that money can buy.
- Brendan Cox is the widower of Jo Cox MP and co-founder of Survivors Against Terror