It’s a small comfort, I know; but thank God it wasn’t a Muslim who murdered Jo Cox. Otherwise we wouldn’t hear the last of it from the Daily Mail. On that subject there’s an excellent piece in the Guardian this morning by Martin Kettle. (You might want to read it before you go on.)
Of course it isn’t the Daily Mail either which is to blame for yesterday’s dreadful event. Or UKIP. Or our pretty vile social media. Or – necessarily – ‘Britain First’, the extreme right-wing party whose name Thomas Mair is reported to have shouted as he was attacking her (though we can’t yet be sure), and whose candidate for the London mayoral election notoriously turned his back on Sadiq Khan as the result of that election was announced.
But all are partly responsible for stirring up hatred against foreign refugees – one of Jo Cox’s favourite causes, on which she delivered her maiden speech in Parliament – and against politicians generally, over the past few years. Look at Farage’s latest referendum poster: millions of sinister Turks pictured queuing to enter Britain, with the slogan ‘Breaking Point’ (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/16/nigel-farage-defends-ukip-breaking-point-poster-queue-of-migrants). And at the Right-wing press’s constant demeaning of even the best-intentioned of our MPs. (What better way is there of getting people to accept the primacy of the market over democracy?) Admixed with the rumbling popular discontents whose sources I tried to analyze in my last post, and probably working on a mentally unstable mind – we don’t know yet; but the Swedish papers are pointing out how similar this looks to the murder of their Anna Lindh in 2003 – this kind of thing furnishes a toxic soil out of which such hatred can sprout. As Jo Cox’s widower put it in his statement after her death, with impressive dignity and wisdom: ‘She would have wanted two things above all else to happen now: one that our precious children are bathed in love; and two, that we all unite to fight against the hatred that killed her. Hate doesn’t have a creed, race or religion, it is poisonous.’ And it is all too easy to stir up. Respectable politicians are already appealing to the most combative participants in the current referendum debate to smooth down the tone of their propaganda. We’ll see if that has any effect when the campaigning – interrupted just now out of respect – resumes.
Whether it was involved or not, ‘Britain First’ – and here’s its website, if anyone is interested, as I don’t suppose many of my readers will be: https://www.britainfirst.org – is a derisory organization in terms of numbers and real influence, as have been most of Britain’s fascist and neo-fascist parties historically. We pride ourselves on this; that adherents of Hitler and Mussolini had no real following in Britain before the last War, for example, by comparison with most Continental nations.
But in fact we have had a significant and influential fascist party all along. It’s not organized as a party, but has taken one key aspect of fascism – its propaganda – and built its considerable influence on that. It goes under the name of the Daily Mail. I first came across the Mail historically when I was researching British opinion towards the Boer War (1899-1902), when it was the most jingoistic of all the newspapers of the time; despite the fact that its South African correspondent, a chap called GW Steevens, was something of a ‘pro-Boer’, as opponents of the war were known then, who nonetheless trimmed his reports to satisfy the imperialistic prejudices of his proprietor, Lord Northcliffe. Northcliffe’s family still own the paper, I believe. We all know of their support for Hitler in the 1930s – ‘Hurrah for the Blackshirts!’ – and of the consistently right-wing, often deceitful and usually hate-filled lines they have plugged ever since. Newspapers can be as powerful as parties. If we in Britain haven’t had a significant and certainly not a continuous fascist party since the 1930s, the Daily Mail must be the nearest equivalent.
Hate really is poisonous. So I suppose I must learn to stop hating the hate-filled Daily Mail.