It has been a miserable, disheartening and ugly few days. At the centre of this is a murdered woman and her grieving family and friends. Let’s not forget that. That trumps all. Allow me to acknowledge that. There is nothing more important. It has left me shocked, uneasy and unable to feel settled or focussed enough to write. It puts things in perspective.
When the news hit, and sunk in, that was what was truly saddening. The aftermath, however, has been truly shocking and appalling. Just when it appeared that political discourse in this country couldn’t get any more binary and degraded it stoops to new lows.
With a variety of conflicting accounts of the event being bandied around it was very difficult to get a clear idea of what actually happened, never mind why it happened. This didn’t stop the media rushing around with conflicting reports and attempting to shape a narrative. People look to the media for clarity but there was far too much speculation. Given that this was a murder and obviously a police matter soon to be in the courtroom one would expect a responsible media to calmly report on the established facts. Instead they added to the confusion and encouraged excitable speculation.
Before long we had the opinion writers rushing to their keyboard feeling compelled to publish their immediate reactions. With alarming speed many were quick to effectively declare all Brexit supporters guilty by association and making clear links between support for leaving the EU and racism, extremism and this appalling murder. The mantra “not all of those who will vote to leave are racist, but all racists will vote to leave” is now the remainers narrative designed to make one feel guilty for supporting Brexit. This really was despicably opportunistic.
Polly Toynbee was quick to capitalise by using the murder as a means of reaffirming her belief that a vote to leave is necessarily an expression of an insular and xenophobic mindset:
“…if the vote is out, then out goes that impression of what kind of country we are. Around the world we will be seen as the island that cut itself off as a result of anti-foreigner feeling: that will identify us globally more than any other attribute. “
“Rude, crude, Nazi-style extremism is mercifully rare. But the leavers have lifted several stones.”
I’m afraid this actively adds to the binary nature of our politics. Sneering at the views of ordinary people and pouring contempt on them can only aggravate them and contribute to the debasement of our political culture. People who have expressed concern about the rate of change and social strains caused by high levels of immigration, for example, have been dismissed as bigots for a long time. This, along with the cynical exploitation of their anxiety, has only led to anger and resentment.
Regarding the EU, I am of the view that it has taken away far too much policy making power and democratic accountability. I believe that removing power so far from the people that they feel unable to bring about change and are disconnected from their rulers is the death of democracy which will eventually cause a backlash. It hardly seems advisable to now begin portraying those who want to leave the EU as bigots who have indirectly caused a murder. But that’s what several columnists have done and social media has now exploded with this exact sentiment. It’s remarkable how people who probably think of themselves as tolerant, open minded and not the type to sweepingly tar everyone with one brush violate all of these traits at once.
It is simply not reasonable to leap on the murder of Jo Cox and use it as a way of framing the EU referendum decision. But since Friday I have been accused of indirectly endorsing the “far right” several times on Twitter because of my support for Brexit and have received abusive e-mails. These same people are decrying the elements of the media, Nigel Farage and extremist political movements for distorting the debate and whipping up hate. They are not wrong to criticise the unpleasant tone which debases the debate, but they need to take a look at themselves as they demonise people and help drag political discourse into the gutter.
Each time a Muslim individual commits a violent act as in Orlando, many rightly say that we mustn’t demonise all Muslims because of the actions of a minority. Why is it that some of the people who say this are now demonising everyone who supports Brexit? It is a total lack of self-awareness. In this country there is a minority of racists and xenophobes. And it is a minority despite how their zealotry on social media seems to amplify their voice and give the impression that they are far more numerous than they actually are. Just because they support Brexit in the extremely misguided belief that it will help them impose their rotten beliefs on the rest of us does not mean everyone who supports Brexit is racist, insular and intolerant. This should not need to be said.
I have been a frequent critic of regressive Euroscepticism and openly detest the rhetoric on immigration and have frequently argued strongly against those trying to turn this into a referendum on immigration, see here, here, here and here for posts dedicated to that message. I share the revulsion for racism and xenophobia and those who have sought to exploit it. I fear dangerous groups like Britain First and the English Defence League. Though I cannot abide the attempt to muddy the entire Leave movement by association with its extreme elements.
Not all Muslims are terrorists but there are a lot of terrorists who are muslims. Not all paedophiles are priests but a lot of priests have proven to be paedophiles. See where I’m going with this?
What a shame. What a crying shame. This should be a wide open debate about huge political issues, principles, beliefs and ideas. We should be capable of having a healthy nationwide, democratic debate. The fact that we are not is testament to how low we have sunk.
This post was originally published by the author 18 June 2016. https://thescepticisle.com/2016/06/18/can-our-rotten-and-binary-political-discourse-sink-any-lower-than-this/