Friday, 17 June 2016

One Of The Best Of Us

I am sorry to say that, until yesterday, I had not heard of the murdered MP Jo Cox. I have no doubt that, given time, I would have done.

It is desperately, desperately sad that her obituary has been written when she was so young. It makes clear what a great loss she is to us all. She was a tireless campaigner for those less fortunate than herself, working for charities including Oxfam, Save the Children, and the NSPCC before she became an MP. The Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell, a man with whom at first glance she had little in common, has written a great tribute to her energy, compassion and friendship. She represented the Britain that I love, a kind, generous and outward-looking country.

Cox was killed doing her job as an MP. The attack on her was an attack on our democracy as well. The count at yesterday's by-election in Tooting, held to fill the parliamentary seat of new London mayor Sadiq Khan, observed two minutes of silence in her memory.

She leaves behind a husband and two young children. If something similar happened to my wife, I cannot imagine what it would be like, or if I would be able to say anything at all. I can only commend the courage and eloquence of her husband Brendan, who issued a deeply moving statement about Jo's death.

I am glad that Tommy Mair, the man who attacked her, was taken alive. Being shot down by the police would be too easy for him. He needs to stand in a courtroom, see the grieving family of the woman he killed, and have a long time in a prison cell to reflect on what he did.

Mair's motives are not yet clear, but eyewitnesses say that he shouted "Britain first" as he shot and stabbed Jo Cox.

If Mair indeed had far-right political motives, then those politicians who have encouraged bigotry and hatred bear a heavy responsibility. I am thinking in particular of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who has shown his bigotry time and again, openly speculated about anti-immigration violence, and yesterday unveiled a shockingly racist poster which said immigrants are bringing the UK to a breaking point. Yes, it appears Mair has severe mental health problems. But as Alex Massie observes in a powerful article, politicians cannot talk about breaking points and then act surprised when someone takes them seriously, and reaches a breaking point of his own.

We will have time to puzzle and argue over Mair's motives. Today is a day to grieve for Jo Cox. She was one of the best of us.

Jo Cox, 1974-2016

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