Every day we pass from the past into the future. Some days it is more obvious than others that the world in whch we go to sleep is not the world in which we woke, and that that world has not merely slipped behind, but still within easy reach, but is an alien place, forever inaccessible, because things changed too much, and in one step we have gone on ahead, where it’s cold, lonely and dark.
Today a woman was killed. That’s not news, it happens every day. There are many who, rightly say, that it should be news and should not be taken for granted in the way it usually is. This death won’t be taken for granted. Jo Cox, Labour MP for Batley and Spen, aged 41, married with two young children, came out of the weekly constituency surgery. A man had been waiting for her. He attacked her in the street with a homemade gun, shot her three times and apparently stabbed her several times as well.
For the afternoon, we waited on the news that she had been helicoptered to hospital, that she was in ‘critical’ condition, but instead we were finally officially told she had been pronounced dead at the scene.
A week from now, we will be voting in a Referendum about whether to Remain in the European Community or apply to Leave. Jo Cox was fervently in favour of Remain. Her apparent murderer has been alleged to have shouted ‘Britain First’, and to have internet interests in far right groups.
I do not know how true, if true at all, any of that is. I hope, desperately, that none of it is true, that my instinctive, sinking acceptance of its plausibility is down to prejudice. I want this man to be an ordinary, everyday nutjob. A woman-hater, drawn from the massed ranks of those who object to a woman having any say in anything. An obsessive, someone who can be classed with the likes of that disturbed man who perpetrated the massacre at Lockerbie.
But if what I fear is right, if the murder was because this woman spoke of remaining in Europe, than we have taken a very long step today into a future that none of us with any intelligence would want to contemplate.
And maybe even a lone nutjob can’t help us. Already there are people hailing this as a first strike, an overdue fightback, advancing their favoourite choices for next victim.
We are at loose, without protection, in a world in which fanatics can decide that their political beliefs are so important that they justify murdering people who speak against them. We have dropped through a hole into a world where the demons unleashed by this referendum, the hatreds towards one side from the other, the anger against the many multitudes of ‘others’ that have been stoked by government and press these past years, have now come up from their secret black holes in people’s minds and moved into the air where they become acts.
If this is what lies behind today, our future as a country has become a fright and a terror.
Because what happened today to Jo Cox, MP, could now happen to any of us. If it stems from that root, then I am now very afraid. Afraid of my own country, where I have lived for sixty years.
That’s a terrible thing.