...a blog by Richard Flowers

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Day 5651: The Dark is Rising


We must turn back the tide.

In the last week there have been two murderous attacks on people who, although not close to me are only a short step away and feel like my people.

In America, my soon-to-be-step brother knows people in Orlando who have lost loved ones in the massacre at the Pulse nightclub – an attack on the gay community, my community.

And then in Birstall, I know people who have campaigned near there and who have campaigned with Jo Cox for better treatment of refugees – an attack on liberal-thinking politics, my tribe of politics.

At the Westminster vigil

These incidents do not come in isolation.

The roots of this poison go deep. Fear, anger, rage have been encouraged, fed by years of austerity. Left and right have encouraged a blame culture and simplistic answers. Our media have traduced politicians as venal and corrupt. The immediacy of social media has unleashed a tidal wave of trolls with the power of abuse. And this referendum has been the ugliest political campaign, fought in the ugliest political climate. To get to this point.

How many tweets calling a person with the opposite view a traitor does it take before some people think it's okay to shout abuse in the streets? How may expletive-laden chants of traitor have to be shouted before some people think it's okay to whisper threats of rape and violence to a young woman as she campaigns? How many whispered threats before some people think it's okay to stop threatening and use violence? How many assaults and beatings does it take before one person thinks that he will do what everyone he reads is saying he should do? To get to this point.

When did it become okay to say we've had enough of experts?

When did it become okay to say that violence would follow if you don't get your own way?

When did it become okay to just lie?

Those on the right need to be held to account for how they have promoted simplistic – and wrong – answers, seeking protectionism and blaming the foreigner, the other, despite the clear historical precedent that these answers do not work – we hear people like Peter Oborne saying the working class are fearful for their jobs but stoking that fear by repeating the falsehood that immigrants "take British people's jobs" when that is simply not how economies work.

Those on the left need to look at how they behaved during the coalition years: all the cries of betrayal and blame, never seeking to promote answers or accepting responsibility, abandoning arguments just as they abandoned the working class vote to the nationalists – the likes of Polly Toynbee who now condemns the toxic climate but never took a week off from denigrating Nick Clegg for trying to make a bad situation work.

Those in the media need to admit to their own faults, and failings and bias, who have given platforms to Farage and his rag tag minority far beyond what they deserved until the prophecy has become self-fulfilling; who have spun news stories – or just plain falsehoods – to the tune of business tycoons whose interests do not in any way correspond with the interests of the British public; and who push the idea that politicians never give a straight answer, but who won't let a politician answer the question without interrupting, and some questions need more than a soundbite to answer, who have earned far more than the MPs they bully while painting politicians as venal and corrupt and deserving of abuse and yes even death.

But I won't accept false equivalence. There are faults on all sides, but they are not the same, and to pretend that there is any sense that the Stronger In campaign mounting piece after piece of evidence that things will not be good outside the EU – dismissed as "Project Fear" by the people scaremongering about immigrant rapists – is in any way similar to the malice and lies of Vote Leave is to give succour to the racists who can hardly even be said to be hiding in plain sight any more, they are out in the open and revelling in their vile views.

There comes a time when you have to ask yourself – as in the Mitchell & Webb sketch – are you the baddies?

UKIP are not the victims here. Nigel Farage, asked about the death of Jo Cox, claimed that he was the victim of hatred. Nigel Farage is not the victim here. If you foment hate and you get hate back, that is not a free pass to go on spewing hate.

Evil exists.

It is a childish thing to think in terms of good and evil. We are more sophisticated than that. Grown up life is so much more complex and nuanced, full of difficult compromise and the best being enemy to the better. But sometimes is really is that simple. Because we have seen this road before and we know the place it ends.

It is a childish thing to think in terms of good and evil. But it is story of my childhood that keeps coming back to me – Susan Cooper's "The Dark is Rising". And that is what I have been feeling, for the last days, weeks, months even.

There is Darkness in all humans. And that Dark is rising.

I'm not immune. I'm not a saint. I've felt anger, fury even, at some of the things that have been said and done in this campaign. I like to tell myself that I've tried to campaign in an honest and optimistic way, that I've tried to stick to the facts and called on people to use fact and reason to build their case, to use the best of British tradition to encourage us to be part of holding together a Europe that for the first time in history has gone not one but two generations without tearing itself apart. But if you scrutinise, I would not be surprised if you found I'd sent a tweet in wrath, or posted an irate put-down on FaceBook.

Many have said that her death was the first they had heard of Jo Cox. Because she'd been working with Tim Farron and Yvette Cooper to urge Britain to do more for refugees I was vaguely aware of her work. But I can hardly say that I knew her.

But I want to try to be a better person, to not give in to that anger, as my way to honour her memory.

We must all strive to do better. And we can be better.

Today I am appalled to hear that a man was planning to assassinate Donald Trump. We cannot defeat Trump – or Farage – by killing him. That way, we only replace him.

The vigils that have been held for Orlando and for Jo Cox, the dignity of the tributes paid in parliament, have shown that there is love and there is a better way. The sudden and very obvious panic in the Vote Leave camp, and in Farage in particular, the way he's desperately trying to turn this around to make the story all about him again, the disrespectful claim that Remain are out to "profit" from the death of one of their strongest voices all tell the tale that they know they've been rumbled.

These vigils are not about any political campaign any more. They are about doing a politics that is Good.

Vote Leave's fear and anger is because they embraced the Darkness months, if not years ago. They lost the argument. All they have is driving people with fear, anger, hate, poison.

There is now the palpable sense that people have awoken to the clear and present danger of allowing free reign to this poison that has festered. There is a sense that I am not alone in wanting to strive to do better.

The Dark is rising.

But the Light is rising to turn back the Dark.

“The hope is always here, always alive, but only your fierce caring can fan it into a fire to warm the world.”
― Susan Cooper, Silver on the Tree

1 comment:

Mike Taylor said...

Of course, it's not childish at all to think in terms of good and evil. What's childish is to assume that the world can be neatly divided into Good People and Evil People. But even when we recognise that there are shades, that everyone is flawed, and that some people and some policies are better than others, we're only able to make that recognition based on a standard of what is Good -- in other words, by what standard we judge one thing better than another.

So we need never be ashamed to talk in terms of good and evil. Just careful when we do.