She had to somehow stand for both

Julian Borger had a conversation with Jo Cox on Tuesday.

On Tuesday in Westminster, she talked for an hour about trolling, Brexit, Labour in the north, Syria and humanitarian intervention, life as an MP and the struggle to make a difference. We were supposed to meet on Wednesday, but it was brought forward because she had to go to her Yorkshire constituency a day early in an attempt to shore up the remain vote. That was what she was doing when she was killed.

The overwhelming majority of Labour members in Batley and Spen oppose her position on the EU referendum, and she conceded Labour had failed to connect with its supporters on immigration. A dispassionate debate on the issue was becoming impossible anyway. She felt she was pushing against the tabloid press and daily scare stories such as the supposedly imminent invasion of Turkish migrants across the Channel.

“I hear that repeated back to me on the doorsteps. Whatever was on the front page of the tabs that day. It’s getting through,” she said.

She believed passionately that it was possible to stand up for the pummelled working class of northern England, and at the same time strive to protect Syrians from bombing or at least help to care for the orphans of that war.

It’s a difficult balance…or perhaps an impossible one. I very much like the idealism of being welcoming to immigrants…but what about the idealism of welcoming huge numbers of religious conservatives? That doesn’t sound so appealing, whatever religion the newcomers adhere to.

It was not an easy or popular stance in a country at an inward-looking point in its history, and she was becoming accustomed to high levels of trolling from right and left.

Being a woman with an unpopular position invited particular levels of bile. She noted that when she wrote a critique of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in the Guardian last month, she received 10 times more internet hate mail than her male co-author. Her defence of immigration also drew fury. She did not mention on Tuesday that she had referred some direct threats to the police, or that a man had been arrested in connection with those threats in March.

10 times more internet hate mail than her male co-author, and more bullets and stabs and death. She got trolling, and hate mail, and threats, and murdered.

As a daughter of the working-class north, but also a former aid worker and human rights advocate in war zones abroad, she said she could not betray one part of that identity for another. She had to somehow stand for both. She described blank stares from constituents when she talked about Syria and the scale of the suffering there, but said she would go on talking about the war and mass killing in other foreign fields regardless.

I admire that. It really is hard standing for both.

She was not optimistic about her political future or that of her party. She felt the EU referendum had “made it OK somehow for Labour people to switch to Ukip.” Neither had she gone into politics to remain a backbencher for the foreseeable future. “I came in to make a difference, to be a minister, to make policy,” she said. She clearly possessed many of the attributes of a potential party leader – female, northern, working class roots, eloquent and photogenic – but she insisted she was not cut out for the top spot.

She was torn, she said. Part of her wanted to stay on and “fight to save the Labour party” in the political turmoil that might follow a Brexit vote. Part of her wanted to get out of politics if she could not make policy, and look at other ways of making a difference in the world. She spoke enthusiastically of the work her husband, Brendan, was doing in researching how to fight negative stereotypes of immigrants in the public consciousness, caricatures that increasingly dominated public debate in Britain.

And then she talked about life on a houseboat, and then she left to get ready for her trip north.

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