The murder of Jo Cox is, above all, a personal tragedy affecting the lives of her family, friends and colleagues. They have paid moving tributes to her personal qualities, her achievements as a charity worker and the strength of her political commitments. But, beyond the immediate impact of the terrible circumstances of her death, there are wider issues which should cause us all to reflect. What does it tell us about contemporary Britain?
The implications extend far beyond such matters as the security of MPs or the unpredictable behaviour of some people with mental health problems. They involve the responsibility of those, in politics and the media, who are willing to exploit ignorance and fear to promote particular agendas. Shallow sound-bites and cheap slogans have become the stock-in-trade of much public discourse. Instead of serious analysis of complex and difficult issues, many commentators have employed the language of propaganda. Who knows what effect this has had on the angry, the unstable and the marginalised?
Those who knew Jo Cox well have described her as a woman of principle and courage, who was prepared to argue passionately for causes that are often portrayed negatively in the tabloid press, most notably the need to offer help to migrants fleeing from desperate situations in their own countries. She was also a hard-working constituency MP, giving time and support to local people and taking up their cases with government departments.
The question we should be asking is how can we best honour her memory. Her husband Brendan has urged us all to fight against the hatred that killed her. That hatred is expressed in many forms: in vile posts on social media; in casual expressions of prejudice which promote social division; and in political groups that mask a sinister intention behind their populist rhetoric.
Jo Cox’s sad death serves to alert us to the fact that democracy cannot be taken for granted: it has to be defended and those who wish to destroy it have to be exposed and challenged. That wake-up call should be an important part of her legacy.
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