Sixty-five million people went into the EU referendum but one of us didn’t come home again.
The murder of Jo Cox should have been the defining moment of 2016 but in a year of infamies, one seemed to blend obscenely into another.
When Ian Gow was murdered by the IRA, a cold dread hung over the nation. Britons had toughened to the outrages of the men in balaclavas, and the bombing of Airey Neave was still in living memory, but the callous slaying of a Member of Parliament served as a reminder that no one was safe.
We had no chance to grieve properly for Jo Cox or to celebrate her remarkable life.
On June 16, Jo arrived at her local library in Birstall, there to hold a surgery to help her constituents. She was known to be fearsome when fighting the corner of desperate people, people who had been battered by life and tossed impatiently from one impassive official to another. But she didn’t get to help anyone that day, or ever again. Jo was cut down by the sad, lonely fetishes of a skinhead gunman, an angry fantasist who hated this generous stranger for her love and compassion.
I refuse to write the assassin’s name. There is an old Hebrew curse, yimakh shemo ve zikhro — ‘may his name and his memory be obliterated’. It is reserved for the worst of the worst and is meant to blot out evil men from our lives and our minds. They should have no purchase over our thoughts, no leave to poison the good that remains in this world. Where they craved a gruesome celebrity, we should bury them anonymously and leave their legacy in the ground with them.
Since her death, Jo Cox’s husband has worked to erase the violence and intolerance let loose that day. Brendan Cox has been the spirit of dignity, refusing to allow his wife’s killer to infect him with bitterness and hatred. Instead, he wants the 41-year-old mum of two to be remembered for all the good she did. Now, Brendan has teamed up with the Duchess of Cornwall and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver to launch the Great Get Together, a weekend of street parties, bake sales, and festivities on June 17 and 18 to mark the one-year anniversary of Jo’s death.
He told a newspaper: “Jo loved a party and she would have been thrilled by the idea of the Great Get Together. As she said in her maiden speech in Parliament: We have far more in common than that which divides us. Jo wanted a chance to bring our communities together to celebrate what unites us.”
This is touching and a tribute to how good people can overcome wickedness and despair. It also borrows heavily from one of the enduring traditions of our country: Doing good, locally. Whether it’s setting up a community football team, volunteering to drive the church minibus, or keeping an eye on an elderly neighbour and popping in now and then with a bag of messages and some human contact.
Small kindnesses like these play out around us every day and help hold our communities together. These are the little platoons cherished by Edmund Burke as ‘the first principle… of public affections’, the way we ‘proceed towards a love to our country, and to mankind’. When mainstream politics fails to capture our ambitions, the answer is not to seek out those who shout louder. The answer is to go local. Rehabilitate what you can in your area, from the ground up.
This isn’t politics as obsessed over by political anoraks and lobby journalists. No one will ever make a slick ten-part Netflix drama about it. But it is the kind of politics that makes real, albeit small, improvements to people’s lives.
People power is the subject of much calumny these days, tarnished by flag-waving frauds and empty demagoguery. But the disruptions to good government and stable societies around the world are not people power — they are populism. Populism is the grand dishonesty that elevates easy answers to a sham philosophy. It exploits the wretched in service of the despicable and sets people against their friends and neighbours. Populism doesn’t come up from the people — it talks down to them.
The people didn’t call a divisive referendum on Europe at a time of economic uncertainty. David Cameron did, in a shabby effort to placate his backbenchers. The people aren’t to blame for the UK being on the brink of destruction for the past ten years. Blame that on the shoddy devolution settlement, designed by the best political minds in a generation, which has handed the SNP unparalleled power. A majority of the American people backed Hillary Clinton but her professional conduct and the Republican Party’s courting of the angry vote united to create an opening for Donald Trump.
It’s not the people, labeled deplorables and worse, who have carved up Britain into Leavers and Remainers. Most folk don’t encounter someone with a different point of view and see a fascist or a traitor. They see Jean from next door and Gordon who runs the pensioners’ club. While some in the political class traduce the voters, bemoan them as impediments to political progress and policy change, they would do well to realise that it is those very voters who are out in their communities practicing real politics and achieving the tangible changes that come with it.
The Great Get Together is a fitting tribute to Jo Cox’s life and work because it celebrates the pragmatic politics to which she was committed. She became an MP not for power or fame or riches but because she had spent years working for charities, seeing the injustices of the world up close, and burned with a passion to resolve them. It was a very British mindset and one that the rest of us have the opportunity to continue in her name.
Politics is too important to be left to the politicians alone.
Furious stoking of the wicker man in Brigadoon town square after London mayor Sadiq Khan said there was “no difference” between Scottish nationalism and racism. Our nationalism is nothing like those nasty nationalisms! It’s kinder! Gentler! Purer, you might say.
Really? SNP MSP Sandra White was caught retweeting an anti-Semitic cartoon while MP Paul Monaghan accused ‘the proud Jewish race’ of ‘persecuting the people of Gaza’. One Nat councillor was booted over offensive texts to a Muslim colleague; another was accused of, but denied, saying ‘get the P***s out of the party’.
Nationalists disrupted a 2014 referendum event, screaming ‘Uncle Toms’ and ‘white n****r’ at Labour MPs, while a former SNP leader denounced ‘the southern cancer’ during the same campaign. Ex-leaders Andrew Gibb and Arthur Donaldson flirted with fascism while party founder Hugh MacDiarmid declared Britain and France ‘a far greater enemy’ than Hitler. MacDiarmid and Donaldson are venerated by the party today.
Khan’s comments were ill-phrased but there was truth in them.
Nigel Farage complains he’s a ‘virtual prisoner’ and is frightened to leave the house because of hostile reporting. BBC security chiefs have launched an inquiry to find the faggy-breathed imposter who’s been on Question Time every week for the last decade. The media should also stop obsessing over the comments of ‘irrelevant people’ who hold ‘no position’ in Ukip, Mr Farage added during a prime-time interview on ITV.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feature image public domain, courtesy of Garry Knight.