Yesterday, in my city, Jo Cox, an elected Member of Parliament, was murdered whilst doing her job, meeting with constituents in the local library. As I write the full details of the circumstances and motivation for the attack are unknown. I note that Hilary Clinton referred to the event as an assassination, but that is a loaded word and the truth is that we do not yet know if that is appropriate.
She was an MP serving the constituency where she was born and raised. A 41 year old mother of two young children. She was a former Head of Policy for the Aid Charity, Oxfam. She campaigned for the rights of Syrian refugees.
Her murder is a shocking attack on democracy. All campaigning in the pending referendum on a decision to leave the EU (we are voting next week) was immediately suspended. It would be tasteless for any individual to attempt to make any political capital out of this tragic event.
The difficulty of the situation is, however, clear. However tasteless it is, it is virtually impossible not to see and interpret this event in the political context that it occurred.
Earlier in the day, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party and a prime mover in the Campaign for the UK to vote to leave the EU unveiled their new campaign poster.
The poster shows Syrian refugees. fleeing to a country that was not the UK. And linking it with EU immigration when, in fact, our acceptance of refugees from Syria has nothing whatsover to do with the EU. It was a good example of how the “leave” campaign has systematically stoked racist sentiments in a misleading way to win votes. When this picture was released, and well before the tragic murder of Mrs Cox, a friend of mine posted on Facebook:
“Apparently, some people don’t like it being said that the racist Leave campaign is racist. So this picture of the racist Nigel Farage in front of a racist Leave poster should probably best be ignored.”
A short time later, the UK politician most noted for her defence of the rights of Syrian refugees (and also a campaigner for the Remain Camp in the referendum) was murdered.
I am therefore left hugely conflicted. It has been noted that whilst, of course, Nigel Farage and the other Leave campaigners were not responsible for the murder, and will undoubtedly be shocked and outraged by it – they are responsible for stoking racist, nationalistic sentiment is what has been the most unpleasant, divisive political campaign of my lifetime. Recently, the website of “Britain First”, a far right group stated that Labour MPs (like Mrs Cox) were “valid targets”. Some far right groups openly celebrated the news of her murder on Twitter.
I feel a paralysis, between respectful silence until the full facts are known, and out of consideration of her family and her humanity; and the context in which it has happened. For example, the Guardian newspaper printed an article on its website in the evening which hovered on the edge of trying to make a political point out of her death. My initial gut reaction was to agree with it and share it on Facebook. Two hours later, I felt uncomfortable with that so deleted it from my timeline. I suspect I’m not the only person feeling horribly torn. I really don’t know what the fallout will be;.it seems possible that recriminations regarding the reporting, or timing and content of the reporting, of her murder will only now add to the bonfires that were already blazing out of control. I think tomorrow is going to be a day of intense difficulty for everyone.
Ultimately, she was an outstanding human being; her death is a huge loss; I cried when I read she had died from her injuries. For now, that is enough.