With the conviction of Thomas Mair for the murder of Jo Cox it’s no longer possible to pretend his actions were not politically motivated. Just read the judge’s sentencing remarks.
Those on the right who were quick to place the blame exclusively on mental health problems made it clear they’d rather stigmatise the mentally ill than ask difficult questions about the rhetoric coming from Vote Leave in the days leading up to the murder. Any of those who now double down rather than admit they were wrong are beneath contempt.
I can member unfollowing and blocking someone from progressive rock fandom on Twitter who was shrieking about “Project Grief” and accusing people like me of politicising a random tragic event. I can’t even remember who that person was now, but my social media feed is all the better without him.
So the High Court ruled that Parliament must have the final say on invoking Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the European Union.
The outrage from the tabloids implies that the High Court have decided to annul the referendum, when the judgement does nothing of the sort. It’s hard to imagine Parliament going further than delaying A50 notification or putting conditions on it. Though the referendum was advisory in a strictly legal sense, politically the only thing that could reverse the result is a second referendum. The apoplexy of the tabloids is very telling; it’s as if they know that the Brexit they’ve lusted after for years might be slipping from the grasp.
The Daily Mail front page today is chilling. The sovereignty of Parliament, the rule of law, and an independent judiciary are cornerstones of our democracy. The Mail rejects all of those in favour of what can only be described as mob rule, and does so using rhetoric indistinguishable from the far-right terrorist who murdered Jo Cox. They are putting lives at risk here.
When it comes to incitement to violence and incitement to racial hatred, both of which are against the law, the rightwing tabloids have been sailing very close to the line for years, and have been allowed to get away with it. Has the Daily Mail crossed the line? Will anyone in authority have the guts enforce the law?
And as I’m writing this comes the news that Tory MP Steven Phillips, who is pro-leave but believes Parliament needs to be involved in the process, has resigned his seat to force a by-election. A clear sign that Daily Mail does not speak for all Leave supporters, let along the country as a whole.
What the High Court ruling has probably done is made a so-called “Hard Brexit” that never had majority support in the country far less likely. And that is almost certainly the real reason the tabloids are throwing their toys out of the pram.
There were some rational arguments in favour of Leave, but their appeal has always been based more on emotion than on reason. Which was why Remain found it so hard to counter Vote Leave’s lies with cold, hard facts. Vote Leave has tapped into a rich seam of pent-up resentment from people mainstream politics had been ignoring for decades.
But everything has changed in the past 48 hours. After the terrible murder of Jo Cox technical arguments about economics or democracy or sovereignty just don’t matter any more. It’s become a question of what sort of country we want to be, and a vote for Leave represents an endorsement of the blatant and ugly racism of Leave’s loudest and nastiest supporters.
And that is something which simply cannot be allowed to happen.
I am finding it very difficult to find the right words to express my shock, horror and anger at today’s events.
Yesterday the referendum campaign descended into farce with a mock sea-battle on the Thames. Today began with Nigel Farage using imagery lifted straight from 1930s Nazi propaganda, and ended with the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox. While there appear to be conflicting eye-witness reports, much of what we’ve heard suggests the killer was a supporter of the far-right.
David Cameron’s decision to call a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union was a spectacular political miscalculation in the first place. It has unleashed dark forces into British politics which will prove very difficult to banish. The Leave Campaign and their supporters in the press, especially The Daily Mail, have been steadily ratcheting up the racist rhetoric in the past weeks; they’re not even bothering with the dog whistle any more. It’s hardly surprising they have the far-right marching under their banner.
In this increasingly ugly atmosphere, it was only a matter of time before something like this was going to happen.
I knew very little about Jo Cox, but the tributes I’ve seen flowing paint a picture of a woman dedicated to making the world a better place. She was a reminder that the majority of MPs across all parties are essentially good people; that the sociopaths, demagogues, charlatans and cynical careerists that exist in all parties too are a minority.
When something like this happens, it’s easy to give in to hate. To rage against the people whose rhetoric empowered the ugliness that took an innocent life. They need to be called to account, yes. But more hate won’t break the cycle.