There can be no conceivable ‘upside’ to the senseless and brutal murder last week of Labour MP, Jo Cox. Her death leaves two young children orphaned, a husband and family grief-stricken and our politics much the poorer.
One can only hope that from this tragedy emerges a collective willingness to rid our politics of the mindless hatred and bile that has come to characterise the way in which too much of our political discourse is conducted. It is surely possible to have robust debate; to disagree profoundly and passionately; and to challenge those in positions of power, without the need to dehumanise anyone who dares to take an opposing view or voice a conflicting opinion.
Jo Cox proved as much. It is what helped her stand out; to make such a profound impression across the political divide in such a short space of time.
No-one could doubt the intensity of Mrs Cox’s belief that the UK and wider international community are failing those fleeing the conflict in Syria and other war-torn parts of that region. She spent years before entering parliament, speaking up for refugees and a more compassionate response to the needs of those with nothing. It was a case she continued to make with force and conviction once elected last year.
Throughout, though, it was a case she managed to make without personal rancour. She recognised it as a collective failure to a complex situation. As a result, her arguments carried more weight and earned respect from opponents and allies alike.
Jo Cox was also, of course, a passionate advocate of the UK’s membership of the EU. Indeed, it seems likely to have been a cause for which she paid with her life, albeit at the hands of someone with his own deep-rooted problems.
Appropriately, agreement was reached to suspend campaigning ahead of Thursday’s referendum following Mrs Cox’s murder. Sadly, this outbreak of consensus is untypical of a contest that has been deeply unedifying.
Both sides must shoulder some of the blame, but a new low was reached last week with the launch by Nigel Farage of a poster, shamelessly and irresponsibly seeking to inflame fears about immigration. The similarities with 1930s Nazi propaganda posters were chilling and leaders of both the Remain and Leave campaigns were quick to condemn it as ‘disgraceful’ and ‘dishonest’.
It has, though, been a campaign characterised by messages of fear, where positive arguments have struggled to be heard. The concern now must be that voters respond by staying at home: an alarming prospect, given the importance of the decision we are being asked to make.
Personally, I remain unequivocal though not uncritical in my support of the EU, and the UK’s role within it. We simply cannot hope to shape the future direction of our continent if we opt to retreat into a position of surly isolation.
In an increasingly interdependent world, the need for nations to work collaboratively has never been greater. Meeting the economic, environmental and demographic challenges we face; combatting the threats posed by terrorism, international crime and people trafficking; safeguarding the rights of consumers, workers and citizens; all benefit from a collective approach.
And for all its shortcomings, the EU provides a means not only to trade, move and co-operate freely, but to settle our disputes through dialogue and compromise. It was not always thus.
Jo Grimond once eloquently described the creation of the European Community as “the disappearance of the cloud which has lain over Europe for a thousand years – the plague of Western European wars – which has been so completely expunged that new generations do not even appreciate the boon of its dispersal; it is alone worth any petty tribulations that the EEC may inflict”
NATO and the Council of Europe have played their part too, but we underestimate at our peril the impact closer economic, political and social ties have had in reducing the scope for conflict on our continent. It is a legacy to our children of which we can feel justifiably proud.
For this, and many other reasons, I fervently hope the UK votes to remain in the EU on Thursday 23rd June.