Since the UK parliament was established 311 years ago, only 8 serving MPs have been murdered. One was Prime Minister Spencer Percival assassinated in 1812 by a deranged businessman. Six were killed by Irish Republicans between 1922 and 1990. In the last days of the UK’s 2016 EU referendum campaign Jo Cox, became the 8th MP (and only woman) to be murdered. Historically, political assignation has been extremely rare in British life.
Jo Cox’s killer, a far Right-wing activist, is now serving a life sentence. Last week, it was revealed that a neo-Nazi had plotted the killing of another MP, Rosie Cooper.
Former Conservative MP, Anna Soubry, who left that party to join an independent group of MPs, was advised by the police not to go home on a recent weekend. Ms Soubry has received countess death threats. The police said they could not guarantee to keep her safe. Like Jo Cox, Rosie Cooper and Anna Soubry believe Britain is better off inside the EU.
Many MPs, most of them women, have similar stories to tell. Threats of extreme violence, including murder, torture and rape and intimidation and bullying have become so frequent in British politics that only the worst examples now make the headlines. Political violence has been normalised in a country that so very recently was a model to the world of how to conduct politics in a civilised and peaceful fashion.
Tempers are fraying in Britain. As I write it is possible that the country will leave the EU on the 12th of April, or the 30th June, or exit could be delayed for up to a year. Parliament and the country are hopelessly split. Ugly words and veiled threats cloud the national discourse.
The politics of the fist and the boot has not yet killed off reasoned argument and respectful debate, though it is making inroads into Britain’s national life. It’s the sort of politics that seeks to make politically active people appalled by the tone of debate and so frightened for their own safety or that of their families that they give up politics altogether. Its aim is to stop free speech, open debate and peaceful persuasion.
The 2016 referendum and its catastrophic management since then has unleased dark forces into Britain. Police chiefs say that right wing terrorism is almost as much of a threat to life in these islands as the extremist Muslim type. They are little different to each other. Their mutual targets are anyone not like them. Even the fringes of the hard left are not immune to using social media to threaten and intimidate, though so far the far left has been free of physical violence.
Hating is a prerequisite for all fundamentalist terror groups. The far right hates the politics of inclusion, tolerance and openness. They hate liberal democracy and freedom of speech and religion, though claim their own freedom of speech to shut up those who oppose them.
They admire Hitler. They claim a distorted kinship with the men who beat fascism and crushed Hitler. My father was among those men. He’s long dead. He would be horrified that the beast he thought slain and lifeless has reappeared not only on the streets of Europe, but also on the streets of Britain. He gave six years of his life to defend his country, in the Arctic, North Atlantic, Mediterranean and Pacific.
These modern fascists never mention the hundreds of thousands of Asian, African and Caribbean people who came to Britain’s aid and put their lives at risk for the colonial power.
They regret the passing of the British Empire our new boot-boys. To them the English white man is a superior being. In their world the English come top, then the Scots and Welsh, but not the Catholic Irish. Immigrants are not wanted. Not welcome. Jostled on tube trains. Sworn at on busses. Shoved off pavements. Spat at in hospitals, even when doctor or nurse trying to make the sick well.
Ending the tyranny of absolutism, of fascism and the excesses of political fundamentalism of all types are among the greatest of reasons why the European Union came into being. For hundreds of years the powers of Europe fought and slaughtered each other, culminating in the two great wars of the 20th century. For 300 years warring Europe spread its imperial ambitions across the globe, exporting its fighting to claim another piece of Africa or subdue an Asian principality.
After World War 2, as the empires of Britain, France, Holland, Belgium, Portugal and Italy crumbled, European men and women of vision – motivated by the desire to never again see the dehumanisation of Europe wrought by Hitler and his allies – worked to establish a way of bonding together the nations of Europe. Their primary aim was making war between them almost impossible. The key was the creation of a system of mutual economic cooperation based on the rule of law and dedicated to cementing democracy across the continent. A continent of free speech, freedom of religion, of peaceful politics, of finding a balance of policies to reward capital and labour.
A continent celebrating man’s humanity to man. A continent where equality applied to all. Most especially to those you might not like. It was and essentially remains a system of organising life for the greater good of the many not the few. It’s far from perfect. It’s full of issues that need reform. In some cases urgent reform. But it is now the biggest, most affluent, most free, most successful union of sovereign nations the world has ever seen.
The EU was always at its heart a peace project. It only worked as that because it works economically. It only worked economically because nations gave up some sovereignty and because the competing needs of labour, consumer and producer were reconciled. It is a virtuous circle that has brought nearly 75 years of peace, now threatened by the narrowest of nationalism and the creed of White supremacy.
In Africa, the drive for closer economic ties and mutually beneficial terms of trade are beginning to break down barriers that have helped hold back African cross-border trade and investment. Cooperation, goodwill, political inclusivity and a shared sense of political direction have the potential to greatly accelerate Africa’s development. The more we are economically inter-dependent of each other the less likely we are to go to war. The more we know of each other the lower the barriers to success. Africa increasingly knows this. Europe must not forget it.
Martin Roche is a graduate of the great and ancient University of Aberdeen, Scotland, where he read politics and international relations. He began his working life on a daily newspaper in Scotland and has since written for many newspapers, magazines and radio stations in the UK and internationally. As a communications consultant, he has advised political and business leaders in over 20 countries.