BIRSTALL, West Yorkshire – David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn made an unprecedented joint appearance on Friday in an appeal for the nation to unify against intolerance following the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox.
From midday, crowds gathered ahead of the arrival of the two party leaders. Rumours circulated that they were due to arrive at 12.30pm, but the pair arrived at1.50pm, walking down the hill that directly faces the spot where Cox was shot the day before.
People lined up to watch as the prime minister and the Labour leader laid flowers and stood before the press to deliver a joint statement. Speaking almost exactly 24 hours after Cox died, they paid further tribute to her and vowed to drive out intolerance from society.
"Where we see hatred, where we find division, where we see intolerance, we must drive it out of our politics and out of our public life and out of our communities," Cameron said.
As onlookers nodded in agreement, he said: "We should treasure and value our democracy where members of parliament are accountable to the public, and that's how Jo died. She died doing her job."
The very same words had been used by several local people throughout the day, dismayed that the life of their "wonderful and kind" MP was so tragically cut short.
Corbyn echoed the prime minister's call to drive out hatred. "It's a tragedy beyond tragedy what has happened yesterday," the Labour leader said. "In her memory, we will not allow those people that spread hatred and poison to divide our society. We will strengthen our democracy, strengthen our free speech."
Earlier that day, locals had continued to add floral tributes to the pile left under the statue of Joseph Priestley in town centre.
Across the path, a police tape still cornered off the crime scene. Mothers with their children dodged batches of camera crews to place flowers and handwritten notes.
"She's done more in a year than most politicians would do in a lifetime," one mother said of Cox to BuzzFeed News as she and her daughter looked on at the statue.
Corbyn said he had asked the prime minister for an early recall of parliament to allow MPs to pay their respects, and confirmed that they will return to the House of Commons on Monday.
Labour also said the party has suspended all campaigning for the EU referendum until then.
The joint appearance came after the Conservatives said their party would not field a candidate in the Batley and Spen by-election triggered by Cox's death.
“Following the tragic killing of Labour MP Jo Cox, the Conservative Party has decided not to contest the forthcoming by-election as a mark of respect to a much-loved and respected politician,” the Conservative party confirmed in a statement.
The move came after former Tory chair Grant Shapps suggested in a tweet last night that the seat should be "left uncontested as a tribute to Jo's extraordinary public service".
The decision could leave the seat uncontested by major parties. A Lib Dem source said the party was considering its position on the issue and that it was too early to decide.
A UKIP source told BuzzFeed News their “gut instinct” was not to stand but said the party should “remember Eastbourne”, referring to the 1990 by-election following the murder by the IRA of Conservative MP Ian Gow. Back then, all parties put forward a candidate, arguing that democratic politics should go on as normal, and the Lib Dems unexpectedly won the seat.
The UKIP source said there was almost no precedent for the situation following the death of Cox and pointed out that any by-election in Batley and Spen would be held after the result of the EU referendum was known, which could change the political climate.
Green party officials said they did not want to stand a candidate in the by-election but that the decision will ultimately be in the hands of their local party.
A spokesperson said: "The Green Party leadership is inclined not to stand in this election but we respect the right of our local party to meet and agree their position with their members and they will be doing this over the coming days. In the meantime we continue to pay our respects to Jo Cox and send our sincere and heartfelt condolences to her family."
The decision for a major party not to stand in a by-election is not entirely unprecedented. In 2008 Tory David Davis resigned in protest at the then Labour government's policies to fight a by-election. Labour and the Liberal Democrats did not put forward a candidate against him.
Siraj Datoo is a political reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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Rossalyn Warren is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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