I still can’t quite get over what happened on Wednesday night. I can’t believe he went there.
But he did. A question involving the name Jo Cox (pictured) should be an easy one to answer for any politician, of any party, of any background, in any country on the planet.
You don’t have to be Barack Obama to work out how to emote properly. Express distress, acknowledge pain and fear, call for decency and honour her memory by saying “never again”.
It’s really not that hard. But no. Humbug. What normal person even knows that word? But it’s all part of the act. An old fashioned, Dickensian word to denote our Prime Minister’s breeding to elevate him from the lowbrow hoi polloi. It may as well have been in Latin. But in plain speak it meant “**** You.”
Because for all that expensive Etonian education, there stood a man with no class. That was the moment Boris Johnson fully transitioned into Donald Trump. How appropriate that the two had just met. When Johnson stood up in all his bloated, over-privileged glory and pretty much laughed in the face of Paula Sherriff – a working class woman whose friend was murdered, who has faced death threats herself – we were in a new political climate. And it was chilling.
It felt like watching a scene from recent BBC drama Years and Years. But these are the new terms of trade. Nothing is off limits. There are no depths to which Johnson and Dominic Cummings, his poundshop Steve Bannon, won’t stoop to. Mind you, we saw that during the EU referendum campaign. I remember when Cameron brought Andy Coulson into Downing Street after the phone hacking scandal and we were horrified.
That feels pedestrian compared to this operation. We have a virus at the heart of Downing Street. Boris Johnson has handpicked a group of people with no discernible talent other than being prepared to slither into the sewer. Would they feel any responsibility if another politician or activist was murdered? Or would they use it to attack “the Libs”?
For that is where it feels this is heading. Death and rape threats are the new normal. Politicians have CCTV and panic buttons in their homes, are warned about travelling alone or late at night and live in fear not just for themselves, but for their children. Jo Swinson’s child has been threatened. Yvette Cooper’s daughter tweeted yesterday how scared children of politicians are. Anti-Brexit campaigners have been advised to wear stab vests and hire security.
But Johnson and Cummings know all this. They are losing this battle in parliament and so they want to take it inside the homes and, crucially, the heads of their opponents and their loved ones, because fear is a weapon, right? Like sordid, seedy thugs who threaten people and their families not to testify in court.
They want this war to erupt on the streets. And they understand that words matter. How they can fire up the heart before the head. Whether it’s ripping the headscarf off a Muslim woman. Or telling immigrants to go home. Or shooting a woman on the street. And they aren’t geniuses for this, it’s just that most politicians have had the decency and morality not to. Stoking hate is easy. Any old thug can do it.