The death of Sir David Amess MP last week is a tragedy. One only needs to look at the depth and quality of the tributes to him, his life and his career to realise this. From all sides of the House of Commons, from all walks of life – constituents and those he worked with on campaigns or helped when in difficult situations. People were coming out to tell of how Sir David had improved their lives, as a friend, colleague and representative.
There are striking themes that have run through every testimonial – his strength of faith, strength of character and his strength of personality. That he was honest, caring, friendly, conscientious and dutiful. He was committed to his constituency and constituents, always seeking the best for them across his near 40 years of service to the people of Essex, first as MP for Basildon and then for Southend. The fact that he spent none of that time in a ministerial position tells us a lot about his priorities. In many ways, it is a respectful legacy to grant City status for Southend – something he had long been campaigning for.
Sir David was a stalwart campaigner on many issues – including the vital role that families can play in creating a healthy society and that family policy is a key issue that impacts on almost every level of government and is something that plays an important role in tackling big societal issues. Last year, he kindly wrote a piece for this website, Conservatives Global, on how families should be at the heart of government policy which explained his support for strengthening families across the UK, ensuring integrated family support is at the heart of the Government’s wider policies for social reform. It is therefore fitting that his family’s statement was the most powerful and poignant of all those that I watched.
We must also consider what has led to this terrible event. We are once again faced with the truth that one of our elected representatives has been cruelly killed while carrying out their job. It is only 5 years since Jo Cox was murdered while out in her constituency – the question that many will be asking is why nothing seems to have changed.
MPs continue to face ever increasing bile and vitriol online and in person abuse, intimidation and threats have also visibly increased in recent years. Some MPs are even using Sir David’s death as an attempt to push forward with removing online anonymity. This is something that I believe is misguided.
Firstly, it will not stop abuse – people will find ways around any law and lots of online abuse is not even anonymous. More importantly, it removes an important layer of protection for whistle-blowers, those who might be targeted for the content they create or those who face violence and abuse. It would be a mistake to use this tragedy to push this forward. Finally, we cannot lose sight of the fact that his death is at the hands of suspected terrorism caused by Islamist extremism rather than online trolls.
So how else do we guard our MPs and thus our democratic system? Our democracy must prevail in the face of these threats and attacks. If an MP wants to increase security, there is nothing wrong with that – in fact, I would strongly support it. However, the enduring strength and feature of our system is that MPs are accessible to those they represent. It would be a true shame if MPs let terror win and allowed themselves to be bullied into hiding away. Jo Cox’s death was tragic as was Sir David’s, but MPs did not shirk from their duties then and they cannot do so now.
However, I do not want us to lose sight of what is most important. Sir David Amess MP was unquestionably a good MP and a good man. His death is a loss to us all but mostly our thoughts and prayers should continue to be with his family and those closest to him as they are the ones experiencing personal loss.