At half past six on the 16th of June 2016, I went to Parliament Square, wrote a note in a card, lit a candle, and laid a dozen roses for someone I had never met but I now wish I had.
Jo Cox MP was, by all accounts, a humanitarian who championed those in need, who challenged the orthodoxy of what it is to be populist and willingly worked with others for a shared goal. Who was a thoroughly decent human being.
She was a wife and a mother and she leaves them behind but she also leaves behind friends, colleagues, family and people she helped through the years around the world. She died doing what she had always done, helping people, outside her advice bureau.
When I arrived at Parliament Square there were frequent booms of thunder and flashes of light but no rain; as if the sky above was thrashing around in a fit of rage unable to come to terms with what is a senseless killing. I stood alongside others with a connection to every political tribe and none, mostly in silence. The odd story told, tears shed, belief un-shoveled, mostly in silence, as the flowers began to build up and the candles continued to be lit.
I do not currently work in politics but for much of the last ten years I did. First as a caseworker in Birmingham, then as a Researcher in Parliament and I stood for council as recently as last month. The possibility that one afternoon someone will come into your office or your public meeting with a weapon and harm or kill you, your colleagues or a member of the public is a constant one. The fear is real and the danger ever present. A death or serious wounding is mercifully rare but verbal or low level physical abuse is a weekly thing.
It is not enough that we dismiss this as the actions of a man – it always seems to be a man – who had mental health issues and no one should try to dismiss his act as without political motivation. Murdering a Member of Parliament is itself a political act, indeed it is terrorism in its most brute form.
The murderer had, or still has, links to far right organisations, at least three witnesses have said that he repeatedly shouted ‘Britain first’ as he shot and stabbed Mrs Cox again and again. His mental health might be a mitigating factor but it does not absolve him of culpability nor does it excuse the environment in which we find ourselves which motivated him to pick up a gun and aim it at someone else.
We are fed on a media diet of hate. ‘economic migrants’ ‘benefits tourists’ ‘a swarm of refugees’ ‘the unelected bureaucratic elite’. People are told daily that we have lost complete control, that we need to ‘take our country back’ This referendum campaign has been utterly unedifying, we de-huminise people in desperate need, or who want to make a better life for themselves. We vilify MPs who went into politics for the best of reasons. Our opponents are traitors or collaborators. We call it rough and tumble.
Last month Nigel Farage said the following “I think it’s legitimate to say that if people feel they’ve lost control completely – and we have lost control of our borders completely as members of the European Union – and if people feel that voting doesn’t change anything, then violence is the next step.”
That was not prophecy save to say it was self-fulfilling. On Thursday morning Nigel Farage stood in front of a poster aping Nazi Propaganda, of a queue of refugees with the slogan ‘breaking point’ emblazoned upon it. On Thursday Afternoon a man shot an MP three times who had stood for refugee rights and for the UK to remain a member of the European Union, and then proceeded to stab her a further seven times.
The two are linked.
Our politics is too unkind. The whipping up of people’s fears is abhorrent. The lack of respect for others is shortsighted. The temptation to pander to prejudice is too often indulged.
At half past ten, after having dinner with some friends as shocked at today’s news as anyone else, I walked past Parliament Square on my way home. The impromptu vigil at which I was the first to light a candle now had hundreds. Messages strewn across the green grass, flowers blotting out the pavement. Heavy drops of rain began to fall which soon became a torrent of water descended from on high which lasted my entire journey home.
I imagine Brenden Cox had just put his children to bed and the sky couldn’t hold back it’s tears any longer.