Friday, 17 June 2016

Reading Trades Union Council Mourns the Murder of Jo Cox MP


Flowers for the late Jo Cox MP at Reading's
Spanish Civil War Monument

With the news of the horrific slaying of Jo Cox, Labour Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, on Thursday, 16 June 2016, at the hands of Thomas Mair, the Reading Trades Union Council took the immediate decision to arrange a memorial gathering in Forbury Gardens, Reading, in front of the monument to the Reading veterans of the International Brigades. As news emerged about the killer’s utterances at the time of the murder – ‘Britain First’ – and his subsequent claim, when asked in court to confirm his name, that he is ‘death to traitors, freedom for Britain’, the location was proved well chosen. As Ray Parkes pointed out during his words at the memorial event, the monument honoured Reading’s fighters against fascism and racism during the Spanish Civil War and – reinforced by the death of Jo – he confirmed the labour movement’s determination that the likes of Mair shall not pass unchallenged: ‘¡No pasar├ín!

Organisation of the memorial began with the creation of a Facebook Event, posted by John Partington and circulated by email to friends, comrades and the local media. The event invitation stated simply:

The Reading Trades Union Council will be gathering at the Spanish Civil War Monument in Forbury Gardens for a moment of contemplation for the late Jo Cox MP, Labour member of parliament for Batley and Spen.

Jo was savagely murdered in her West Yorkshire constituency today. All who wish to show solidarity with her public activities and gather with likeminded persons to share in mourning are welcome to join us.

In response to the email-shot of the event, both GetReading (http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/memorial-mp-jo-cox-held-11485394) and the Reading Chronicle (http://www.readingchronicle.co.uk/news/14562812.Reading_pays_tribute_to_MP_after_shooting_attack/) published online publicity on 16 June. Similarly, Jack FM Berkshire broadcast details of the event during 17 June. In the hours before the Forbury gathering, both BBC South Today and BBC Radio Berkshire contacted Partington, as RTUC’s Communications Officer, and asked for permission to attend and report. On the understanding that their attendance would be sensitive to the feelings of the mourners, they were both welcomed. A journalist from GetReading also attended.
At the event around 100 people gathered. Partington thanked them for attending, explained that the RTUC felt the need to create a space for contemplation following the terrible killing and welcomed forward those who wished to say a few words. Appropriately for a gathering which represented exasperation and anger at the racist intolerance of Mair and sadness for the loss of a politician, migrant-rights campaigner, mother and wife, the speakers include women and men, persons of varied ethnic descent, Labour and Conservative politicians, Southerners and Northerners, senior citizens, middle aged persons and younger adults. Children and youths were also present at the memorial.
The overriding message conveyed by the speakers was simple – Jo’s activism, both with Oxfam and as an MP, represented the values all present wished to uphold. She argued for greater sympathy with the plight of Syrians during the horrific civic war in that country, refusing to vote for the current bombing campaign as pursued by the British government and arguing for the resettlement of many more refugees in this country. While Jo’s death was identified as an attack on British democracy, more personally the loss to her family and especially to her two children was decried.

Following the event, GetReading published a summary of the proceedings (http://www.getreading.co.uk/news/reading-berkshire-news/reading-community-gathers-remember-labour-11490404), BBC South Today included interviews and filmic panoramas of the gathering (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07flgbm at 10:58) and BBC Radio Berkshire included a report and interview (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wwzy9#play at 1h12mins). The media were tasteful in their presence and reporting – though some overplayed the role of Reading East’s Conservative MP, Rob Wilson, who, while welcome at the event, did not echo the sentiments of tolerance and belonging as forcefully as most other speakers. That message might have been more clearly projected on television and in print.

Reading Trades Union Council thanks all who attended the event and hopes this report – and the media coverage cited above – will help those who could not attend get a sense of the mood of the gathering and utterances.