After the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox at the hands of a man allegedly shouting “Britain First”, I remembered how political disagreement used to be in Britain.
Just over 15 years ago – on May 16, 2001 to be precise – this was The Daily Telegraph’s account of public “dissatisfaction” with the governing record of Tony Blair’s Labour Party:
“Labour’s carefully stage-managed election campaign was in disarray last night after John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, punched an egg-throwing protester.
“The launch of its manifesto was overshadowed by public displays of dissatisfaction over its record in power: Mr Prescott was manhandled by an angry crowd, Tony Blair was harangued by a woman about the NHS and Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, was slow-handclapped by police officers.”
Egg-throwing. A harangue. A slow handclap.
How evocative. How peaceable. How British.
And now, in 2016, it has come to this.
Jo Cox is the first sitting British MP to be killed since 1990, when Ian Gow died at the hands of militants who believed anything was alright to press the Irish cause.
Two questions must trouble us all, acutely and maddeningly, until we arrive at some answers. They need to be answered, not just by the British Prime Minister, politicians and the authorities in general, but by all of us.
Who, among us, believes that a cause is greater than the life of a woman with a husband, two young children and a long track record of working for the disadvantaged?
Second, how do those ideologically-disturbed killers become so bold as to think that we, in Britain, will cleave to their purported cause slick with the blood of an innocent woman?
As Alex Massie blogged in The Spectator: “When you shout BREAKING POINT over and over again, you don’t get to be surprised when someone breaks.” He meant the Vote Leave campaign for Britain to exit the European Union. It is not responsible for Jo Cox’s death but, has its extreme tone and exclusivism served to inspire just like the jihadi brigade?
There must be a reckoning-up, a calling-out and a closing off of these perverted strains of thought.
To those who watch trans-Atlantic politics closely, it seems that America’s disease of gun crime and violent solutions is catching. That Britain has already been infected. That the gentle culture of egg-throwing and handclaps is covered in an unfamiliar new visceral gore. That the logic of exclusivism is spreading so much that it will consume us all.
The death of Jo Cox, a woman who was born in a poor Yorkshire family and went on to study at a grammar school and Cambridge, tells us so much that we didn’t realize about the dark ideas coursing through the veins of British politics.
I still believe, though, that Jo Cox’s tragic death will prompt a pause and a reset. In that sense, her life – and death – will have achieved a great deal.