Despite the ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ campaigns rightly halting as soon as the news of the savage murder of Jo Cox MP came through, some people could not pass up the opportunity to press what they saw as a political advantage. The campaign for Britain to leave the EU may have been silent, but EU officials were not. A day after the murder the German Chancellor Angela Merkel made a call for all sides in the referendum to respect the opinions of others:
‘Otherwise, the radicalisation will become unstoppable. Exaggerations, and radicalisation of part of the language, do not help foster an atmosphere of respect.'
Was she thinking of European Council President Donald Tusk’s warning, only a few days earlier, that voting ‘Leave’ could be ‘the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU but also of western political civilisation in its entirety.’ I suspect not. Yet what might one not do if you believed your opponents were poised to destroy civilisation as a whole?
At least Chancellor Merkel left it a few hours. Within minutes of the announcement of Jo Cox’s death the EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos Tweeted out:
‘Jo Cox murdered for her dedication to European democracy and humanity. Extremism divides and nourishes hatred.’
In the US it was not an obscure figure, but the person most likely to be the next US President – Hilary Clinton – who sent out a message saying that Jo Cox’s life had been cut short by ‘a violent act of political intolerance.’ I wonder who she was hoping everyone would think of?
All this before we knew anything very much about his motives or mental state. Since then a clearer picture has emerged. It shows a man with a history of mental illness, a loner, who family and others said never had any involvement or interest in politics. Yet there are also now reports of Nazi regalia in his house and of connections to neo-Nazi groups. Information is emerging that the killer may have in the past purchased books (including on how to make explosives) from a South African racist organisation which advocates, among other things, the eradication of the Jewish people.
Yet even before this came out some people were off. At the New Statesman Laurie Penny insisted that ‘We owe it to Jo Cox not to write off her death as an act of affectless terrorism or meaningless.’ This is because the killer appears to have had links to ‘far-right’ groups. And yes, this is the same Laurie Penny who only three days earlier – after the massacre of 49 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida by a gunman shouting ‘Allahu Akbar’ – insisted that there were no lessons to be taken from that massacre other than that ‘love wins’. That and the claim that people who politically disagree with her, ‘are pleased about the slaughter of 50 souls in a gay bar.’
Closer to home here at the Spectator Alex Massie didn’t leave many minutes between the murder of Jo Cox and a decision to place blame for the murder on Nigel Farage, a campaign poster and everybody else involved in the ‘Leave’ campaign. Not only did he accuse those on the ‘Leave’ side of not-so-covert racism, he also claimed that there had been a disrespectfulness in their arguments. All this from a writer who 24 hours earlier had been decrying some of his political opponents as ‘mad’ and others of spreading ‘bullshit’. Temperance is always what one demonstrates oneself. Intemperance is always other people.
Three other things are worth saying.
The first is this. Obviously, as with any Islamist gunman, it is vital to track down any network of contacts and guides that the killer might have had. What swamps did he swim in? Were there any network that helped supply him with his weapon? Were there any far-right, neo-Nazi or other ideological group that encouraged him to kill an MP? All this must be chased down, and I am sure will be.
Secondly, although Jo Cox is the first MP to be murdered in Britain for more than two decades, tragically she is not the first. Those who were murdered before include Sir Anthony Berry, who lost his life in the Brighton Hotel bombing in 1984. Perhaps in the weeks ahead we may discover a real neo-Nazi network around Jo Cox’s attacker. If we do then I trust the entirety of the British public would be not only surprised, but appalled were any serving MP to invite the MPs killer or colleagues to the House of Commons as their guests. Such events have occurred in the past. And if there are those who now recognise the consequences of legitimating political violence all that can be said is that it is a tragedy that they never recognised them before.
Finally there is the question of the referendum. From what we have already seen, those in favour of ‘Remain’ will find it impossible not to attempt to make political capital from this brutal murder in a campaign that the polls previously showed them losing. Is it too much to ask for some decency? Perhaps. About 50% of the population have one view of our membership of the EU, and about 50% have another view. I can already see the temptation of some ‘Remainers’. They may keep it subtle. They may insist that a vote for ‘Remain’ is a vote for ‘the future’ and ‘Leave’ a vote for ‘the past’. Or they may try to say that a vote to stay in the EU is a vote against ‘hatred’ and for ‘hope’ or the politics of ‘unity’ over those of ‘division’. If they do then they should be aware that they are using the actions of a madman, extremist or terrorist (or all three) as a means to further their own political goals. They would be doing precisely what we try so hard, unanimously and generally successfully to stop Islamist gunmen from being able to do.
Such a move would bring about the triumph of the assassin’s veto in our society – something which could not only have appalling short-term consequences, but bloody long-term ones as well. I trust that those campaigning for ‘Remain’ recognise that a victory achieved on those terms would be the sourest and most divisive victory of all.