Britain has been in shock for the last few hours, since we heard the news that a man shot dead a young lawmaker in the north of England. Part of the shock is that it was a shooting: that just doesn’t happen here.
But the other shocking part is that Labour Party politician Jo Cox was likely targeted for her work as a politician and human rights defender. At least, Jo’s husband, Brendan Cox, seems to have interpreted it that way, making it clear in a statement that he believed her killing was motivated by hate:
"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.”
Of course it’s not fair to ascribe any link or blame for what might be the work of a lone madman to the political climate in the country right now. But, then again, Britain is not a very fair place to be in June 2016.
The so-called “Brexit,” the campaign for Britain to leave the EU, which is a comprised largely of far-right Conservative Party members and the xenophobic United Kingdom Independence Party, has been allowed to dominate domestic politics in the name of democracy and given 600,000 pounds of public money to spread disinformation and, yes, hate.
Where 10 years ago we were a country moving towards inclusion and what felt like some sort of genuine attempt at multiculturalism, the debate has suddenly and violently swung to the right and hatred of others because of their birth country is open for debate as if it were a legitimate topic. And while we can’t say that the hate spread by the Brexiteers is the same as the hate perpetrated by Cox’s shooter, nor can we say they are entirely separate.
The man in custody for the shooting shouted "Britain first" or "put Britain first," according to an eyewitness, during his attack on Cox. It doesn’t take a word association champion to make the link to the hard right movement Britain First. Although eyewitnesses are not always reliable, it was quickly uncovered that the shooter – the police’s only suspect – appears to have had a long-standing connection with a white supremacist organization.
Alex Massie writes for The Spectator, “we know that even lone lunatics don’t live in a bubble. They are influenced by outside events.” Over at The Guardian, Polly Toynbee agrees, “This attack on a public official cannot be viewed in isolation. It occurs against a backdrop of an ugly public mood in which we have been told to despise the political class, to distrust those who serve, to dehumanise those with whom we do not readily identify.”
Labour Party lawmaker Neil Coyle, commenting Thursday after Cox’s death, said of the Brexiteers in an interview on the BBC, “They are very dangerous and they risk inspiring elements of the hard right.”
The so-called Brexiteers, those sticking a middle finger up to Brussels to the joy of other far-right European parties like France’s National Front, are doing a solid job of dehumanizing not only the pro-EU politicians, but also the refugees Cox had, by all accounts, spent much of her career advocating for.
Indeed, on the morning of Cox’s murder, the United Kingdom Independence Party proudly unveiled a poster with the words “BREAKING POINT” against a backdrop of a stream of brown faces, which many pointed out on social media bears a striking similarity to Nazi propaganda . Again, this example is not used to draw a correlation between the two events, but the hatred of the other oozing from the UKIP poster is truly terrifying and only contributes to the sentiment that anyone other than from this island are abhorrent, undesirable.
While the “Remain” camp has laid out several complex reasons to stay in the EU, leading Brexiteers have narrowed things down to immigration.
Labour lawmaker Paul Blomfield explains in the Mirror they are using the issue of immigration to manipulate voters. He claims leaving the EU will not mean leaving all its trade deals, which commit the U.K. to accepting a flow of migrants.
“Norway and Switzerland, which are not members of the EU but have trade deals, must allow workers in like any EU member … immigration won’t fall if we leave. And the refugee crisis won’t go away either, although our border may well move from Calais to Dover. These are the truths that the ‘Leave’ campaign are dodging.”
It was against this backdrop of fearmongering that Cox threw her weight behind a campaign to allow more child refugees into the U.K. At the time of the debate she said,
“…the latest estimates suggest that there could be up to 95,000 such children in Europe tonight—four times the number we thought. That means that, if we decide tonight to take 3,000 of them, that will be just 3 percent of the total. That is our continent’s challenge, and we must rise to it.”
While the exact motives for Cox’s murder may never be revealed, the pause the tragedy has prompted in Brexit campaigning may just be the time both camps need to change the tone and guide the public through the complexities of this enormous decision rather than simplifying the issues and promoting hate. A kinder politics, such of those of Jo Cox, must win out.
Georgia Platman is a freelance writer, translator and filmmaker based in London. Follow her @GeorgiaJPlatman.