MY heart sank when I heard Jo Brand’s comments.
This Sunday marks three years since my beloved older sister, Jo Cox, was shot and stabbed to death by a far-right extremist while at work as a Labour MP. She was just 41 and left behind two young children.
Taken at face value, Jo Brand’s words on a BBC radio show were clearly provocative as she recalled that milkshake poured over Nigel Farage at the end of the European Election campaign: “Why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?”
No matter how obnoxious you might find someone’s views or how they express themselves, you don’t need to resort to abuse.
People have to make their own judgements about what’s acceptable when it comes to comedy but it’s never right to incite violence against anybody.
Jo was murdered in the tinderbox countdown to the EU Referendum. Tensions were high and the nation was divided. For a while after Jo was killed everyone said the right things: we need to have a calmer, kinder politics; we need to treat each other well and behave in a civil manner.
But now it feels like that’s just been forgotten. Three years on and maliciousness is as potent as ever, driven by the divisions over Brexit.
The way we talk to each other seems so vicious. Brexiters are called fascists, Remainers are called traitors, and those who disagree with us are ‘the enemy’.
I’ve been talking to MPs at Westminster for a documentary on ITV tonight. The stories they tell of physical and online threats are horrendous.
I’ve met a lot of politicians since Jo’s murder. Most of them are lovely people believe it or not, they, like Jo, have gone into politics because they genuinely want to help people.
I’ve also met some politicians that I find it much harder to like or agree with.
It’s got nothing to do with left or right. Remainers or Brexiteers. Everybody suffers.
We have to ask ourselves, how did our politics get like this? And what can we do to stop things getting even worse?
It’s hard to believe it’s three years since my sister was killed.
She was doing her job on behalf of her constituents. We were so proud of her. It never occurred to me or my mum and dad that she was at risk from a politically-motivated attack, let alone that she might be murdered.
We have received fantastic support since that tragic day, but it’s still incredibly hard.
I’m not sure I’ve really come to terms with what happened yet. I know I will probably need counselling. But what I also know is that I would never want another family to go through what we’ve had to go through.
I’m not scaremongering. We know from bitter personal experience what can happen when politics turns toxic.
I’m proud to live in a country where we can express our opinions freely – it is a cornerstone of our democracy. Of course we can’t all agree on everything all of the time.
My sister was a firm believer in robust debate and discussion.
But what we have seen recently seems to have gone beyond this – personal insults and poisonous verbal abuse seem to have become the norm, and this has at times led to violence and physical attacks.
Everybody with a public platform – politicians, journalists and, yes, comedians – has a responsibility to think about the consequences of the words they use.
Every day I think of Jo but I try to think what she would want me to be doing. It helps keep me going and I know that it has to be something positive.
Next weekend, when we should have been celebrating Jo’s 45th birthday, we will be out at The Great Get Together. There are things going on all over the country so people and communities can connect through all kinds of events, such as picnics, street parties and sports days.
I believe we all have a part to play in creating a strong, compassionate country. We can all help counter the division, the bitterness and the violent talk.
My sister told MPs “we all have more in common than that which divides us.”
They are words we all need to remember.
We don’t always have to agree, we don’t even have to like each other, but I believe that every one of us, whether we’re a politician, a celebrity or a member of the public, should think about the things we share and have in common as human beings.
Only that way can we stop resorting to abuse and violent language and instead try to bring our country together.