After the murder yesterday of Labour MP Jo Cox, and the assertion that her killer wanted to “put Britain first”, some of those campaigning for Britain to leave the EU were bound to be on a hair trigger: the first sign that anyone was even thinking about ascribing blame to them, there had to be a rapid and significant response. Because if there was a connection established between the Outers and what happened in Birstall, they were finished.
The twitchy and defensive posture was exemplified by the serially clueless and preposterously over-promoted Tim Montgomerie, who took very little time from the notification of Ms Cox’s death to begin his campaign of deflection. It was not a long journey from his defence of Vote Leave’s dishonest figures the previous evening: “The £350mill figure is clearly wrong. If we vote to stay it'll go up, up, up as EU asks us to pay their bills. They always have, always will”. Scaremongering. Spreading fear - then blaming others.
This continued with his deflection over Ms Cox’s death, as he told “It appears that Jo Cox's killer has had mental health problems”. So what? Does that mean he didn’t kill her? Does it mean he didn’t want to “put Britain first”? Does it mean he was immune to the torrent of hatred for “others” coming out of the Europhobic press?
Whatever it meant, we should be in no doubt that Monty was all for freedom of the press, except when it was inconvenient to him, like Alex Massie’s reaction at Spectator Coffee House: “Right call by @Spectator to pull @AlexMassie piece. There should be freedom to politicise tragic events but at least establish facts first” was his reaction then. But the only thing changed in the edit of that post was to remove the names of Out campaigners.
So Monty was talking out of the back of his neck - again, as he was when he mused “I fear this is correct” to a post by Brendan O’Neill, who had written for Spiked (so named because it should have been long ago) to tell of “Pro-Remain journalists, swathes of the broadsheet set, are already discussing her death as a consequence of Brexit campaigning”. There is only one weekday broadsheet, and it is not pro-Remain.
O’Neill goes on to talk about “politicising a murder”, managing not to notice that a politician was the one who got murdered, and claims the Outers are being “morally [blackmailed] to tone down their campaign”. This is claptrap. There is a difference between turning down the unpleasant rhetoric and ceasing a campaign. O’Neill knows this. So does Montgomerie. What they also know is that the public could turn on them next.
So there has to be deflection, blaming of the other side for the perilous position in which they find themselves. It has to be someone else in the wrong. There must be instant defensive rebuttal. Nothing bad can be ascribed to Monty or, indeed, to anyone of whom he approves. This even extends to endorsing Brendan O’Neill’s fantasy logic that has “swathes” of broadsheet journalists backing Remain.
It is desperate. It is clumsy. And it is utterly dishonest. No change there, then.