The Morning After
The whole country is, of course, rightly shocked by yesterday’s killing of the Labour MP, Joe Cox, who was carrying out her public duties in her constituency. We now also know that the deceased was very close to the Kinnock family, sharing an office with Stephen Kinnock MP, and had arranged with the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Kinnock, to campaign together yesterday for a Remain vote in the now temporarily suspended EU Referendum.
From the television and press reports it is tolerably clear that her assailant had mental health problems – which may well in due course lead to a conclusion that his responsibility for the assault which caused her death was diminished. That is for the courts to decide in the future.
But it is also clear from the televised testimony of a witness that her assailant was shouting words to the effect of “Britain First” as he carried out his attack. Could it be the case that the assailant was provoked into his attack by the way in which immigration and sovereignty issues have been used in the Leave campaigns?
Farrage & UKIP
Nigel Farrage and UKIP had, of course made immigration and sovereignty key campaign issues. How did Farrage campaign? Here is an example:
That is in fact a photograph of Syrian migrants crossing the border into Croatia in 2015 and, of course, the plight of Syrian refugees was a matter very close to Joe Cox’s heart.
Read this Guardian article about the poster: “Nigel Farage’s anti-migrant poster reported to police“. To someone of my age, that poster is certainly reminiscent of Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech and the Smethwick by-election.
The Vote Leave Campaign
This campaign which is funded by public money is managed by a Committee. The Committee is composed of of 14 Conservatives – 7 of whom are Privy Councillors (members of which are the epitome of “the great and the good”) and 7 Labour and other parliamentarians (2 of whom are also Privy Councillors) see the details on The Conservative Difficulty page.
A number of the members of the Committee are Conservatives who hold office in HM Government and who would normally not be permitted to campaign against the policy of HM Government without first resigning. That requirement was unfortunately dispensed with following a precedent set by Harold Wilson in a previous referendum.
Even more unfortunately the Leave Campaign has been stage managed by two spin doctors with quite a track record of hitting below the belt, namely the lobbyist, Matthew Elliott, and Michael Gove’s special adviser, Dominic Cummings.
A consequence has been that in order to combat the economic case for remaining in the European Union, which is very substantial, the Leave Campaign has deployed the very same immigration and sovereignty issues normally advanced only by UKIP. The mere fact that these issues are being advanced by Conservative who are members of the Government endows the issues with a respectability they ought not to have.
Very properly, on hearing of the tragedy, all campaigning in the referendum has been suspended. We now also know that Parliament will be recalled on Monday 20th June so that Members may pay tribute to Jo Cox. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats have indicated that they will not put up candidates at the by-election to elect a new MP for the Constituency.
Polly Toynbee, the Guardian columnist has written this: “The mood is ugly, and an MP is dead”. In her Op-Ed, Ms Toynbee makes a number of points worthy of consideration among which the following:
“There are many decent people involved in the campaign to secure Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, many who respect the referendum as the exercise in democracy that it is. But there are others whose recklessness has been open and shocking. I believe they bear responsibility, not for the attack itself, but for the current mood: for the inflammatory language, for the finger-jabbing, the dogwhistling and the overt racism.”
“This campaign has stirred up anti-migrant sentiment that used to be confined to outbursts from the far fringes of British politics. The justice minister, Michael Gove, and the leader of the house, Chris Grayling – together with former London mayor Boris Johnson – have allied themselves to divisive anti-foreigner sentiment ramped up to a level unprecedented in our lifetime. Ted Heath expelled Enoch Powell from the Tory front ranks for it. Oswald Mosley was ejected from his party for it. Gove and Grayling remain in the cabinet.
When politicians from a mainstream party use immigration as their main weapon in a hotly fought campaign, they unleash something dark and hateful that in all countries always lurks not far beneath the surface.”
Many may share the concerns Ms Toynbee has expressed. For the moment national campaigning for the Referendum is suspended. It is to be hoped that during the suspension those involved in the campaigns, and in particular the Leave Campaign, will reflect very carefully on how they address the issues on which they campaign.
In many ways, the best national tribute to Jo Cox might be if the public were to vote in the the way she wished.