Honour Jo Cox… Get Brexit done”. These were the words of the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Wednesday, words that provoked outrage at the state of British politics. The husband and sister of Jo Cox are among those who have criticised Johnson for attempting to politicise the murder of the pro-Remain MP to push his Brexit agenda, while parliamentarians from all parties have raised concerns over the use of violent language in the House of Commons.
Aside from being distressing for Cox’s family and the low likelihood that she would support the government’s programme, Johnson’s comments are a blatant attempt to use her murder for his own political ends. Far from being statesmanlike, the Prime Minister’s behaviour is simply deplorable.
Hopefully this will prove to be a watershed moment for parliamentary procedure, with John Bercow, the Speaker of the House, confirming that he is considering calling an inquiry into the country’s political culture. Politicians’ behaviour in the House of Commons has long been immature and outdated, with the theatrics and vitriol lowering the quality of debate and, more seriously, risking inciting violence towards MPs.
In recent months we have seen Boris Johnson announce that he would rather be ‘dead in a ditch’ than not deliver Brexit, Anna Soubry being hounded down a street by people calling her a Nazi, and Jo Swinson being forced to report a death threat against her child to the police. Yet, when the Prime Minister was asked to moderate his language by a Labour MP, he dismissed the idea that his inflammatory choice of words encouraged these disgusting incidents as ‘humbug’.
The use of needlessly exaggerated and violent language by our political representatives sets a terrible example for the public and can be seen by trolls as lending their actions legitimacy. Labour MP Jess Phillips revealed that Johnson’s reference to the recent Benn Act as ‘the Surrender Act’ had been used in threats against her.
In a period when MPs are subject to extraordinary abuse both on social media and in person, this is evidence that the inflammatory language used in parliament has a direct effect on this taking place.
Given that the government must accept a portion of responsibility for creating the culture which resulted in Cox’s murder, it is no surprise that Johnson’s attempt to politicise the tragedy has been met with disgust and condemnation from across the political spectrum.
While this is only the latest in a series of sorry tales of British political discourse, hopefully it will be the one which prompts lasting change to the system. An inquiry may be helpful, but before that the Prime Minister – and, indeed, all politicians – must reflect on the consequences of their behaviour to ensure that politics is conducted through reasoned debate rather than theatre.
Image Credit: The Independent