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Friday, June 17, 2016 

We want our country back.

Like I suspect a lot of people, I've spent more than a few minutes over the past 24 hours on the verge of tears.  Seeing Jeremy Corbyn, himself on the brink of tears, speaking of how Jo Cox fought for human rights, justice and peace, and died doing her duty.  Reading the heartbreaking tribute from her husband Brendan, of how she would have wanted her children to be bathed with love, and for the hatred that killed her, that has no race, colour or creed, to be united against.  Watching Stella Creasy, numb with grief over her friend, talk of how she and so many other MPs didn't know how to go on without her.  Thinking of how, despite everything, I never expected an act of such cruelty, targeted against our democracy but aimed at a 5-foot female representative of that democracy, would be perpetrated by the far-right.

Because let's cut the crap straight away.  Yesterday was a day to be overwhelmed, shocked, and to mourn a 41-year-old killed in an act of horrifying violence.  Today everyone should face up to the fact that while it may well have been a murder committed by a "'crazed loner", it doesn't alter how it was also a political assassination.  If Jo's murderer had had brown skin and according to two separate, named eyewitnesses shouted "Allahu akbar", there would have been no hesitation in describing it as a terrorist attack by a jihadist, whether that began to explain what had happened or not.  The knife attack in Leytonstone tube station last December was almost immediately described as a terrorist incident, and it took the Metropolitan police until the end of the trial for them to accept Muhiddin Mire was in fact severely mentally ill, influenced by Syria or not.

What we have already learned about Tommy Mair is enough to say this is something different.  The discovery by the Southern Poverty Law Centre that he spent over $600 on literature from the National Alliance, the neo-Nazi group that published the notorious Turner Diaries, a tract that has motivated numerous far-right individuals into violent action, as well as his subscription to the SA Patriot's newsletter, dating back to the late 90s/early 2000s, suggests a long incubating interest in contemporary fascism.  As Phil has noted on Twitter, the blog post by the SA Patriots asking if anyone knows if Tommy Mair has moved tells us something else: that in 2006 he was sending their newsletters back to them, as his address had not changed.  Allied with the local news coverage of his volunteering, it wouldn't be entirely presumptive to conclude that for a substantial period of time he was in a far happier mental state than he had been previously.

We cannot of course know what changed to prompt him to kill his local MP.  As argued at the time of the Leytonstone stabbing, just because someone shouts something as they do something does not immediately equate to causation.  Something dramatic may well have happened in their personal life, rather than something in the political world.  He could well have shouted Britain First as a justification to himself; equally, his mental health may well have deteriorated to the point where he is not responsible for his actions.

It does though seem more than a coincidence that Mair decided to murder Jo Cox just a week before a referendum on whether to stay in or leave Europe that has been dominated by immigration, where facts have almost always come secondary to fiction.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered one of the few MPs who dared to praise immigration as being overwhelmingly positive.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered an MP at the very centre of the campaign to accept more refugees from Syria.  It seems more than a coincidence that he murdered an MP in favour of remaining during a campaign where some advocating a Leave vote have done so under slogans about "wanting our country back", saying the only way to "save Britain" is to vote out, where newspapers have run headlines about "putting Britain first".  It seems more than a coincidence that Britain First is a fascist group which recently held an event in the Welsh mountains that if conducted by Muslims would have been described as a terrorist training camp, which last year made clear how it felt "traitors", i.e. anyone to the left of them, should be treated.  It probably is just a coincidence Nigel Farage yesterday launched a poster that actively echoed Nazi propaganda, and has spent the entire referendum campaign seeing exactly how far he can push his rhetoric, to the point where he said the next step if people feeling voting doesn't change anything was likely to be violence.

I am not blaming any of these people, groups or things for Jo Cox's murder.  The only person responsible is the man who wielded the knife and gun, who may or may not be Thomas Mair, and who is innocent until proven guilty.

What has been happening these past few months though has been a campaign of almost unprecendented nastiness, involving former and current prime ministers, chancellors and other senior figures having no compunction in describing independent figures as lying, as being bought by banks or other organisations, who in some circumstances have gone so far as to issue threats.  It has involved newspapers day after day running front pages stoking fears about immigrants, claiming in the face of all evidence that Turkey is set to join the EU, bringing a new wave of brown people to these shores.  Just yesterday the Mail ran a front page claiming that asylum seekers found in a van had asked to be "let in", saying they "were from Europe", which today they accepted was untrue.  It has involved the further coddling of people whose views are always just one step away from being completely beyond the pale.  It has not been a campaign of dog-whistling; it has been a campaign that has been defined by completely open expressions of disgust, contempt and at times, hate.

This low has not just been the responsibility of some politicians and some sections of the media, much as they should take a good, hard look at themselves this weekend.  It's also the responsibility of us, the public.  For far too long many of us have been quiet when we've heard people without the slightest real interest in politics denounce all our representatives as liars, as being all the same, as only being in for it for themselves.  We haven't spoken up to say that in the vast majority of cases it couldn't be further than the truth, to defend those who have always been different, who have always offered an alternative.  It might not be an alternative we agree with, but an alternative it is.

I will always reserve the right to be ferociously critical of politicians, and God knows there are reasons to be so.  What I have tried to do over the past couple of years however is to reject this anti-politics as a whole mood, to argue that it is far more damaging as a cure than the disease itself.  Whether that's come across or been successful I don't know, but I do know that we have a press which finds it overwhelmingly in their interests to regard many of our politicians as crooks, liars and in some cases closet communists, while ignoring or apologising for the the rise of the current wave of populists.

So let's reclaim their slogan.  We want our country back.  I want my country back.  I want the country that I know, that has been vastly improved in almost every way, not just by the post-Windrush wave of immigration, but the immigration of post-2005.  There are problems, but they are solvable.  I want the Britain I know, the Britain of tolerance, of live and let live, to once again be heard.  I want everyone to know, not just here but across Europe and the world that we are not the country this referendum campaign has suggested we are.  Because we're not.  We're so much better than this.  And I deeply hope when I come back the Tuesday after next this will have been proved beyond doubt.

Rest in peace Jo.

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