Saturday, 18 June 2016

The Referendum, Jo Cox and Democracy

Amid the Diana-fication, almost the beatification, of murdered backbench Labour MP Jo Cox, it would be easy to lose sight of the fact that Thursday’s referendum is simply that: it is not a General Election.

Judging by the way the media has pitched the whole contest as a scrap between Prime Minister David Cameron and Tory Rival Boris Johnson and UKIP leader Nigel Farage, you’d be forgiven for thinking that if the majority vote is in favour of leaving the EU, that will mean a change of resident at 10 Downing Street.

It won't. If the Leave campaign wins the man tasked with the responsibility of starting the long process of disengagement with Brussels won’t be either Mr Johnson or Mr Farage, but Mr Cameron – if he decides to stay as Prime Minister until his second term ends in 2020.

Daft as it may be to state the obvious, I have a feeling that there are people out there who think this is a first-past-the-post, winner-takes-all party political battle. As others have pointed out elsewhere the ownership of the Referendum is not the politicians but the public. Nor does it belong to the spectre of a slain MP.

Jo Cox did not die for democracy, she did not choose to martyr herself for the good of the cause. As far as anybody knows she was picked on and attacked out of the blue. If she had had a premonition of what was about to happen, I’m sure she would have done her best to have avoided it, at the same time ensuring that nobody else got hurt inadvertently.

I can understand the desire to make a collective public expression of sadness, if it helps people to deal with their anger, bewilderment or sorrow. But the immediate elevation of this reportedly personable woman to ‘stardom’ in the parliamentary firmament – first by the Prime Minister and then by sundry other politicians and journalists – struck entirely the wrong note for me.

And if this process continues when Parliament specially reconvenes on Monday I think public sympathy might turn to irritation, not about Jo Cox but with those exploiting her murder to say something sententious, not to say tendentious, about the current state of democracy in this country and its representatives.

Remember, in May 2008 – long before Jo Cox was elected to be an MP - the House of Commons lost a High Court case to prevent public disclosure of MPs’ expenses. Subsequently, these guardians of democracy tried to scupper proposed expenses reforms.

They eventually agreed to piece-meal reforms after forcing the Labour Government of Gordon Brown to drop a proposal to scrap the allowance for second homes.

In May, 2009, The Daily Telegraph printed a long series of articles from leaked computer discs highlighting some of the practices common in Parliament, such as ‘flipping’ homes to maximise expenses claims and changing the designation of second homes to avoid paying Capital Gains Tax.

The public, on the receiving end of austerity cuts, whose sons and daughters are killed in foreign wars allegedly in defence of freedom and democracy, whose homes are burgled and property stolen usually without any satisfaction of justice, tend to have the same regard for politicians, in both Westminster and Brussels, that they have for journalists and the groomers of children.

The memory of Jo Cox’s life should be honoured. It should not be used as emotional propaganda by those with another agenda.

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