Commentary by Derek Bateman
I’ve waited until now to mention Jo Cox’s killing out of a sense of respect for the human loss and because there is something unseemly about the way everybody with a keyboard rushes to get their judgment out there. It’s inevitable, of course it is. But I have no reservation about allowing others to occupy the space. The media has its obligation to report. I have no difficulty with that. But those of us without pretensions to profile or recognition represent a niche that feels insignificant in the face of such loss.
Who the Hell is one man and a blog when a woman has been subjected to a frenzy of barbarity whose emerging details are so horrifying that they chill the blood. Political assassinations we tend to think of as clinical in execution, planned for minimum of fuss and with total finality…a single bullet or blow, a bomb blast. The wolfish savagery at work here – several shots (three?) from a sawn-off firearm, the last, from reports, to the head; a stabbing (six blows, it is said) with a blade accompanied by kicking – signify the uncontrolled rage of the deranged. Yet, it is beyond doubt that the victim was targeted. This was no random act of violence.
Who knows what impulses drove her killer. Even an interest and practical engagement in extremist xenophobic campaigning doesn’t render a man capable of carrying out premeditated murder. Surely for many of the anti-immigrant white supremacists the adrenalin surges through membership of the group with its open talk of hate and armed resistance, its gunplay and hare-brained sabotage schemes. It needs a wiring error in the brain neurons to translate gang culture into an avalanche of ferocity against another human – an unthreatening woman.
Unless the same small, lively, articulate woman was indeed a threat in his mind as a worker for migrants’ rights. Did he know she was working on a report on far right extremism?
The truth, or a version of it, will emerge if the man arrested, Thomas Mair, continues to make what seem to be political statements. It would imply he is proud of his views and activities and will want the world to know. That can wait.
My own view is that the death of Jo should not be used to change politics at all. The tone of the coverage and the pronouncements of politicians so far are self-critical, demanding a softening of language and moderation of opinions. If we are all just a bit nicer to each other, it will all be fine, seems to be the message.
Yet being polite doesn’t stop the crushing of spirit among those already without life chances who are eating from the foodbank after being sanctioned by the DWP.
If we’re nice to each other will the government stop secretly preparing to renew the nuclear deterrent?
There are already signs on Twitter of the Cox death turning into a convenient cover for past deeds by providing a retrospective alibi. Margaret Curran and Anas Sarwar use it to deflect questions by suggesting their critics should desist in the aftermath. Margaret is using it as a shield against reminders that she played a UKIP-style card, along with many others in BetterTogether, when she claimed independence would make foreigners of our relatives (including her own son…) This was a device to other people by using the phrase foreigner as a pejorative. In the light of the shooting, everybody is running scared of sounding anti-foreigner, including Gove and Johnson who have happily let the racist Farage make the running for them up to now.
Wasn’t it Sarwar who played another dangerous game by stating – in the ‘mother of parliaments’ – that there was no democracy in Scotland…
We have a majority SNP Government in the Scottish Parliament, but that is not a democratic place in the conventional sense; it is a dictatorship of one man sitting in Bute House, who will do not what is in Scotland’s interests, but what is in his own or his party’s interests.
Those are two strands of a current powerful force in the referendum debate – turning foreigners into a social problem and the lack of a voice for a disaffected working class ignored by London government. Using an act of unspeakable tragedy to cover your tracks is sleekit. They will not be alone and I’m sure we have all used language or ideas that offended someone and which in retrospect could have been moderated.
I just get queasy at the idea that this event can be turned into a blanket excuse to pretend were all in it together, that Cameron doesn’t despise Corbyn and that those several million disenfranchised folk in the English Midlands and North can be assuaged by a black tie and a bunch of flowers.
Those working class English have legitimate grievances. They have watched their areas decline, the shops shut and house prices fall through the floor. The young that can, leave. Jobs are scarce, incomes stuck or down in real terms. Their tax pounds flow to the gilded south. The social hegemony they remember has changed in their lifetime and they have struggled to acclimatize to a migrant-heavy local community. They are left bewildered and resentful. Who consulted them? How did this happen?
There is a reason for rage in society. We should resist the attempts to deny it. It is recognition of a genuine grievance consistently stated that leads to change. Anything less is too easily dismissed by the power wielders. Moderating language won’t stop a madman. We can’t reorganize society against the 10,000-to-one chance that a lunatic will launch at attack. We can’t change the nature of debate in case somebody daft enough misunderstands. (1700 people are killed by cars every year but we don’t ban traffic).
What we do need is intelligence. Too much of the discussion is simply inaccurate or misleading. We grew tired during the indyref of references to the ‘independent and respected’ IFS but that’s because it was playing a key role. The Institute was the arbiter of the economic case because we couldn’t trust the government or either side of the argument.
Is it beyond us to devise a fact-check organization with official status – like the Advertising Standards Authority – that regulates the output of officially-recognised campaign groups? It wouldn’t close them down or shut them up but it could give definitive judgements on the accuracy of claims made. If Farage’s disgraceful poster of refugees failed to meet the criteria, it would have to be removed as it lacked all credibility. What would any balanced analysis have made of the indyref Salmond-as-a-thief poster with Scots taking cash from your pocket? Sadly, we are left in the hands of a too-often mendacious media which poisoned people against independence and the Scots and now does the same against our European neighbours and against migrants.
The real challenge for society is information – how to acquire it and how to disseminate it. All extremism incubates in ignorance. In Britain prejudice is built into the system through right-wing, tax dodging press barons whose influence distorts the news and corrupts the politicians. Until we have balance allowing intelligent choices, all the nicey-nicey talk in the world won’t stop the division and mistrust.