I confess I had taken little note of Jo Cox before this frightful tragedy. That feels a great loss. The more I have seen of her in videos and in print, the more she inspires me to make the effort to be a better person.
The loss to her family is immense. The very least we can do is to respect their enormous humanity, their pleas for removing hate from debate, and to work for a better, more socially just world, Britain and Europe. We have all lost someone who might well have grown to become one of our best prime ministers.
Rod Liddle, writing in The Spectator, has called for the EU referendum to be called off. The public petition to do so is likely to exceed 100,000 soon. I do not see that as the right course and I doubt that it is likely. Nothing I have read suggests she, or her family, would be in favour. We are too far in.
There is a greater danger that this horrific and tragic event will reduce turnout. A far better tribute would be for each one of us to turn out and vote. To show that we care for democracy as much as she did. Of course the assassin must not be allowed to win. Equally the assassination must not become too great a focus. Whether by a single loner or backed by connections with a group.
We must show that we are committed to making democracy work. Not perfect – better. Both this referendum and the independence referendum have been cast, to my mind, with far too many utopian and dystopian views. Dystopian views of current arrangements and utopian views of future possibilities. Reality is much more hard work than that.
Jo Cox, with global insights into poverty, warfare and politics, took far more realistic views from what I have read. Moreover her local focus seems very much to have been the commonality of what we share together, across race and culture and religion and concern. I hesitate to write it (but I will): I was intrigued by her apparently rather bleak social experience at Cambridge. She is quoted as saying that her interest in politics was slight until that experience when it became clear that who you knew, where you came from, what accent you had and what school you had gone to made great differences. Jeanette Winterson makes similar statements. Might Jo Cox have become the politician who made us face up to the class divides that still plague the UK, not least in Scotland?
Are those class divides relevant in these debates about the EU? Yes, I think they are.
Our democratic decision on Thursday is vital. The decision on Scotland’s independence referendum was very important. This one, I believe, even more so. And it carries greater dangers. I did not support the case for independence but I could see that it was coherent, if wrong, and I would have lived with it without fear.
Globally, and across Europe, we live in times of such dislocation and diasporas that the dangers are much greater. Travel has been revolutionised and will be more so in the future. Overseas (that quaint British term for the rest of the world) is on our doorstep. It is full of opportunities. And full of dangers. To seize the opportunities we must face the dangers, I believe, together with the other nations in the EU. We need frankly to abandon the island mentality.
Some months ago, the brochure for the Folio Academy for this past weekend’s annual seminar sessions at the British Library included the statement: 'Fear is, arguably, the dominant narrative register of our age. We encounter it every day in the news, in increasingly bellicose political rhetoric and, all too often, in our own lives'. Many of our best writers and journalists agreed these words at that time, presciently. We have the capacity, across Britain, to look fear in the eye. Make no excuses for ourselves or others. Build realistic alliances and sustain them. And move forward from fear. Not to a utopia but to realistic, often demanding, engagement.
NATO is the strategic military alliance and it would seem nonsense to invent an EU army, or much likelihood of one. To my mind it is the EU that has created decades of peace in Europe. I value that most highly. Above GDP. For me, my children and grandchildren. I think it highly dangerous to take that continuing peace for granted without positive engagement with other nations in Europe. The future depends hugely on how information is exchanged. Leaving the EU will make that much more difficult and those problems will simply increase over the next decade.
War is not prevented by military alliances. It is prevented by economic and social exchanges, engagements and institutions. Where these are faulty, and all always are, we should work to improve them. Not abandon them.
The rich in Britain, especially those with entrenched wealth, might gain over the long-term from the UK leaving the EU for they could withstand the shocks without too much discomfort. Pain today with jam tomorrow is utopian and only a few, if any, gain from such processes. Some corporates might gain but this is not a matter for them. Many are clear they will not. Rightly none of them get a vote.
Jo Cox had a global sense of social justice with a remarkable ability to adjust her focus from wide-angle, describing Syria as the task of our times, to local detail combined with the capacity to look anyone and everyone in the eye and let them feel themselves valued as the focus, a quality she shared with political greats such as Clinton.
On Friday let each one of us be able to look in the mirror and say, whatever way we vote: 'I voted. I believe in democracy not intimidation'.