Jo Cox is one of Labour’s rising stars, widely regarded as one of the most promising MP of the 2015 intake. She is about to celebrate her 42nd birthday, and grew up in Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire, with her mother, Jean, a school secretary, and father, Gordon, who worked in a toothpaste and hairspray factory in Leeds.
She won a place at Cambridge but told the Yorkshire Post in a recent interview: “I never really grew up being political or Labour. It kind of came at Cambridge where it was just a realisation that where you were born mattered, that how you spoke mattered … who you knew mattered. I didn’t really speak right or knew the right people. I spent the summers packing toothpaste at a factory working where my dad worked and everyone else had gone on a gap year. To be honest my experience at Cambridge really knocked me for about five years.”
Cox went on to be an aid worker in developing countries, and became Oxfam’s head of global policy. Max Lawson, Oxfam’s head of policy, who previously worked for Cox said: “Jo is a brilliant committed activist for social justice with boundless energy and kindness who made a huge contribution at Oxfam.” Jo Cox during the general election count in 2015. Photograph: Gary Calton for the Observer
She has also worked as an adviser to Sarah Brown, wife of the former Labour prime minister Gordon Brown, in her women’s and children’s health campaigns.
She has a keen interest in social policy issues, including the future of social care and the role of women in politics, and has been heavily involved in the Labour Women’s Network, which tries to get more women into parliament.
While she campaigned for parliament, Cox’s parents helped look after her two small children. Friends said the timing had not been perfect, but when the Batley and Spen seat where she grew up became free it seemed too good an opportunity to miss.
Cox has already begun to make a name for herself as a campaigning MP unafraid to take on her own party’s leadership, including with a powerful intervention in the debate over whether Labour should back military action in Syria.
She is chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Syria, and while Labour’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, was strongly opposed to military action, Cox wrote a joint article with the former Conservative aid secretary Andrew Mitchell, arguing that there was a strong humanitarian case for action.
The pair argued in the Observer: “There is nothing ethical about standing to one side when civilians are being murdered and maimed. There was no excuse in Bosnia, nor Rwanda and there isn’t now.” She subsequently abstained in the parliamentary vote on the issue.
Cox is the mother of a boy and a girl, and is married to Brendan Cox, who stepped down as a senior executive at Save the Children last year. He was also a former adviser to Brown.
Their home when in London is a boat on the Thames. The pair were due to welcome more than a 100 friends and their children to their annual summer solstice party this weekend.
Cox’s fellow Labour MP Alison McGovern said: “Jo brought her dedication and her passion both for her home town and for the causes she had fought for all her life to parliament.”
She added that the kind of detailed, knowledgeable parliamentary questions asked by Cox underline the fact that she used her expertise, including on development issues, to hold the government to account. “She’s that kind of clever, brilliant, committed person who uses parliament to stand up for the people in the world who most need us,” she said.
In recent days, Cox has been campaigning hard for the remain campaign in next week’s EU referendum. And she had used her maiden speech in the Commons to praise the benefits of immigration. She said: “Our communities have been deeply enhanced by immigration, be it of Irish Catholics across the constituency or of Muslims from Gujarat in India or from Pakistan, principally from Kashmir.
“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.”
Cox nominated Corbyn before he swept to the leadership of the Labour party last September – though she ultimately voted for Liz Kendall. She recently penned a joint article with the new-intake Labour MP Neil Coyle, accusing Corbyn of displaying “weak leadership, poor judgment and a mistaken sense of priorities”.