Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered on 16 June 2016, just a week before the referendum on whether Britain should remain in, or leave, the European Union – a vote which was to tear the country apart along faultlines of age, location, class, socio-economic status and much more.
It stirred up intense feelings and thoughts, the effects of which are still being felt today, but which, of course, were running high that week before the vote. Now, following a trial, a man has been found guilty of her murder, with the court hearing that he shouted “this is for Britain”, “keep Britain independent” and “Britain first” shortly before his fateful actions. Prosecutors said that he was motivated by hate, with his crimes "nothing less than acts of terrorism".
At this time of reflection, with another major political decision made in the US seemingly on the basis of hate, fear, and a wish to return to a rose-tinted past, a passionate monologue by LBC Radio presenter James O’Brien, made on 17 June, has gone viral again. It remains an essential watch, asking questions about exactly what was happening to our society then – and, sadly, remains as relevant now as then.
“Is it even vaguely possible that a man living in Britain today could have been pushed to the brink of murder by political debate and the political situation?
I don't care where you come from. I don't care who you vote for. That's the question I've got. Can you conceive of circumstances in which somebody living in Britain today could be pushed to a point where they contemplate this sort of conduct?
And I'm afraid to tell you that I can. I truly can.
If I was to be reading my newspaper every single morning and being told that my very existence was under siege from people I've never met and never seen but keep getting told are coming here in their hordes.
If I was to open my newspaper or turn on my radio or my television set to hear that everybody coming here is a rapist, and they've got their eyes on our women and we've got no chance whatsoever of protecting ourselves and unless we do this or do that or treat them like this, or treat them like that, then we're all doomed. We’re all going to hell in a handcart.
If I was being told that it’s time to reclaim our country every time I got out of bed in the morning, I'd begin to believe it. I think. If I didn't have the knowledge, the insight, and the education to know that it is not true.
We want our country back from whom? We want our country back from when? We want our country back how? We want it back from the 21st Century do we? We want it back from a world in which the movement of people and the movement of populations is as commonplace as the movement of products. We want our country back from what, when, when we could choose the nationality of our next door neighbour? We want our country back?
Convince me if you can that political debate in Britain in the last couple of years has not created an environment in which we find it easy to believe, or possible to believe, that this sort of violence, this sort of terrorism could unfold on our streets…
...What is the point of having these conversations? What is the point of having these conversations if we're not allowed to say what we want and express what we fear?
Why is it on days like today that people who have spent the last decade banging on about freedom of speech and being able to speak your mind without being shot down in flames suddenly think everybody else who disagrees with them should shut up and go away?
What do we learn from this death? If as is being reported it appears to have been committed at least in part for political reasons.
'How dare you politicise the death of a politician who has been killed for what appear to be political reasons,' say some people.
'It's a mental health issue, it's not an immigration issue, it's not a political issue.'
Well, I would come with you on that journey if you'd tried to go down the same road when Lee Rigby was murdered by a paranoid schizophrenic. When does it become terrorism?”