In The Aftermath Of Another MP’s Killing, Jo Cox’s Sister Kim Leadbeater MP Calls For Change

'My family ask me if it's worth being an MP'

Kim Leadbeater MP, Jo Cox's sister

by Anna Silverman |

Last month, I was about to start judging a school scarecrow competition when my phone started going crazy. News had broken that the Conservative MP Sir David Amess had died after being stabbed multiple times while holding a surgery in his constituency. Colleagues and loved ones were getting in touch to check I was OK. In shock, I rang my partner and parents to let them know I was safe.

Emotions from the day in June 2016 when my sister Jo was killed – also while holding a surgery – came flooding back.

I couldn’t stop thinking of David’s family.

I knew the horrific journey they had just begun – the disbelief and agony. I finished the school visit and then went straight home. But that evening, my partner said to me: ‘I don’t know if you should do this anymore.’ When that terrible phone call comes, it changes people’s lives – and my family have already had that phone call once. I’ve since reached out to David’s family, staff and colleagues to offer any support I can.

The first week back in Westminster after his death felt strange: there was a tangible sense of disbelief that it had happened again. Sadly, we have had a lot of the same conversations we had after Jo was killed. I’ve spoken to many MPs in recent years about the level of abuse and intimidation they have faced. One MP told me her children had said to her, ‘Mummy, please don’t go to work; we’re scared.’ MPs have received abusive emails or been physically and verbally attacked. Some cases of abuse go to court where restraining orders can be issued. What worries me is that MPs talk about all this as if it’s just part of the job. No matter what your profession, it can’t be right.

In my view, we need a comprehensive review to examine how MPs can feel safe at work, while at the same time protecting our democracy itself. Politics has got more toxic, MPs have been dehumanised, and the level of vitriol and violent language has got worse. It’s not just about politicians, though. We all need to look at how we treat our fellow human beings, whether anonymously online or in person.

As politicians we also have a role to play. What example does a House of Commons full of MPs shouting aggressively at each other set for how we expect others to behave? The media, which too often focuses on polarised opinions, needs to play its part, too. And we need to think about education and how we bring up young people with values of empathy, respect and the ability to disagree better.

I keep in regular contact with my loved ones – messaging every few hours to let them know I’m OK. My family ask me if it’s worth it. But if you step down, you let those who are peddling hatred win. It would be wrong to give up.

Jo used to say to me: ‘I need to get a thicker skin,’ and I’d say to her, ‘Don’t you dare think about changing. Politics needs people like you.’ I think she’d say the same to me: ‘Don’t let what’s going on beat you, because you’ve got so much to give.’ I’ll carve out my own path, but I think of her constantly and about how she brought so much compassion to the job; she inspires me every day. I hope other women reading this will not be deterred from putting themselves forward for public office because their voices too need to be heard.

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