The night before Jo Cox was brutally murdered in her constituency I couldn’t sleep. My uncharacteristic insomnia was in no small part because I was in the midst of an incredibly tough week looking after my poorly one-year-old whilst also struggling with illness myself. But it was also because thoughts of the forthcoming EU referendum were swirling around my mind.
Until that night I really hadn’t given the referendum much thought — I would vote Remain and that would be that. But, having finally engaged my brain about it properly for the first time, I suddenly realised just how real the possibility of leaving the European Union actually was. I could sense an irreversible shift in our society was about to take place and felt incredibly uneasy about what could happen over the coming weeks and months. But I couldn’t pinpoint precisely what it was that I was so afraid of.
When I got up that morning after a night of tossing and turning, I was miserable and exhausted. I dragged myself through the first half of the day, looked after my son as best as I could and, in the snatches of time I found, jotted down the beginnings of a blog post on my iPhone to try and express whatever it was that was tugging away at the back of my mind..
Because my thoughts the night before had taken me back to the last time my sleep had been blighted by something other than a hungry baby, in the spring of 2015. When I had my baby that April I very nearly died. Cooped up in a sweltering hospital ward, my body was recovering from major blood loss and my mind was a tangle of hormones and fears about how on earth I was going to get over what had undoubtedly been the most traumatic experience of my life to date.
One sleepless night midway through my hospital stay, and at a particularly low moment, one of the night duty midwives came to do my observations and could see I was struggling. She perched on the edge of my bed as my baby squirmed in the plastic crib next to me and my husband tossed and turned in a chair in the corner and quietly told me a story.
She told me about how she’d moved to England from Italy to pursue her dream of becoming a midwife at this London NHS teaching hospital. About how she was horribly homesick in the beginning because she knew no one, and was finding the language difficult. About how she’d called her dad back home in Italy in tears because she was finding it so hard and didn’t know how she was going to get through it. About how her dad reassured her and told her that, one day, everything would suddenly fall into place, and the intensity of her current fears and worries would be nothing but a distant memory. And about how her dad had been right and how much she now loved her job and was so pleased she’d made that decision to come here to live and work.
She wanted me to know that it would be the same for me. And that, while my feelings and concerns at that moment were completely valid and important, one day they would be somewhere in the background rather at the forefront of my mind, and I would be happy. And she was totally right.
Of all the amazing people I met in that hospital that week, it was her words which stayed with me the most.
That midwife was probably one of dozens of individuals who were involved in the care of me and my baby son who were born outside of the UK. Highly-skilled, caring and hardworking people who are able to work in our hospitals — and other institutions that care for our country’s most vulnerable people — because of the free movement of workers between the EU member states.
After I wrote this story down last Thursday, I went on to think about what might happen in our society if we did vote to leave the European Union. I mused that, in the short-term, there would probably be protests from the vocal and active community on the left who vehemently want to remain in the EU. About how this could all-to-easily lead to clashes with protestors on the right. The real potential for violence and unrest all around our country which could, in turn, lead to familiar scenes of looting, riots, disorder and all-round chaos.
Except this time we would have no stable government to steady the ship and get things back under control.
Because, chances are, Cameron would have had to resign, opening the door for the politics of this country to take a dramatic lurch to the right, legitimising the views of those who can’t seem to understand that our country — and indeed every country in the world — is built on the inevitable migration and movement of the human species. That’s how most of us ended up here, after all.
I was worried about becoming an isolated nation. About how the value of our currency and the solidity of our economy could plummet — indeed, the Bank of England have recently confirmed as much. And how the people at the very bottom of our society — those who are already struggling the most — could end up struggling even more.
I got all of this out of my system and, with a splitting headache, eventually sat down to watch a football match on TV with my sick child fitfully sleeping in my arms.
Little did I know at that point that the horror, violence and awfulness that I so feared had already begun on our streets. Because, over the next couple of hours, I barely watched a kick of the ball, as the terror of what had taken place in Birstall, West Yorkshire, unveiled itself on social media.
I can’t put into words my feelings over the coming hours and days. I felt sick to my stomach. A mother. A talented campaigner. An effervescent chink of hope and decency in a seemingly murky sea of cynical political manoeuvring. Snubbed out on the streets that she called home.
And, when it emerged that Jo’s killer appeared to be politically motivated, I suddenly realised what it was that had been nagging away at me. I realised that it wasn’t the prospect of a potentially unfixable division occurring between those who fall on different sides of the debate. It was the fact that the fragile stitches that knit our patchwork society together had all-too-obviously already begun to unravel.
Before last week I felt proud and lucky to live in a tolerant, open-minded and democratic country where we could freely express our views and openly exercise our right to vote on important issues.
But then Jo Cox lost her life because of these very values.
This referendum represents everything that’s gone wrong with our democracy. After all, the only reason it’s even happening is because David Cameron wanted to score a cheap point in his most recent General Election campaign. Cheap it may have seemed when he committed to it back in 2013, but now the true costs are making themselves known.
What do we really think we can achieve by leaving the EU? I don’t think anybody really knows. But what we would definitely achieve is political and financial instability, the real risk of more violence on our streets and a huge question mark over the future of this country.
That’s not the kind of future I want for my son. Or for that lovely midwife who took the huge personal leap to move here to follow her dreams and help people like me, and babies like mine.
But, above absolutely everything else, is the simple fact that two children have lost a mother. And, even if we do vote to remain part of the EU, and the complex but beautiful fabric of our society is mended over time, there is absolutely nothing in the world which will ever be able to fix that.