The murder of Jo Cox would have been a tragedy even if she had not been such a good MP, or an MP at all. Whenever a healthy young person dies our hearts go out to the family; but when it is a politically-motivated murder of a Member of Parliament because of the things she stood for, it is an event of national significance.
Ursula Haeckel, whom I met for the first time a week ago, has written the following letter to the Guardian. To me it speaks volumes.
Deeply saddened, and also outraged, about the senseless murder of Jo Cox by a clearly deranged individual with - it seems - extreme right-wing views, in the final week of an increasingly polarising referendum campaign I want to make this warning: As a German by birth and an historian I am feeling more and more concerned about the growing rift in British society which the EU referendum seems to generate. The early days of the Weimar Republic, just after World War I, were poisoned by multiple political murders, mostly of left wing politicians. It was the precursor to much worse. I am very very worried about the consequences of a possible Brexit, given its underlying and popular hysteria of xenophobes and Little Englanders who think they can bring the shutters down towards the rest of our globalising world. No pasarán!
I have worried before before about the parallel with 1930s Germany. Ursula’s point needs taking seriously. While the dominant response to Jo’s death has been to mourn it as a tragedy, postpone the EU Referendum debate for a few days and wonder what led Mair to kill her, there will also be another response. Up and down the country, in subcultures of the embittered, far away from news reporters there will be – and probably already are – groups of people who admire Mair, think he has done a great job, and more or less egg each other on to do something along the same lines. They are of course a small minority; but Ursula reminds us that a minority is all that is needed to turn an angry population violent. The official solemnity in response to the death will soon pass. What will be left?
At St Brides Church this morning we talked about this. In a small group discussion one person, Lesley, described Jo as ‘a light shining in the darkness’. Although an MP for only a short time, she already had a reputation. She stood for better values. The darkness did not understand it. To the embittered and angry, her values – so obviously better values – were a threat. She was killed.
As this was a Christian church, the parallel did not need pointing out. Jesus of Nazareth was also a threat. He proclaimed and organised a movement of the destitute, in the name of the Kingdom of God, that was so obviously more humane than anything the upper class Jews had to offer, let alone the Romans. They killed him.
It could go either way. It could be the first of many acts of violence as the countless embittered people, told over and over again by government ministers and the mass media that their relentlessly declining living standards are the fault of the helpless – the unemployed, immigrants, EU workers – seek revenge and pick on scapegoats.
Or it could be the wake-up call that makes public opinion notice how self-seeking, and uncaring our political culture has been getting.