Most of us were probably unaware of Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley & Spen, until her tragic death in June 2016, a week before the EU referendum. In the six months since then, she’s become a household name, remembered for her passion, integrity and good will.
One of Jo’s legacies is her campaign to tackle loneliness. Jo had felt strongly about this issue since childhood, and decided to make it a priority in her political career.
Crucially, Jo wanted to achieve something concrete – “not just sitting around and talking.” Although this should be an obvious goal for any campaign, frequently it seems that there is an absence of galvanisation towards tangible change. In a previous post, I wrote about the failure of interfaith organisations to communicate clearly about their objectives. They are not the only guilty parties: this can be a challenge for many campaigns in which the objectives are not easily measured by a changed law or statistics.
Baringhorst et al. (2009, p. 10) suggest that campaigns “can be understood as a series of communicative activities undertaken to achieve predefined goals and objectives regarding a defined target audience in a set time period with a given amount of resources.” Although some aspects of this definition may be contested (e.g. “a set time period”), it is a helpful basis from which to analyse the effectiveness of a campaign. Key concepts from this definition, such as goals, target audiences and resources are clearly identifiable in Jo’s campaign to tackle loneliness.
Hilder has suggested that (2007, p. 12) one way to conceive progressive social change is “solving social problems in ways that are considered good by the majority of citizens.” Unfortunately, it can be hard to reach consensus on what constitutes a “social problem” and what is considered a “good” way to solve such issues. But another example of Jo’s concrete action for progress in this field was to work in coalition with the Conservatives to tackle the issue. Conservative MP Seema Kennedy is working with Labour MP Rachel Reeves on this cause, continuing Jo’s work together and making an end to loneliness a cross-party goal. Jo’s choice to widen the net for action on her campaign makes consensus that this is a social problem worth tackling much more likely.
Reeves makes some simple, concrete suggestions for how everyone can join in this campaign: start a conversation with a neighbour who lives alone; phone your gran; see a friend you keep saying you should meet up with. Reeves has emphasised that we can all do something about this; we can participate in the campaign to end loneliness every day, without changing our lives or routines. Furthermore, the campaign has a ready made audience, thanks to the high press coverage of Jo’s death.
It is unsurprising that people are more likely to participate in social action if they feel equipped to effect change. Klandermans & van Stekelenberg (2010, p. 3) have emphasised the importance of resources and perceived efficacy as predictors for social action. These things make change seem more concrete, and progress more possible. For this reason, Jo’s campaign is a great model for inspiring widespread social action: each one of us has the resources to reach out to someone lonely. And the beauty is, the social action is the concrete change.
Baringhorst, S., 2009. Political Campaigning in Changing Media Cultures. In S. Baringhorst, J. Nieysto, & V. Kneip, Political Campaigning on the Web pp. 9-31. Siegen: Media Upheavals.
Hilder, P., Caulier-Grice, J. and Lalor, K., 2007. Contentious Citizens–Civil society’s role in campaigning for social change. Young Foundation.
Van Stekelenburg, J. and Klandermans, B., 2010. The Social Psychology of Protest. Sociopedia.ica. Available at: http://bit.ly/1sbTy3V.