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A far-right terrorist murdered Jo Cox. So when is the Cobra meeting?

The contrast between the murders of Lee Rigby and Jo Cox is stark. 

On Wednesday, Thomas Mair was convicted of the murder of Jo Cox, an act which the Crown Prosecution Service has categorised as terrorism. Section 3 of the Terrorism Act 2000 states that the an act may still be considered an act of terror even if it was not designed to influence the government or the public, as long as a firearm or explosives are involved and the act was politically, ideologically, religiously, or racially motivated. Nair’s murder of Jo Cox falls neatly under this definition. So does the murder of Lee Rigby in 2013.

And yet, the difference in the reaction to these very similar murders is astounding. After Lee Rigby was killed, the media was filled with alarmist headlines about the dangers of Islamic extremism. There was no hesitation to label Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, Rigby’s murderers, as terrorists or the murder as a terrorist attack. After Lee Rigby’s murder, even before Adebolajo and Adebowale’s trial, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, chaired an emergency Cobra meeting and the government announced a new taskforce to fight Islamic extremism. However, when it came to Mair, there was a sudden concern regarding contempt of court, and even now there is a real hesitancy to actually label him as a terrorist. Has Theresa May chaired a Cobra meeting? Has she announced a taskforce to combat far-right extremism? No. 

Days after Jo Cox’s murder, I wrote in The Staggers that we were blind to the rise of far-right extremism. Today, I see this blindness as part of a larger context where the far-right is being normalised. Take the USA as an example. The election of Donald Trump hinged on the increase visibility and support of far-right policies and behaviours, with some supporters expressing anti-Semitism and racism. However, after the election, there has been a rush to normalise not just Trump, but also the far-right extremism that got him into power. By calling itself "alt-right", the American far-right can deflect accusations of neo-nazism or white nationalism. 

What this underlines is the racial classification of behaviour, where the dangerous behaviour of men of colour is held up as an example of deviant cultural problems, while the same dangerous behaviour in white men is dismissed as an isolated incident. Hence the twisted logic where the entire Muslim population of a country is expected to apologise every time there is a terrorist attack, and yet, no such reaction is needed when a white supremacist is the terrorist.

None of this is new. This is nationalism. A nationalism which suddenly seems to be resurgent, but which immigrants and people of colour have always known was there. It is this same nationalism which has framed terrorism as a foreign problem, and stopped the government from reacting to far-right extremism with the same laser focus that it reserves for Islamic extremism. Our Prime Minister is still silent on the topic of far-right extremism. As long as this remains the case, terrorism in all its forms will continue to threaten us all.

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.

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Andy Burnham and Sadiq Khan are both slippery self-mythologisers – so why do we rate one more than the other?

Their obsessions with their childhoods have both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

Andy Burnham is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s widely seen as an unprincipled flip-flopper.

Sadiq Khan is a man whose policies and opinions seem to owe more to political expediency than they do to belief. He bangs on to the point of tedium about his own class, background and interests. As a result he’s the hugely popular mayor of London, the voice of those who’d be proud to think of themselves as the metropolitan liberal elite, and is even talked of as a possible future leader of the Labour party.

Oh, and also they were both born in 1970. So that’s a thing they have in common, too.

Why it is this approach to politics should have worked so much better for the mayor of London than the would-be mayor of Manchester is something I’ve been trying to work out for a while. There are definite parallels between Burnham’s attempts to present himself as a normal northern bloke who likes normal things like football, and Sadiq’s endless reminders that he’s a sarf London geezer whose dad drove a bus. They’ve both become punchlines; but one of these jokes, it feels to me, is told with a lot more affection than the other.

And yes, Burnham apparent tendency to switch sides, on everything from NHS privatisation to the 2015 welfare vote to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, has given him a reputation for slipperiness. But Sadiq’s core campaign pledge was to freeze London transport fares; everyone said it was nonsense, and true to form it was, and you’d be hard pressed to find an observer who thought this an atypical lapse on the mayor’s part. (Khan, too, has switched sides on the matter of Jeremy Corbyn.)

 And yet, he seems to get away with this, in a way that Burnham doesn’t. His low-level duplicity is factored in, and it’s hard to judge him for it because, well, it’s just what he’s like, isn’t it? For a long time, the Tory leadership’s line on London’s last mayor was “Boris is Boris”, meaning, look, we don’t trust him either, but what you gonna do? Well: Sadiq is Sadiq.

Even the names we refer to them by suggest that one of these two guys is viewed very differently from the other. I’ve instinctively slipped into referring to the mayor of London by his first name: he’s always Sadiq, not Khan, just as his predecessors were Boris and Ken. But, despite Eoin Clarke’s brief attempt to promote his 2015 leadership campaign with a twitter feed called “Labour Andy”, Burnham is still Burnham: formal, not familiar. 

I’ve a few theories to explain all this, though I’ve no idea which is correct. For a while I’ve assumed it’s about sincerity. When Sadiq Khan mentions his dad’s bus for the 257th time in a day, he does it with a wink to the audience, making a crack about the fact he won’t stop going on about it. That way, the message gets through to the punters at home who are only half listening, but the bored lobby hacks who’ve heard this routine two dozen times before feel they’re in the joke.

Burnham, it seems to me, lacks this lightness of touch: when he won’t stop banging on about the fact he grew up in the north, it feels uncomfortably like he means it. And to take yourself seriously in politics is sometimes to invite others to make jokes at your expense.

Then again, perhaps the problem is that Burnham isn’t quite sincere enough. Sadiq Khan genuinely is the son of a bus-driving immigrant: he may keep going on about it, but it is at least true. Burnham’s “just a northern lad” narrative is true, too, but excludes some crucial facts: that he went to Cambridge, and was working in Parliament aged 24. Perhaps that shouldn’t change how we interpret his story; but I fear, nonetheless, it does.

Maybe that’s not it, though: maybe I’m just another London media snob. Because Burnham did grow up at the disadvantaged end of the country, a region where, for too many people, chasing opportunities means leaving. The idea London is a city where the son of a bus driver can become mayor flatters our metropolitan self-image; the idea that a northerner who wants to build a career in politics has to head south at the earliest opportunity does the opposite. 

So if we roll our eyes when Burnham talks about the north, perhaps that reflects badly on us, not him: the opposite of northern chippiness is southern snobbery.

There’s one last possibility for why we may rate Sadiq Khan more highly than Andy Burnham: Sadiq Khan won. We can titter a little at the jokes and the fibs but he is, nonetheless, mayor of London. Andy Burnham is just the bloke who lost two Labour leadership campaigns.

At least – for now. In six weeks time, he’s highly likely to the first mayor of Greater Manchester. Slipperiness is not the worst quality in a mayor; and so much of the job will be about banging the drum for the city, and the region, that Burnham’s tendency to wear his northernness on his sleeve will be a positive boon.

Sadiq Khan’s stature has grown because the fact he became London’s mayor seems to say something, about the kind of city London is and the kind we want it to be. Perhaps, after May, Andy Burnham can do the same for the north – and the north can do the same for Andy Burnham.

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.