Sir David Amess: The appalling events today are a tragedy for everyone, says Mark Dolan
We have witnessed an evil crime and an appalling tragedy. And the country has lost a great man.
The appalling events today are a tragedy for Sir David Amess, a tragedy for his family and a tragedy for the country.
The wonderful accessibility of our constituency MPs is one of the truly special and uniquely British aspects of our democracy. They are brilliantly available and within reach. For those weekly or bi-monthly MPs surgeries, power and influence isn’t miles away in Westminster, it’s on your doorstep. At these surgeries, like the one David was conducting today, dedicated MPs across the house, open their doors to constituents and engage with them face-to-face over any number of issues. Vandalism in the local park, anti-social behavour in the town centre, immigration enquiries, housing issues, benefits claims - you name it. Like Sir David Amess, most of our politicians, particularly those on the back benches, who are not climbing the greasy political pole, are dedicated, hard-working people who entered public life to make a difference. And whatever their political colour, every member of Parliament is a precious agent of our democracy.
An unfashionable view, but I've long argued for MPs to be paid more – it’s a huge job with colossal responsibilities - and every MP should be respected, appreciated and acknowledged for the work they do. Tory, Labour, LibDem, DUP, Green, SNP, Plaid it doesn't matter. They represent everyone in their area, and many MPs like David often win re-election not because of the party they belong to, but because of the amazing individual work that they have done for their constituents.
Some politicians, like David Amess transcend the party rosette on their lapel and stay in the Commons on the strength of their own personality, and their own contribution – his victories in Basildon in the 1987 and 1992 elections were against the odds and attributable to his sheer popularity locally.
We do not have the details of today's appalling tragedy other than the fact that a member of the British parliament, the home of representative democracy, has been killed today, in the line of duty. So this is an assault not just on an innocent man, but on our democracy and on the values of this country.
This dreadful crime has clear parallels with the murder of Jo Cox, a brilliant Labour MP who was murdered just over five years ago in similar circumstances. It's getting harder and harder to be a politician in this country.
In Britain political discourse has got more and more attritional. Verbal and physical attacks on the streets have become all-too-familiar, and you have MPs themselves, labelling their opponents scum. It's wrong. Verbal insults, unparliamentary language, online trolling, Twitter pile-ons, spitting in the street, eggs thrown, milkshakes – the verbal and physical abuse of politicians has got to stop.
Many MPs could make much more money and have a far quieter life outside of the Commons. We should hold them to account every second, of course, but also be grateful that they do the job. Every MP, of every political colour, should be challenged, yes, but also respected and appreciated for what they do and they should be safe as they do it.
We don't want to lose the uniquely direct relationship that voters have with their MPs. Clearly the security provisions around GP surgeries must be looked at, and there are myriad other ways the authorities will seek to prevent a tragedy like this happening again. But MPs will always be out and about, and available to the public. Which is why we need to foster a national mood of tolerance, of respect. Of accepting a plurality of views.
The public conversation around politics now is so toxic.
There is so much division. It's got to stop.
We've got to unite to work out issues and disagreements through debate, through listening, and through compromise, rather than building online tribes. David has had a long career serving his constituents.
There is special legal provision for the murder of a police officer in this country, as it’s rightly considered a uniquely heinous crime. Well the same status should be enjoyed by those who represent us.
The people of Basildon and latterly Southend West gave him an opportunity to change politics and change the country, and in his own way, that he did. A lifelong Brexiteer, pro-family values, pro common sense David was a man of conscience who pursued Tony Blair relentlessly after the Iraq War. He was man of deep religious faith, a pro-lifer, a campaigner for sufferers of endometriosis, and a tireless champion of animal rights.
For almost four decades David Amess had a platform and he used it. That platform has been taken away from him. But he made his mark, he made a difference. He touched lives and he changed lives. Many of those stories will never be told or make headlines, but will be felt by those involved. David Amess was like Jo Cox, the archetypal backbencher. Somebody who chose not to participate in the soap opera of cabinet or shadow cabinet politics, and focussed on the roughly 70,000 people he represented.
Cabinet ministers are clearly political box office and enjoy the headlines, the TV cameras and the Flash photography. But backbench MPs like David Amess aren’t flashy at all. They put in the hard yards, the long unglamorous hours, they go to the school fetes, the bingo nights, the fundraisers. They open hospital wings, the pound the pavements, they knock on doors. And they navigate their way through hundreds of letters a week, grinding through a daily mountain of casework.
Today we have witnessed an evil crime and an appalling tragedy. And the country has lost a great man. Sir David Amess MP, may you rest in peace.