How to think about Jo Cox?
In the wake of the tragic and senseless murder of Jo Cox, both Leave and Remain campaigns have suspended their campaigns.
This seems right and proper.
In a few hours time, however, campaigning will resume. Is there a way in which the remarkable and hideously short life of Jo Cox can inspire a reconfiguration of the debate? Is there a way in which her very real qualities can inform a more humane and less toxic conversation?
The unhappy and hateful lunatic who shouted “Britain First” as he murdered an elected MP may have had nothing to do with the organisation bearing that name – an organisation that (vile as it is) has already disavowed him. He may well be the quintessential lone nut – unaffiliated with anything beyond the paranoid and suffocating fantasies of his tiny mind. But he clearly believed in a vicious and selfish concept called “Britain” that Jo Cox had somehow betrayed.
Jo Cox did not believe in “Britain First” as any kind of slogan. She was an internationalist, with a proud record working with Oxfam and a particular devotion to the cause of the Syrian people. She worked hard during her year in parliament to try to find concrete solutions that would save the lives of others. Her vision of Britain was not one that always put narrowly conceived “British interests” first. Her vision of Britain was of a nation that gave as well as took, a Britain that was part of something larger than itself.
The EU referendum campaign, as it resumes would do well to engage something of this spirit. Both sides have a responsibility to do this.
The Leavers have a responsibility to show how a Britain outside the EU could contribute better to an international community. How can such a Britain (or England – should Scotland and Wales secede) do better in terms of contributing to the peace and prosperity of the world? What would the new generosity look like?
The Remainers have a responsibility to show how Britain can contribute more, not less to Europe and the wider world – to talk about how British involvement can make the EU a force for good in the world.
Both Leavers and Remainers need to talk about the global environment and make a positive case for tackling climate change – inside or outside Europe.
The example of Jo Cox should remind us that it is morally impossible to take pride in a nation that only ever puts its own interest first. “Britain First” is a loathsome slogan -because narrow minded selfishness is no basis for any version of self worth. If your vision of Britain is one in which British interests always come first then your Britain is disgusting and wrong. Such a Britain is too nasty to exist for very long though it will last for longer than it deserves to.