Jo Cox murder six years on: Sister and MP Kim Leadbeater says politics is still 'a toxic place to be'

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A West Yorkshire MP has called for more to be done to tackle the "toxic" atmosphere faced by politicians and those in the public eye, as the region stops to commemorate the sixth anniversary of her sister's death.

Jo Cox was murdered by a right-wing extremist following a local surgery meeting in Birstall back in June 2016. Following the election of her successor Tracy Brabin as West Yorkshire Mayor, Jo's sister Kim Leadbeater chose to contest the Batley & Spen seat for Labour in a by-election last year.

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The contest was fiercely fought, with social media posts showing campaigners, including Kim herself, being harassed in the street going viral, before Kim was able to take the seat with a majority of 323.

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MP Kim Leadbeater, for Batley and Spen.MP Kim Leadbeater, for Batley and Spen.
MP Kim Leadbeater, for Batley and Spen.

"I didn't expect the nastiness the by-election produced," said Kim. "If you put yourself forward for public office, you need to be prepared to have discussions and disagreements.

"I have no problem with that, and I hope the vast majority of people would think it's unacceptable in a civilised democracy shouting and throwing things at people in the street. That's not what this country should look like."

A charity, along with numerous events to continue Jo's name have been set up in her memory, but this increased awareness failed to stop another extremist from murdering Conservative MP David Amess last October.

"I think sadly politics remains sadly a pretty toxic place to be," Kim said. "We have seen growing amounts of abuse, intimidation and threats to people in public life - not just to MPs but local councillors as well.

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"We have all got to think about how we can try and change that. Everybody needs to do their bit, and I include politicians in that. We have to look at the way we conduct ourselves, how we can maintain passionate and robust debates respectfully and learn to disagree better."

She added that social media also had to be looked at, as many public figures, including celebrities and footballers, can often find themselves becoming hate figures through no fault of their own.

"When people are angry and frustrated, what you might have said a few years ago to a few friends in the pub, you can now put on social media for all the world to see," she said. "Even if you regret what you have written it's too late because the damage has already been done.

"The online and offline worlds don't exist in isolation. All it takes is for someone to have a rant online before an individual translates that into the real world where we get people being shouted at in the streets and a really angry society.

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"This isn't about feeling sorry for politicians, we just want to feel safe to do our jobs, but equally I want NHS workers, police officers, taxi drivers and shop workers to feel safe to do their jobs.

"Sadly we have been seeing growing levels of abuse in lots of different walks of life."

She added that many people were still being drawn to extreme and murderous ideologies, and that these dangers can often put talented people off getting into politics in the first place.

"Jo was killed by a right wing extremist," added Kim. "Sir David Amess was killed by an Islamist extremist. What are we doing to prevent people from being drawn towards the extremes? It's something that has a huge impact on our democracy.

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"We don't want to lose good people from public life. and we also don't want to put good people off from putting themselves forward.

"From a female perspective, you look at the abuse that female MPs get, and I don't blame young women for not wanting to put themselves forward because it's not a pleasant place to work at times."

So how is she finding her role as an MP, nearly one year into the job?

"It's been a rollercoaster, to he honest," said Kim. "It's strange this week more than ever, given I am in the job Jo did.

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"The challenges of being a good constituency MP while making your mark in Westminster and making sure that you always try and connect the two. I have to represent everybody in Batley and Spen.

"It's very intense and challenging so I suppose my next challenge is to find a way to enjoy it in a way that Jo would have wanted me to, as well as being extremely busy and stressed!"

The Jo Cox Foundation is launching the sixth annual Great Get Together - nationwide community events inspired by the message from her very first speech in Parliament. In Yorkshire, over 40 Great Get Togethers will be happening across the region, with thousands of people expected to take part.

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