I tried to write about the death of Jo Cox last night and found myself unable to. I had no flow, no structure, no arguments, no reason, no grammar. All I had were hateful little jagged words; vermilion-red words, angry like hot coals; words best left unwritten.
I found myself filled with grief for such a promising life cut short, for a family ruined. But also filled with so much rage it frightened me. Going over things in my head, until the small hours of this morning, I know now where that rage comes from: I had been expecting this. In a tiny corner of my frightened reptilian brain, I knew it was coming. I have been writing about it for five years, screaming into a void, evermore desperate.
Are those who idolise ambitious grey men, who “tell it like it is” by lying, ready to listen to this man, now? Are you ready to hear this foreign, leftie poofter tell it to you like it is?
Or are you going to stick your fingers in your ears and scream DON’T POLITICISE THIS DEATH? It was not just a “death”. It was a murder. The murder of a female politician, with strong views, by a man who wanted to silence her. An act of terror in the realest sense.
Just about the most disrespectful thing we could do, is erase this murdered woman’s on-record, hard-fought politics from her life. If they don’t suit your agenda, tough. That is a good reason for you to reexamine your agenda; not for everyone else to shut up, because it makes you feel bad.
Politicians talk with nauseating frequency about “listening to people’s feelings”. Well, here are mine. Listen to them.
In my twenty-six years in this country, I have never felt more foreign, less welcome, more marginalised, or less safe. I am not alone. Hundreds of migrants I speak to feel this way. I spend every minute of every day trying to justify my existence, against a wall of blind hatred. It is that hatred that killed Jo Cox. And we all must look into our conscience and answer the question: “Have I contributed”?
I know I have. I have been terrified, unreasonable, rude, hateful and superior on so many occasions to so many people. I have refused to acknowledge opposing points of view. Created an echo-chamber of validation. My mind has been closed and my heart full of antagonism.
That is not to say we are all equal contributors to the toxic atmosphere which surrounds us, however. I am a banged-up car, fuming. There are others who are power stations churning out noxious gasses.
Political discourse has been poisoned by tabloid venom which has long given up on even the appearance of balance. Politicians emblazon bare-faced lies on campaign buses, billboards and leaflets, designed specifically to create an atmosphere of paranoia and fear.
Those in a position to lead, given the choice to raise the stakes or talk people off a ledge, have done everything in their power to push us closer to the abyss. The EU referendum has been the apex of that macho competition.
The choice we face is really about precisely what combination of corrupt, arrogant, posh dickheads gets to rule us. Some think this one. Others think that one. There are economic consequences to either. There was an opportunity to talk honestly about this. To discuss how an economy works best. How we might begin to sanitise our political system at both national and European level.
But that isn’t “sexy” enough to warrant a front-page splash. It doesn’t whet the appetites of venal millionaires living abroad – people who openly mock us for having manipulated the results of elections.
So our politicians took it up ten notches. THEY’RE TRYING TO TAKE YOUR COUNTRY. THIS IS ABOUT YOUR SOVEREIGNTY. WOMEN WILL BE RAPED IN THE STREETS BY PEOPLE POSING AS REFUGEES. THERE WILL BE VIOLENCE. TAKE CONTROL. GO OUT AND BULLY PEOPLE. Then when someone that represents truly the very best of our political system gets murdered doing her job, the same people line up to express their shock and sadness.
What shock? What sadness? How can a Prime Minister who chose to fight on the platform that “Labour are a threat to national security”express shock? How can vile bigots, who actively encourage the idea that we are under some sort of occupation and anyone who says otherwise is a traitor, express sadness?
Those of us who are unfortunate enough to exist in this country as the object of the fear they actively propagate, have seen this coming for years. Have told them about it. The only shock to me, was how little this shocked me.
This is not a country divided by class, or political belief or a referendum. It is a country divided by an asymmetry of information. People’s understanding of any given situation, their hopes, their fears, their paranoia, are directly attributable to the quality of information they receive.
We live in an age where “acknowledging people’s concerns” is somehow a good enough proxy for solving problems. A Prime Minister listens to a woman talk about immigration, nods along, says he understands, then in the privacy of his limo calls her a bigot. The opportunity for genuine communication, lost. The chance of solving a problem, gone.
Very few people arrive at “I fucking hate foreigners” without a long road, with many stops in between. Stops like “I can’t find a job”, “My MPs are fiddling expenses”, “I cannot keep up with change”, “My kids’ school is crowded”, “My representatives are lying”, “I can’t get a doctor’s appointment”, “I am so poor I have only eaten beans this week”, “I feel helpless”, “I feel lonely”, “I feel threatened”.
All those things can be addressed with fairness, solidarity and political goodwill. None of them have. It’s been easier to blame any kind of otherness. A “foreign” otherness has always been the favourite. Lazy Greeks, Brussels bureaucrats, Syrian refugees, German autocrats, African migrants, Chinese labour – they are the direct cause of your economic misery, we are told. We are told this by the very people whose greed and political impotence is actually to blame.
And we are told this so much, so often and for so long that it has become evangelical truth, overwhelming reality, impenetrable by compassion, impervious to logic.
If all that matters is getting elected, then it follows that the route of least resistance to get elected is the right thing to do. Nothing is explained. Nothing is challenged. Politicians just nod and “acknowledge people’s concerns”, while thinking “I wonder how long to lunch”. So everyone gets poorer, everyone get lonelier, everyone gets angrier.
Those who are genuinely racist and xenophobic – and there are more than you find comfortable to contemplate – those ultra right wing thugs always waiting in the wings, they cheer. More soldiers have been added to both sides of the war they fantasise about.
Our behaviour discredits our democracy. And there is a continuum between this behaviour and someone picking up a gun, thinking he is a patriot. It is a long path, with many steps, many intervening factors: disenfranchisement, misogyny, mental health issues, radicalisation may be some of them. They will emerge as the facts of this horror are clarified. But the path is a clear and direct one. To not see it is wilful blindness.
Jo Cox’s death is being called “senseless” in every media outlet. But her life was not. Her life had meaning. She stood for something. She fought for a different kind of politics. Let’s drop the bullshit and have a frank conversation about how we each contribute to the intolerable, vain, mendacious, impotent politics of our time. We owe her that much.