The Old Gods' New Tricks
The memorial to Jo Cox in Parliament Square: Was her death politicised? (Garry Knight CC 1.0)
Britain’s EU referendum campaign almost persuaded me to start believing in — and perhaps honouring — the old gods. Every one of their tricks came into play and I am presently exhausted by their inventions. A week before the vote I bumped into a pro-Brexit friend. With the recent polls showing Brexit with as much as a ten-point lead, was I wrong, I wondered, to have a lift in my heart? No, he assured me. Hours later the Labour MP Jo Cox was killed by a man who appeared to be shouting some kind of nationalist slogan. “That’s that,” I thought.
It is always striking how people use individual gunmen for their own ends. When someone claiming to act in the name of Islam guns down dozens of people (as happened the weekend before Jo Cox’s murder at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida) most governments and pundits announce that the attack has nothing to do with Islam and that no community should be tainted by association with the lone gunman. By contrast, whenever a white gunman claiming to act in the name of some neo-Nazi cult guns people down, those same governments and pundits insist that there is in fact a well-spring of hate behind the gunman — a hatred that may be in the hearts of us all. But the fates have finer tricks up their sleeves. What were the chances of a promising, attractive, young female politician campaigning for “Remain” being murdered on the eve of the polls? Huge compared to the chances that her birthday would also fall on the eve of the referendum. So on Wednesday June 22 Trafalgar Square was given over not to a rally for “Remain” or “Leave” but a memorial with careful but clear political undertones. The actress Gillian Anderson read a poem called “I shall stand for love.” Particular emphasis was put on the lines, “I shall stand for love / So that our children are safe / Our friends are sheltered / So that our borders are open.” Sentiments like that, expressed at a time like that, are what cause people to lose judgement or reason and welcome in all manner of furies.
I have said before that the art of prediction is no such thing. So certain was I that “Remain” would win that I told people in the days before the poll that it was simply a measure of how close we could make it, so Brussels would hear and perhaps even listen. Then on the night itself the gods picked up such carefully crafted rationales and hurled them around, dashing some careers and elevating others.