One Day Without Us

Being a writer isn’t always the most dramatic kind of life.  Unless you’re out researching in the field, most of the drama takes place inside your head, and most of your day is spent looking at a computer.  This is pretty much how it was for me until the last day of the Tory party conference in Birmingham.  It would be something of an understatement to say that I had’t really enjoyed the proceedings.  Most of the time I tried to ignore them, but this became increasingly difficult, as politician after politician stepped forward with a series of jaw-droppingly spiteful policies that really made my skin crawl. .

Foreign doctors? No thanks. Foreign students? Get rid.  Name and shame employers who employ foreign workers – even though employer after employer insists that the British economy needs foreign workers?  Bring it on.  Depict people who call themselves ‘citizens of the world’ as unpatriotic and rootless outsiders?  Icing on the cake.

In a famous essay on the origins of World War I, Freud once argued that barbarism is kept in check by a certain set of moral standards that society establishes to control its worst instincts.  Individuals might feel certain destructive impulses, he suggested, but most people won’t give into them because they don’t want to be censured or criticized by the community they belong to.

This risk of censure, he insisted, is precisely what holds a civilised society together.  But these standards can also change – in wartime for example –  and then primitive and destructive instincts  that have previously been kept in check can explode into the open and create a new normality.

Here in the UK, Brexit has shattered many of the standards that many of us previously thought were taken for granted.  It wasn’t that people didn’t rip the hijabs off Muslim women in the street or screech at foreigners to speak English before the referendum – they did. But since the referendum large numbers of people – larger than we are prepared to admit – now feel entitled to do these things.  They now think it’s ok to tell foreign doctors that they only want a British doctor, to rant at strangers to go home, and recycle old racist taunts that many people had not heard since the 70s.

Rather than combat these tendencies, the cascade of xenophobic proposals oozing out of Birmingham seemed explicitly designed to pander to them.   This was not dog-whistle politics.  It was out-in-the open nastiness, a post-referendum nativist walpurgisnacht in which it was painfully and shockingly clear that the government is now prepared to pander to the worst instincts in the British population in order to manage the UK’s exit from the European Union.

In normal circumstances I might have expressed these opinions in a blog or ranted at the tv, but this time I did something different.  I wrote a brief Facebook post in which I asked what people thought of the idea of staging a mass day of action on the lines of the 2006 ‘One Day Without Immigrants’ protest in the US and a similar protest in Italy in 2010.  The essential idea of both protests was a 24-hour boycott, by immigrants and their supporters.

Some downed tools.  Some closed their restaurants and businesses.  Others took their kids out of school and didn’t spend money or go shopping.  The two protests took place in very different contexts, but their aims were broadly similar – to demonstrate the contribution that immigrants made in societies that were increasingly hostile to their presence, and which often marginalized or ignored their contributions.

It seemed to me that this would be a good idea right now,  at a time when similar sentiments were running rampant in the Uk both on the street and also at the political level. Within a few hours of my post, it became clear that many people felt the same way.  The post went quickly viral, and within a few days a group was formed with over two thousand members, and a broader discussion about the protest was unfolding across the Internet.

By the following Monday, One Day Without Us was firmly established.   It had a date – February 20 next year – and the nucleus of an organization.  It was receiving offers of help from individuals and organizations across the country, from a range of nationalities and political persuasions.  It had become the subject of national and international media attention.   By the end of the week at least fifteen groups were formed or in the process of forming in various towns and cities.

The idea of a mass protest has clearly caught a wider mood of indignation, despair and concern, following the national tragedy that has unfolded as a result of the referendum campaign.  Today some three million EU nationals, many of whom have lived here for decades and thought this country was their home, are now undergoing the painful experience of being described as ‘migrants’ – a word that has acquired almost entirely negative connotations in British vocabulary through decades of tabloid usage.   Some have already begun the extraordinarily convoluted process of applying to become naturalised British citizens. Others are preparing to abandon the country they thought was their home.

Many feel insecure and even despairing about their legal status and vulnerable in the face of the increasingly vicious mood of the British public, and a post-Brexit racism that makes no distinctions between EU national, between ‘migrant’ and ‘immigrant’, and which doesn’t care if you come from Poland or Pakistan.  Whether the xenophobes and racists see difference in skin colour, your language, your nationality or your religion – they have only one message for foreigners and people who look like foreigners – get out.  This is what happened in a London street only two days, when a gang of racists chased a young Portuguese woman down the street and told her to get back to ‘whatever hellhole you came from.’

Millions of British-born citizens – both Leavers and Remainers – are appalled and shamed by the alarming transformation of Brexit Britain into a xenophobic dystopia.   And that is why this emerging movement has taken off.  Its members all share the same common goals.  We want to remind the British public and politicians that immigrants have a past, a present and a future in this country, and celebrate that presence.

We don’t want to do this with a march.  These are extraordinary times, and we wanted to do something extraordinary to get our message out there.  Everybody involved in this project  is conscious that more dramatic, wide-ranging and inclusive was required than a single march or mass rally.  We wanted something entirely different; a peaceful mass protest, unfolding simultaneously in towns, cities, communities and workplaces across the country.  We wanted a demonstration of solidarity and unity that no one will be able to ignore, which might help burst the poisonous bubble that Brexit has created.

We know that some opinions will never be changed, but we also know that there are millions of people who are shocked and disturbed by the divisive and dangerous politics that are leading us all to disaster, and we urge them to join us on February 20 and make make One Day Without Us a day to remember.

 

 

 

Óscar Martínez: A History of Violence

Many years ago, in 1993 I visited the bombed out ruins of the town of Aguacayo,  the former ‘capital’ of the FMLN-held liberated zone in Guazapa Province during much of  El Salvador’s 12-year civil war.  It was just only one year after the guerrillas had disarmed in  the town  as a result of the implementation of the Chapultepec Peace Accords that brought the war to an end.  Even in peacetime, El Salvador was a rough place.   The country was plagued with criminal violence and awash with weaponry left over from the war, some of which were used to rob banks in commando-style raids.   There were bands of former guerrillas and members of the armed forces operating in parts of rural El Salvador.

The National Guard, the Treasury Police and the government-sponsored death squads were gone, and the army had been put on a leash, but violent death was still alarmingly common.  As I was walking through the countrysdie towards Aguacayo, I met a campesino who told me that a schoolteacher had just been shot on the same path a few days beforehand.  When I asked him why, he simply replied ‘porque sí’ – for the hell of it.

There were a lot of people being killed ‘porque sí’ in post-war El Salvador, and their numbers have continued to soar in the ensuing years.  Today an average of twenty-three people are murdered in El Salvador every day – 80 out of every 100,000 inhabitants in a tiny country with a population of 6.34 million.  Much of this staggering epidemic of violence is due to the prevalence of El Salvador’s huge gangs, such as the Mara Salvatrucha, Barrio 18 and Mirada Lokotes 13, some of which were established in the United States during the war.

The interventions of Mexican drug gangs like Los Zetas, has added to the lethal mix, generating levels of violence and insecurity that make Europe’s ongoing terrorist emergency seem like a sideshow by comparison.  A similar cocktail of poverty, institutionalised corruption, gangs or ‘maras’ and the savage ‘primitive accumulation’ of the narcotrafficantes has ravaged other Central American countries, particularly Guatemala and Honduras.  These are societies supposedly at peace, with a per capita murder rate that blurs the distinctions between peace and war.

No one has described Central America’s tragic predicament more eloquently than the brilliant young Salvadoran journalist Óscar Martínez.   A contributor to the El Faro website, Martínez is a gifted storyteller and a remarkably courageous and intrepid investigative reporter.  His first book The Beast (Verso 2013) was a blistering masterpiece of investigative journalism which chronicled the desperate journeys undertaken by Central American migrants to reach the United States, using the Mexican train that migrants rightly call ‘ La Bestia‘ – the beast.

To tell the stories of these men and women, Martínez rode the trains with them, and walked with them through remote country backroads where migrants are routinely raped and murdered.  He visited country brothels and migrant safe houses and spoke to trafficked women and former migrant slaves.  Martínez described this bleak and terrifying world with skill, grace and humanity.

Now he has brought his formidable talents to bear in a new book which looks at the societies these migrants have tried to escape from.   A History of Violence:  Living and Dying in Central America (Verso 2016) is not an easy or comfortable book to read, and it is not intended to be give comfort.   With his customary forensic rigor, Martínez shines a light on the ongoing calamity unfolding in the region the United States likes to think of as its ‘backyard.’

Martínez ignores nothing and noone.  He speaks to bent and decent cops, to lawyers and soldiers, to narcos, gangsters and contract killers, to male and female gang members, to migrants and the  ‘coyotes’ or guides who help them reach their destinations.  He visits El Salvador’s brutal dystopian prisons, narcotowns in Guatemala’s remote Petén jungle, and the scenes of crimes and massacres.

None of this is macho danger zone posturing.  It is not intended to be salacious, sensational or entertaining.    Martínez has not gone to these places to brag or talk about himself, but to tell the stories of the men and women he meets.   His writing reminds me of Jason Stearns’s superb account of the wars in the Congo Dancing in the Glory of Monsters, in its ability to connect even the most horrendous individual stories with the wider political and socioeconomic context that makes them possible, and even logical.

This doesn’t mean that Martínez is a detached observer.   In his introduction he asks the question ‘ What can I propose to bring an end to these terrifying stories? ‘ before answering that ‘ Journalism only has one method of boring into reality, and it is the same method that the sea uses against the coast: the constant lapping of the waves, whether they are gentle or turbulent.’

Martínez suggests that his readers are an essential part of this process:

‘My proposal is that you know what is going on.  Because I believe that knowing, especially with people like yours, who know how to wield politics, is the beginning of a solution.   I believe, sticking with the metaphor of the sea and the rock, that knowing is what moves the waves.  You can be the waves. ‘

And to North American readers in particular, he has this reminder:

This book isn’t about Martians.  It doesn’t chronicle the tragic life stories of distant, faraway people living in the wilderness, without the Internet, eating nothing but millet.  It doesn’t discuss people you will never see up close or see only on the television.  This book is about the lives of people who cut your lawn and serve you coffee every morning.  It tells the stories of the people who cut your lawn and fix your plumbing.  These lives are very similar to the lives of about 6 million people living in your midst.  It tells the story of the more than 1,000 human beings who every day leave the three northern Central American countries to try to enter, without permission, the United States and other countries of the North.’

Last but not least, Martínez points out that ‘the broken puppet that we are as a region was mostly armed by American politicians’.  As a consequence:

‘ Our society is a cauldron of oppressive military governance, the result of a failed peace process.  We’re living with government corruption and incompetent politicians.  We are living with violence, with death always close at hand: in a traffic accident, a soccer brawl, or in defense of our families.  We are ignorant of peace.  We haven’t had the chance to get to know it.’

No one who reads this terrifying book can remain ignorant of these consequences, and the conclusions that Martínez has drawn from it are not only relevant to Central America.   Martínez takes as an epigraph a quotation from the martyrd Archbishop Óscar Romero, that ‘ Violence will keep changing in name, but violence will always remain as long as there’s no change at the root, from where all these horrible things are sprouting.’

That observation applies to many parts of the world, and the search for solutions begins with a willingness to acknowledge the kind of world we have, rather than the one we think we have.   All of which is one more reason to read this tragic but essential book from one of the most courageous and brilliant reporters working in the world today.

Freaky Friday

In  the Jamie Lee Curtis comedy Freaky Friday, a mother and teenage daughter wake up to find themselves trapped in each other’s bodies as a result of a magic spell.  Yesterday I underwent a similar but even more disturbing transformation.   On Thursday night I dreamt that Remain had won the referendum.  Early on Friday morning I woke up to find Nigel Farage crowing about ‘Independence Day’ and celebrating a victory for the ‘real, decent people.’

Over the next twenty-four hours, along with millions of my unreal and indecent fellow-citizens, I found myself trapped in a country that I didn’t want to be in, facing a horrible future that I couldn’t escape from.

No one can say the country was in good shape before Brexit.  Large swathes of the population were clearly not doing well.   Food banks; zero hours contracts; worsening labour conditions; wage stagnation; cuts and atrophied public services; pressure on schools and GPs surgeries; high rents; social cleansing’ gross social and regional inequality; a lack of affordable housing; a succession of paedophile scandals involving high-level institutional collusion; and the near-collapse of the British steel industry – it wasn’t Shangri-la and it wasn’t Jerusalem.

At the same time, the country wasn’t exactly hell on earth. .It wasn’t in recession. Unemployment was at a 10-year low (even if that outcome was partly due to a rise in part-time work and austerity-induced precarity).   Our much-loathed immigrants came here to work, not in order to drain the nation’s bodily fluids,  and they did so because there was work available.   Contrary to what many of us have been told, their presence, according to a 2014 UCL, was good for us, providing a net gain of £20 billion to the country’s public finances. Northern Ireland was not at war with the British government or with itself, partly because of the money provided to the region through the EU Programme for Peace and Reconciliation and other structural funds. .

As a result of Thursday’s decision, none of that can be taken for granted.   We now face the possibility of  a national and possibly international recession, at a time when the global economy has barely recovered from the last one.  We are likely to witness the breakup and collapse of the United Kingdom; the secession of Scotland; the disintegration of the European Union on terms set entirely by the far-right.   We might also see the collapse the Irish Peace Process and the Belfast Agreement, as EU funds disappear and the reappearance of Ireland’s neutral border reopens sectarian divisions that have been held in abeyance for nearly two decades.

After decades of painstaking agreements and negotiations that have made it possible for Britons to live,work and study anywhere on the continent, and for Europeans to do the same here, we now face the curtailment and elimination of these rights.  We face years and years of painful negotiations as a succession of almost certainly weak governments attempt to disentangle themselves from the agreements that their predecessors voluntarily entered into.

No one can say for sure how all this will turn out, but it is difficult to imagine that the dangerous clowns who led us into this mess can negotiate their way through its consequences, and there is absolutely nothing to suggest that the final outcome will be worth the massive waste of energy and the turmoil and uncertainty that it is almost certain to engender. .

Already their efforts have divided and polarised the nation, after what is perhaps the dirtiest, ugliest and most dishonest political campaign in British history.   After decades of moving away from a society that once had signs up saying ‘No blacks or Irish’, this campaign has unleashed and legitimized toxic hatreds, prejudices and expectations that will be difficult, if not impossible to put back in the bag.

Brexiters – both left and right – would like to pretend otherwise – but xenophobia, bigotry, and outright racism have been the decisive components of this referendum, which produced the dramatic shift towards Leave in the last two weeks.  The fake promises from Boris Johnson to ‘heal’ the nation – the same Johnson who profited politically from Farage’s dogwhistling and engaged in it himself – would be laughable if they weren’t contemptible.

This was a campaign in which an MP was murdered because she supported EU membership, supported refugees and immigration, yet more than half the population chose to vote for the exact opposite of what she stood for.  Faced with arguments from Nobel Prize-winning economists and political scientists who warned of the calamitous consequences of Brexit; they chose to follow instead a motley crowd of mountebanks, chancers, ideologues and demagogues who engaged in what legal expert Michael Dougan called ‘dishonesty on an industrial scale.’

These same politicians told the public not to believe in the ‘experts’, and when their arguments came apart they coolly, cynically and willfully stirred up fear and hatred towards everything foreign, whether it was ‘bureaucrats in Brussels’, rapist refugees, Turks or ‘immigrants’ in general.

It’s clear that some of those who listened to this siren song are already beginning to regret it.   Even Cornwall, which voted to leave, is now asking for the government to replace their EU fund.  They won’t be the only ones, when other regions discover that the EU actually gave them money as well as taking it.  For all the Christmas hamper promises that Brexiters made during the campaign, there is about as much chance of bailouts from the gaggle of rightwing libertarians and Tory free market zealots who brought you Independence Day as there is of snow falling in the Sahara.

It’s also questionable whether there will even be much wealth to redistribute.  China is already looking askance at further involvement in the UK financial services industry.   The EU has made it clear that the UK won’t get the same access to the single market that it had before.   The creepy fraud Farage has already been rowing back on the campaign promise that the EU’s mythical £350 million per week will go to the NHS.  Those pensioners who voted in such high numbers for Brexit may well see their state pensions decline.

And as for immigration – that great obsession of the British public, don’t expect miracles there either. Many of those who voted imagine that the 13 percent of the population that is immigrant will miraculously vanish.  But if ‘control’ over immigration means bringing numbers down to the ‘tens of thousands’, that won’t happen unless Britain withdraws from the single market.

Even then it will require even more draconian enforcement measures than those we already have to stop people coming and strip the rights from immigrants who are already here.  Expect tougher restrictions, curtailment of rights, exclusionary practices.  Expect an escalation of immigration raids, deportations, detention, ID checks etc, so our newly-independent nation can make that distinction between insiders and outsiders, natives and aliens, absolutely clear.

We might also expect an increase in street-level violence as the openly fascistic and belligerent chauvinists who welcomed Brexit see their hatreds legitimized.   There is also likely to be more anti-immigrant scapegoating as ever-more embittered sectors of the population watch the economy nose-dive  and their Brexit dreams turn sour.  We can expect an increase in verbal and physical attacks on people of colour and people with foreign accents who aren’t ‘like us.’

One of the great lies of the Brexit campaign was the notion that a post-Brexit government would welcome immigration from outside the EU – a promise that ignored decades of legislation intended to prevent entirely that outcome.  No one should hold their breath and expect this phony cosmopolitanism to be realised any time soon.

This is what we voted for on Thursday, even if we didn’t know it, thanks to a reckless gamble carried out by the most useless and destructive prime minister in the history of the country, a PR man who epitomises the arrogance and fecklessness of the British ruling class.

Some historical tragedies and catastrophes are not chosen but are inflicted by others. Like an invasion by a foreign army, say.  Others are the result of specific decisions taken from a set of options and possibilities that were also available.  The British public did not have to do what it did on Thursday, and I suspect that historians in the future will ponder for many years over the massive wound that the electorate inflicted on itself, and will struggle to understand rational reasons for that choice.   Some have described the triumph of Brexit as a victory of the ‘quiet people’ against arrogant Brussels ‘elites’.  Others have characterized it as a rebellion against the ‘establishment’ in this country.

Some sections of the left have seen Brexit as a revolt against neoliberalism and austerity. Never mind that the EU didn’t dictate the austerity policies inflicted on the country by two extremist Tory governments that used the 2007/08 crisis as a pretext for an all-out class war and an assault on the welfare state.   Never mind that many of the newspapers and politicians who supported that process are also part of the ‘establishment’ and the ‘elite’ that supported Brexit.

As anti-establishment rebellions go,  this was the political equivalent of shooting yourself in the head, or wrenching the wheel of a truck because you don’t like the direction of travel, simply in order to drive it off a cliff.

Of course there are many who don’t believe this, who think that Britain has recovered its national ‘destiny’ – as if there is such a thing.  The Daily Express – a paper that would have fitted comfortably into Nazi Germany, if you substitute the word ‘migrant’ for ‘Jew’ celebrated the triumph of its ‘glorious crusade’ today.

Brexiters may raise their glasses and jeer and tell me and others to leave. the country – I expect that we will hear a lot more of this kind of talk in the months and years to come.   Lexiters may dream of a brave new world of internationalist struggle, but I see nothing good whatsoever about the decision that was taken on Thursday and the politics that made it possible.

‘ Make good choices, ‘ Jamie Lee Curtis tells her teenage daughter in Freaky Friday.  On Thursday, the British electorate made a very bad choice indeed. Some of those who made it will be dead before these dreams and fantasies come crashing down.

The tragedy is that millions of people who didn’t make that choice will also pay for it, and will remain trapped inside a country that is now locked into a very bleak trajectory of conflict, disintegration, bitterness and anger that will dominate its politics for decades, and is likely to transform the country into something far nastier than many of us once thought possible.

 

Murder in Farageland

The brutal murder of Jo Cox has added a seemingly random note of tragedy and horror to this appalling, dispiriting and utterly venal Referendum campaign.  And the brave and dignified words of Cox’s husband and sister have only shown us how low we have allowed ourselves to sink during this wretched process.

Anti-intellectualism; complete disregard for evidence; hyperbolic denunciations of the EU coupled with an almost nihilistic indifference to the consequences of leaving; lies, prejudice; whining ‘ We want our country back narratives’ of national victimhood; the most rancid xenophobia, fear and racism – all these tendencies that were once considered un-British have become part of the poisonous and bitter debate that our feckless politicians have foisted upon us.

Now a promising young politician and the mother of two children had been murdered by a man who gave his name in court as ‘ death to traitors – freedom for Britain.’   No one can be surprised that the media and many politicians and political parties have focused on Thomas Mair’s abnormal personality rather than his politics.  We have heard, ad infinitum, that he was ‘mentally ill’ and ‘ a loner’ – as if ‘loners’ are somehow naturally inclined to kill MPs.

Of course this is what always happens when a white man carries out an act of political murder.  We don’t like to call them terrorists, because words like terrorist and terrorism are intended to construct and convey an image of politically-motivated violence as something utterly alien to us.

This otherness might stem from religion, from ‘extremism’ or ‘radicalization’.  We might imagine that it has something to do with race, culture or ideology or a combination of all these factors.  But what is always clear is that the terrorist has nothing in common with us and we cannot recognize anything of ourselves in their actions.  Even when the crimes of the terrorists are ‘rational’,  in the sense that they may have a political motivation or particular strategic or tactical aims, we like to imagine them as crimes aimed at ‘our way of life’, ‘our values’ or ‘our freedoms.’

The anathema heaped on the terrorist also helps create an imagined ‘us’.  It binds the state, government and population into a first person plural based on the assumption of our common decency, even as the Otherness of the terrorist enables us to torture, extradite and imprison ‘enemy combatants’, wage wars ‘to keep us safe’, or pore over Muslim toddlers in search of signs of incipient radicalization..

This is what terrorism discourse does, and this is what it’s intended to achieve.   But faced with men like Thomas Mair, Anders Breivik or Timothy McVeigh, we instinctively seek explanations in psychopathology, because we can’t believe that men who appear to be ‘like us’ can kill with the same merciless cruelty as people we know aren’t ‘like us.’

We can’t comprehend that an all-American boy and a Gulf War ‘hero’ like McVeigh would regard children that he kills in a kindergarden as ‘collateral damage.’  Or why Anders Breivik would gleefully massacre teenagers for political reasons.   We can’t imagine why a ‘quiet’ and ‘timid’ man like Mair would shoot a female politician and the mother of two children – unless we assume that he’s mad.

Mair may well have had mental health issues, but then so did Michael Adebowale, the killer of Lee Rigby and the fact that Adebowale was a borderline schizophrenic did not receive nearly the same level of scrutiny as Mair’s psychological condition.  Mental illness covers a very wide spectrum of conditions, and  however ill Mair was, he was also a fascist and a white supremacist, who was associated with an organization, Britain First, that has advocated the execution of ‘traitors’ guilty of ‘crimes against the country.’   He chose his target – an MP with a track record of defending the EU and refugees – for clearly political reasons.

So the killing of Jo Cox was an act of political murder, and responsibility for it – as far as we know – belongs entirely to Mair, but that doesn’t mean that his crime took place in a vacuum.   It took place during the extraordinarily febrile atmosphere of the referendum, when the nation is positively seething with fear and hatred towards the EU, towards foreigners, and towards refugees.

At its most extreme manifestation, this hatred emanates from the fascist and Nazi troglodytes on Twitter, who celebrated the death of a woman they called a ‘traitorous whore’ and many other things. Naturally Cox has to be a ‘whore’, because any politically-active woman will always be called such things by these Internet warriors.

It would be comforting to think that such hatred stops there, somewhere on the lunatic fringe where decent people would never tread.  But let’s not deceive ourselves.   In the wake of the murder there has been a lot of cuddly talk about how politicians should be kinder and more respectful to each other, but there has been a lot less said about the very unkind and disrespectful way in which politicians and the media treat the immigrants and foreigners who Jo Cox supported and publicly associated herself.

However ‘mad’ Mair may have been, that’s why he called her a traitor and that’s why he killed her, and the fear and hatred that made such an atrocious act possible extends far beyond the denizens of the fascist netherworld in their blood and honour t-shirts and their violent ‘self-defence’ knife classes in the Welsh hills.

You can find it emanating in more subtle and insidious ways from the political mainstream, whether from politicians or from the newspapers that millions read every day, that spew out  anii-immigrant and anti-refugee propaganda on an almost daily basis.  More than anyone else, it emanates from the Brexiters, and in the last two weeks these sentiments have reached a horrifying crescendo.

Recognizing that it was losing the economic arguments, the Leave campaign stepped up its anti-immigrant rhetoric within the last two weeks. To them,  ‘take back control’ meant taking control of our ‘broken’ borders.  We learned that refugees were rapists who endangered the security of British women.  We heard that 76 million Turks will soon be joining the EU.   In the same week that Jo Cox was shot,  Nigel Farage stood in front of a Nazi-like poster depicting an invading army of refugees – refugees he insisted were not ‘genuine.’

Farage also warned of ‘violence on the streets‘ if immigration is not controlled. Please don’t ask me to be kind and respectful to a politician who talks like that.  But instead of damaging the Leave campaign, arguments like this boosted its standing in the polls and gave it new momentum.    In effect, a large swathe of the public made it clear that it accepted and shared Farage’s views – or at the very least was not bothered by them.

That’s bad enough, but it is even more disturbing to consider that many of our fellow-citizens also share Mair’s fear and loathing of the foreign ‘invasion’ – even if they are horrified that someone would take such prejudices so far as to actually murder a politician.

But even though no one could have predicted such a thing could happen, it doesn’t seem entirely surprising now that it has.  Because we have allowed the likes of Farage to turn us into a morally shrunken nation from which the kind of courage and decency that Jo Cox demonstrated in her short career is becoming increasingly absent from our public life.

We have allowed ourselves to become fearful and hateful.   And we might not like to admit it, but both Farage and the ‘timid gardener’ Thomas Mair are symptoms of that transformation.

It’s not too late – yet – to become something else.   But we really ought to start soon.