House of Lords, 20th June 2016
For twenty years, I knew and cherished Jo Cox as a friend and as a young woman of personal and political vivaciousness.
In life she was brilliant in all respects. Her death was appalling in its ugly brutality and dreadful injustice.
As I reeled with the horrified shock of hearing what had happened to Jo, I confess that I felt misery mixed with hatred. Hatred for whoever had terrified and killed her. Hatred for the times and conditions which had made someone feel that they were justified in being brutally extreme.
And then I realised that my outrage was useless. Not for the first time, I recognised that hate cannot be beaten with hatred. Jo Cox would have said “Do not hate in my name”. She might even have quoted Ghandi: “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind”.
Then, she would have offered a brave, rational response to the malicious incoherence of an environment in which a minority of people think they can write and speak and do violence to anyone if they have an excuse of enthusiasm, offence, of partisanship, or even a warped form of patriotism.
Jo’s response would not have lacked passion. She was pragmatic in order to get things done, but never cold nor clinical. This spirited woman would have centred on realism and been driven by rationality. She would have pursued the cause of the rage and then put bold ideas into action to counter it.
We know that because that's what she always did when confronted by inhumanity, or bigotry, or injustice, or simply the needs of her constituents.
Now, we who are part of the reasonable majority must employ truth against divisive fiction and distortion, reality against prejudice, hard-headed common-sense against delusion.
We have to combat hatred in its public lethal forms, in the bilious preaching of demagogues, in the sly dog-whistles of populists, and when it oozes as cowardly, anonymous social media secretion.
Impressionable, maladjusted individuals may claim that their responsibility is diminished. Politicians and newspapers with voices that shape views may not.
We have to fight hatred that is incited and nourished by those whose purposes are served by fostering fear – fear of change, fear of insecurity, fear of foreigners.
This our duty – not simply to ourselves, but to our democracy and the British people’s sense of decency. We cannot allow venom to displace mutual respect. We cannot permit intolerance to intimidate tolerance. We cannot accept that a convention of hating can ever be allowed to prevail over the greatest, strongest, most civilised British quality of “live and let live”.
History teaches too many lessons that, if temperate rationality concedes ground, the space is invaded by intemperate irrationality – always with horrific results.
That is why we, and all who recoil from the politics of hate, must never make the concession. We must never stop confronting those who seek political profit from encouraging the neuroses of threat and resentment.
Young Jo Cox did not concede. That is why her short life was so productive, so radiant. It deserves to be unforgotten because it was unforgettable.