The best and worst of Britain


(c) BBC

(c) The Guardian


I suspect every British person with access to the Internet is currently typing out and posting their tuppence-worth about the murder of Jo Cox, the Labour Party MP for Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire and a pro-European politician with a track record in helping refugees and victims of oppression.  I’m not in the UK at the moment, but I still have a British passport and I have access to the Internet.  So here’s my tuppence-worth.


I’m suspicious when people talk about cause and effect.  Events definitely have reasons and actions definitely have consequences, but to my mind the patterns of causes that contribute to something happening and the patterns of effects that emanate from it happening are too complex to be fully understood.  It’s more complicated than the model of a row of dominoes simply knocking each other down, which seems to be the common assumption when folk engage in discussions, debates and arguments.  A didn’t just cause B, thanks to which C happened.  More likely, A-L caused M, thanks to which N-Z happened.


More importantly, I’m wary of the concept of cause and effect because if you treat actions only in terms of their consequences, you rob those actions of their own intrinsic worth.


So I’m not going to say that Cox’s murder, at the hands of a man with a history of mental illness and links to at least one white supremacist organisation, was the result of anything in particular.  Not even the result of the belligerent, poisonous atmosphere that’s been evident in Britain recently as campaigning has heated and attitudes have hardened in the lead-up to the referendum on June 23rd about whether or not Britain should remain in the European Union.  Not even the result of the anti-immigrant, anti-foreigner rhetoric that’s been amped up by the ‘Leave’ side, particularly by Nigel Farage’s United Kingdom Independence Party, who shortly before Cox’s murder unveiled a new campaign poster bearing the words BREAKING POINT and a picture of a long, dense crowd of refugees receding into the distance.


No, I’m not going to argue that Cox’s murder was the result of anything done by Farage and his anti-EU allies, despite the fact that I regard Farage as a ratbag opportunist of the highest order – forever peddling the shtick that he’s a man of the people and a crusader against the political, financial and business elites who’ve deprived ordinary citizens of power over their own lives, when in fact he’s a former public schoolboy (Dulwich College, alma mater of P.G. Wodehouse, Michael Powell, C.S. Forester and Dennis Wheatley) and a former commodity broker who’s worked for Drexel Burnham Lambert, Credit Lyonnais Rouse, Refco and Natexis Metals.  (In this respect he’s no better than that other populist denouncer of the ruling elite, Donald Trump, who’s so un-elite that he was worth $200,000 – the equivalent of about a million dollars today – when he graduated from college in 1968.)


That said, I don’t feel much sympathy for right-wing pro-leave commentators like James Delingpole, who’s been whinging about ‘journalists, PR men and politicians’ linking Cox’s murder with the alarmist tone of the Leave campaign.  “(D)o you genuinely, sincerely believe,” he lamented on, “that Thomas Mair, the suspected gunman who killed Jo Cox, is representative of the 50 percent or more of British people who believe that our country would be a better, freer, more prosperous, secure and democratically accountable place outside the EU?”  In fact, I feel no sympathy at all for Delingpole while he fulminates about his cause being framed within an unflattering narrative that he doesn’t like; because if there’s one thing that Delingpole and his chums in Britain’s mainly right-wing press are very good at doing, it’s taking causes they don’t like and framing them within unflattering narratives.


Hence, those people campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum were portrayed in Britain’s right-wing tabloids as extremists who said beastly things to J.K. Rowling on Twitter and flung eggs at Labour MP Jim Murphy.  The Murphy egg-chucking incident was reported with such horror that you’d have thought Scotland was about to undergo its own version of Kristallnacht; though in retrospect and after events on June 16th it seems pretty mild.  Sure, the ‘yes’ side had a few nutters on its fringes but so did the ‘no side’.  However, the newspapers ignored abuse and death-threats against leading lights on the independence side like Alex Salmond, Nicola Sturgeon and Jim Sillars because they didn’t fit the desired narrative.


And I have no doubt that we’d be getting a major narrative rammed down our throats at the moment if on June 16th a mentally unstable Muslim man had shouted “ISIS!” and attacked and killed someone campaigning for a ‘leave’ vote.  Intriguingly, despite Thomas Mair name-checking a far-right organisation during the attack – he shouted “Britain First” while stabbing and shooting Cox to death – Britain’s newspapers have refrained from calling it a ‘terrorist’ incident and have emphasised the man’s psychiatric problems.  You’re allowed to do that under the British press rulebook if the perpetrator of an atrocity is a white bloke.


Instead, I’ll just ask you to make a comparison.  On the morning of June 16th, Farage launched his new BREAKING POINT campaign poster.  The people depicted in it, standing in their hundreds, extending back into the distance, are actually refugees who’ve fled the civil war in Syria and ended up in Croatia, which, it’s fair to say, isn’t that close to Britain.  I assume those refugees are frightened and traumatised by the experiences they’ve been through, but UKIP’s message is clear.  “These are scary people and they’re coming your way!  Be afraid, Britain, very afraid!  Vote to leave the EU or prepare to die!”  At least one child is visible in the picture, near the front of the queue and on the right.  And as people who’ve studied the original picture have pointed out, there’s actually a white guy at the very front.  But UKIP stuck a panel with the message “Leave the European Union on June 23rd” on the poster to hide his face, presumably because it wasn’t chillingly brown enough.




It has also been pointed out that Farage’s poster bears an uncanny resemblance to a clip of old Nazi propaganda that rants about undesirables flooding “Europe’s cities after the last war… parasites, undermining their host countries.”  That’s the Nazis, you know.  Adolf Hitler, World War II and all that.  Didn’t we British fight against those Nazis, and their fascism and hatred of the other?  In doing so, didn’t we achieve our ‘finest hour’, to quote Winston Churchill, whom I understand is a bit of a hero in Nigel Farage’s house?


Compare the BREAKING POINT poster with the career of Jo Cox.  For seven years she was employed with the aid group Oxfam and her involvement in its humanitarian campaigns led to her working with oppressed people in Sudan and Afghanistan.  She was also an advisor to the anti-slavery charity, the Freedom Fund.  After she became an MP, she campaigned for the creation of civilian safe havens within Syria and she chaired the All Parties Friends of Syria group.  During her maiden speech in the House of Commons, she praised her constituents in Yorkshire, of all races and creeds, saying: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.”


So which of the two – that UKIP poster or the life of Jo Cox – do you think represents the best of Britain and which represents the worst?  And if you have to stop and think about that question…  Well, I can only say that I hope you and Nigel are very happy together.