The death of MP at the hands of a man alleged to have been shouting “Britain First” while going about her Leeds constituency business has shocked the nation. For once everybody understood that no political debate warrants murder, yet that was what we got – the murder of a hard-working and idealistic MP in her metaphorical backyard, apparently because she was an enthusiastic pro-European. Not just attacked either: shot three times, repeatedly stabbed and kicked. The violence employed appalls – and, uniquely, unites British society. It is as much an act of terrorism as any associated with Muslim fundamentalist groups, yet nobody in officialdom has said so.
Within minutes of Mrs Cox’s death, a few hours after the attack, both campaigns for the EU referendum, Remain and Leave, had suspended their activities in respect for Mrs Cox. The perpetrator, said to be Tommy Mair, was arrested at the scene. Described by the police only as “a 52-year old man,” it is not yet confirmed whether his motive was political, but if it was then the next question will be if he was working off his own initiative or as part of a conspiracy, possibly by the far-right movement.
“Jo believed in a better world and she fought for it every day of her life with an energy, and a zest for life that would exhaust most people. She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous” – Brendan Cox
Britain First was quick to register its own disgust and to deny involvement, but the facts will follow the ensuing police investigation. That Britain First is an organisation bitterly opposed to immigration and EU membership is not denied, and its membership includes people proven to have racist views and violent tendencies – and from what we can tell, he had links to BF, to other right-wing groups (Indie) and bought gun manuals from US neo-Nazi groups (Guardian.)
MPs and parties have been rightly critiqued for many reasons, and they have largely deserved the criticism – which is not to say that there are not good MPs, of whom was a shining example, so say all of those who were asked for comment. She was a rising star and will be sorely missed – but could a brutal death be regarded as an occupational hazard?
Where many Americans will remember the deaths of John and Robert Kennedy, and the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan, physical attacks on British MPs are fairly rare and deaths once in a generation – even if they endure verbal abuse at regular intervals. MPs are protected by police, though that is usually related to their being terrorist targets, not as a result of altercations with constituents. However, MPs are in the public domain: their addresses are published on ballot papers and the very nature of their jobs demands they are out and about, conducting surgeries and attending events in their constituencies. They choose to take a risk as part of the job, but the worst anyone can reasonably anticipate is a verbal tongue-lashing in the course of debate.
“Assassination has never changed the history of the world” – Benjamin Disraeli
Is it a failure of our society if some citizens choose violent means rather than engage in political debate? Truth be told, the standard of debate in the EU referendum campaign has been poor, including personal attacks and littered with lies and information “facts” without a shred of supporting evidence that discredit the whole democratic process. That alone is repellant, such that in my view all politicians should be required to take an oath to speak the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – but that is another issue. They consider themselves to be defending freedoms, yet ironically they do so by reducing hard-won freedoms in many respects. Some parties and politicians intend to abolish the Human Rights Act in favour of a Bill of Rights which, it is argued by critics, would substantially reduce our freedoms and rights, if and when we are out of Europe.
My view is simple: If we take those steps, the terrorists have won. Mrs Cox died fighting hatred and in support of the right of freedom of speech, and we should all fight to defend those rights and those enshrined in the Human Rights Act – and government should be deferential to and extend those rights rather than curtailing them in the face of opponents of freedom.
That a politician is murdered on our streets should not make us defensive or reduce access to our politicians but to ensure the right-wing opponents of freedoms and European collectivism cannot win by their actions. Rather than shrinking back behind a curtain of police protection, all MPs should be there on the street demonstrating that they are one of us – and that they care about our freedoms and are prepared to risk their lives to defend our freedoms against hatred and intolerance.