The tragic death of Southend MP Sir David Amess following the attack at his constituency surgery last Friday sent shockwaves across the nation and across the political divide. David was a friend and colleague whose kindness and positivity shone through in his cheerful approach to his constituents and his work in Parliament. He will be hugely missed.
Sir David’s death was the second killing of an MP in the last five years, and once again reminded us of the importance of our democratic traditions, and the threat posed to them by violent extremists.
Safety measures for representatives and their staff was reviewed following the shocking murder of Batley and Spen’s Jo Cox in 2016 as she was leaving her constituency surgery. A caring and dedicated MP, Jo was, like me, elected for the first time in 2015 and served with me on the Communities Select Committee. Community was at the heart of her work.
We enjoy, and depend on, being easily accessible to residents who need our help, and it has been great to resume our surgeries in person following the COVID restrictions. As security measures are reviewed, I believe it is important that we properly consider the importance of our interactions.
Living in my Cheadle constituency, I am fortunate to be able to talk to my constituents in my regular surgeries, on visits to local schools and businesses, and when I am just out and about doing the family shopping. All of this is an intrinsic part of my job and my life. But, fear of attack can no longer be dismissed out of hand, and if it prevents our elected representatives doing there it job, then it must be addressed by the Speaker of the House Sir Lindsay Hoyle and the security services.
However, this is not the whole story. We need to take a long hard look at the way we carry out our political discourse. Whilst I hold different political views to many others both in Parliament and locally, we should all be listened to with an appreciation that they are fairly held. Similarly, I sometimes have conversations in supermarkets and Church halls which begin with the words ‘I didn’t vote for you, but…’ and then I hear about a problem or, occasionally, I’m thanked for a good result. Elected representatives take seriously their responsibilities to all constituents.
But social media has in some cases allowed vile insults, hatred and threats to overwhelm positive interactions and we are, in my view, worse off for it. Free speech must never be sacrificed but neither should it enable those with malicious intent to close down the views of others. Worryingly, the tone of political rhetoric has also recently been accused of dramatically lowering the quality of debate rather than enhancing it.
In my view we need a thorough reappraisal of our political discourse as well as security, and perhaps the Online Safety Bill which is currently going through Parliament can provide some of the answers.
RIP Sir David Amess and Jo Cox.