Sunday 19 June 2016

How the Jo Cox assassination brought out the best in some people and the worst in others

The assassination of the Labour MP and humanitarian campaigner Jo Cox has brought out the best in some people and the absolute worst in others. Hundreds of thousands of people have shared words of compassion from Jo Cox and her husband Brendan, but others have waded in to the debate to sling insults, moral high-horse and even try to get those words of compassion deleted from Facebook.

The general reaction

Very many people were utterly horrified by what happened to Jo Cox. It was great to see people put aside their political differences, praise her for her humanitarian work and condemn the killing as a barbaric attack on democracy itself.

The words of her husband Brendan were particularly moving:

"She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now, one that our precious children are bathed in love and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous."

The reaction of many on the right has been civilised and reasonable. I detest the socially and economically destructive political ideologies of people like David Cameron and Theresa May, and I'll continue to treat almost everything they say with intense suspicion. However it's impossible to doubt that they were being sincere in expressing their horror at what happened to Jo Cox, because even though she was on the other side of the chamber to them, she was savagely murdered in the street for doing the same job as they do. There's pretty much no way that they wouldn't be shaken at the fact that someone they know in person got brutally murdered whilst doing the same kind of constituency work that they do.

It's also good to see that various rival political parties (including the Tories and UKIP) have agreed to not contest the By-election to elect Jo Cox's successor.

I've never been inclined to praise the Vote Leave campaign because of their lack of anything even remotely resembling a coherent plan for what a post-EU British economy would look like, their endlessly repeated lies about the cost of EU membership and their streams of unaffordable false promises, however it has to be recognised that they did the decent thing in suspending their campaign for a couple of days out of respect for Jo Cox.

The reason I've acknowledged that many on the right responded with dignity and respect to the assassination is that I don't want anyone to think that this article is some kind of petty generalisation laden attack against everyone on the right, because it's not. It's an article identifying the searing hypocrisy and double standards of some people and organisations on the right.

Britain First

Britain First and their followers reacted furiously to mainstream media reports that multiple eyewitnesses had heard Thomas Mair yelling "Britain First" as he was attacking the Labour MP Jo Cox.

Before it was even announced that Jo Cox had died, the Britain First Facebook page and website were flooded with denials that they had any connections with the killer. Britain First and extreme-right sympathisers across the UK worked tirelessly to develop the propaganda narrative that Thomas Mair was in no way representative of right-wing politics, and that he was just a mentally unstable "lone wolf".

Apologists for the extreme-right also developed a fictional victim-blaming account of what happened, where the killing wasn't premeditated assassination at all. According to this warped right-wing narrative Jo Cox foolishly tried to intervene in an argument between two strangers and got shot, so it was "her own stupid fault".

Additionally Britain First instigated a campaign to discredit eyewitness accounts that Mair had been yelling "Britain First" and condemn the mainstream media for the appalling crime of ...erm ... reporting eyewitness accounts of a major breaking news story. Somehow they turned a political assassination by an extreme-right fanatic into a story of unacceptable persecution of the noble and patriotic far-right by an evil and disgustingly biased mainstream media!

The sheer number of extreme-right people who unquestioningly rote learned these feeble excuses and warped propaganda narratives then set about mindlessly regurgitating them all over the Internet was horrifying. This massive tide of extreme-right apologism was one of the most glaring large-scale displays of double standards in the history of British politics.

Just imagine for a moment that the murder suspect had been a mentally unstable person with a head full of radical Islamist politics shouting "Allahu Akbar". We can be absolutely sure that Britain First and their apologists wouldn't have been so keen to shout down any attempts to discuss the radical Islamist politics that motivated the attack as disgusting and unacceptable politicisation of the murder. Neither would they have been so keen to discredit eyewitness statements that the murder suspect was yelling "Alluha Akbar", invent fictionalised accounts of the incident where it was the victim's own fault, or to define the story in terms of a corrupt and biased mainstream media conspiracy to make radical Islamist politics look bad by association with the act of a single mentally unstable "lone wolf".

Had the murder suspect been an Islamist fanatic we all know that these people would have been leading the charge, baying for blood, framing the incident in their dangerous and divisive "clash of civilisations" terms and implying that all Muslims are guilty by association unless they immediately apologise in person for the incident.

Louise Mensch

The Tory MP turned professional self-publicist Louise Mensch is notorious for her simple-minded right-wing contrarianism, but even by her own woeful standards her response to the Jo Cox assassination was excruciatingly awful.

Mensch lambasted Jeremy Corbyn for suggesting that the Jo Cox assassination could have had political motives and elicited sympathy for Tommy Mair by talking up his mental health problems and how he did kindly "volunteer gardening for the elderly". She used her S*n column about the murder of a left-wing humanitarian politician by an extreme-right fanatic to repeatedly criticise the left, and even concluded that her readers should honour Jo Cox by voting for Brexit!

Mensch's stance that the killing wasn't a political assassination and that the alleged killer was just a poor sod with mental health problems and no strong political views was made to look extremely silly the very next day when the murder suspect Tommy Mair gave his name in court as "Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain", and police officers testified that he had been describing himself as a "political activist" at the scene of the crime.

Just imagine for a moment that a radical left-winger stood accused of brutally murdering a UKIP politician in the street. Then imagine that a left-wing politician, Dianne Abbott for example, had tried to condemn people as petty political points-scorers for considering the political motivations behind the attack, tried to elicit sympathy for the perpetrator by talking up their mental health issues and voluntary activities, used the killing as an excuse to spit a load of toxic bile at right-wing politicians and right-wing politics in general, and even concluded that voting Remain would be a good way of honouring the political commitment of the UKIP politician.

Can you imagine the howls of outrage from the right-wing media if Dianne Abbott had been stupid enough to attempt to depoliticise such an attack by eliciting sympathy for the perpetrator and then concluding that the UKIP politician could be honoured by voting Remain? Can anyone imagine that Louise Mensch herself would not have joined in the vitriolic attacks against Abbott had she been stupid and insensitive enough to use the exactly same woeful tactics as Mensch herself?

The Daily Mail

Louise Mensch wasn't the only one to try to elicit sympathy for the alleged killer by talking up his mental health problems and his voluntary gardening for the elderly. The Daily Mail even produced an article headline describing Tommy Mair as "a timid gardener dogged by years of mental turmoil". It's beyond the bounds of possibility that the Daily Mail would have talked up the voluntary activities and mental health difficulties of the suspected killer in this way had they been a extremist Islamist fanatic, rather than an extremist right-wing fanatic.

We all know that the Daily Mail and the rest of the right-wing press would have been shreiking "Terrorism, Terrorism, Terrorism" if the alleged killer had had a head full of extremist Islamist politics, but because he was a white guy with a head full of extremist right-wing politics, they played up his mental health issues and refused to define the attack as being an act of extreme-right terrorism.


The assassination of Jo Cox has brought out the best in some people and the absolute worst in others. As much as I detest the cosy neoliberal consensus of the Westminster establishment, to see them come together in solidarity to express horror at the savage murder of one of their own is a reminder that they're actually capable of being compassionate human beings, not just the self-serving careerists that they appear to be most of the time.

Conversely, the staggeringly hypocritical double standards of some on the right has been truly awful to behold. To see extreme-right sympathisers try to shut down political discussion of the events with displays of synthetic outrage was particularly appalling given the way they would have immediately capitalised on the murder to promote their own political agenda had the perpetrator been an Islamist fanatic rather than one of their own.

One of the things that made these displays of synthetic outrage seem even more detestable was the way that certain right-wingers like Louise Mensch immediately set about using the assassination of a left-wing politician by an extreme-right fanatic to bitterly attack the left and hawk their own right-wing political agenda.

Attacking social liberals and people on the left for daring to criticise the extreme-right hatemongering politics that clearly motivated the alleged killer, whilst opportunistically using the assassination to promote their own right-wing political agenda is such a overt and disgusting display of hypocrisy. It's astonishing that so many people seem incapable of seeing these examples of blatant double standards and grotesque hypocrisy for what they are.

If you're one of those people who found yourself actively fire-fighting for the extreme-right by trying to silence political discussion of the events with displays of synthetic outrage, or promoting extreme-right propaganda narratives (that the suspected killer was an apolitical loner, that it was Jo Cox's own fault, that the multiple witnesses were lying, that it was "false flag" operation by the Remain camp) then you should really be asking yourself what kind of person you are to react to a savage politically motivated murder in such a way.

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