Category Archives: Newspaper Column

Newspaper column: EU debate must be honest, frank and responsible

Jo Cox calling for informed debate ahead of the EU referendumThe prime minister has fired the starting pistol on campaigning ahead of the EU referendum, which we now know will be held on June 23.

Our problem here in Britain is that the debate is polarised by our media and many of our politicians and as a result it is rarely reasoned or responsible. There are so many myths about the EU but the most repeated is that the EU is incapable of reform. Actually, it is always changing and adapting. As for the ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’, not a single thing the European Commission, its civil service, puts forwards can happen without member states – i.e. the British Government – signing it off.

In contrast to the Tories, who are riven with division on this, Labour is almost wholly united. The majority of our MPs and members are committed to remaining in Europe and more than 90 per cent of MPs have signed up to the Labour In For Britain parliamentary group, including Jeremy Corbyn and the entire shadow cabinet. We also unanimously agreed the GMB union’s motion last year committing us to campaigning to stay in the EU.

But we have to make the case in an honest and frank way.

My colleague Stephen Kinnock MP put it well: “Labour must not allow the EU referendum to be about deciding whether or not Polish plumbers or Latvian taxi drivers are allowed to claim tax credits. Rather, we must ensure that we make this a referendum about what sort of country we want to live in, and what sort of nation we want the United Kingdom to be. This referendum must be about what it means to be British in the 21st century.”

He is right.

Exiting the EU would be a disaster for Britain and we must make that case. We cannot let this important debate be reduced to a referendum on migration. Yes, immigration should and will be part of the debate but we must focus on the bigger arguments and be talking about jobs, investment, security and our influence in the world.

Working people are better off in the EU and we should say so. European laws have guaranteed us better rights and protections for working people such as paid annual leave, rights for agency workers and paid maternity leave.

We are more secure thanks to the EU. Tracking down cross-border criminal networks involves sharing intelligence with our European neighbours. We can better protect our borders in partnership with European nations, not by being out in the cold.

Consumers get lower roaming charges, cheap flights and better protections thanks to our membership of the EU.

There is also a patriotic case to be made. Our position in the world is enhanced, our influence is greater. Diplomatically and economically we punch above our weight and that is helped in large part by the EU.

Responsible debate is paramount. I fear, however, that we won’t get it. What I do know is that Britain should be engaged and leading in Europe not disengaged and waving goodbye.

 

Newspaper column: Celebrating our rich sporting life

Every month Jo Cox writes a column for The Press. This month’s column appeared in last week’s edition.

Jo Cox at the Bulldogs in 2015

Jo Cox meets John Kear during a visit to the Bulldogs last year

Sunday saw a sporting spectacle that we’ve waited months to behold.  No, not the Super Bowl – the rugby league Championship got underway. Batley Bulldogs played host to Leigh Centurions and beat them in a memorable game.

Win or lose they are a huge asset to the town and this is true of many of the sports clubs across our area who do amazing work in our community. When I was at the club last week I was shown the trophy cabinet, including the most recent silverware, which was won by the girls’ team. The club has grown to more than 100 girls and has just returned from a ground-breaking trip to Australia.

Batley & Spen has a rich sporting life. Our constituency has produced Olympians, Paralympians, international rugby players, first class cricketers, premier league footballers – and a range of other successful sportsmen and women from cyclists to canoeists.

Of course, sport is about so much more than winning. When I think about all the people I know who play football or tennis or go swimming, I know it isn’t always about winning. I like to run. But it is very rare that I race anyone. For many people sport is about keeping fit and healthy, or the camaraderie of the team or the social life. For others it helps combat loneliness and isolation, or it allows them to develop and improve their skills.

Sport offers role models and in some cases heroes emerge who our kids look up to and who many want to emulate. Its power is quite remarkable. It also opens doors for people. The opportunities sport presents can be unlike any others – the chance to travel the country or the world, the chance to showcase your particular sporting talents in a range of competitions and places.

Look no further than 15 year-old Jordan Catling from the Bulldogs. She was named the National Satellite Club Participant of the Year in recognition of her contribution and commitment to community sport. It helps nurture skills that can be put to good use across the rest of your life.

But whether we’re talking about winning or just about taking part, this can’t happen without the right infrastructure. We must get things right at the grassroots if it is going to thrive. Nor should we underestimate the work of volunteers who make much of it come together. I’m looking forward to visiting Cleckheaton RUFC to hear about the plans they have to grow their sport and the amount they contribute locally. I have been to cricket clubs, such as Mount and Batley, who are doing wonders at opening up their game to new groups. I’ve visited junior football clubs in Cleckheaton and Gomersal who offer scores of kids somewhere to train and play.

One of the reasons I’m so keen to help those who will be affected by the planned closure of Whitcliffe Mount Sports Centre is because such clubs and sports must continue. It’s a sad situation but the work and commitment of those who organise these clubs must not be lost.

We may not know what our future sporting landscape will look like in terms of facilities, particularly with the plans for a new Spen Valley sports village, but we know most of our clubs rely on the goodwill of volunteers.

We must celebrate our sportsmen and women and all of those volunteers behind the scenes. This means ensuring that we are getting it right at the grassroots and making sure that these doors remain open.

Jo Cox: Five lessons Yorkshire must learn on devolution

The report into devolutionJo Cox wrote this piece in today’s Yorkshire Post to coincide with the publication of a report on devolution by the Communities and Local Government select committee, of which she is a member.

BRITAIN is one of the most centralised countries in the world. While local and regional authorities in Germany and France control up to 80 per cent of government spending, 72 per cent of all UK public expenditure is directly controlled by David Cameron and his ministers in Whitehall. This is not only bad for democracy, it’s inefficient and stifles local innovation and regional growth.

The devolution deals under discussion up and down the country, not least here in the North, offer a rare chance to secure meaningful reform that could radically alter our economic, political and constitutional landscape for years to come. This is a huge opportunity for Yorkshire and I’m a firm believer that shifting power from Whitehall – and closer to the people it affects – is a good thing. But it has to be something we get right.

To date, the Governments record is mixed: we’ve had welcome prominence given to this agenda but there’s been a heavy dose of hyperbole and lots of inconsistency.

It is sadly telling that in the same week that my Select Committee publishes a new report on devolution the Government announced the closure their much lauded ‘northern powerhouse’ office in Sheffield and moved all the jobs to London. And while the Chancellor talks of devolving power, we are seeing more schools taken out of local control to be managed by Whitehall and the Government’s Housing Bill includes dozens of new centralising measures.

What’s clear is that Government policy on this issue is hugely significant for the Yorkshire economy and potentially could have a beneficial impact on people and businesses in constituencies such as mine.

However, there are five key areas of concern.

Firstly, the devolution deals in the pipeline should be the starting point, not the destination. They should be a first step towards a much more ambitious transfer of powers and responsibilities out from Whitehall. Devolution should now be the default setting across all Government departments.

Secondly, there needs to be far better engagement with the public to get this right. Consulting people about a deal after that deal has been struck is too late. Devolution is a huge, constitutional shift. It will reverberate massively on the economics and politics of the areas in question. Communities will see new structures, have new responsibilities and in some places, new elected mayors.

People need to understand what is happening, why and who will be responsible for what. Ultimately, they should see how these changes will benefit them and have a chance to shape them.

Thirdly, fiscal devolution is not on the table. It should be. While some of the proposals do represent a seismic change to the way local authorities are funded – for example 100 per cent retention of the growth in business rates and a new social care precept – the detail remains troublingly scant and it is clear the headline announcement belies the complexity and uncertainty this change brings.

There are huge benefits for some authorities but the potential for great risk for others. Why not be bold? Give councils the means to nurture economic growth, improve productivity and become more sustainable.

They need funding settlements to help them plan, not worry about where their funding will come from in four years. Instead of half measures the Government should be looking at handing down powers to raise revenue, vary business rates or add higher and lower council tax bands.

Fourthly, the Government has been vague in setting out clear, measurable objectives on their devolution agenda. Without this, it is almost impossible to judge success or failure. I worry also that many of the Government’s objectives are not aligned with those of local authorities. To correct this there should be far better engagement, clear goals, more transparency and mechanisms to monitor and assess progress.

And finally, this transfer of power does not – and should not stop – with institutions of government. It should be filtering right down to our communities and citizens. Swapping decision- making in one room full of politicians and civil servants in Whitehall to a different room full of politicians and civil servants in a town hall is not good enough.

We must find new ways to hand power to members of communities, workers on the frontline and those who use the services being provided. Open the process up to local people, trust them and allow them to participate in decision-making and scrutiny and perhaps start to rebuild faith and confidence in politics and in government.

Devolution should not be cover for the devolution of cuts or the delegation of powers. It has to be real and meaningful if our region, local businesses and the economy are to reap the potential rewards. To do this we must be bold and not let this chance pass us by.

You can read the report by clicking here or the image at the top of this article

Newspaper column: Changes to the pension age are a big deal for women

Every month Jo Cox writes a column for the Batley News and Spenborough Guardian. This month’s column appeared in this week’s editions.

Altering the age at which men and women can retire is always going to be a difficult issue. There are arguments on both sides but the prevailing wisdom, now backed by a change in the law, is that for a variety of reasons the age should rise.

Raising a man’s retirement age by just one year to 66 is not such a dramatic shift. But for a woman, an extra six years is a huge leap.

This is something that will barely register for women in their 20s, 30s or 40s but for women in their 50s this is a big deal.  And what’s made it worse is the way the Government has hastened this process without any hint of concern for the impact it will have on half a million women.

These changes were initiated by Labour but were suddenly accelerated by the Coalition, and it is this unexpected acceleration that many women are opposed to.

My constituents are clear about what this means for them. As one said: “My job is physically demanding and while I am perfectly able to do this now and I hope for a few more years, I cannot imagine being able to do it for another 10 years.”

Another explained the frustration: “During my working life, I had planned carefully for my financial future which included my state pension at 60. It doesn’t seem fair to me that the goalposts were moved when I had made all my contributions on that premise.”

And another summarised the blatant unfairness: “Throughout my life a number of changes have impacted on me and the many thousands of women of my generation from unequal pay, the ability of employers to dismiss workers because they were pregnant, lack of childcare, ineligibility for some state benefits due to sexual discrimination and now are to be hit yet again by this. Women of my age do have gaps in their employment history as many were forced to leave their jobs to look after children. We are now to be penalised for this again in later life.”

It’s ironic that women who lived and worked through an era where it was harder to make a living, secure employment and maintain that employment will now be penalised by steps to end gender inequality. Society for most of their working life accepted that they couldn’t earn the same as men, or make the same provisions for their later years in the way men could and yet now they are told to work beyond what they planned and expected.

It is within the gift of this government to address this blatant injustice. Sadly ministers are determined to push through these changes by 2018 and have refused to accept the need for transitional arrangements, ignoring demands from Labour and the clear will of the House of Commons.

This is one more affront to women who have endured a lifetime of inequality where work is concerned. They need and deserve a fairer deal.

Newspaper column: We have a moral duty to save the starving Syrians in Madaya

The TelegraphJo Cox MP and Lord Paddy Ashdown have written a piece on the siege and starvation in Madaya for the Telegraph

“In order to break the siege, you need to first break the silence surrounding it.”

The person who spoke these words was in Yarmouk, a camp in Syria’s capital, Damascus, besieged for two years by the Syrian government, causing a reported 200 people to die of hunger. In nearby Madaya, 40,000 people have been denied any assistance since October. Images of emaciated Syrians – reminiscent of the images we saw in Srebrenica, and we all know how that ended – have emerged over the past week; images of children forced to survive on rotting leaves and water with spices in, their skin stretched thin over their young bones, their mothers helpless.

As a former aid worker and a close observer of what happened in Bosnia, we are used to seeing suffering. But what is happening in Madaya matches the worst the world has seen in recent years.

The UN estimates that 400,000 people have been systematically denied food, medicine and water in medieval siege conditions in Syria: the real figure is probably nearer to one million. Meanwhile the Syrian Government plays grandmothers footsteps with the international community: besiege a city, wait for the political pressure to build, make limited or phoney concessions, and then, when everyone has lost interest, continue as before. Last year the UN made 91 requests of the Syrian government to secure humanitarian access across conflict lines. Less than a third of those have been approved. In total, only 13 cross-line convoys were completed.

It is in this context that we should view the UN aid convoy heading for Madaya. Even if the Syrian Government is serious this time about allowing the convoy through, there will be many armed groups on the way who can stop it, or insist on a price for letting it pass – just as happened when the UN did this to relieve starving communities in Bosnia. The UN and the British Government must keep up the pressure and break these sieges and pressure EU partners to join in. Only if we do this can we save the lives of those in Madaya, but also the hundreds of thousands of others in less high-profile hell holes. Negotiating an alternative air route to supplement – or if necessary replace – the land route to get aid to Madaya is a very effective way of keeping that pressure up.

Some argue that flying aid in is too dangerous because this is Syrian airspace and Assad has sophisticated Russian air defence systems. The answer to this is simple: pressure Russia to agree to the airdrops and get their Syrian friends to do so too. It will be difficult for Russia to refuse in the face of the humanitarian crisis unfolding before our eyes in Madaya. Who knows, in Putin’s push to build international support, he may even want to join in.

We faced the same problems when the US flew life saving airdrops into Srebrenica, where the Serbs also had Russian air defence missiles in place. We didn’t let it stop us then and it shouldn’t now.

Britain is the second largest contributor of humanitarian aid to the UN Syria appeal – something we should be proud of. The Government was also instrumental in getting Security Council backing for the UN to deliver aid across conflict lines and across Syria’s borders to get to all those who need it. The job is not yet done.

The UN “welcomed” Thursday’s announcement that aid would get into Madaya. Humanitarian aid is not a luxury. It is a right, enshrined in international law, reiterated in numerous Security Council Resolutions. The legal mandate is there. Humanitarians must use it. In the unnecessary days of negotiation between the Syrian Government giving permission and the UN trucks moving, more people have died.

Next month, the UK will host a conference on aid for Syrian refugees and protection for those still in Syria. This is an invaluable opportunity to galvanise support for the millions affected by the Syria conflict. That conference will be a sham if it is not able to offer hope for the hundreds of thousands of Syrians living under siege in Syria.

The means are there, the legal case is clear, the humanitarian need is overwhelming and so is the public support – all that is lacking is the political will.

If we could do it for the starving in besieged Srebrenica and again for the besieged Yassidis in northern Iraq, there should be no reason it cannot be done for those suffering and dying, in besieged Madaya.

There is no time to waste.