How can we honour, celebrate and remember a life of service to the good of others tragically cut short?  In time flowers die and memories fade away. Words are often said in the political sphere to give apparent substance to pure wind. Is this the best that we as a society or as individuals can do?

Jo Cox, Member of Parliament, died whilst trying to bridge the gap between government and governed, reaching out to the people of her constituency. Without this gap being bridged there can be no democracy. In this country we have a long tradition of government by consent, where each person has an equal vote and can make a difference. But today this tradition, which has come at a terrible price through the struggles and sacrifices of many over many years, needs to be replenished constantly, or it will wither away, lost to neglect and the actions of those who have other ambitions.  

A living tribute is to reinvigorate the ideas, values and institutions that improve our society and set an inspiring example to the rest of the world. A living tribute is to take and build upon what is best in ourselves and our heritage and pass it on in better condition to the next generation.  

A living tribute is to accept that we all bear a responsibility, in our own ways with the skills and abilities we have, to make our own lives and those of others better. A living tribute is to believe that we can make a difference. Yet this needs, at times, for us to stand back, to observe, to analyse, develop solutions – and together with others make them work. Sometimes that means moving out of our comfort zones, hearing what we don’t want to hear, and working with some people we really don’t understand or want to be with. And often we don’t have the answers.  

Perhaps, above all, a living tribute is to strengthen and reinvigorate the cause of democracy. In its name ultimately an inspiring life was lost. In doing so we remember the many others and what they did for us and the world.

Indeed, from roots in this country democracy, freedom, justice and the rule of law have spread out to other countries. Professor Robert Tombs explained in The English and Their History, which tells the story of the rise of parliamentary government in England and gradually extended to the whole of the United Kingdom. By the early 18th century, he writes, “Foreign admirers thought that England had somehow stumbled on a working political system which both encouraged and was sustained by science, commerce, reason and liberty.”

So to take the great cause forward that links free people and their struggles everywhere, from John Ball (1381) who lost his life in the name of liberty and equality, to Joseph Priestley, the 18th-century political radical from Birstall whose statue bears floral tributes to Jo, to Abraham Lincoln who in his Gettysburg Address (1863) re-iterated words from John Wycliffe (1384, shown in bold below) in the event of terrible human loss :

“It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honoured dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth”.

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