Saturday, 18 June 2016

At breaking point? Yes Nigel, maybe we are.

On the day Jo Cox was murdered, Nigel Farage unveiled a poster so vile that even the Daily Mail condemned it. He didn't intend the coincidence of course, but it was striking nonetheless, and what the reaction to it suggested to me is that maybe the country is at breaking point with the facile, little-england nationalism of UKIP and the Brexiters more widely.

The poster depicts hundreds of Syrian refugees queuing at the Slovenian border, with the words "Breaking Point" in red over. What it suggests is two things: first that Europe is at breaking point from the numbers displaced by the Syrian conflict and second that Britain should therefore break away. In other words that when Europe is faced with the biggest existential crisis since World War 2, we should Put Britain First and leave them to it. That the poster echoes Nazi propaganda just strengthens the parallel. And the fact that the upcoming Chilcott report will almost certainly show the link between the ill-advised Anglo-American adventure in Iraq and the current crisis adds just another layer of irony.

Of course in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland the government and the British people didn't Put Britain First in that narrow and selfish way and maybe it is that spirit of cussed defiance combined with compassionate care for the underdog that we need to combat the Brexiters. I have been heartened by a number of Facebook posts today and yesterday saying "I want my country back" and meaning by that the inclusive, forward-looking spirit of the 2012 Olympics.

What Jo Cox represented was what I like to believe is at the heart of the British psyche. Alongside her passionate commitment to her heritage and place of birth she held fast to the desire to stand up for the underdog, specifically for the very Syrian refugees that that poster seeks to demonise. And she was killed by someone shouting "Britain First," or "Put Britain First." Her killer may not have seen Nigel Farage's poster, but the the echo is uncanny.

Jo Cox wanted the sort of Britain back that those Facebook posters are reminding us of: in fact maybe she believed that it had never left. Let's hope she was right. I shall end with the best tribute I can find to her: her own words on the Syrian refugee crisis. Because I want her to have the last word, not Nigel Farage.

"We all know that the vast majority of the terrified, friendless and profoundly vulnerable child refugees scattered across Europe tonight came from Syria.

We also know that as that conflict enters its sixth barbaric year that desperate Syrian families are being forced to make an impossible decision: stay and face starvation, rape, persecution and death or make a perilous journey to find sanctuary elsewhere.

And who can blame desperate parents for wanting to escape the horror that their families are experiencing. The reality in which children are being killed on their way to school, where children as young as seven are being forcibly recruited to the front line and where one in three Syrian children have grown up knowing nothing but fear and war.

These children have been exposed to things no child should ever witness and I know I personally would risk life and limb to get my two precious babies out of that hell-hole."

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