Violence in politics is always shocking. We pride ourselves as being part of a society in which violence should not be considered a part of everyday life. There are numerous studies that will attest to the fact that we are not as violent as our forebears. Which is why the brutal murder of Sir David Amess has so shocked the British public. It is a senseless attack that is an assault on the heart of our democracy and our sense of ourselves.
In five years, two Members of Parliament have been murdered. Think of that for a moment. In half a decade we have lost two public servants to evil crimes that defy our ability to reason.
We can’t try to reason with it of course. How could we even comprehend or understand what could drive people to go out and kill another person in such a shocking way? We cannot and it is a good thing that we can’t see ourselves in such a position.
It all begs the question of course. Why us? Why has the United Kingdom ended up with two elected representatives being viciously killed in such a short space of time? In the United States that last US elected official to be murdered on American soil was Senator Robert F Kennedy in 1968. In Canada it was 1970 when Deputy Premier of Quebec Pierre Laporte was murdered by his kidnappers during the October crisis.
In Italy it was Italian Prime Minister Aldo Moro who was tragically murdered in 1978. Yet these nations have not seen the murder of elected representatives since. And yet Britain has seen two MPs murdered in five years.
It is a question that cannot easily be explained. The attempt to point reason for this increase in violence to one policy decision or one political event are ultimately fascicle. We cannot categorically say one event caused the death of two devoted members of the House of Commons. The worsening of the state of our politics has happened over years, with the internet partly exacerbating a situation that existed before.
It has caused us to be unable to recognize that our opponents are human beings.
Our political language has become more and more toxic with words like “traitor”, “scum”, and other insults be regularly banded around. This doesn’t mean those words on their own are the cause of it – of course it isn’t. No one should say that such language on its own has made our political system more dangerous, but it has contributed to a growing atmosphere of toxic hatted.
This isn’t just online of course. It would be easy to say it was simply Twitter, to say the social media giant needs greater regulation in order for us to feel safer but it isn’t just Twitter. The mainstream media have contributed to it. We have seen the way news outlets have sometimes reported certain events and rather than helping a situation have made it worse. Some politicians themselves have not helped either utilising language that is inappropriate or inflammatory.
It is not one thing but a combination of these disparate but equally destructive elements that have corroded our discourse and made us feel not only more unsafe but more likely to lash out.
It is certainly the case that Thomas Mair is an extremist and would have likely committed some vile action or other at some point. We cannot say yet the reasoning behind the man who murdered Sir David Amess and it would be wrong to speculate on what it was. But simply because Mair was an extremist, it does not mean we can absolve ourselves of allowing a situation to create itself in which politicians, regardless of their political affiliation, are more at threat then before.
Sir David Amess’ death will hopefully be a watershed moment as the death of Jo Cox should have been. We cannot allow our politics to become more destructive, more self-obsessed and more intolerant. We have a duty to ourselves and to everyone else in Britain to detoxify the atmosphere that exists in British politics.
For the sake not only of MPs but for their staff and for the country as a whole, vile ideas and vile words should be forced out of our political discourse. We are all better than this and we need to do something now before it is too late once again for a hard working public servant who is simply trying to serve their community.
Will Barber Taylor
Will is a writer and member of the Labour Party. He is passionate about local communities and progressive politics that can help people. He is reading History at the University of Warwick and is working on a short book on Philip Snowden.