The murder of Jo Cox taught us nothing

Maybe we were all dreaming. Maybe the 16th June 2016 passed without incident in British politics. Maybe that Thursday, a week before the referendum on EU membership, was quiet and peaceful.

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Flowers for Jo Cox

But we weren’t dreaming. And the horrific events that day, as a young Labour MP was shot and stabbed multiple times by a British nationalist neo-Nazi, will never stop haunting our country and our democracy.

The slow march of history is providing live context for that terrible day. These events are being shown for what they really were: mere collateral damage in the war of identity perpetrated by fascists. Not an isolated incident, but the natural consequence of ugly rhetoric whipping up outrage and carving division into the soul of a nation.

The newspaper headlines today say it all. The Daily Mail and the Daily Express have spent my lifetime viciously attacking anyone who does not conform to their hateful, racist ideology. Now that the EU is gone and the government has adopted their policies on immigration, they’re turning their fire on the people who have held them at bay for so long.

Thomas Mair, Jo Cox’s alleged murderer, gave his name as ‘Death to Traitors’ in court. And here the two chief attack dogs of the fascist right are, consciously using the same language. People who voted to remain in the European Union are not merely wrong: they are unpatriotic and subversive, and they are actively plotting. They are to be ‘damned’ and ‘silenced’.

We’re not talking about some cesspool backwater of the internet like Breitbart or Stormfront. These are ‘mainstream’ newspapers read by hundreds of millions. The Daily Mail’s website is the most visited English-language newspaper website in the world. Not just in the UK; not just in Europe; in the world.

Liberals have spent their lives mocking these newspapers. We write cutesy little songs about them. Sometimes we write serious songs about them. We pour scorn on their blaring headlines and we chortle at their farcical claims. We know they’re wrong and, confident in our grasp of the truth, we’re comfortable letting other people have the comfort of the lies.

And meanwhile those lies are taking hold. They are creating an environment that is poisonous to its very core. They are legitimising the febrile, turbulent, volatile attitudes that not only appeal to ignorance but demand it, cosset it, feed it, and turn it into something that feels like certainty.

We let this happen all the time. Last week there were a few timid voices against the tide of vitriol spouted by government ministers. One of them was mine: I wrote a long blog post about it. Notable among the many responses both here and elsewhere was a recurring theme: I was upbraided for using the terms ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ too loosely. I was told that it was too much, that I was being hysterical, and that it undermined the point of the article.

The people who said this should be ashamed of themselves. The clearer it becomes that voices, livelihoods and lives themselves are considered dispensable by powerful people and institutions in the UK, the more we must respond. I’m ashamed of myself for having put mealy-mouthed caveats on some of those statements; ashamed, for attempting to soften my condemnation of an existential threat to humanity.

So I won’t stop using those terms. I won’t stop calling out fascist rhetoric and fascist policy when it is staring me in the face. I refuse to be silenced as the Daily Express demands. And I refuse to stand by and allow these bastards to spit on Jo Cox’s grave.

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