How tragedy propelled a former actor into politics
Updated 8:30 AM ET, Wed June 7, 2017
Batley and Spen, England (CNN)Tracy Brabin didn't plan for a career in politics. As a child, performing her own shows in the schoolyard, she dreamed of becoming an actor.
After working in the local biscuit factory, she racked up starring roles and screenwriting credits on some of Britain's biggest TV soap operas.
Then real-life tragedy struck in her hometown.
Brabin's friend, Labour Member of Parliament Jo Cox was murdered -- stabbed and shot to death by a far-right extremist -- outside the library Brabin had used as a child, and which the pair had fought to save from closure. The lawmaker had just finished a public meeting with constituents when the brutal attack happened.
Cox's murder, days before the 2016 Brexit referendum, shocked the world. A rising star, the 41-year-old was the first British lawmaker to be killed in office since a Conservative MP was assassinated by an IRA car bomb in 1990.
In the by-election that followed in the northern England constituency of Batley and Spen, Brabin was effectively handed Cox's seat; none of the major political parties fielded candidates, the only people who stood against her were from far-right fringe parties. They were soundly defeated.
"I didn't yearn for a political career, but politics chose me," the 56-year-old, mother-of-two says.
But seven months after she took her place in Westminster, Brabin is campaigning for re-election, after Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap nationwide vote on June 8. The Batley and Spen seat has been held by Labour since 1997.
On a recent Saturday morning, Brabin is campaigning in the town of Batley. As she walks along the street, she greets everyone she passes with a cheery, "Hello, sweetheart, nice to see you!"
This is Brabin's home, and her love for the place -- and its people, her people -- is clear; representing them, she says, is "a real privilege."
It's Vintage Day, a highlight of the town's social calendar: A stage and stalls fill the Market Square, and classic cars are lined up in the streets nearby. People in period costumes dance to the swing music filling the air, while others shop for old-fashioned crockery and clothes.
Brabin, in a 50s-style rose-colored dress and feathered hat, has just come from the refreshments tent, where she spent time pouring cups of tea and selling cake to visitors.
As she hurries to her next appointment, she compliments others on their retro clothes: "Fab outfit!" -- and points out the local food bank, used by those struggling to afford grocery bills: "They handed out 8,000 meals last year, it's not right, is it?"
Brabin says a traumatic event while she was at university sparked her interest in social justice and politics: "I was attacked by a stranger in the street who tried to rape me," she explains. "It was horrible, I wouldn't wish it on anyone, but it was a defining moment; it made me a feminist."
Through her involvement in the women's movement, Brabin became more politically aware, campaigning against nuclear weapons and helping to support workers' families during the coal miners' strike of the mid-1980s.
A member of the Labour party for decades, she left temporarily in protest at the Iraq War.
Change of direction
It was Jo Cox -- a long-time advocate for more women in parliament -- who suggested Brabin consider a move into politics.
"We were door-knocking in 2015 for her election, and I really enjoyed it," Brabin remembers. "I loved those conversations on the doorstep, and she said 'Tracy, you should think about a career in politics.'"
"It's something that I brushed to one side because there wasn't a vacancy for the place where I'd like to be the MP."
Brabin speaks warmly about Cox. "To see her in action, that was a masterclass in how to be an amazing MP -- she knew everyone, she had time and energy for everyone, she was full of love."