HENRY DEEDES on a moving maiden speech by Jo Cox's sister

She was greeted by cheers… then came the sobbing: HENRY DEEDES on a moving maiden speech by Jo Cox’s sister

Come Thursday, Parliament tends to turn into Tumbleweed Alley. Barring a light scattering of pimply spads, the place is deserted. Don’t tell anyone, but most MPs skedaddle after PMQs on Wednesdays to put their tootsies up… I mean, attend to important constituency matters.

Yesterday was different. At 2pm the chamber began to swell. About 50 members, by my guess: a footie crowd by Thursday standards.

The occasion was a debate on the legacy of Jo Cox, the popular Labour MP for Batley & Spen murdered in 2016. Fittingly, it featured the maiden speech of Jo’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, who took over her sibling’s seat in July after a horrid by-election (aren’t they always these days?). 

The debate had been put forward by Labour’s Neil Coyle (Bermondsey). He’d sat next to Cox when she made her own first speech to the House five years ago. ‘So much has happened since then,’ he observed. Three Prime Ministers. A referendum. The pandemic. You can say that again, matey.

Miss Leadbeater had arrived early looking a little nervous. When her friends and family arrived in the visitor’s gallery, she visibly relaxed. Deputy speaker Dame Rosie Winterton popped over to give her hand a firm squidge. Yvette Cooper (Lab, Pontefract) flashed a sisterly thumbs-up. No sign of Sir Keir Starmer, by the way. Odd.

She began, as one would expect, with a tribute to her late sister. Jo’s murder had ‘ripped the heart out of her family’, she said, adding poignantly: ‘I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I would give literally anything not to be standing here today in her place.’

The occasion was a debate on the legacy of Jo Cox, the popular Labour MP for Batley & Spen murdered in 2016. Pictured: Kim (left) and Jo (right)

To an echo of cheers, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle summoned Leadbeater to her feet. Boiiing! First impressions of the Commons newbie: Springy. She has that frenetic energy of those keep-fit presenters one used to wake up to doing star jumps on breakfast television. Comfortable in the spotlight, too. Possibly not the sort who easily relinquishes the microphone on karaoke nights.

She began, as one would expect, with a tribute to her late sister. Jo’s murder had ‘ripped the heart out of her family’, she said, adding poignantly: ‘I mean no disrespect to this place when I say that I would give literally anything not to be standing here today in her place.’

Jo had been ‘the best big sister anybody could wish for’.

It was a moving scene. Up in the gallery, one of Leadbeater’s mates wiped away a tear.

Stephen Kinnock (Labour, Aberavon), who had shared an office with Cox, gazed at the ceiling and inhaled deeply through his nostrils in a futile bid to halt the waterworks. He tried to speak later during the debate but the emotion of the occasion proved too much.

As soon as Leadbeater resumed her seat, Dad gave her the thumbs-up. Meanwhile, Sir Lindsay turned in her direction and nodded slowly. She’d done her sister proud

On the Tory benches, Andrew Mitchell (Con, Sutton Coldfield) threw a red-socked ankle over his knee. What brought Thrasher there? Turned out he’d once accompanied Cox on trip to Darfur and had been impressed by the way she tore strips off the Russian ambassador.

Also present: Tracey Crouch (Con, Chatham), who spent much of last year off poorly. She touchingly said this was the first time she had worn mascara for yonks – and her inevitable sobbing was going to make a frightful mess. Good old Crouchy. The Commons is far perkier with her presence. Before her life was cut short so prematurely, Cox had observed that as a country we had ‘far more in common with each other than things that divide us’. Leadbeater reckoned that was as true as ever.

No matter where you live or what your background might be, the potholes in the road are just as deep,’ she remarked. She urged members on all sides to ‘respect each others’ opinions’. Respect? In this place? Ah, the sweet naivety of freshly minted MPs. She’ll soon learn.

She admitted feeling a little lost amid the vastness of the Palace of Westminster.

On a couple of occasions she’d sat down on the wrong side of the chamber. This admission prompted cheeky beckoning gestures from the Tory benches. Tom Tugendhat (Con, Tonbridge) yelled: ‘You’ll be very welcome!’

As soon as Leadbeater resumed her seat, Dad gave her the thumbs-up. Meanwhile, Sir Lindsay turned in her direction and nodded slowly. She’d done her sister proud.

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