Jo Cox’s murder is the hideous culmination of hate-filled politics

Last Thursday, a vibrant light was brutally snuffed out, decades before her time. Many of us who knew Jo Cox and know her husband Brendan will be desperately seeking reason in this insanity for years to come.

Much will undoubtedly be written in the coming months about our politics, the weakness of the centre ground and power of extremes to drive the agenda. How our politics has descended into a hate-filled abyss where the best of our politicians was assassinated while working for the people she was elected to serve.

But in the aftermath of such horror, it falls on us to step up to ensure that hope beats hate, that faith in our democracy and our politicians beats the politics of fear and division.

And in order to do that, and to ensure that there is a way forward, we need to understand the enormity of what has happened and the priorities of people who may seek to exploit our pain and Jo’s murder.

While we do not yet know the full background of the evil murderer who stole Jo from us – that will emerge in due course – enough details have already come to light in the national media to raise concerns about extremism that is thriving in our society.

Our country is clearly divided; at no time in our history would we have considered ourselves to be more tolerant, of race, of faith, of sexuality. But conversely, you only have to look at the rise of the BNP and then the rise of UKIP for evidence of a desire of a new form of populist politics with simple answers to difficult questions – the simple answers always being linked to a scapegoat, immigrants, Muslims – the other.

While across the Atlantic, Donald Trump has cruised to victory with a commitment to wall off America from the world, here in Britain, we have been busily erecting our own walls; barriers of ignorance and mistrust, which divide us from our fellow citizens and harden us to the suffering of our neighbours.

These fears and divisions have reached fever pitch in recent weeks, as the divisions over Europe have begun to tear at the fabric of our common life. Words have impact and deeds have consequences. This tragedy is not an isolated event; it is the hideous culmination of the politics of hate which has moved quietly into the heart of our public discourse.

When racist propaganda can be unveiled to public acceptance, when the tabloid media use their platform to dehumanise and distort, when bigotry is wrapped in the flag and worn like a badge of honour, the atmosphere curdles and the darkest elements of our society are exposed.

The end result is a politics rooted in hatred and barbarism, an ideology that can snatch a mother from her children and call it ‘patriotism’.

It is a movement that finds its roots in the impotence and inadequacies of its adherents – a Swastika-ed comfort blanket for sordid little men unable to cope with the realities of the modern world. It is a howl of rage from the detritus of human progress.

The intensity of this politics of hatred is frightening to behold, a stark contrast to the moderation and understanding that still underpins our wider society.

It may seem at first glance to uphold Yeats’ observation: ‘The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity’.

But if the remarkable outpouring of love and solidarity in the wake of Jo’s murder has proved anything, it is that the politics of hate cannot and will not win.

In mistaking moderation for a lack of conviction, in mistaking love for weakness, the peddlers of racism and fear have underestimated the ties that bind our nation together.

The people who believed that these acts of terror would prove the catalyst for a race war in our country will find their ambitions thwarted, one more disappointment in a life defined by failure.

We are the many. The overwhelming majority of us will come together to stand even firmer against racism and injustice. We will honour the memory of those who gave their lives to improve the lives of others.

And we will celebrate our own good fortune – to have had the chance to have known a woman like Jo, and to have spent a moment in her light.

About the Author
Ruth Smeeth is the Labour Member of Parliament for Stoke-on-Trent North
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