It seems their campaign may inadvertently have culminated in a horrid and stupid murder by someone deluded enough to confuse their Chauvinistic donkey-noises with a command to defend his country against the evils of Europe.
The awful, as-yet motiveless shooting to death of Jo Cox MP this afternoon (16 June) on a street in Birstall, Yorkshire, has already concentrated media speculation around the abusive and threatening internet trolling of politicians. The attack has attracted an outpouring of anguish on both sides of the House and campaigning in the EU referendum has been suspended.
Elected only last year, Batley Labour MP and former aid worker, mother-of-two Ms Cox (41) was widely respected as a cross-bench campaigner for the rights of minorities and refugees, and supported with quite heroic actions as well as words what many would consider to be the ‘right side’ in the Syria war.
Apparently also a brilliant and caring constituency MP, she strongly supported the Remain side in the referendum, which one eyewitness account so far tells us this repugnant act might have been about. Until we know more about what lay behind the attack – a 53-year-old man is in custody – it would be inappropriate to comment further. We are hearing of connections to white supremacists, home-made guns, who knows what.
On the matter of trolling, however, I would just like to say something.
Politicians have always been held in low regard as a species, while being admired and even loved as individuals for what they do for us. I vote time and again for my local MP, although as a Lib-Dem he’s on a hiding to nothing, because he’s the good guy. There’s a healthy tradition of satirising politicians: sometimes pretty viciously – the cartoons of Rowlandson, Hogarth and Gillray might seem abstruse today but in their time were the equivalent of Private Eye in its heyday, the Rory Bremner show or Spitting Image. Nonetheless, politicians queue up to be pilloried, realising that no publicity is bad publicity and that to be satirised, however pointedly, is a kind of recognition.
Internet trolling is different. It introduces an unwelcome element of private, direct threat. For the first time, there is a cheap and easy outlet for any sad little person to pour out their feelings of rage, imagining themselves to be powerfully invisible and without censure; yet to have a sympathetic audience. Trolling comes from positions of prejudice and ignorance, but may be a catharsis for the frustrated, the undereducated and the disempowered; provided it sticks to the message and doesn’t become the medium, no-one gets physically hurt. While the abuse may be shocking, taking a democratic right of access to a different and unpleasant level, while it remains online politicians will just have to get used to it.
Of more concern in my view is the relentless, slow-drip, poisonous propaganda of the rightwing press, directing and exploiting the popular animus against minorities and ‘foreigners’ merely to sell papers, advancing day-by-day the private corporate interests of the proprietors under the camouflage of the viler tropes of British exceptionalism.
Whatever anger I have expressed in this blog from time to time, whatever invective I have deployed against the actions of certain politicians, has been aimed entirely at those few who (in my hermetic view) have put personal ambition and self-interest before the national good or the dignity of office, pursuing hidden agendas and perpetuating cruel and unjust social policies. Often what leads them to the latter course is fear of vote-losing headlines in The Daily Mail, which today is carrying a 3-line banner condemning the death of Jo Cox as ‘A Tragic Waste’.
They should know: theirs is the flagbearer of arrogant, superpatriotic myth-making; the last refuge, as Samuel Johnson so pithily put it, of the scoundrel. Now their cause has a blood-sacrifice to account for, perhaps we shall hear less of it. But I don’t imagine so.
The Post is, by and large, a humorous, humanitarian, Humanist exercise and while robust in its language, does not advocate violence of any kind towards anyone. It does not use SEO techniques to expand its readership, and has only a handful of readers, who say they appreciate the honesty of the content. A few of them are personally known to me. I have not heard from any of my small number of Followers, most of them overseas, for many months. I have in fact expressed on several occasions, the vague hope that the Post (the very title is ironic) will one day be seen as a substantial body of autobiographical writings interleaved with contemporary comment; I am less interested in what people think of it now.
I have been a working journalist in the past, and every word you read here, however seemingly offensive, has been carefully edited, weighed and balanced for legal acceptability. I never make threats. I have no Twitter account. I spend hours going back and re-editing, which must be confusing for those who encounter early drafts. Passages that sometimes draw on the ugly phrasemaking of the online trolling community are deliberate, intended purely as ironic usage to set against the more thoughtful and coherent consideration of the arguments, however controversial. I avoid the very worst of it, perhaps I should try to stop doing it altogether.
But I am a polemicist, among other things. Irony is my middle-name. I am passionate about retaining Britain’s historic role and strength in Europe in the face of lies and deceit, and dismayed at the poor showing of the Remain campaign. I deplore in the strongest terms the bullying, yah-boo tactics of the Brexiters who, it seems to me, are interested only in gaining personal kudos regardless of the long-term consequences for the rest of us. Now it seems their campaign may inadvertently have culminated in a horrid and stupid murder by someone deluded enough to confuse their Chauvinistic donkey-noises with a command to defend his country against the evils of Europe. We shall see.
In sum, my blog is not to be taken as a signal that I encourage or approve for one moment the intemperate criminal actions of those dismal cretins and sociopaths who think their ‘patriotism’ gives them a licence to play God with good people’s lives.
I am; it is, not that important.
Now, back to work.