This country stands on a precipice. The death of Jo Cox, a mother and a well-respected, politically engaged, Member of Parliament, was a shocking tragedy. That we have returned to an age when our elected public representatives are seen as legitimate targets for brutal attacks, should shake us all to our core. Yet as horrific as what happened on the 16th of June might have been, it is not some symbolic end to anything. Jo Cox’s death cannot be considered as our society having reached the bottom of the slippery slope. Instead, we collectively stand at the top of it, facing a choice of whether we pull back or slide down, and face whatever oblivion might be at the end.
In instances like this, there is always a window of time in which it is deemed inappropriate to make what is described as “political capital” out of the death of a public figure. Equally, there is a point in time when the opportunity to address something toxic in our society, that which led us to the tragedy in the first place, is lost. In our digital media age, where the white noise of talent shows and ninety minute patriots dominate our attentions, it is all to possible that the loss of Jo Cox will fade into memory, and the window which reveals the ‘why’ of her tragedy is closed to us. This cannot be allowed to happen. Put simply, the death of Jo Cox, is an indictment on our political leaders, our national press, and our collective nationwide disregard for the toxicity levels which we expose ourselves to. In short, we are all responsible for the death of Jo Cox.
Much will be made in the coming days regarding the motivations and mental state of Thomas Mair, the man apprehended for the fatal attack on Jo Cox. Some newspapers will come to focus on so far tenuous connections to the far-right and pro-apartheid groups (evidenced by a lapsed magazine subscription), while others will choose to emphasise the questionable mental state of the assailant. Editors from left and right publications will be spinning, as subtly as they can, narratives which aim to undermine the growth of the far-right in Britain today, or weaken any narrative which might allow for the Leave EU Referendum campaign to be tarnished through association. The scrabble to associate/disassociate will be messy, poorly disguised and merely contribute to the undercurrent of poison which flows through our media. It is they who can be held responsible.
Whether Thomas Mair is shown to be mentally insane, politically disinterested, politically motivated, or any of the above, it is impossible to ignore the wider cultural context in which this murder occurred. Mair, as with almost everyone in Britain today, could not have escaped one of the most brutal propaganda campaigns we have ever had to endure in British media history. Every day we receive narratives which demonise those most vulnerable and least responsible for societal ills. In turn, those narratives go on to demonise those who might stand by them. It used to be the case, indeed it almost became a British tradition, to hammer hard on a native white population claiming benefits. These were the scum of our society, bringing us all down. Today, in the wake of the noxious EU Referendum, it is migrants.
Migrants, we are told by a certain cabal of hate mongering publications, are responsible for the (apparent) weakness in our economy, the lack of jobs for good British people, NHS waiting times, an overcrowded prison population, the housing crisis, the rape and murder of British citizens, and, of course, terrorism. The list could easily go on. These bold claims are consistently and easily dismissed in most instances. The narrative that current migrations levels are critical to the sustainability of the British economy is well established and argued, yet this is not the theme which will find its way onto front pages. Instead, what appears on our front pages, are sensationalist narratives which place collective blame on all migrants, regardless of background, ethnicity or circumstance. Our national newspapers, throughout the referendum campaign, have been shown to consistently exaggerate and lie. The lies are picked up, and retractions forced upon the papers, yet those retractions and apologies appear buried away in the small print of the inner pages, hidden underneath the latest round of incendiary bile. It is a rare day in British media for a publication to run their front page with the headline “Sorry, we lied”.
While the narratives of fear are spun, regarding the terrible consequences for British society in the light of (so called) uncontrolled migration, those that might defend migration are portrayed as traitors. How could they not be? The London media is awash with warnings that British culture could be eroded within a matter of years, that the EU is about to disappear under a tsunami of economic migrants, while within their ranks come armies of terrorists set to launch attacks of insurmountable savagery on citizens – how could you not be a traitor if you try to defend these consequences?
Indirectly of course, this is what Jo Cox, and anyone defending the position of migrants within our society, was being accused of; Cox was a traitor. Her beliefs would, indirectly of course, lead to the destruction of British civilisation as we know it, the deaths of your grandparents in a broken NHS and an ISIS flag flying over Downing Street, or some such related provocative hyperbole. The EU is the enemy, migrants are the enemy, Cox was the enemy, or that at least is what certain publications have been allowed to portray.
In a cultural context where sensationalist exaggerations, and outright lies, dominate national headlines, it is inevitable that members of a general public which is unquestioning of its media, will be left angry and hostile. Muir existed in this context, in an environment where every single day, a new headline would proclaim the evils and threats of migrants. It is not just the “troubled” minds which would be led to wanting to proclaim “Britain first” in confrontation with Ministers, or members of the public, who might want to defend what is depicted as the demise of British society.
Of course, our political elite are perhaps no better. After all, the likes of Gove, Johnson, Farage, Grayling and IDS who have all taken a turn to tarnish the traveller. Much has been made of the Nazi inspired anti-migrant posters proliferated by Farage and his UKIP compatriots. Who knows if they really believe what they say and warn about migrants? What we do know is that each and every one of them stands to benefit from spinning such stories. The ethics and morals of the political hierarchy has been in question for decades, from sleaze to child abuse, from expenses scandals to illegal warfare, what difference does a little demonising of migrants make at this stage?
Yet politicians are politicians. They have goals to pursue and to achieve. Some may be more agreeable than others, but each has their own agenda, and that includes Cox. While these public figures are responsible for what they say and spin, they are still figures that we put there. Public representatives don’t get to represent the public without being put there by the public. In turn, they can be removed by said public. The same might be said of newspapers and television media. A right wing publication can slap whatever headline they might want on a morning edition, but we make the choice to pick it up or not. Again, we have the choice to scrutinise our media, to question the validity of the information they feed us. Given the volume of retractions forced during the Referendum campaign, certain newspapers should be treated with the same level of derision and scorn regarding the “truth” as our political leaders are, but that is not the case.
As a public, we should hold our politicians accountable for their actions. We should do the same of our media. In this regard, the general populace should be held to account as much as those who might create the narratives which we consume. But we should all be held to account in the context of what happened on the 16th of June. The insane outpouring of an individual’s hatred, is a by-product of all the agenda led campaigning and lie riddled media reporting. Through our consumption of the hostility of the EU Referendum campaign, we have facilitated the creation of a country where opinions contrary to the media majority are seen as those of the enemy.
Increasingly, the moderate, left of centre viewpoints which says “hold on, these migrants really aren’t that bad”, will be identified as those of the traitor. In such circumstances, two paths present themselves. Down one route is the voice of silence, where the moderates fear the reaction to their opinion, and say nothing. The other path is one of expression and freedom of speech, coupled with hostile, perhaps violent responses, designed to suppress the alternative perspective. This is the slippery slope.
The death of Jo Cox is a true tragedy. In the history of British political assassinations, it is hard to think of an individual more popular, well liked and simply unlikely to be the victim of such an attack. Yet at the bottom of the slippery slope is a British Isles where the likeable, and moderate are the enemy. It is their views which will be seen as the danger to Britain. It is their views which will be silenced. As much as the right wing national media, and irresponsible and reckless political elite are to blame, so too is it the collective responsibility of the British public. We have accepted a climate of hate and fear, tolerated narratives which make enemies out of those least capable of hurting us. Every time we consume a sensationalist headline, or nod in quiet agreement when the likes of Farage finger point the migrant as being to blame, we accept a reality in which our Members of Parliament in turn, become the enemy. How long after that, do we become the enemy? How long until our opinions, against the establishment, are portrayed as traitorous? This dangerous reality does not have to happen, but our acceptance and tolerance of the path which we, as a nation, now walk, could lead us to it. We are not at the bottom of the slippery slope, but were we to ever get there, our rights and freedoms to ever complain about what we find there, will long since have gone.