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The aftermath

24 June 2016

IT IS perhaps a good thing that the timing of the referendum on EU membership means that we can write little on the subject. By the time this is being read, the result will have been announced. The electorate will have chosen, many of them despite all that has been written and said rather than having been guided by it. It is no comfort to have had our fears of the harm caused by the holding of the referendum (Leader comment, 3 June) realised so alarmingly. But the death of Jo Cox MP is another issue about which we must be reticent, since the man accused of attacking her, Thomas Mair, has been charged with her murder, and the matter is sub judice. Any direct link between Mrs Cox’s death and the EU campaigning will be hard to prove, though Mr Mair’s pronouncement when asked in court to give his name — “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain” — is something about which readers can draw their own conclusions.

In many instances, grief at Mrs Cox’s death has combined with grief at the state of the UK which has been revealed — many would say exacerbated — by the referendum campaigns. Her hus­band, Brendan Cox, reported on Tuesday: “She was particu­larly worried about the direction of politics at the mo­­ment, particularly on creating division and playing on people’s worst fears rather than their best instincts.” Addressing Mrs Cox’s colleagues on Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury counselled: “When all is in the hands of God, our deepest anxieties — even our anxieties about the future of our nation, about its stability, and about all that makes it what it has been — even those are overcome by the peace of God, which dispels anxiety, brings hope, and enables us, above all, at the end of all things, to draw together in the confidence that not only our lives but our history is in the hand of God.”

The example set by Mrs Cox — of dedicated public service, of sacrificial work both in this country and in Africa, of a desire to see connections rather than division — managed briefly to unite politicians of all flavours in admiration of her life and regret at her death. Her murder, as perhaps nothing else could, muted the wilder elements in the campaign, at least for a time, and thus hinted that the country might come back to its political senses now that the vote is over. It is, indeed, an indication that God’s hand is at work when good can come out of so great an evil; but this will not be sustained without the determination of a great many people who, like Mrs Cox, must work to promote cohesion in British society, especially those communities most affected by immigration. The size of the task has even now not been fully acknowledged, and the people best placed to encourage a healthier view of Britain’s multi-ethnic population have been roundly dismissed as an “elite”. The word “expert” has been redefined to mean precisely the opposite. What is needed now, above all else, is trust, and this will come — whatever the outcome in the referendum — only with a shift of focus from Brussels and Westminster to Batley and the many towns and villages that currently feel overlooked.

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