After Labour MP Jo Cox was brutally murdered last week, the reaction from those advocating for Britain to leave the EU was as united as it was vehement: no-one should make political capital out of it. It should not be politicised, there had to be no points-scoring, and preferably no talk of it at all, especially after Thomas Mair, who has been charged with the killing, turned out to be, well, an extreme Outer himself.
This has carried on, with some of those wanting a Leave vote unhappy that Ms Cox’s name keeps cropping up in the press and especially the broadcast media. A recall of Parliament ratcheted up this unhappiness. But then came a memorial event in London’s Trafalgar Square yesterday, when someone at the Leave campaign did something very silly indeed - they ended up politicising the MP’s death.
As the crowds gathered in the capital to hear Jo Cox’s husband Brendan speak, on what would have been her 42nd birthday, two light aircraft appeared overhead, temporarily drowning out those addressing the gathering. One of the aircraft was towing a banner, with the words TAKE CONTROL - VOTE LEAVE clearly visible. At first, there was only mild irritation - after all, this could just have been coincidence, however grotesque.
But it was not mere coincidence: the planes came back a second time, at which point the irritation turned to disgust. And there was worse to come, as the planes passed overhead for a third time. A Vote Leave banner being constantly paraded over Jo Cox’s memorial event, and after all the whining and protesting about not politicising her death. It was the most spectacular of tasteless and unforgivable own goals.
What were Vote Leave to do? There was denial: “This wasn't our plane so we had no idea it would fly over the memorial service”. But just in case, they said sorry, well, sort of: “Had we known that these people were planning to do it we would have asked them not to. We can only apologise on their behalf for any offence caused”.
Eventually, the culprit owned up. “The banner belonged not to the official Brexit campaign but aircraft manufacturer Britten-Norman, based in Southampton and on the Isle of Wight … The firm sent its ‘sincere apologies’ to all those offended tonight and appeared to blame air traffic officials for not informing them of the memorial”.
So were Vote Leave off the hook? Well, no they weren’t: the actions of Britten-Norman were well known in advance, with one promotional article telling “The turboprop Islander aircraft is touring the whole of the country this month”. Vote Leave weren’t fussed then, and made no protest. It was, after all, good publicity for them - until the circus gatecrashed yesterday’s memorial event. Oh dear, Vote Leave!
The Out campaign can only hope that not too many swing voters learn about this episode. They had, after all, mounted the highest of high horses over Jo Cox’s killing - now they ended up covered in rather more than embarrassment.