Thursday’s shocking murder of MP Jo Cox has thrown a sobering light on the referendum campaign and the way it has been conducted.
It now feels pretty inappropriate to engage in Westminster-bubble punditry and offer a view on which side has done better, on whose messages have resonated more powerfully, without also reflecting on the damage wrought by the whole campaign.
I do not believe for a second that there is a direct link between the messages of one side or the other and the horrifying behaviour of one individual. Everyone is appalled by what happened last week. But there can be no question that what has been said by both sides has added further poison to the already heavily contaminated well of public discourse, offline and particularly online, in the UK.
Over the course of the campaign one senior politician after another has been demonised and pilloried, typically by their own side. Hysterical claims from 'remain' and 'leave' have only deepened public mistrust of anything politicians have to say. The independence of important institutions like the Bank of England has been called into question. It has become okay to express ugly opinions about foreigners – and about those who raise legitimate questions about migration. It is not hard to see how in this context cynicism and contempt can warp into anger and hatred. And it is very difficult to see how we turn back from a world in which politicians and public servants are now routinely subject not to scrutiny but to ridicule and vitriol.
For what it’s worth, the last few weeks have continued the pattern of 'leave' making claims about how we might flourish outside the EU and 'remain' wheeling out the big guns with big warnings about how the other side is wrong. The pro-EU side’s tactics are uninspiring and negative, but probably efficient. They have given up on committed 'leavers': as YouGov revealed last week, this group trusts no-one to speak about the debate anyway. Instead they will continue to try to either woo or scare the undecided middle into voting their way – all the while desperately hoping to persuade young voters to turn out.
My view - and hope - is 'remain' will just about prevail. We can only pray that they do so after a last few days of debate that is more elevated and respectful than has been the case in the campaign so far. And once this whole miserable exercise is over politicians and the media and others can start the long and very necessary process of rekindling trust and hope in British public life.
Gavin Devine is COO of Porta Communications and managing partner of Newgate Communications. He is pro-'remain'