‘As we remember Jo Cox three years on, let’s come together again in her name’

It’s that time of year again, the days are getting longer, an international football tournament is just beginning and it’s almost Glastonbury.

In the back garden, the white rose I planted the weekend after Jo Cox was killed is coming into bloom.

Next Sunday is the third anniversary of her murder and the week after that is the third anniversary of the Brexit vote.

And between those events is the memory of a feeling that something so wrong had happened to our decent, tolerant country that it might not be fixable.

But this week also saw another anniversary. Of my friend Jo’s maiden speech in Parliament.

On June 3, 2015, Jo stood up in a bright red top and spoke passionately about Batley and Spen, the place she grew up and now proudly represented as an MP.

“While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us,” she said.

One June later, and the empty place she spoke from on those green benches was marked with a single white rose.

As in all things, Jo was ahead of her time.

She understood – because she saw politics from the grassroots up, embedded in her own community – the divisions pulling at our country and the factions waiting to exploit them.

But she also saw how much people have in common.

The Polish labourer, the Englishman on zero hours and the mum in the headscarf all just want to get food on the table, and the best for their kids. T

hey all dream of holidays, time with family, a brighter future.

Last month, in the spirit of Jo and in her memory, the Mirror joined with the Express and dozens of Reach regional newspapers to set up Britain Talks.

It’s not about getting us to give up our hard-felt opinions, but about weaning us off toxic debate. It’s about what we might have in common with the person we’re disagreeing with.

In the current climate, it’s a difficult sell. Even while we’ve been up and running, Britain has been through a polarising set of European elections that ramped up the hate.

The Tory leadership contest and possibility of an unelected right-wing prime minister is building ­frustration and anger.

Donald Trump’s visit has underlined the culture wars raging not just across the UK but across the world.

But today we can reveal that more than 3,000 people have been willing to take a first step out of their political silos to sign up to Britain Talks.

We hope thousands will have the courage to take the second step and meet the match our computer is finding for them on June 23.

What’s been just as heartening has been learning what others are doing to bring people together. Organisations like the Great Get Together and the Jo Cox Foundation carry on vital work in Jo’s name.

The Talking Revolution is hosting the first ever Conversation Day in the UK. Young people at My Life My Say are working tirelessly to heal divisions.

This week, my colleague Maryam Qaiser visited the Mill Hill Unitarian Chapel in Leeds city centre – a Christian church which welcomes around 80 Muslims for Jummah, Friday prayers, every week.

There are no mosques in the heart of Leeds, and it means people who work in the city centre can pray in their lunch breaks.

At 1pm each Friday, Rev Jo James turns the community room from a Weight Watchers meeting venue to a mosque by laying down prayer mats.

Prayers are led by Imam Adam, but Rev Jo sometimes leads the sermons.

Many of the people commute to Leeds from Jo Cox’s community of Batley, and so it feels fitting that the Rev Jo quotes her almost unconsciously. “In our two religions, there are more things that unite us than divide us,” he says, “such as compassion, respect and community”.

This week, Jo’s sister Kim Leadbeater said her personal grief three years on is compounded by divisions “which in many ways feel worse than when Jo was killed”. In Jo’s memory, she is calling for us all to “reconnect with each other on a human level”.

The only people who win from extreme divisions are extremists. We have to take the risk of breaking bread with our opponents when we disagree.

Sign ups to Britain Talks are now closed.

But do watch @britaintalks and mirror.co.uk/britaintalks to see how our experiment works out.

And on June 23, how about inviting a neighbour, family member or friend with different views round for a cup of tea?

If you do, email us at [email protected] and let us know how it went.

Finally, why not join the Great Get Together, with hundreds of events happening all over the country, at
greatgettogether.org/find .

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