In an election rooted in duplicity, Jack Merritt's life shows us an alternative
This is an election campaign absent of vision, that hits a new low with every week that passes
Jack Merritt sounds like an amazing young man. Someone with ideals and a vision for the future that included hope and a faith in the power to transform lives.
He believed passionately in the principle of rehabilitation and was an organiser of an education event where his killer – a convicted terrorist – was invited to attend and that ultimately ended in such bloody horror.
But Jack would have understood that the fact that convicted terrorist, Usman Khan, had been released from prison on automatic early release was not the reason he went on to kill. He would have known that Khan’s savagery was born not from getting out too soon or in not being punished enough, but in the wholesale failure to deal with his radicalisation before and inside prison and then in the appalling deficiencies that led to him not being properly monitored and supported on the outside.
Jack saw the good in others and he worked in pursuit of a fairer world. And while the injustice of this bright young man being slain by an ex-con while campaigning for second chances for others is painfully clear, it is equally true that one of those that raced towards his killer was also a convicted murderer, out on day release to attend the same event.
Jack Merritt was a highly intelligent, caring and driven young man, he wanted to make a better world for all and his memory should not be desecrated by a ‘lock ‘em up and throw away the key’, right-wing Tory agenda that is being promulgated by a scurrilous prime minister whose only allegiance is to his own career.
Within hours of Jack’s slaying, and with his father warning against politicising his death, Boris Johnson was already using him as an election prop, blaming the Labour Party for his killing and pledging to end early release for serious offenders.
Such insensitive, illogical idiocy. Labour hasn’t been in power since 2010 and the reality speaks for itself – prison does not work. Jack knew that.
In the days that followed, with a country in mourning and a father calling for his son’s memory to be respected, Johnson boorishly drowned out any attempts to challenge him on the real facts of the matter: that through austerity, his party has helped to cultivate the isolating conditions for home-grown jihadists, decimated justice budgets, brought prisons to their knees and slashed probation services to breaking point, all with the droning rhetoric on repeat that sentencing needs to get stronger.
It was pure cynical, knee-jerk, grubby electioneering. And even in his grief, Dave Merritt knew that and said that his son would be “seething at his death, and his life, being used to perpetuate an agenda of hate that he gave his everything fighting against”.
But in these torrid times, it was inevitable. Even as the news of the London Bridge attacks began to break, the timing of such a horror on the streets of our capital was too seductive not to be used for grubby political gain. And true to form, it allowed this opportunistic prime minister to grandstand on the very platform of the BBC where he has so far refused to be put under the same election scrutiny as all other party leaders.
This is a hellish election campaign. A grim choice between a rock and a hard place. Two potential prime ministers that no one has any real enthusiasm for and a future that is being decided either on fantasy financials or on a false narrative of ‘get Brexit done’.
We are told this is an election that is one of the most important in a generation and yet one in which we have become so inured to the lies we are being told that there is a tired acceptance that anything goes.
But the death of Jack Merritt and the cynical way in which Johnson so quickly lept on it for political gain should surely be something of a wakeup call. An opportunity to hold a mirror to the man that wants to lead and the way he conducts his affairs. And what you see isn’t pretty.
This is an election campaign absent of vision, that hits a new low with every week that passes. A contest dominated by accusations rooted in hate of Muslims or Jews or others, a prime minister who we know to be a cheat and a liar and who is depicted as a melting block of ice during a television debate on the single biggest issue of the day – the climate crisis – because he is too cowardly to turn up.
It’s a joke and I don’t know anyone who has any real enthusiasm for how to vote. In England, it’s about Brexit and in Scotland, it’s about independence, yet neither are on the ballot. The electorate are being urged to lend their support to parties they don’t agree with and politicians they don’t like. And the most popular party leader for prime minister following the TV debates – Nicola Sturgeon – isn’t even eligible for that vote.
This is the most depressing election of my lifetime. An election built on fallacy and while my heart aches for the family of Jack Merritt, I see my own son’s generation reflected in that young life and I weep for the 20-somethings who do actually want to make a difference but who have only known such duplicity in politics.
Jack’s father, Dave, wrote that his son was “frustrated because the political elite have forgotten why it is important to be fair”. Perhaps one way to respect this fine young man’s memory is to try to remember the force for good that politics can actually be used for.