Three years on from the terrible murder of Jo Cox and, though it pains me to say it, little about our political culture has changed. Memorials have been held and vigils observed, but the culture has, if anything, got worse.
Only two weeks ago Britain rolled out the red carpet for Donald Trump: a racist, sexist misogynist whose values could not stand in greater contrast to the ones that Jo championed. In the first round of the Conservative leadership election, a man who referred to Muslim women wearing the veil as “letterboxes” and black people as “piccaninnies” secured more votes than the next three candidates combined. Nigel Farage’s stoking of xenophobia and division continues to gain traction.
As politicians we owe it to Jo, to her family, and to the people of Britain, to do better than this.
We can, of course – we have before. Over the past 50 years, we’ve seen the introduction of far-reaching laws on equality and anti-discrimination, and the inclusion of millions of people from other countries who have made Britain their home and enriched our society. Prejudices that were once common are far less prevalent, even though they haven’t disappeared completely.
At this pivotal moment in Britain’s history, those of us who believe in a better society must come together as friends and allies, find common ground, and wrench the story of our future out of the hands of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson. We must seek out the values that unite us and place them at the heart of the arguments we make and the policies we propose.
One organisation that I am proud to support is already trying to do that. Compassion in Politics launched last October and, thanks to the power and urgency of its message, it has already gained the backing of MPs from seven different parties inside parliament, and from public figures and academics outside it. Their aims might seem common-sense enough: to make politics respectful, cooperative, and compassionate. But given the current climate, they are also hugely ambitious.
Yet ambition is what we need. Britain did not build a fairer, more just society in the decades after the Second World War by standing still. Rights were not won by accepting the status quo. Many of us entered politics because we wanted to change things for the better. That desire, that hope, is needed more than ever.
Compassion in Politics is proposing to introduce the world’s first Compassion Act. Its aim is simple: to ensure that no government be allowed to make those in the most vulnerable circumstances worse off, or benefit current generations at the expense of future ones.
We are living in the shadow of austerity and face the imminent threat of climate breakdown. These two principles of the Compassion Act could have averted the worst impacts of austerity, and forced government action (rather than just rhetoric) on the climate emergency.
The organisation is also working to bring together MPs with similar values so that we can reinforce one another’s campaigns, and celebrate our individual and collective successes. It’s easy to overlook how important this is but in an environment where backbiting, stereotyping and division are lauded, it’s essential if we are to move to a kinder way of being.
The campaign is looking at reform of our anachronistic parliamentary system – from a revised code of conduct for MPs to the formation of citizens’ assemblies that would allow difficult issues, like Brexit, to be debated and resolved in ways that don’t deepen divisions and poison public discourse. All of these changes are needed urgently.
In Jo’s life she sought to build bridges, dignify our politics and magnify the lives of the most isolated and vulnerable. In the ever more polarised politics of today, it’s even more urgent that we remember her lessons and build on her example.
Caroline Lucas is the Green Party MP for Brighton Pavilion