It barely seems possible that only 40 hours ago a young MP was murdered on the streets of a quiet West Yorkshire town known previously for science (Joseph Priestley) and the Brontes. I spent much of the last two days in Birstall, doing media interviews and trying to support the local vicar and church. I make the following brief observations not for the benefit of the wider world (as if…), but in order that I should not lose for myself the impressions of the last couple of days.
- Jo Cox was an unusual MP because she represented the place she grew up in and the people among whom she grew up. She not only did not forget her roots in Yorkshire grit, she returned to live among them. Hence the emotional impact locally – she was one of them.
- The thoughts that keep,me awake have little to do with politics and everything to do with her husband and children. This is a grievous loss – an unimaginable cruelty to them as well as to Jo herself.
- The man charged has now owned in court his far right, nationalist motive: he gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”. Although speculation about motive was unhelpful in the early hours after Jo's death, there was one observation that merited consideration: the political discourse in this country is poisonous – and recognised beyond our borders to be so. To put it bluntly: if the linguistic and cultural pool we swim in is poisoned day after day – with opponents in the Referendum debate being dismissed as dishonest, corrupt, abusable and our European partners being daily written off as corrupt, incompetent and (their real crime) foreign – then we shouldn't be surprised when some people, for whatever broken and destructive reason, push language to consequent action.
- If you haven't seen it, watch the German film Die Welle ('The Wave').
- I am so proud of the local church in Birstall and the vicar, Paul Knight, who, never having been faced by anything like this before, did what the Anglican Parish Church is there to do: created space for all-comers to come together and share shock and grief. But, this space was not empty space – the few words spoken by Paul, by me and by the Bishop of Huddersfield were intended to do two things: (a) offer a vocabulary for grief and lament, and (b) to offer a framework for living for a time with unspeakable reflection not only about Jo Cox and her family, but also about our own mortality and fragility. Civilisation is thin. But, it is not bishops who do this day by day in a particular place; it is clergy and their people who, confident that the cross speaks of looking the real world in the eye (with all its brutality, injustice and agony), make space for grief in the context of resurrection. This violence and appalling destructiveness do not and will not have the final word.
- Many of Jo Cox's fellow MPs were there at St Peter's, Birstall on Thursday evening. I feel strongly for them. For several of them – young parents themselves – the fragility was clear. As I said in the vigil: MPs do not simply curse the darkness, but light a candle to dispel it. They commit themselves to a vision for which they then work amazingly hard. What they get from a public fed by a cynical media is abuse, suspicion and sneering resentment. This must stop. Social media do not help in this, but consideration must now given to the potential legal consequences for those who threaten and abuse on social media.
Enough for now. I have a family celebration to go to in Liverpool. And I am not insensitive to the poignancy of this.