Since the tragic killing of Labour MP Jo Cox three days ago, many in the media and the ‘Remain’ campaign have focused on the “tone” of the EU referendum debate in the attempt to insinuate that her alleged killer was motivated by the rhetoric of the ‘Leave’ campaign.
The main focus of the referendum debate had turned from the economy to immigration over the past couple of weeks, a topic on which the ‘Remain’ campaign has no clear answer and which had seen the ‘Leave’ campaign jump into the lead in opinion polls.
Now, however, ‘Remain’ supporters have been speaking about how Jo Cox’s death was caused by “hatred” and “divisive rhetoric” as they try to turn the narrative away from the effects of mass immigration.
James Delingpole wrote about how pro-Remain journalists and politicians have blamed the “current mood” and the “well of hatred” in public opinion for Jo Cox’s death.
In one of the starkest examples, Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee wrote:
“I believe they bear responsibility, not for the attack itself, but for the current mood: for the inflammatory language, for the finger-jabbing, the dogwhistling and the overt racism.”
Alex Massie also wrote in the Spectator:
“When you encourage rage you cannot then feign surprise when people become enraged. You cannot turn around and say, ‘Mate, you weren’t supposed to take it so seriously. It’s just a game, just a ploy, a strategy for winning votes.’”
Using this tactic – dubbed “project grief” – they are able to declare their opponents guilty without any burden of proof, shut down debate and ultimately deny them a voice.
There are no signs of this stopping as referendum day draws closer.
Speaking on Sunday Morning Live on BBC One this morning, Labour MP Stephen Kinnock reflected on the fact that he had also previously received threats and said people “need to think about the fact that we can disagree without being disagreeable.”
The Bishop of Huddersfield also said on the show that this is “a time to look at the culture of politics in our nation and our world and this certainly should give us pause to reflect.”
Prominent ‘Remain’ campaigner Will Staw also tweeted an image this morning showing a crumpled Union Flag in the shape of a heart telling voters to “remain kind”, “open”, “inclusive”, tolerant” and “together” by voting to stay in the European Union on Thursday.
— Will Straw (@wdjstraw) June 19, 2016
Today’s ‘Remain’ campaign rally in Hyde Park in central London will also feature Jo Cox’s death as a talking point, with a minute’s silence at the beginning of the rally.
There is evidence that ‘Project Grief’ may be having an effect. A poll last night, whose fieldwork was conducted entirely after the death of Jo Cox, put the ‘Leave’ campaign down three points and ‘Remain’ up three points.