Time to tame our toxic debate

It's been clear for some time that the decay in standards of public discourse has got much, much worse during the EU referendum campaign.

And while there's no direct evidence at present of a specific link between this toxic campaign and the murder of Jo Cox, the fact something like this can happen feels indicative of how bad things have got.

You expect passions to run high during such a charged and polarised debate. But the ease with which hatred is spewed, from both the public and some of those in leading roles, should have given us pause to reflect long before this week's awful events.

This is not the first time we've been asked to make this decision, and the contrast with the 1975 referendum campaign could not be any more plain.

A few weeks ago I watched a re-run debate from 41 years ago. Tony Benn and Roy Jenkins sat in a TV studio, and for an hour politely discussed their different opinions about Britain's place in Europe. 

No voices were raised, no insults thrown. For an hour of prime-time television, millions of people watched a sober, intelligent discussion of an important issue. 

Now, we barely pause for a second before furiously tapping out our latest 140-character rant, hatred hurled at people we barely know. Respectful debate and polite disagreement are, for many, long gone.

We have been gifted technology that gives us a greater insight into the lives of others than any previous generation could have imagined. Yet this gift is frequently thrown away, as we choose to tweet hate from the gutter.

Earlier this week, as Nigel Farage preened on one boat and Bob Geldof aimed "wanker" hand gestures at him from another, Jo Cox's family joined the flotilla, quietly making their presence felt.

She could have done anything, chosen a career path with less work, more money and a great deal less interaction with the foul-mouthed and intemperate.

But instead she stood for parliament, a role denigrated by so many, but one so few of us would dare to take on. She should have had decades to make a difference to the country she'd chosen to serve.

Earlier this year, one in five MPs questioned in a survey said they'd been attacked, or been the target of an attempted attack.

They reported being punched in the face, hit with bricks; even shot at with air rifles.

It's possible the killing of Jo Cox might prompt us to reflect on what kind of politics we want, what kind of debate we want to engage in.

It's possible it might make all of us raise our game.

That it took a murder to make us do that is shameful.