Sophy Ridge on Sunday Interview with Kim Leadbeater


SOPHY RIDGE: Three years ago today the Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered as she arrived for a constituency surgery in West Yorkshire. Since then a Foundation set up in her memory has worked to champion the causes that Jo cared about most passionately including combatting loneliness and supporting more women to enter public life. Her sister, Kim Leadbeater, joins us now from Batley, thank you so much for being on the programme this morning, we really appreciate it. For someone like me who wasn’t lucky enough to meet your sister, are there any particular memories that you have of her that paint a picture of the kind of woman that she is.

KIM LEADBEATER: We are very lucky, we have got lots of really fantastic memories of Jo, both from our childhood but also from our time as adults together and everything that we did together was fun. Jo was the nicest, kindest person you could hope to meet, she was also extremely talented but she didn’t have any sort of ego or agenda, she just wanted to help people in whatever she did in her career and her life, that’s what she did. She worked in the voluntary sector for a long time and overseas, then she came back to the UK to work in the area where we grew up and make a difference to the lives of people in the community where I still live.

SR: And how will you be remembering her today?

KIM LEADBEATER: Well today we’ve actually got a game of Rugby League, the memorial game in Jo’s name up at Batley Bulldog’s Rugby Club and so I will be surrounded by the fantastic team of volunteers who have supported myself and mum and dad since Jo was killed and will be paying tribute through the power of sport which I think has got a fantastic role in bringing people together which is exactly what Jo believed in.

SR: That is a really great way to remember her I think. Now do you think our politics has become more or less tolerant in the three years since her death?

KIM LEADBEATER: Yes, I think unfortunately things were pretty bad in 2016 when Jo was killed but I think it’s probably fair to say that that they have got progressively worse. There was a short period of time when politicians and other people said we have to do things differently in the aftermath of Jo’s murder but I think it’s fair to say that since that time things have just got progressively worse and I think that now is an opportunity, reflecting on Jo’s murder, to think let’s all try and do something to change that, let’s all try and do something to move things forward. There is absolutely nothing wrong with robust debate and passionate discussion, we live in a democracy in a country where I am so proud we can do those things but actually we also need to treat each other with respect and civility and I think we’ve lost sight of that a little bit in recent times.

SR: Why do you think it is that the nature of our political discourse does seem so aggressive? Do you know social media for example plays a role in this?

KIM LEADBEATER: I think there are several factors, like with most things it’s complex but I think social media definitely plays its part but equally social media can be used to do many good things. It’s a power to create really positive change and positive messages but yes, I think the anonymity that social media provides is quite dangerous at times. I think clearly Brexit has changed things politically in this country. What it has done, which is really powerful, is it has mobilised people who wouldn’t have been engaged in politics before but I think actually the nature of that debate now again has changed. I make no judgements on how you vote, what sort of political party or how you voted on Brexit but what I’m interested in is why, why did you feel that way and how do we come together to try to reunite the country in the middle of all this division?

SR: I think that’s definitely a good way of approaching that. I do also want to get your opinion on a joke that was made by Jo Brand which has received a lot of attention this week of course. She was referring to people throwing milkshake at politicians and she said why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid, what’s your view on that?

KIM LEADBEATER: Yes, it’s very hard for me to be wholly objective on that subject because of what we’ve been through but I don't think there is a place in politics and sometimes in comedy for the use of violent language. I think no one wants to stop comedians doing their job, no one wants to stop politicians doing their job but I think if you have a public role and indeed if you don’t have a public role, we have to all take responsibility for the language we use and the things that we say so I would say that to politicians, I would say that to journalists, I would say that to comedians and I think the other thing I would say is the way that politics is at the moment, I wouldn’t have thought there was a shortage of material for comedians so I don’t think using such violent rhetoric is helpful. But I also think it’s a tricky one, who sets the moral compass of the nation, who decides what’s offensive? That varies from person to person but I think if you had a conversation with anybody who has been a victim of an acid attack or has had a family member who has been attacked in such an horrific way, they certainly wouldn’t find that funny.

SR: Thank you for answering that so openly. Now you have done some really amazing work, haven’t you, to try and make sure your sister’s memory lives on, that her legacy is really powerful. What do you think that legacy will be?

KIM LEADBEATER: I hope in the months and years to come that we can create a really powerful legacy for Jo based around bringing people together, based around focusing on the common values and the things that we share as human beings. I think again because passions are running so high at the moment and we’re focusing very much on the things that we disagree on, we sometimes need to reconnect on a human level and think about the things that we share. It’s easy to be negative, it’s easy to be angry, I’m angry believe me about what’s happened to us but what I’m not doing is giving in to that anger, I’m not giving in to the negative emotions and I am trying to do something positive in terms of doing something in Jo’s name but I also think it is something that this country needs, where we can bring people together and reconnect on a human level and I think we all need to take responsibility to do that whether we are politicians – and I’m not aligned to any particular political party – wherever we are, wherever we sit on the political spectrum, think about the role that you have and think about the fortunate position that you’re in when you can make a difference to this country but try and do that in a positive way. Again the media, we have all got a responsibility to do something positive and that’s what I’m focusing on in terms of Jo’s legacy. It’s hard, don’t get me wrong, it’s hard and I have days when I could easily give in to the despair and the upset that I feel but I’m not going to do that. What we have to do is stop shouting at each other and we need to start listening to each other, we need to start trying to understand other people’s positions and perspectives and that’s what we’re trying to do through Jo’s foundation and while ever I’ve got the strength in my bones, that’s what I’m going to focus on for Jo, for her kids and for the country as a whole. Anybody who’s lost anybody under the horrific circumstances that we have, whether that’s in the terrorist attacks in Manchester, whether it’s [inaudible] family, that doesn’t matter to me, we have to take the responsibility to try and make a positive difference really seriously and I guess that’s what I’m trying to do as best I can.

SR: Well that’s certainly something I think that we can all get behind. Thank you again for coming on the show and enjoy the rugby league game later.