Jo Cox's Death Looms Large As Brexit Heads Down To Wire

Published: Mon 20 Jun 2016 05:05 AM
The Death of Jo Cox Looms Large As Brexit Heads Down To The Wire
By Alastair Thompson
Vote Leave's full team line up to resume their campaign on the banks of the Thames. Image source Guardian Live Coverage.
A Resumption Of Hostilities
For the Brexit campaign the mourning period for the brutally slain pro-remain Labour MP and mother of two Jo Cox was always going to be brief. And today, Sunday 19th June, with four days to go till the polls, the campaign resumed.
Already polls are showing indications that Jo Cox's death last Thursday afternoon has led to a change in voter sentiment in the vote, however the vote remains too close to call. Three polls out today have Remain ahead by 3-6 points and one poll shows the campaigns neck and neck. All polls record remarkably high levels of don't knows indicating Britain's most important decision in several decades will go down to the wire. Polling day is Thursday 23rd of June with results expected from around 10pm.
This morning the opening shots were fired in the form of two interviews with Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn, a - some say lukewarm -Remain supporter-and Leave's Justice Secretary Michael Gove on the Andrew Marr show.
While Corbyn remained characteristically grumpy about the whole shebang, pointing out that the problems being blamed on immigrants were actually a result of austerity, Michael Gove scored some points for the "tone it down" team when he said Nigel Farage's now infamous "Breaking Point" billboard - unveiled the morning of the day that Jo Cox was shot and stabbed after her constituency clinic in the northern town of Birstall - had "made him shudder."
Your new poster resembles outright Nazi propaganda, @Nigel_Farage. Thanks to @brendanjharkin for pointing it out.— Connor Beaton (@zcbeaton) June 16, 2016
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The billboard that may break Brexit
But by 11.30am it was all back on.
Far right Euro-sceptic UKIP Party Leader Nigel Farage had promoted his appearance on ITV's flagship Sunday morning Peston On Sunday TV show via twitter. It was his opportunity to respond to the death of Jo Cox which led to a series of excoriating op-eds about the politics of hate.
This was to be Nigel Farage's big opportunity to respond to the tragic death of Jo Cox which has rocked both Britain and the world. On Friday Hillary Clinton denounced the "assassination" of the Labour MP and Barack Obama called her husband Brendan Cox to pass on his condolences.
Yesterday morning (Saturday 18th) Thomas Mair's appearance in court dispelled once and for all the notion that the murder of Jo Cox was a random act of violence . Asked to state his name Mair replied "death to traitors, freedom for Britain". Thus it seemed unlikely that Farage would stick to the line used by UK's press (much of which supports Brexit) for the first 36 hours following the murder maintaining Mair was a mentally ill loner.
Saturday Morning's UK Press Headlines About Thomas Mair
At 11am, right out of the gate it was clear host Robert Peston was intent on getting some actual answers from Farage to the issue of the use of the politics of hate in the Brexit campaign. But what Farage said when asked if he had been whipping up hatred was surprising.
“I think I’ve been a politician that has been a victim of it (hatred) to be honest with you.”
The clip begins following an introduction in which Robert Peston specifically refers to the killing of Jo Cox - this preamble is important to understand the context of this remark. [The full video is available here.]
.@Nigel_Farage asked if he stokes up hatred in politics. #Peston— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) June 19, 2016
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As Marina Hyde explains in this column on the politics of hate in the Guardian published Friday, Farage's response is true to form:
"Hitherto, Farage has had a tried and tested shtick for Serious Moments. Drop the voice, widen the eyes. He’ll probably do it this weekend. He certainly does it when anyone accuses him of borderline racism. Down goes the voice, as though he is personally trying to smother their insinuation in the appalled hush it deserves. I have to confess the Farage mind trick doesn’t work on me. Instead, every time Nigel deploys it, it makes me think of a Truman Capote line from In Cold Blood. “The quietness of his tone italicised the malice of his reply.”"
Farage was equally unrepentant about the billboards which his fellow Vote-Leave campaigner Michael Gove had less than an hour earlier said had made him "shudder", and about which a complaint has now been made to the police.
.@Nigel_Farage responds to criticism of the UKIP 'Breaking Point' poster #peston— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) June 19, 2016
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Following Farage on Peston's show, Steve Hilton - a former political strategist for David Cameron and leading light of the "Vote Leave" campaign - was similarly unrepentant about the increasingly disturbing tone of the Vote Leave campaign. Asked repeatedly if he wished to distance himself from a campaign which isn't even his, Hilton - the son of Hungarian immigrants himself failed to do so.
In this clip Hilton responds to Remain campaigner Chancellor George Osborne who appeared before Farage and referred to the similarities between the billboards and Nazi propaganda of the 1930s.
.@SteveHiltonx 'really shocked' by the way @George_Osborne questioned the motives of Leave campaigners #peston— Peston on Sunday (@pestononsunday) June 19, 2016
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A Fault Line Appears In The Leave Campaign.
And so it would appear that Farage's billboard campaign with it's eerie similarities to Nazi propaganda of the 1930s will remain in place for the final week of the campaign. As such it will serve as a potent reminder of the death of Jo Cox and a connection between the politics of hate and the vote leave campaign.
The Guardian addressing the growing controversy today:
A Ukip spokesman said the comparison with Nazi propaganda was invidious and “those making them should remember Godwin’s law”, an internet adage that heated discussions tend eventually towards someone bringing up the Nazis, and that those who do have lost the argument.
Cooper, the Labour MP for Pontefract and Castleford, who has campaigned on behalf of refugees, said: “Just when you thought leave campaigners couldn’t stoop any lower, they are now exploiting the misery of the Syrian refugee crisis in the most dishonest and immoral way.”
Caroline Lucas, the Green party MP for Brighton Pavilion, said: “Using the innocent victims of a human tragedy for political propaganda is utterly disgusting. Farage is engaging in the politics of the gutter.” Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP leader, said the poster was disgusting.
Neil Carmichael, the Conservative MP for Stroud, said: “It’s disappointing to see Ukip jumping on the refugee crisis to further their own political aims. Britain can only deal with the issue of immigration by working together with European countries that face the same challenges.”
The UKIP spokesman's remarks about Godwin's law appear to have missed the fact that it was Boris Johnson who prominently raised the subject of Hitler in the Brexit debate five weeks ago:
[Boris Johnson] warns that while bureaucrats in Brussels are using “different methods” from the Nazi dictator, they share the aim of unifying Europe under one “authority”.
But the EU’s “disastrous” failures have fuelled tensions between member states and allowed Germany to grow in power, “take over” the Italian economy and “destroy” Greece, he warns.
“Napoleon, Hitler, various people tried this out, and it ends tragically,” he says. "The EU is an attempt to do this by different methods."
Folllowing the Andrew Marr and Peston broadcasts BBC's Sunday Politics show featured the considerably more mild mannered John Mann and Paddy Ashdown agreeing that the billboards were shocking and hoping that tone of the campaign would improve for the final few days.
Putting On A Brave Face
The leading light of the Leave campaign and would be next leader of the Conservative Party Boris Johnson had been conspicuously absent from the fray since Friday. Today his he was apparently celebrating his birthday but his characteristic boldness was less in evidence today than usual.
Following the morning's Sunday TV appearances the entire Vote Leave campaign gathered for a hastily organised and poorly publicised rally by the Thames. The event began in an unfortunate manner when at least two journalists being told they couldn't come in. In the end Guardian reporter Peter Walker was allowed to provide comprehensive live twitter coverage of the event.
He later reported for the Guardian Live:
I’ve just emerged from a big and hastily arranged event in central London by the official Leave campaign, who wheeled out more or less everyone – Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Priti Patel, Labour’s Kate Hoey, even David Cameron’s ex-adviser Steve Hilton and a smoked salmon entrepreneur, Lance Forman.
This was less than four days since Jo Cox was killed, but the promised positive, non-partisan tone was absent. This was business as usual, right back to the rats-in-a-sack scrabble for victory.
Hoey was the only speaker to talk directly about Cox, speaking movingly of her fellow Labour MP.
None of the others referred to what happened, and there were some appeals to people’s mistrust of the EU, politicians and “the elite”.
There were crowd jeers against the CBI, IMF and other organisations. Peter Mandelson and Jean-Claude Juncker were booed. It’s all panto stuff but was done deliberately.
Hilton – who was introduced as “one of the great political thinkers of our time” – called Brussels “one of the most corrupt places on the planet”.
Campaigning is back on: there is no reason why this event should have been a wake for Cox. But it’s worth noting that if anyone hoped the build-up to the referendum would be less partisan and more restrained, they’ll be disappointed.
An Eventful Day Sets The Scene For Four Explosive Days In Politics
A Breton piper plays Amazing Grace in Malestroit, France on Friday 17th June as part of the annual Fête de la musique mid summer celebrations.
The death of Jo Cox MP has had the effect of resetting the Brexit campaign.
Today's dramatic unfolding of the renewed campaign shows that what happens from here on out will not simply be a continuation of the debate we have seen so far.
One of the Remain campaign's greatest weaknesses has been that it hasn't been able to fully challenge the far-right political origins of this referendum. Partly because the leader of the remain campaign himself David Cameron was the figure that agreed to this decision taking place - and partly because Euro-sceptic views are very widespread among politicians and the public, and till now have not been so closely associated with anti-immigration sentiment. That was always UKIP's thing.
And even though the campaign has been at times fairly bitter - especially the internal party conflicts in Labour and the Conservatives - all sides of the debate have tried to maintain a sense of decorum. Britain has tried to hold its head high as it engages in an exemplar plebiscite in which the people are being asked to responsibly decide their future.
But that complacency that everything is ok with UK democracy was shattered at 12.50pm last Thursday when a mentally disturbed far-right nationalist with neo-Nazi connections shouting "Britain First" decided to kill a courageous young MP who had dedicated her life to helping vulnerable refugees.
In the hours since then it has become clear that many other aspects of the Brexit debate are not benign. With some notable exceptions the press's handling of the immigration debate, its role in fuelling the fear and prejudice that sit behind it, and its blatant partisanship have been laid bare.
In a little less than an hour the spotlight will turn fully on UK Prime Minister David Cameron as he makes an appearance in BBC's Question Time to put the case for remain. His appearance was to have taken place on Thursday night - but was cancelled.
Tonight could well be his most important ever political appearance. It will be his job to bring Great Britain back together again in this time of confusion. And the entire world will be watching.
As numerous global leaders have said, the outcome of this referendum will have repercussions far beyond the United Kingdom. This was the case before it became a far-right immigration driven decision making process, but it is even more so the case now.
For Europe a decision to leave the EU that arrives in the context of the murder of an MP and accompanied by a rise in far-right nationalism will be problematic in the extreme.
As Jeremy Corbyn explained in his interview with Jeremy Marr this morning, freedom of movement and the single market are the two principle components in the makeup of Europe. As a result it is almost inconceivable that the EU could or would agree to favourable trade terms for a non-member state that refuses to agree to something close to freedom of movement. As far as the EU is concerned they have already made significant concessions to Britain on the issue of internal migration in relation to eligibility to benefits and right of abode in the absence of work.
This is because were the EU to agree to "an Australian style points system" it would likely lead to other nations in the union seeking similar arrangements. At which point freedom of movement would be to all intents and purposes at an end.
Compounding this picture is the fact that both France and Germany will soon go to the polls themselves. Facing fast growing far-right political partie of their own - Francoise Hollande and Angela Merkel are unlikely to agree to concessions on immigration for Great Britain while campaigning strongly against calls for the similar arrangements in their own countries.
And for this reason the central idea that the leave campaign has very successfully pushed for months that the EU will quickly agree to favourable trade terms - thereby removing the risk of Brexit leading back into recession - which was always rather naïve, now looks completely untenable.
But in the end it will be the people that decide on Thursday. Research by Roy Morgan Research into poll volatility in the closing days of political campaigns has shown that in most campaigns substantial moves in voter intentions occur in the final days of political campaigns on the basis of specific discrete events.
And when a political race is as tight as this one clearly is small movements in undecided voters views have massive repercussions. Message discipline is therefore even more important at the end of campaigns, as are pratfalls and own goals. Farage's "I am a victim" remarks today were are spectacular own goal. Gordon Brown's bigot phone call incident back in 2010 is another example.
In this context the death of the universally admired Labour MP Jo Cox is a discrete event that has put the Brexit outcome completely into play. What happens next is not what happened before and polling is unlikely to be able to keep track of the movements in public opinion between now and polling date.
One thing is sure however. The Leave campaign are starting this week in disarray and for this pundit that means this election is now Remain's to lose.
- Alastair Thompson, 500 Words Sunday, 19 June 2016, Bretagne, France.
Alastair Thompson
Scoop Publisher
Alastair Thompson is the co-founder of Scoop. He is of Scottish and Irish extraction and from Wellington, New Zealand. Alastair has 24 years experience in the media, at the Dominion, National Business Review, North & South magazine, Straight Furrow newspaper and online since 1997. He is the winner of several journalism awards for business and investigative work.
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