Reflections on Jo Cox MP’s murder

The tragic killing of Jo Cox tells us three things about this campaign.

First, that it has become bad natured. We are perhaps all guilty: I tweeted a picture of the England-Russia Sebastopol replay last Saturday under the headline ‘English nationalists in France show the other side of Vote.Leave’. In the end, demeaning our opponents demeans us too. It’s time to tone down the rhetoric, as Paddy Ashdown reminded us on Twitter a few hours ago.

The second thing it tells us is that MPs’ security needs review. Jo is the third victim in recent years, after Andy Pennington of Nigel Jones MPs’ office and the attempted murder of Stephen Timms MP; though I believe she is the first MP to die since Ian Gow was a victim of the IRA in 1990. She had previously received death threats, as many in elected office do (as did I).

Third, that such attacks are in fact extremely rare in European politics. In Africa, Latin America, the Indian sub-continent and more widely in Asia they are – tragically – commonplace. Being a progressive politician in most countries carries an ever present risk to one’s own safety. The definition of a true liberal democracy might be a society where people are generally safe even if they are unpopular. In Germany a knife attack on a local councillor in Cologne recently caused similar shock and outrage to yesterday’s assault.

But this last point underlines the extent to which Europeans share common values. In the many many public meetings at which I have spoken since last November (when I started referendum campaigning) I have found one argument to carry with all audiences: we live in a difficult and sometimes dangerous world where barely half a billion EU citizens seek to defend and promote values which do not hold sway elsewhere. European solidarity alone is sufficient reason to remain in the EU.

As we share the grief of Jo Cox’s family, let us rejoice in what she stood for.

* Sir Graham Watson was a MEP from 1994 to 2014. He led the EP's Liberal Democratic Group from 2002 to 2009 and presided the ALDE Party from 2011 to 2015. He is now a Member of the European Economic and Social Committee.

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12 Comments

  • I write this to neither condemn or condone, a woman who hoped to do good in the world has been murdered, so perhaps we should reflect instead of criminate?

    Already we see accusations being thrown, Leave being blamed for creating a wave of xenaphobia and causing fear and hate against foreigners. There may be some truth to this, we may or may not find out in due course what went on in that man’s mind .

    If, however, some believe this to be the case, perhaps it is time to remove the mote and consider if they themselves may also be complicit in the climate that has been created by the constant use of fear tactics. Fear of course being only a short hop from hate and anger. If you feel that you have to create a climate of fear to win, is that really healthy? If you have been telling people that the “foreigners” will not let you buy or sell anything, is that healthy? If you say that they will be so full of spite that you will not survive, is that healthy? if you have used arguments that cause people to fear the reactions of other Europeans, then are you not also guilty of xenaphobia? If some one has expressed a worry about immigration, no matter how minor, did you listen and discuss their fears to see if you could allay them, or was your initial reaction to label them as a Xenaphobe, racist or bigot and thereby belittling what they may feel are justified fears.

    As I say, I am not here to point the finger of blame, I would point the finger and ask both Leave and Remain to reflect on the consequences of their campaigns.

  • Eddie Sammon 17th Jun '16 - 5:19pm

    I agree about toning down the rhetoric. I haven’t agreed with those who have started saying the Leave campaign are partly responsible without criticising the remain campaign much too.

    If a brexiter was killed, or a Tory was killed, we would have had a different conversation with a different narrative, but perhaps both are as likely as the other. We need to get rid of these narratives and be consistent in our values.

    I agree about reviewing MP’s security. I called for greater security for those who had voted for military action, but perhaps it should be for all MPs now.

    Yes I agree about common European values. Although the values of democracy and liberalism extend further than Europe.

  • Tony Dawson 17th Jun '16 - 6:54pm

    Does MP security really need attention?

    This hideous and tragic attack is just that. Hideous. Tragic.

    What is the relative frequency of attacks upon MPs and their staff compared to say attacks on DWP and HMRC staff, police, paramedics, social workers, A&E dept staff?

    I write as someone who has been assaulted right outside our own MP’s office front door a few years ago by a constituent twice my weight and half my age and eight inches taller than me – while my then teenage daughter looked on in terror and disbelief. Thankfully, some ancient rusty unarmed combat kicked in and I was able to overcome him long enough for the police to arrive but the attack left me with permanent but relatively minor damage to my neck. I still have the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board cheque for £30 framed at home.

    The person who injured me, like the person who killed Jo Cox this week and the person who killed Andrew Pennington in 2000 with a Samurai sword was mentally ill.

    Surely, if we wish to reduce the incidence of these attacks in this country, we need to look at how society leaves isolated individuals, sometimes only stable when on regular medication ‘in the community’ with no supervision at all until they throw themselves off a fifth floor balcony (as happened in my ward last week) or push someone off an underground platform?

    And just to put things into context, there are 40 gun killings PER DAY and two school shootings per term-time week in the USA. 🙁

    The fact of prior death threats to Jo Cox, however, is of greater concern. If these are genuinely linked to the actual attack there is an intelligence issue to look at closely. But remember again that the majority of people who get such death threats and die are ex-spouses whose controlling partners cannot ‘let go’, not MPs.

  • Good comment about toning down the rhetoric. The odiousness of some of the Leave campaigning goes without saying. But as I’ve argued here before, those at the other extreme contribute to the deteriorating standards of political debate too, with accusations of racism – which one used to think carefully about before doing when I was young – now thrown around far too cheaply, sometimes at people who don’t actually deserve it. Not only does this have a bad effect on the quality and civility of our discourse, but it isn’t even a productive tactic; those on the receiving end are not going to respond positively in any way, they will simply become more entrenched.

    Jo Cox knew how to debate the right way; with positive and reasoned arguments rather than abuse; and with respect where it is called for, without in any way going easy on those whose intolerance deserves to be exposed to the light. Her final article, linked to in another LDV post, shows the way of how we SHOULD conduct ourselves. How depressing that it shoud take this awful tragedy to make that so obvious.

  • Sadly, it has taken the death of a young mother to call a halt (temporarily?) to the downward spiral of rhetoric in this referendum ‘debate’..
    Any who thought, “Well, that’s the USA”, when seeing Donald Trump talking about his ‘wall’ might be forgiven for doing a ‘volte face’ after seeing Nigel Farage’s latest poster…

    It’s hard to disagree with Robert Harris’s comment on this referendum, “The most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime.”…

  • Little Jackie Paper 18th Jun '16 - 11:04am

    ‘We are perhaps all guilty: I tweeted a picture of the England-Russia Sebastopol replay last Saturday under the headline ‘English nationalists in France show the other side of Vote.Leave’.’

    Every credit to you for saying this.

    I was a politics student in the early/mid 1990s. At the time the internet was still something of a minority pursuit and, being young and dumb, I thought what a wonderful opportunity the internet would be to rehabilitate politics. I genuinely thought that the technology would be something that would allow for real debate and real engagement. Suffice to say I’ve had the rose tints well and truly removed.

    I’m all for free speech, however the stark reality is that it is now hard to deny that we’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere with the internet and social media. Admittedly the spite and vitriol was there for all to see 20+ years ago.

    Like your England/Russia picture, it all just got too easy and too cheap throw out any old slur. And too ingrained. Free speech became something not respected but dumbed down.

    Maybe there are wider questions for civil society here. Sitting around tapping on a keyboard is NOT a real civil society, technology I thought would bring us together has, to my mind, undermined the institutions of the civil society we need more of.

    I suspect that the coarseness has always been there, only the internet has made it more visible. The question is why our discourse is marked by, for want of a better term, impotent rage. I think that this is why the EU and Scotland referendums took on the character they did, take out the impotence, and the rage was left.

    I maintain that the referendums and the politics (in the sense of allocation of power) of them were not wholly bad things. What we need is less tapping away and more politics, in the classic sense of the term. We shouldn’t fear it.

  • Richard Underhill 18th Jun '16 - 11:24am
  • It’s all very sad. But I’m not so certain there are wider lessons to be learned. Jo Cox’s killer seems to have been in long term treatment for mental health problems and over many years had developed an unhealthy set of interests. In other words he’s about as indicative of anything wider as John Hinckley or Mark Chapman.
    Sadly the answer is probably better security training and more vigilance during similar events.

  • I disagree, partly because of what I said earlier – that sensible, rational, compassionate voices like Jo Cox’s tend to get drowned out by the copy-friendly awfulness inflicted on us by the more extreme and uncivil politicians. I believe people like Jo Cox are more representative of the ordinary people of Britain, and should have more prominence. The whole nature of our discourse would be better for it.

  • Tony Dawson 18th Jun '16 - 3:05pm

    @expats :

    “It’s hard to disagree with Robert Harris’s comment on this referendum, “The most depressing, divisive, duplicitous political event of my lifetime.”…”

    How could it be anything but? This Referendum was set up by David Cameron entirely to deal with divisive forces within the Tory Party. Unfortunately, the divide within the Tory Party is at a different point than Mr Cameron thought it would be when he took this arrogant reckless step with our future.

  • @Tony Dawson
    “How could it be anything but?”

    I take your point, but a hint of a better way fell through my letter box this afternoon in the form of a 16-page booklet from a group I hadn’t heard of before called “People’s In”. They have a wesbite at peoplesin.org.uk

    I’m not sure who exactly is behind this group (they claim to be “grass roots”) but their leaflet consists of several articles by various women (a journalist, a trades union leader, an actress etc) and, according to the website, the campaign is intended to spread a positive message “to women”, though it’s certainly had a positive effect on this man. By far the least negative and most informative/persuasive bit of campaigning I’ve seen, it puts “Stronger In” with their dire website to shame.

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