Police in Edmonton, north London, yesterday. Photo: Getty
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Are beheadings terrorism? Palmira Silva was the third woman to be decapitated in London this year

On politicising a tragedy.

Yesterday, an 82-year-old woman called Palmira Silva was killed in her garden in Edmonton, north London. 

She is the hundredth woman killed by a man this year; the first was 87-year-old Elsie Mowbray, who died in hospital on 8 January from injuries sustained when her house was burgled on New Year's Day. A 33-year-old man has been charged. The 50th, according to the list maintained by campaigner Karen Ingala Smith, was Ann Maguire - the teacher stabbed in her classroom. 

I was shocked when I read of Palmira Silva's death - not by the fact of it, unfortunately, but because of the way in which it happened. She was beheaded.

The assailant is alleged to be a 25-year-old man, who "waved a machete-like weapon as he wandered screaming and shouting through private gardens", according to the Guardian.

Let's take a moment to talk about connections. 

The Sun's front page this morning reports that the alleged perpetrator was a "Muslim convert". Inside, its report reads:

"The killing follows the brutal beheadings on video of two US journalists by IS jihadists. But police yesterday stressed there was no evidence of a terrorist connection."

Oddly enough, like the Sun, my thoughts immediately went to the IS beheadings when I heard about this story, too - albeit for totally different reasons. On Tuesday, I wrote a piece on how revenge porn, hacked photos and online harassment were, in my opinion, forms of "terrorism". They are not intended merely to harm the individuals targeted, but to create a spectacle which makes all women feel a little more insecure, a little more afraid.

The reaction was, shall we say, mixed. Among the critical comments, one theme repeatedly came up: I was "hysterical" to compare "real terrorism" with having naked photos published on the internet. Many a wag tweeted me to the effect that they would rather get online abuse than their head chopped off in Iraq.

Because I am nothing if not willing to pour hours into pointless arguments, I replied to some of these men (#notallmen) that of course, the comparison wasn't perfect and true in every way - it would not then be a comparison. They would just be literally the same thing. But I still think the similarities of intent, method and effect are noteworthy.

And then a woman had her head chopped off, not ten miles from where I live and work. 

Now, I have no idea whether Palmira Silva was targeted because she was a woman. We might never know this. She might have tried to be compassionate to the killer, she might have known him a little, she might have simply been the first person in his way. 

But here is the second shocking fact about the way she died: Palmira Silva is the third woman to be beheaded in London this year. 

On 3 June, a 38-year-old woman called Tahira Ahmed was found decapitated at her home in West London. The neighbours reported hearing a loud argument. Her husband has been charged with her murder.

In April, 60-year-old woman called Judith Nibbs was beheaded in Shoreditch. Her 67-year-old estranged husband was found at the scene. Police are not looking for anyone else. The day after Judith died, her daughter - who is severely disabled - tweeted the single word: "Mum?"

In the last few years, Karen Ingala Smith - the CEO of the charity which I chair, Nia - has maintained a list of every woman killed by a man in this country. Yesterday, she wrote about beheadings. As well as Judith Nibbs and Tahira Ahmed, she has recorded others:

Last year, in June, Reema Ramzan, 18, was decapitated by boyfriend, Aras Hussain, 21. The year before, in October 2012, Catherine Gowing, 39, was decapitated and raped by serial rapist Clive Sharp, 47. In March the same year Elizabeth Coriat, 76, was decapitated by her son Daniel Coriat, 43; earlier the same month, Gemma McCluskie, 29, had been decapitated by her brother Tony McCluskie, 36.  

In May, she wrote about Ann Maguire, the 50th woman to die this year. It was not an "isolated incident", she argued: "Between April 2001 and March 2012 . . . 31.8 per cent of homicide victims were women, 68.2 per cent were men. 6.1 per cent of people convicted of murder were women, 93.9 per cent were men". In other words, men kill men, men kill women - but women only rarely kill anyone at all. 

I remember the response to Karen's piece: many people were angry with her at talking about male violence in this context. Some accused her of "politicising a tragedy" or "scoring points".

If you want to talk about politicising a tragedy, let's talk about the death of Palmira Silva. Why did her death make the front pages, when Judith Nibbs and Tahira Ahmed did not?

Because she was not allegedly killed by an ex-partner or family member, which is "normal".

Because her death seems to be random - it could have happened to anyone, even a man.

Because terrorism is real when it's Islamists against the west, but violence against women is just the background hum of our lives. 

This year, in the city where I live, in twenty-first century Britain with its smartphones and coalition government and internet commenters telling me that feminism has gone too far, three women have been beheaded. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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Who's winning the European referendum? The Vicar of Dibley gives us a clue

These polls seem meaningless, but they reveal things more conventional ones miss.

At the weekend, YouGov released some polling on 30 fictional characters and their supposed views on Brexit.  If you calculate a net pro-Remain score (per cent thinking that person would back Remain minus the per cent thinking they’d vote for Leave), you have a list that is topped by Geraldine Granger, the Vicar of Dibley (+21), and ends with Jim Royle (-38).

It’s easy to mock this sort of thing, and plenty did: “pointless”, “polling jumping the shark”, and so on. Some even think pollsters ask daft questions just to generate cheap headlines. What a cynical world we live in.

But the answers to those questions tell you quite a lot, both about the referendum campaign and about voters in general.

For one thing, most of the fictional characters that people saw as voting to Remain are (broadly) nice people, whilst the Outers included a fair few you’d not want to be stuck in a lift with, along with other chancers and wasters. On one side, you have the Vicar of Dibley (+21), Mary Poppins (+13), Miranda (+11), and Dr Who (+9) taking on Hyacinth Bucket (-13), Tracy Barlow (-15), Del Boy (-28), and Basil Fawlty (-36) on the other. This isn’t really much of a contest.

Obviously, some of these are subjective judgements. Personally, I’d not want to be stuck in a lift with the Vicar of Dibley under any circumstances – but she’s clearly meant to be a broadly sympathetic character.  Ditto – with knobs on – Miranda. And yes, some of the Outer characters are more nuanced. Captain Mainwaring (-31) may be pompous and insecure, but he is a brave man doing his best for his country. But still, it’s hard not to see some sort of division here, between broadly good people (Remain) and some more flawed individuals (Out).

So, on one level, this offers a pretty good insight into how people see the campaigns.  It’s why polling companies ask these sort of left-field questions – like the famous Tin Man and Scarecrow question asked by John Zogby – because they can often get at something that normal questions might miss. Sure, they also generate easy publicity for the polling company – but life’s not binary: some things can generate cheap headlines and still be interesting.

But there are two caveats. First, when you look at the full data tables you find that the numbers saying Don’t Know to each of these questions are really big– as high as 55 per cent for both Tracy Barlow and Arthur Dent. The lowest is for both Basil Fawlty and Del Boy, but that’s still 34 per cent. For 26 out of the 30 characters, the plurality response was Don’t Know. The data don’t really show that the public think Captain Birdseye (-11) is for Out; when half of all respondents said they don’t know, they show that the public doesn’t really have a clue what Captain Birdseye thinks.

Much more importantly, second, when you look at the cross breaks, it becomes clear how much of this is being driven by people’s own partisan views. Take James Bond, for example. Overall, he was seen as slightly pro-Remain (+5). But he’s seen as pro-Brexit (-22) by Brexit voters, and pro-Remain (+30) by Remain voters.

The same split applies to Dr Who, Postman Pat, Sherlock Holmes, Miranda, and so on.

In fact, of the 30 characters YouGov polled about, there were just eleven where respondents from both sides of the debate agreed – and these eleven excluded almost all of the broadly positive characters.

So, here’s the ten characters where both Remain and Leave voters agreed would be for Brexit: Alan Partridge; Jim Royle; Del Boy; Hyacinth Bucket; Pat Butcher; Tracy Barlow; Captain Mainwaring; Catherine Tate’s Nan; Cruella De Vil; and Basil Fawlty.

That’s not a great roll call. And it must be saying something that even Outers think Cruella De Vil, Alan Patridge, and Hyacinth Bucket would be one of theirs.

Mind you, the only pro-Remain character that both sides agree on is Sir Humphrey Appleby. That’s not great either.

For the rest, everyone wants them for their own.

So what about those who say they don’t yet know how they will vote in the referendum? These might be the key swing voters, after all. Maybe they can give a more unbiased response. Turns out their ranking is broadly similar to the overall one – with scores that are somewhere between the views of the Outers and the Inners.

But with this group the figures for don’t knows get even bigger: 54 per cent at a minimum, rising to a massive 77 per cent for Arthur Dent.

And that’s because, lacking a partisan view about the referendum, they are not able to project this view onto fictional characters.  They lack, in the jargon, a heuristic enabling them to answer the question. Which tells you something about how most people answered the questions.

Philip Cowley is Professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London.