Killing of Jo Cox puts fevered EU referendum debate into perspective



Another major football championship and another outpouring of national grief when England failed to win their opening game. With minutes to go, the headlines had all been written. “Assured England advance ...” Then came Russia’s injury-time equaliser and the back pages had to be ripped up. Even though England have a long and proud record of underperforming in international tournaments, the vast majority of fans still seemed surprised by the result. Having spent most of the first half failing to take several clear chances and finally taken the lead late in the game, there was an expectation that England would hang on and take all three points. Perhaps it was the hope that did it.


One of the drawbacks of following the EU referendum campaign closely is that you have to get used to politicians saying the same things over and over again. Even down to the same lame gags. I still haven’t quite worked out if it’s because they are too lazy to bother to rephrase even a subclause – they believe that voters are too stupid to understand more than one message, so they don’t want to risk saying anything that might confuse them – or because they genuinely find their own jokes hilarious. With Gordon Brown, I’m beginning to suspect the latter. After David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn were distinctly underwhelming in presenting the case for remaining, the former Labour prime minister was brought out of retirement to do for the campaign in Leicester what he had done for the Scottish referendum in Glasgow. It started quite promisingly; Gordon at 70% is a great deal more passionate than Dave and Jeremy at full volume. But then he started rattling off the same jokes that he has been using in almost every speech for the past 10 years. The one about Nelson Mandela and Amy Winehouse. The one about George Bernard Shaw and Michael Foot. As he reached the one about Hayek and Keynes, the hacks began placing bets on whether we would get a full house with the Anthony Burgess gag. We did. A history of Gordon in four gags.


Sir – for the moment at least – Philip Green’s six-hour session before a joint business and work and pensions select committee was full of surreal moments. We had Big Phil accusing one MP of looking at him in a funny way and another of playing with his glasses in an annoying manner. We had Big Phil explaining that he had only moved his family to Monaco for health reasons and had no idea that the principality offered any tax advantages. All these years, Big Phil has apparently been labouring under the impression that the reason Lady – for the moment – Tina hasn’t spent much time with him in England was because she doesn’t really like him. But the most telling moment came when Big Phil’s mobile rang during the proceedings. Big Phil reached into his pocket to switch it off and pulled out an old Nokia 6310. Finally, we got to see what the billionaire had bought with the £1 that he had got for the sale of BHS to the three-times bankrupt Dominic Chappell. And why the Pensions Regulator had been having such trouble getting hold of him.


Say what you like about Michael Gove, at least he believes what he’s saying. Unlike Boris Johnson, who generally acts out of personal advantage, Mike is a proper zealot. Unfortunately, it turns out that not everything Mike believes is necessarily true. For years, Mike has had a burning resentment against the EU for putting his father’s Aberdeen fishing fleet out of business. He knows this because he is certain that he heard his father say this to him when he was a kid. It seems, however, that Mike might have got the wrong end of the stick and that what his Dad was actually saying was that, while he had no great love for the EU, he had managed to flog his fishing business as a going concern. As Father’s Day approaches, there is a clear message to fathers the world over. Be very careful what you say to your five-year old ideologue children and always check that they have understood what you were saying. Otherwise, in 40 years time, you might find yourself responsible for the country taking an important decision directly as a result of your misinformation.


One of the unexpected pleasures of having grown-up children is walking to the polling station with them to vote. Their enthusiasm to participate in the democratic process, their grasp of what’s at stake and, it has to be said, the knowledge that they are voting the right way, always gives me a thrill. On Thursday morning, when my son and I – my daughter was away in the US, but don’t worry, she will be back for the EU referendum – went off to vote in the Tooting byelection caused by Sadiq Khan stepping down to run for London mayor, it was no different. Hours later, I heard that the Labour MP Jo Cox had been killed in her constituency. Whatever the motive, it’s impossible not to make the connection that her death occurred at the very moment when a particularly grubby referendum campaign was becoming grubbier still. While the remain camp were becoming increasingly baffled that the public were not believing them on the economy, and the leave camp were having to pinch themselves that their immigration message was going down a storm, Cox was one of the many MPs who restricted herself to telling the truth. When my family and I walk up the road to vote next Thursday, we will be thinking of her.

Powered by article was written by John Crace, for The Guardian on Friday 17th June 2016 13.17 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010