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Never subsume fear to hatred

June 17, 2016

The Sex Discrimination Act of 1975 sparked my interest in politics. I was a 15-year old in an all girls boarding school when I heard about the Act on the News on the transistor radio that I kept hidden under my mattress. We were not allowed radios and we were not allowed to think for ourselves. We were told what we thought and what we believed. The trouble was that I was always in trouble because I did not believe what I was told.

On that morning in 1975, the report of the Sex Discrimination Act was too important to keep to myself. I charged into breakfast and announced the news to the dining room. Immediately I was silenced by the headmistress who then proceeded to tell us that it was a terrible piece of legislation concocted by the wrong sort of government - a Labour one. We were not socialists and we did not support anything that socialists might do for it could only be wrong. Foolishly, I retaliated. With the result that I spent the rest of the day standing in a cold corridor. But punishment was good as I had a day to think. At first I thought that I was right. By the end of the day I knew I was right and for the remainder of my time at school I refused to listen to anything uttered by any member of school staff. The following summer I stormed out of the school, never to return. 

Some years later, having gathered 'O' and 'A' levels at evening classes, I went on to do a degree in politics. After my daughter was born I returned to formal study; this time to a masters degree in Political Theory at the LSE. But not one day has passed since that morning in 1975 when I have not lived politics, history and philosophy. 

Why am I telling you this? Because I am an obsessive? Yes: because I have been an obsessive for over forty years. And because nothing has occurred in those forty years as important as next week's referendum. 

The EU has brought us many benefits, most of which we could survive without. It is also significantly flawed, often resembling the mythical brontosaurus with two brains that don't communicate with each other. None of this matters too much. The EU might be difficult to reform, but it won't be impossible. Reform will take time and effort. All reform does. But however flawed and lumbering, the EU is the most important institution of our 21st Century lives. It is the lifeblood of our peace. 

If the EU is allowed to fragment and disintegrate, nationalism will step into the breach. Nationalism is the greatest evil known to Europe. It was a primary cause of both world wars that cost the lives of many millions of people throughout Europe and far beyond. Nationalism generates xenophobic hatred and xenophobic hatred fuels nationalism. It creates a vicious downward spiral that pitches people against people and nation against nation. Since the end of the 19th Century nationalism has resulted in endless wars and no good whatsoever. And now, across Europe and across large tracts of the world, nationalism is on the rise. 

Chamberlain returned from his negotiations with Hitler in September 1938 declaring 'Peace for our time'. Within a year, Hitler had rescinded on the agreement and invaded Poland. Nationalism never gives up and it has no respect for compromise. The further it advances, the faster it dispenses with reason, respect and rationale. Nationalism is politics parallel to pyramid selling: it sucks people in with impossible promises that deliver disaster to the vast majority.

In recent months we have seen the referendum campaign dividing our country. It has been a pitched battle between Fear and Hatred. And this week that battle has cost the life of a Member of Parliament who was a wife, daughter, mother and friend. Jo Cox was an amazing woman with an amazing future ahead of her. She was assassinated by a man who is mentally ill and probably allied to the political far right. But who he is is less significant than the fact that, were it not for the referendum, he would almost certainly not have killed Jo Cox. The assassin and his victim are both casualties of nationalism.

We have witnessed the first British death of 21st Century nationalism. Now we should do everything within our power to ensure that it is the last. 

Project Fear has not conducted itself well. I include myself amongst its offenders. Project Fear has had the disadvantage of having nothing new to sell. Promoting its advantages has been a bit like trying to sell a villa in Sicily to the owner of a villa in Sardinia: there's not enough difference to make it worth considering and the buyer could even lose out. The only selling point is fear: Sicily has more active volcanoes than Sardinia.

But the behaviour of Project Hatred has been worse. It should have been Project Hope. For hope was its biggest selling point. The hope of dreams. That magic wand that could restore nostalgic Britain to her imperial past. That silver bullet that could exterminate those detested EU regulations that have dictated our lives. You know - all those ghastly rules that make us safer and give us protection we do not want. Project Hope could have pitched our dreams into a happy and prosperous future of sailing the seven seas in silver ships that would return laden with gold and jewels. But Project Hope did not do that. Instead it assumed the form of Project Hatred. It tore into the people in our midst and at the countries from whence they came. It incited its followers to hate their neighbours and the countries from which they originated. It blamed them for each and every one of societies ills - ills that have nothing whatsoever to do with either the EU or any European or foreign national. Project Hatred adopted nationalism and proceeded to thrust its lies down the throat of anyone with their mouth open and their mind closed.

Project Hatred has done this until it has delivered the blood of a British mother onto a pavement in Yorkshire, at the same time destroying the life of her family and depriving our country of a rising star. Project Hatred will not stop there. More blood will be shed and more lives will be lost. That is the course that nationalism takes. It is written in the blood of many across the history of Europe and in the blood of one upon a Yorkshire pavement. 

Oh Fools! Stop now. For foolishness has gone too far and grief is too great a pain to bear.

Please can we work with those around us to improve our world to the benefit of all and the detriment of none. Please can we settle for what we have.

Please.

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