The murder of Jo Cox asks uncomfortable questions of Britain’s right
Published by The ipaper (20th June, 2016)
The mood was tense, the arguments heated, the nation’s future at stake with just nine days to go before voting. Some polls suggested Pim Fortuyn, a right-wing populist who had shaken up Dutch politics with furious anti-Islam rhetoric, might even become the Dutch Prime Minister with his new party. A silver-tongued debater, the gay sociology professor claimed to represent ordinary people as he called for quotas on migration to stop Muslims entering his country.
Then as he left a radio station in Hilversum 14 years ago, Fortuyn was shot dead by a gunman. Bullets hit him twice in the head, twice in the back and once in the neck; it was the first political assassination in this bastion of liberalism since the 17th century. His funeral was broadcast live. Traumatised politicians halted campaigning and talked of cancelling the election, analysts debated Dutch values and people talked in sombre terms as they reeled from ‘our September 11’.
The shooting of Fortuyn took place 20 miles down the road from the Amsterdam building where I am writing these words. His killing by an animal rights activist underlined the dangers of turning up the political temperature too far even in stable democracies. Fortuyn’s life and death polarised politics. His successor as party chairman lasted just three days after accusing opponents of creating the climate in which such a killing could take place. ‘The bullet came from the left, not the right,’ he said, provoking furore.
Now our nation reels from political murder. Pim Fortuyn and Jo Cox could not be more different as people and politicians, yet there are eerie echoes in this latest tragedy just days before a defining vote. We do not know exactly what led to the Labour MP’s horrific killing. But we do know it follows the ramping up of rhetoric against migrants, the scapegoating of refugees, the traducing of politicians, the trashing of expertise, the tarnishing of a religion. And we have seen a wretched referendum coarsen debate, corrode decency and inflame passions to fever pitch.
The contentious question for Britain to answer is whether the bullet came not from the left, but from the right? And not just the fringe far-right, with its racist ideology and fear-filled messages of hate. But if the cause of that blood spilled outside Birstall public library goes way beyond one man’s meltdown. Can it also be traced back to the bile poured into public debate and the wider political climate, with foreigners remorselessly blamed for failings on schools, health and housing?
Regardless of the answer, there seemed grotesque symbolism in the murder of an MP prepared to stand up for migrants and refugees taking place just after the unveiling of a repellent poster by Nigel Farage. The Ukip leader is, after all, the man who behind his cheeky chappie image has done more than anyone in recent British public life to fuel dark forces of bigotry and popularise xenophobia. As he exploited concerns of citizens alarmed by globalisation, his mean-spirited message dragged much political discourse into a gutter of crass isolationism and crude nationalism.
This reached its apogee in recent months with the Brexit debate. Both sides have hyped up their arguments; perhaps this is inevitable, given the importance of the vote this week for the future of our country. Yet the Leave camp’s toxic hostility to refugees, hysteria over migration and hypocrisy on so many other issues has been little short of repulsive. It is saddening to see such attitudes embraced by some Tory politicians who once preached liberal principles.
Whatever emerges from the fetid mind of the murderer, it would be remiss not to reflect on the kind of nation that we wish to live in and leave for our children after such a terrible deed. The outcry over immigration has already led Britain to briefly halt rescues of people drowning in the sea; now we back deals to aid repressive despots to stop the flow of human beings seeking the sort of stability we take for granted. And at a time when unemployment is at its lowest for more than a decade, we flirt with wrecking our economy simply to stop foreigners coming here to work.
This week will define David Cameron’s premiership, his place in history hingeing on the outcome of the referendum. More importantly, it will also determine the shape of our nation and our society for decades to come. After the shocking death of Cox, it felt like we suddenly stopped fighting among ourselves and, as the fog of referendum battle lifted, remembered we are a decent, generous nation filled with good people. We must remember this after the ballot’s result.
I am currently in a studio working with 50 Syrian musicians rehearsing for concerts intended to remind people of the beauty of their culture amid endless grim news from their tormented nation. Just outside is the spot where film-maker Theo Van Gogh has his throat slit in 2004 after making a provocative film about Fortuyn’s assassination. And today Geert Wilders, another far-right populist, heads the polls here in the Netherlands, preaching fiery nationalism and fanning hatred against Muslims.
Wilders hopes Brexit will trigger the collapse of the European Union. One more reminder that we should seek to bring people together in diverse modern societies and that politicians should not allow hatreds to fester, nor demonise the weak and foster division. These were the ideals that drove Jo Cox. They should also be the bedrock of our democracy and humanity.
Most recent articlesThe depressing day your concerns were simply swept aside
Published by The Mail on Sunday (19th June, 2016) It should have been momentous: Westminster forced to reconsider the folly of adopting a fixed rate of foreign aid spending after an unprecedented display of people power. So hopes were high when MPs gathered on Monday for the first parliamentary debate inspired by a petition raised […]Why are society’s most privileged complaining about elitism?
Published by the ipaper (13th June, 2016) These are worrying times for those of us who do not desire to see our nation retreat into isolation, pulling up a drawbridge over the Channel and snarling at the concept of co-operation. With each passing day, the debate over Brexit seems to descend to another dispiriting level. […]Agony of losing both our ‘stupid boys’ to ecstasy – and why drugs should be legalised
Published by The Mail on Sunday (12th June, 2016) The boy’s room at the top of the house looks like any teenager’s bedroom, with school pens stacked neatly on the desk and a roll of sticky tape lying on the floor. There are posters of favourite pop stars on the walls, along with one for […]Aid bosses and tales to make your eyes pop
Published by The Mail on Sunday (12th June, 2016) It was the campaign that made the country rise up with collective fury against political stupidity – and actually made a difference. Tomorrow, Parliament will debate if Britain should fritter away £12 billion this year on aid to hit a flawed United Nations target. But this […]Muhammad Ali’s politics shaped the world
Published by the ipaper (6th June, 2016) There has been debate recently over whether tennis player Serena Williams is a modern incarnation of ‘The Greatest’. She may have just failed trying to equal Steffi Graf’s total of 22 Grand Slam titles but she has still won the same number as every other woman currently playing […]David Cameron should crush Tory dinosaurs in a revenge reshuffle
Published by The Guardian (31st May, 2016) In his maiden speech as a Tory MP six years ago, Andrew Bridgen joked about being a little Englander. Three years later he was so outraged by the idea of same-sex marriage he demanded the ousting of David Cameron. A year later the wealthy businessman declared his full […]Rise of the far-right shows split between optimists and pessimists
Published by the ipaper (30th May, 2016) We live in remarkable times. Indeed, they are so remarkable historians may look back in wonder at this golden age for humanity. Our lives are wealthier, healthier, longer and, thanks to technology, easier than at any point in history; soon even driving will seem an archaic burden. Diseases […]Should we follow Norway to the EU exit? Nei!
Published by The Mail on Sunday (29th May, 2016) Picture a scene familiar to many who live in the English countryside. Armies of eastern European farm workers are toiling in the fields. In nearby towns and cities, Latvians are serving lattes in cafes, Lithuanians are cleaning homes, and thousands of Poles are on building sites. But […]Human rights, hypocrisy and a humanitarian summit
Published by The ipaper (23rd March, 2016) Four years ago United Nations chief Ban Ki-moon announced his idea for a giant summit to discuss the stumbling response systems to global humanitarian crises. Since then, 23,000 people in 153 countries have supposedly been consulted. And now the canapés are being cooked, fine wines selected and podiums prepared […]Blips, blunders and bluster… has Boris lost it?
Published by The Mail on Sunday (22nd May 2016) When he announced he was backing Brexit, there was jubilation among those wanting out of the European Union, and despondency in Downing Street. For Boris was the joker in the political pack. He has been called ‘the Heineken Tory’, who reaches parts of the electorate that other […]The pistol-packing extremist set to be Austria’s leader
Published by The Mail on Sunday (22nd May 2016) Norbert Hofer is a father- of-four who speaks softly, smiles often and walks with a stick following a paragliding accident. He also packs a Glock pistol under his smart suits, saying that ‘in uncertain times, people try to protect themselves’, and likes to post pictures of […]A modern tragedy applauded by deluded leftists
Published by The Daily Telegraph (18th May, 2016) To understand why the thought of Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister is so alarming, take a look at the unfurling chaos in Venezuela. This is the place praised by the Labour leader as an alternative global model with its promise of ’21st century Socialism’. Six years ago he […]Boris is a dimming star in the Brexit debate
Published by The ipaper (16th May, 2016) Last week, the former Prime Minister Sir John Major made one of his sporadic sallies back into the political fray, warning that Tory campaigners for a Brexit risked ‘morphing into Ukip’, such was their desperation to win the fight. Now Nigel Farage has underscored this claim in an […]Stop giving aid cash to terrorists, say Jewish leaders
Published by The Mail on Sunday (15th May, 2016) Jewish groups are launching a campaign to stop British aid being used to fund Palestinian terrorists following shocking revelations in The Mail on Sunday. They are demanding the Government cut all funding to the Palestinian Authority (PA) until it ends support for payments of ‘salaries’ to […]The Tories meddle with the BBC at their peril
Published by The Guardian (11th May, 2016) What is the government cooking up for the BBC? According to winners at last weekend’s Bafta awards, nothing short of evisceration. The director of Wolf Hall fulminated about evil Tories planning to turn Auntie into a North Korea-style state broadcaster. ‘Blink and it will be gone,’ he thundered, […]Doomsday warning: Tories and Labour are in danger
Published by The ipaper (8th May, 2016) Austrians face a choice between two candidates in the run-off for their presidential election later this month. They can support a far-right candidate who claims to carry a gun because of the supposed dangers posed by refugees or a 72-year-old economics professor and former leader of the Greens […]Grieving mother branded ‘vindictive cow’ and a culture of NHS arrogance
Published by The Daily Mail (6th May, 2016) Surely it is impossible to imagine the twisted inhumanity of someone who would pick up the phone to a bereaved mother campaigning for a safer health service and unleash cruel abuse. Yet precisely this has just happened to Sara Ryan, whose teenage son died a needless death […]Special relationship? It might have to wait until Cameron bids farewell
Published by The Daily Telegraph (5th May, 2016) One thing united experts as they surveyed an over-crowded field many months ago: Donald Trump stood no chance of winning the Republican nomination. He was attention-seeking, He was toxic. He would quit when the going got tough. But the experts got it wrong. Spectacularly wrong. Trump trounced the […]Leicester is a winner – and not just on the football pitch
Published by the ipaper (2nd May, 2016) When I started out in journalism three decades ago, I spent time on two work placements at regional newspapers. The first was an enjoyable month in Newcastle, an exciting city throbbing with energy despite the difficulties of economic downturn. The second could not have been more different: three […]Fishy tale of British aid and French military boats
Published by The Mail on Sunday (1st May, 2016) Britain has suspended aid to Mozambique, one of the world’s poorest nations, after secret loans meant to fund a state-owned tuna-fishing firm were instead used to buy expensive military patrol boats from France. The Department for International Development (Dfid), which has been sending £84 million a […]