Postcard from London: Brexit or not, People are Fed Up
“While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me time and time again as I travel around the constituency is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox (1974 – 2016)
Till last Thursday I didn’t know about Jo Cox or her politics. At 4’o clock that evening the news of her brutal murder was flashed across websites and news channels. The Labour MP from Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire was shot at and stabbed repeatedly in broad daylight as she made way to meet members of her constituency. The man who killed her is said to have far right leanings and shouted “Britain First” moments before viciously attacking the 41-year-old. Reading about Jo Cox and her legacy in all these days after the tragedy leaves me with a huge sense of loss – as a human being, as a woman and a mother – of an incredible person who believed in values that make this country great.
The quote at the beginning of the post is from Mrs. Cox’s maiden speech at the House of Commons last year. She worked with many leading humanitarian charities before joining mainstream politics. She was a fearless campaigner for refugees, their rehabilitation and rights. This was someone who genuinely wanted to make a difference and was working hard to do that. This was a politician who genuinely cared. The least we can do is honour her legacy. As the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn in his tribute to her today said, “In her tragic death, we can come together to change our politics, to tolerate a little more and condemn a little less.”
Her death halted (albeit temporarily) a vituperative campaign in which both sides seem more keen to malign the other and mislead the public with numbers that have been twisted to suit their respective agenda. It forced at least political parties (and hopefully people) on both sides of the Brexit divide to pause and reflect on how corrosive the narrative has become. Whilst her death is not being linked directly to the ongoing debate it is not difficult to see how she was the victim of the anger that seems to have taken over the country in the last couple of weeks. What started as a referendum to decide Britain’s membership in the EU club seems to have descended into a violent tirade against immigration.
Jo Cox was the second casualty in this debate.
The first – was truth. Right from its start numbers were being twisted by both sides of the debate to suit their agenda.
Jo Cox was the second casualty in this debate. The first – was truth. Right from its start numbers were being twisted by both sides of the debate to suit their agenda.
The Leave campaign alleges that Britain is squandering its sovereignty to EU and the money it is pumping out as membership fee can be used to help the NHS (National Health Services). The latest in this mud-slinging and divisive politics as a poster by UKIP Leader Nigel Farage that shows a long queue of migrants (mostly non-White) with the slogan “Breaking point: the EU has failed us all.”
No matter how much they try, the Leave campaign cannot distance them far enough from his brand of politics.
As for the Remain side, after the initial onslaught of advertisements, they seem to have been on the back foot ever since Leave upped its ante. All they seem to be doing is fueling fear of the unknown. Some Remain backers are making a passionate appeal to the youth, very rightly calling it their Referendum, but none of this is coming from the politicians who want the country to stay put.
The Leave campaigners’ immigrant bashing seems to have found an echo in nearly all circles. Including many Non-resident Indians (NRI). Ironic, I know.
Before I go any further, I would like to clarify that the following observation is largely based on my observation and casual chats about the issues with my friends, acquaintances and colleagues from the Indian subcontinent. Many of whom arrived in Britain around the same time I did, seven years ago. We all live in London. So naturally we are not representative of the UK as a whole, either. There are many Leave sympathisers in my sample set, and even among those who don’t want out, there seems to be an overwhelming verdict against the “foreigners”. The chief complaint in general amongst those (NRIs and UK citizens) against EU immigration is increased and unsustainable burden on the public services (health care, education, social care etc.).
Whilst the above is based more on anecdotal evidence than on cold hard numbers, the issues hurt at a personal level. It can’t be denied that immigration to this country is a challenge and steps have to be taken to address the issue. But is it reason enough to quit the EU?
There are also those in the NRI community, including some whom I spoke to, who are quick to point out that that the pressure on the NHS, unemployment, ridiculously priced housing and rents is down to the government’s austerity measures introduced six years ago and still going strong. The cash-strapping started long before the Referendum came calling. It is unfair, they feel, to solely blame the immigrants for public sector woes when the reasons lie much closer home.
Curiously no one in the Remain campaign chose to highlight this fact in their canvassing. I can understand why the Tory campaigners who want the UK to stay in the EU wouldn’t harp on it but none in the Labour or others has bothered highlighting till recently.
Which ever side they may vote on June 23rd, the politics around the referendum has left the electorate disgusted, disillusioned and very angry.
Which ever side they may vote on June 23rd, the politics around the referendum has left the electorate disgusted, disillusioned and very angry. Whether the UK decides to stay or leave the EU, the government will have to face this reality and indeed answer some very difficult questions. As for we the people, we need to look within to channel this anger at the right source; we also need to act with compassion, foster harmony and courage. We need to be more like Jo Cox.
Prerna is a former journalist whose work has appeared in leading Indian newspapers, and news and feature magazines both online and offline; as well as on a leading national news network. Nowadays she works as a Trusts fundraiser for a disability charity in London. Views here are personal
Feature Image Credit: incelaw