Liars’ Ball: the Unbearable Lightness of Brexit

There’s a tendency in some fringe political circles at both left and right-wing political circles to imagine that the ‘system’ we have is secretly or overtly controlled by an all-powerful and all-seeing group of malevolent men who are able to direct events entirely according to their own whims..  They might be the Bilderberg group, the Illuminati, David Icke’s lizard-people or Dick Cheney and his neocon cabal holed up inside a mountain coolly pulling the levers of 9/11in order to justify endless imperial war.

The monumental political car-crash that has taken place in the last few days suggests a very different explanation of why things happen.  Malevolence is certainly not lacking in this horrendous episode; in fact it practically oozes out of every pore of the disgusting campaign that Leave is now erasing from the Internet.   In the last few days a succession of Brexiters have admitted that the promises they made and the outcomes they hinted at will not be realised, and they have also made it clear that they have no plan about what to do next.

Daniel Hannan has said that freedom of movement will not stop. Farage has said that the £350 million NHS promise was a mistake.  Ian Duncan-Smith now says that the promises made during the campaign were only ‘possibilities.’   Liam Fox says we won’t trigger Article 50 without a period of reflection.  In a stunningly fatuous and glib Telegraph article on Sunday, even by his standards, Boris Johnson essentially said that nothing would change as a result of Brexit.  We can all go on living, working and studying in Europe.   We will continue to cooperate with Europe.  The only change is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU’s extraordinary and opaque system of legislation.’

Something tells me that that is not what many leavers voted for.  Even the newspapers that did so much to promote and sell the Brexit idea to the public now admit that there will be serious negative consequences for their readers.  The Sun had a piece over the weekend on ‘how leaving the EU will affect your wallet’.  Among other things it warned that ‘buying goods or services will become more expensive’ – something that clearly impact on the British economy.   The Sun also suggested that inflation will rise, accommodation could cost more; unemployment may increase and wages could fall, leaving the average worker £780 worse off; that the falling pound would push up interest rates, thereby increasing rents and mortgages.

Other predictions included a shortfall in government income from taxation of between £28 billion to £44 billion by 2019-2202, leading to higher taxes and more cuts, which might result in some families losing as much as £2, 771 in benefits, according to another of those pesky experts who Leave exhorted the public to ignore, the National Institute of Social and Economic Research (Niesr) – in a report that the Sun now quotes as an authoritative source.

No wonder one Sun reader asked plaintively  ‘ Why didn’t you tell us before? Did you not think of this before the vote? Can we take it back now? Please?’ and another pointed out ‘ All info it would have been good to know BEFORE the vote. Thanks Sun.’

Some may conclude that readers who believe the Sun have only themselves to blame, but millions of people who read other papers also listened to the lies and fantasies propagated by Farage, Johnson, Gove, IDS & Co

Yet even if  you conclude that this deception serves some people’s personal political ambitions, it’s difficult not to conclude that overall, this is a massive enormous own-goal by the British ruling class, which  has precipitated one of most devastating national political crises in recent memory – when it was not even necessary.

In using the referendum as a vehicle for individual political ambition and a solution to internecine Tory political problems,  Cameron and his opponents have acted against the interests of their own party, against their own class,  as well as the interests of the nation as a whole.  They divided the country like no event in its history.  They have weakened the economy and lost money for their rich pals.  They have threatened the disintegration of the UK while simultaneously wrecking its reputation internationally.

It is now horrifically and terrifyingly clear that the men responsible for this disaster did not anticipate it and were woefully-unprepared for its consequences, and had in fact no plan whatsoever.  So we aren’t dealing with Bilderberg lizard-men here, but with political stupidity and incompetence on an epic scale by rulers who ‘neither see, nor feel, nor know’, as Shelley once put it, some of whom emerged from the weekend yesterday to share their grief and repentance with the nation:

David Cameron

In her famous study of historical mistakes and catastrophes The March of Folly, the historian Barbara Tuchman analysed a series of avoidable historical disasters and catastrophes from Troy to Vietnam, in an attempt to understand why rulers and governments sometimes pursue ‘policy contrary to self-interest.’

Given that we have all become spectators of precisely this phenomenon, it’s worth revisiting some of her conclusions.   Tuchman found various explanations for this tendency in government.  They included ‘the insidious spell of wooden-headedness’ in which governments and policy-makers become locked into a kind of internal group-think, so that its members stop asking critical questions about the policies they have chosen.

Tuchman saw this this tendency to ‘breed folly’ as a product of unaccountable power. since ‘the power to command frequently causes failure to think’.  Some these explanations might apply to our current predicament, but Tuchman also quotes Ralph Waldo Emerson’s warning that ‘ In analyzing history do not be too profound, for often the causes are quite superficial.’

Meditating on this, Tuchman rightly concludes:

‘This is a factor often overlooked by political scientists who, in discussing the nature of power, always treat it, even when negatively, with immense respect.  They fail to see it as sometimes a matter of ordinary men walking into water above their heads, acting unwisely or foolishly or perversely as people in ordinary circumstances frequently do.  The trappings of power deceive us, endowing the possessors with a quality larger than life.  Shorn of his tremendous curled peruke, high heels and ermine, the Sun King was a man subject to misjudgement, error and impulse – like you and me. ‘

This is true as far as it goes.  But ‘ordinariness’ doesn’t necessarily equate with ‘well-meaning’, and it can’t be offered as an excuse for the reckless gamble that led Lord Snooty and His Pals to push their country off a cliff.   That requires a combination of arrogance, superficiality, sociopathic indifference, reckless ambition and stupidity of a type that we have rarely seen displayed so openly in British politics.

And the fact that jokers like Cameron, Johnson and Gove have been able to perpetrate such a monumental folly on the nation is perhaps a symptom of a wider rottenness and decadence in the political system, in the ability of the ruling classes to churn out politicians of quality even on their own terms, and perhaps the folly is ours as well, since, as Tuchman argues:

‘The problem may be not so much a matter of educating officials for government as educating the electorate to recognize and reward integrity of character and to reject the ersatz.  Perhaps better men flourish in better times, and wiser government requires the nourishment of a dynamic rather than a troubled and bewildered society.’

Perhaps they do, but these are not the men we have, and they aren’t the times we have, and it is now clear that our society is far more troubled and bewildered than many of us knew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Taking Our Country Back: Brexit and the Seeds of Hate

There was a time, in the country that so many Brexit voters would like to take ‘back’, when it was commonplace to have signs in the windows of rented accommodation that read ‘no dogs, no Blacks, no Irish. ‘  We have spent decades moving away from the society where such discrimination was semi-respectable;  through painstaking work on the ground; through slow shifts in attitudes; through open resistance to racist violence and intimidation from the men and women who have frequently had to fight for their place in British society; through myriad acts of solidarity by the many individuals and organizations who have welcomed them and stood alongside them.

Did we made racism disappear from the UK?  Are we a ‘post-racial’ society?  No, because racism can never be entirely eliminated from any society, and keeping it at bay requires a constant effort, and a constant willingness to pay attention whenever it manifests itself.   Nevertheless, we made considerable progress towards creating a society in which overt racism was marginalized and drained of its lethal legitimacy and respectability. .

As a result of the Brexit referendum, that achievement is under its gravest threat since the rise of the National Front in the 1970s.    In little more than 48 hours since Friday’s result, it is already becoming disturbingly clear that immigrants and foreigners in the UK are now facing a vicious and widespread epidemic of racism and xenophobia that is unapologetic and openly celebratory.

Reports are pouring through social media from up and down the country of verbal and even physical abuse of anyone foreign, speaking in a foreign accent, or who looks ‘foreign.’  On Facebook I have seen stories of an 80 year old Italian woman who has been living here for 50 years, who was told that it would be better to go back to her own country; of a woman attacked on the tube by a man who became enraged when he heard a foreign accent on the tannoy; of a Polish man and his son beaten senseless and left in the street; of leaflets in Huntington put through letterboxes telling ‘ Polish vermin’ to go home.

Social media is filled with tweets like these:

Italian person I was w/ last night was assaulted for asking how someone voted. Knocked out w/ a bottle, lost a tooth, stitches. I’m scared.
Disgusting RT @fionaand: Older woman on the 134 bus gleefully telling a young Polish woman and her baby to get off and get packing.Horrific.
Getting my nails done when a man pops his head in the door & shouts at the therapists “you lot better fuck off home” aarggh!
In the aftermath of #Brexit, neighbors we’ve never spoken to before confront us with ” Do you even speak English? #PostRefRacism
Gloucester : ‘this is England, foreigners have 48 hours to f**k right off. Who is foreign here? Anyone foreign?’
Our neighbour is a deputy head and she said there were Polish kids crying because they were scared that they were going to be deported.

There is a lot more where this came from here and here  Today the Independent reported hundreds of hate incidents.  Since Friday, the website Thisiswhatyou’vedone uk has received dozens of reports of verbal and physical abuse directed at foreigners and immigrants or men and women perceived to be immigrants.  Many of these attacks have cited the Referendum and the decision to leave the EU as a justification and a carte blanche, such as the reports of strangers stopping people in the streets to tell them to tell them  ‘ We voted Leave, it’s time for you to leave.’

To date not a single major politician has condemned these incidents.  The Brexit politicians, who did so much to stoke up and pander to anti-immigrant hostility in the last weeks of the campaign, have been absolutely silent about it.   Clearly not all those who voted Leave were racists and xenophobes, but racism and xenophobia were crucial and indispensable components of a campaign that persistently played on fears and prejudices about immigration, whether these ‘immigrants’ were EU workers, putative Turkish immigrants, or the refugees who Nigel Farage said were a threat to the ‘security of British women’, who he portrayed in his atrocious poster.

Not all Leavers voted because of immigration, but many clearly did, and the Leave campaign’s flagging up of immigration in the last two weeks of the campaign had a decisive impact in shifting the momentum away from Remain.   It is now becoming clear that these developments have unleashed forces that will be very difficult to put back in the box, and that many of those who voted Leave did so in the expectation that the immigrants they feared and loathed would a) stop coming and b) leave the country.

The explosion of racism and xenophobia that we are now witnessing is not simply the result of the campaign itself, but the campaign has crystallized and brought to the surface all the toxic currents that have percolated through British society for the last fifteen years or so in response to ‘mass migration.’

Of course those who fanned the public’s ‘concerns’ about immigration always insisted that they were not ‘racist’, just as Leave campaigners get uppity if you suggest that their campaign had anything to do with racism.  But here’s the thing; racism isn’t just about skin colour or biology.  It doesn’t only apply when you talk about ‘race’ or accuse Jews of polluting the German ‘reservoir of blood.’

Racism can constantly adopt new justifications, new disguises and assumptions, in its attempt to marginalize and discriminate.      If you spend decades telling the population – as various politicians and our disgraceful tabloid press have done – that immigrants are a problem, that they are benefit scroungers and health tourists, thieves and criminals, intruders, parasites, cultural aliens, and a threat to our security, then you can’t be entirely surprised when the dregs of the nation take to the streets to demand ‘repatriation’or push leaflets through peoples’ doors calling them ‘vermin’ or demand to know why foreigners ‘don’t speak English.’

Johnson, Gove and Farage all pandered to these sentiments, and it is clear that some members of their audience now feel more empowered and more legitimized than they did before, and that ‘taking their country back’ means driving out anyone they don’t think belongs to it   The result is a truly dangerous situation, for immigrants first of all, and also for the culturally and ethnically diverse society that we have so painstakingly constructed.

No one can be surprised that Farage & Co have nothing to say about this, but sections of the left have also disgracefully continued to marginalize or play down the importance of racism and xenophobia in driving the Leave campaign, or else, as John Pilger did, they have simply ignored them altogether

The rest of us can’t afford to be so sanguine.   We need to remember the words of Linton Kwesi Johnson once wrote back in the 80s: ‘ Asian/West Indian/ an’ Black British/stan firm inna Inglan/inna disya time yah/far nuh mattah wat dey say/com wat may/we are here to stay inna Inglan/in disya time yah.’

Now, in these new times, we can add Poles, Romanians, and many other nationalities to that list, and we need to stand firm with them, because the monsters are out of their box, released by the outrageous frauds and liars who played their dark political games in order to con the nation.

It’s up to all of us to put them back, and show our solidarity with the men and women who have made this country their home, who have us much right to live in it as anyone else.

They may not be part of Brexit country, but they do belong to the nation that the rest of us inhabit, and we need to fight for them, and alongside them, for their sake, and our own.

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.