The rising torrent of hate that killed Jo Cox

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Parliament Square, London. 18th June 2016. A message of love in tribute to MP Jo Cox. ©Sam Chipman

It has been a few days now since the death of Jo Cox, the MP murdered whilst holding a surgery in her constituency. The British political world should feel ashamed that it has come to this. The EU referendum has brought out the worst in British politics – but let us not be mistaken, there has been a rising torrent of hate brewing long before the decision to hold a referendum was taken.

Fears about immigration are not new, it stems from the human nature: the fear of the unknown. But it has been utilised as a weapon, a political tool – and perhaps now is the time to say that enough is enough.

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The type of tabloid headline that fuels xenophobia and has contribute to the rising atmosphere of hate and fear.

The rich didn’t want to pay for the fallout of the financial crisis that they created, deciding instead they’d rather the little people paid for their mistakes – but to do this we had to be given someone else to blame when our living standards started to decrease. Immigrants have often throughout history been the easy scapegoat, and again they would be the go to in this instance to keep our anger away from the establishment and the ruling classes.

Tory austerity has brought hardship upon a great deal of the nation whilst allowing the top percent of earners and wealthy to further increase their wealth. We have seen stagnating wages, even effective cuts, rising rent prices, an epidemic of zero hour contracts, a housing crisis among, the decline of the NHS as well as a whole host of other cuts which have hit the already struggling. At the same time CEO wage packages for top companies and banks, and dividend payouts have continued to soar. Aided by their friends in the media, the establishment have ensured that the country has kept their eyes on the nasty foreigners whilst pick-pocketing us whilst our backs are turned, giving tax breaks to the richest in the land and big businesses who already pay virtually no tax in this country.

Constant headlines like the ones found in The Daily Mail create impressions which dangerously feed into public anxiety and fuel xenophobia – this has been heightened in the time of economic crisis and the ensuing austerity measures implemented. 

There has been a  feeling of distrust of politicians among Europe, and blatantly in America with the rise of Donald Trump, with many holding the view that they can’t answer a straight question and that they live in their own bubble and do not understand the real issues that the public of this country face. This distrust also contributed to the death of Jo Cox. Politics must become again about the people, rather than serving the interests of big business – but this is a worldwide problem which will require worldwide changes, and the break up of the neo-liberal system that currently shackles us – but I digress.

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UKIP’s latest poster urging voters to opt to leave the EU to keep refugees and immigrants out of Britain.

The far right have taken this momentum and used it for their own gain, creating a swathe of racism across the country and pushing the political agenda so that many in the country believe that immigration is the major issue we face and at the heart of all of our problems. The anti-immigration argument has been the main port of call for the Leave campaign in the EU referendum, and hours before the murder of Jo Cox the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) released a poster showing Syrian immigrants arriving in Slovenia with the caption “breaking point”. If you use such political techniques and make issues out to be a matter of life or death how can you be surprised when anger turns to hate, and hate turns to violence?

Such opinions were the reason that Thomas Mair shot, stabbed and murdered MP whilst she hosted a surgery in her West Yorkshire constituency. Of course, the Leave campaign do not advocate such violence – but they must be aware of the effect that their political tools have. In the wake of the Labour MP’s murder, the German chancellor urged British politicians to moderate the language used in their EU referendum campaigns.

“We cannot allow voters to fall for the spin that a vote to leave is the only way to deal with concerns about immigration. We can do far more to address both the level and impact of immigration while remaining in the EU. I very rarely agree with the prime minister but on this he’s right: we are stronger, safer and better off in.” – Jo Cox MP

Charismatic and impatient for change, Jo worked for Oxfam before becoming and MP, and was committed to tackling humanitarian issues and matters of social injustice the world over. Jo knew that she was fighting against the tide in this country, but still insisted that immigration had enhanced our country and that we should be doing more to help those fleeing war-torn countries – she kept fighting for what she felt was right, even though some Labour MPs have avoided the debate and some even allowed the idea that immigration is at the heart of our problems to shape their politics. It seems that her open views on immigration contributed to her death, but that remains to be seen as Thomas Mair stands trial.

Parliament Square, London. 18th June 2016. Flowers laid in tribute to murdered MP, .
Parliament Square, London. 18th June 2016. Flowers laid in tribute to murdered MP, .

There are MPs out there who truly care about their constituency and want to make the world a better place: Jo was one of them. She has become the unfortunate victim of a growing anti-establishment wave  and a surge in xenophobia that has picked up momentum during the EU referendum. In fact, she was an MP, unlike many, who wanted to serve the people of her constituency and change the world, rather than being in the political system for career driven reasons and using policy and their power to position her career as many of the top politicians do.

This is not the first attack on an MP, Labour’s was stabbed by a constituent whilst holding a surgery in 2010, but it is the first time since the 1990’s and the IRA that an MP has been murdered. It raises questions now about the security of MPs, and access to them: which must remain as it is the cornerstone of democracy.

This was an attack on humanity, compassion and democracy itself. Ms Cox was an MP doing her duty, nay going beyond her duty and using her position to try and change the world for the better. We have lost a dedicated, principled politician and humanitarian: but perhaps more importantly, a husband and two children have been robbed of their wife and mother. They will have to live their lives without her, and nothing will ever ease the pain of such a loss.

Will anything change? Only time will tell, but it seems doubtful: the technique of divide and conquer has existed throughout history and has shown itself to be a useful tool to deploy and in recent years, the Lynton Crosby technique of spreading fear has been utilised by the Conservatives in particular. Politicians from all major parties have backed a request to the Speaker of the House of Commons that they break with tradition and sit together in honour of when they gather on Monday, and the major parties have also agreed not to contest the by-election in Ms Cox’s Batley and Spen constituency – a good show of solidarity, but perhaps more a token gesture out of respect rather than a sign of things to come.

One thing that is for certain, the media must start calling this act of atrocity for what it is, a hate crime and a terrorist attack – and recognise that it is not only Muslim’s and people with dark skin tones that can be radicalised. They must tackle the hatred of racism and far-right and neo-nazi groups head on, and not normalise such opinions and fears based on race and religion.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ― Martin Luther King Jr.

Both sides of the EU referendum have been guilty of scaremongering, and we certainly cannot allow the death of to be politicised in favour of remaining in the EU, that would be cynical and disrespectful – but we must understand why it happened, and strive to stifle the conditions that allowed opinion to turn to hate and then to mutate into murderous intent.

Parliment Square, London. 18th June 2016. A message of resilience on a tribute wall to murdered MP,
A message of resilience on a tribute wall in Parliament Square to murdered MP,

The most important lesson is that the political classes must now listen up, and recognise that politics is not just a game: that their decisions affect people down on the ground to levels that some of them couldn’t even begin to comprehend. The majority of the nation would never act as Mr Mair did, but policy and politics can be a matter of life and death for some.

We must create a society of togetherness and tolerance rather than division, we must celebrate what makes us different rather than allowing ourselves to be pitted against one another, we must spread love and not hate.

In memory of Jo we must unite and fight against the hatred that sadly ended her life, and robbed us of a brilliant advocate for social change and a better world: we need more people like her in the world, and in finding a little bit of Jo in each of us we can keep her memory and message alive.

If you would like to make a donation to the charities that Jo supported, visit https://www.gofundme.com/jocox