There is no ‘toxic atmosphere’ in Birstall

Jo Cox was a popular and passionate local MP. Her murder, by a nationalist fanatic, has prompted a hysterical reaction from commentators. The media is awash with paranoid nonsense about a ‘toxic atmosphere created by the EU referendum’.

I live near Birstall – the Yorkshire village in which Cox was killed. My daughter’s school went into lockdown after it happened. But outside of this isolated incident, there is no ‘heightened tension’, ‘toxic atmosphere’ or anything of the sort in the area.

There is no relationship between the murder of a popular local MP and the EU referendum – except in the mind of one highly disturbed individual who thinks he’s ‘fighting for a cause’ and a lot of self-styled commentators who live in their own fevered imaginations.

Some people need to get a grip. Quickly.

Firstly, Thomas Mair represents no one but himself and the cause in his own head. It appears that he associated with far-right sects and even made the weapon that killed Jo. But his views are not shared by other people locally. Mair was clearly disturbed and intermittently sought treatment for his condition.

Secondly, we do not live in the 1970s, when the National Front had a significant following. Nor do we live in the 1980s, when the police sparked riots by systematically targeting young black men, encouraged by media campaigns on street crime and ‘black muggers’. I remember the defence of Asian families against harassment on council estates in Bradford. I remember the National Front attacking street stalls defending African immigrants against deportation. Racism in society reflected the politics of the time – and we live in very different times. Overt racism is now rare and, when it is expressed, it does not carry the intimidatory power it once invoked.

Thirdly, despite the vocal discussion of immigration during the EU referendum, animosity is not being expressed towards European immigrants. It is common to hear people say that there is too much immigration. But they also say they ‘like working with the Polish’ and ‘would do the same if I was them’. Typical complaints focus on the difficulty in getting a quick doctor’s appointment or a school place. People have seen their workplaces, towns and villages change around them, but they were never consulted or involved in any way. Change is happening to people, it is not being made by them.

Fourthly, working-class communities, like the one in Birstall, feel that no political party, in fact, no one in public life, represents their interests. Jo Cox was a popular MP, but her party – Labour – has failed to defend or advance working-class interests. New jobs are typically low-paid and insecure. The engineering and textile factories, the power stations and the coal mines are being replaced by supermarket distribution centres and packing plants. People want to be listened to, to be taken seriously. Is it any wonder that most working-class people will defy the elite on Thursday and vote for a Brexit?

Media commentators, and those who now pass as left-wing activists, have no connection with the working class. They are shocked that the EU referendum has ignited interest, discussion and genuine passion. Their detachment from ordinary people means that they misunderstand their motivation. They genuinely fear the people because, up until now, they have been able to ignore them. If you live in a rarefied world where the only views you hear are within an echo chamber of reinforcing groupthink, it is a shock to realise that most people do not think the way you do. And it is the media elite’s contemptuous view of working-class people that leads them to be fearful. In a lone act of murder, they see mass hatred.

What we are seeing now is not a ‘toxic atmosphere of heightened tension’ within working-class communities, but a fear and loathing of the working class among middle-class commentators.

Andy Shaw is a tech entrepreneur who writes occasionally for the Spectator. Read his satirical blog here and his regular blog here.

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