THE sister of murdered MP Jo Cox has appealed to a North-East council which has seen bitter recriminations and claims of a lack of respect between its elected members to sign up to a movement dedicated to friendship and kindness.

Four years after the 41-year-old West Yorkshire MP was killed by a far-right extremist in a hate crime, Kim Leadbetter has called on Darlington Borough Council to back More In Common Darlington’s work and support the United Darlington Charter.

The charter, based on the principles of the United Nations Charter, signed after the Second World War, concludes: “We declare that all who live in, work in, or visit our town will be afforded equal respect, status, trust, hospitality, friendship and kindness.”

The Darlington group, which was inspired by the MP, believes residents of the borough have more in common than anything that might divide them.

Since being launched in 2017 the group has aimed to find ways of reducing animosity towards people from different nations and faiths, towards women, the LGBTI community, those with disabilities, the homeless and others.

The move comes just four months after the Mayor of Darlington suspended council proceedings involving all 50 elected members in a bid to restore calm after rival councillors launched a series of bitter personal attacks against each other, in what was said to be the most ill-tempered council meeting in more than 40 years.

Angry scenes overshadowed a six-and-a-half hour meeting of the council, which saw no mention of some major issues facing the authority.

The charter has been created as part of Hate Crime Awareness Week, and has already received the support of Labour group leader Councillor Stephen Harker and leader of the council’s Conservatives, Councillor Heather Scott.

It has also been taken on by numerous schools in the borough.

Ahead of a notice of motion to adopt the charter at a full council meeting later this week, Mrs Leadbetter said while Covid-19 had created a sense of togetherness it had also created divisions and highlighted the need to understand different people’s circumstances.

She said: “I think there is a real desire among many people to pull together and embrace the concept that there is more we have in common than divides us, as my sister said.”

When asked if the motion would just be rubber-stamping common sense, she said: “Sadly it is common sense, but a lot of people seem to have forgotten. It is about going back to really simple concepts and principles.”

She said her parents had instilled respect, kindness, compassion and understanding to her and her sister, but in recent times the focus had been on issues that divided people.

Mrs Leadbetter said: “It’s a bit sad that it’s needed, but I think it is needed. This is not about pretending we are all the same or agree on everything. It’s about trying to find common ground and on the issues that we disagree on, doing so in a civilised and respectful manner. Ultimately most of us want the same things. We want to be able to live our lives peacefully, we want to look after our families, we want to put food on the table and we want to care for each other.

“We have seen that in huge amounts during lockdown, the sense of community togetherness. It’s really important that we take some of those learnings going forward.”

She also dismissed suggestions that the motion was politically-motivated, but added: “The political divides have become so prevalent that we have forgotten about the basic principles of compassion, kindness and understanding.”