After the death of Sir David Amess, we will not be cowed by hatred - Barnsley Central's Dan Jarvis MP

LAST Friday I was sitting in my constituency office, working through some routine correspondence; looking forward to a long-planned event at Barnsley Library, hoping that I would be able to spend a bit of time with my family over the weekend – a very rare moment of almost tranquility.

A portrait of Sir David Amess MP ahead of a service at St Michael's Church in Chalkwell on October 17, 2021 in Leigh-on-Sea, United Kingdom. Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images.
A portrait of Sir David Amess MP ahead of a service at St Michael's Church in Chalkwell on October 17, 2021 in Leigh-on-Sea, United Kingdom. Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images.

It did not last. At noon I saw a news alert that sickened me to my core. My Parliamentary colleague Sir David Amess had been critically injured following a stabbing at his constituency surgery.

It was eerily reminiscent of five years ago when my friend Jo Cox was murdered.

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I desperately hoped that David would survive, but the omens were ominous. Three hours later, I received the news I had been dreading. David had been killed.

Labour MP Dan Jarvis. Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images.

It is hard to put into words the pain that such news causes. David was one of the kindest and most generous people in Parliament.

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Over the next 10 years, I would see David several times a week – he had an office close by in Parliament. We would often stop for a chat as we headed into (almost invariably different!) division lobbies. That was the great joy about David, whatever your political differences, he was the epitome of decency, kindness and good-humour – as the many tributes that have poured out since his death attest to.

He was a doughty campaigner on tackling fuel poverty; against cruelty to animals; for better support for women suffering from endometriosis; for the caravanning and tourism sector (it was from David I learned an invaluable fact: that the Caravan Club has 10 times as many members as all of the political parties in the UK put together!); and, of course, for city status for his beloved Southend. I’m glad that in his memory that this will be realised. It is a fitting tribute.

David’s murder has prompted a renewed conversation about the dangers that MPs face simply by doing our jobs and being accessible to the public we represent. In this century alone, two MPs have been murdered while serving their community; two more have been seriously injured. I hope that David’s murder will lead to a fundamental reappraisal of the security that is available for MPs.

But I remember this conversation in the aftermath of Jo’s murder. What should have been a moment of real change, instead led to the tone of political debate becoming more extreme – political opponents became saboteurs; judges became enemies of the people. We have a duty to ensure this tragedy does not happen again, but I fear that not much will change.

And yet change it must. Last week’s events will be subject to the rigours of the criminal justice system. Questions will be asked about the specific circumstances; the insidious nature

of online radicalisation; the way we tackle home-grown terrorism and the ideologies that perpetuate it – and it is right that those questions are asked.

But what about the wider context? A society where those elected by the people must keep one eye over our shoulders for fear of attack is one with a broken and toxic political culture, one poisoned by hatred and division – too often stoked for cheap political points with no thought of the cost.

You only have to look at the comments section on a myriad of Facebook groups; the rage that I’ve encountered on doorsteps in Barnsley and elsewhere; the hatred and harassment that Jo’s sister – the inspirational Kim Leadbeater – faced during the Batley and Spen by-election, to see that our public conversation is badly damaged.

I don’t pretend to have all the answers on how to get there, I don’t think anybody does at the moment. But we must act to prevent hatred and division from overcoming us. To rebuild our political culture. To respect the fact that we can be on different sides of an argument, and disagree vigorously, without that debate being soured by rancour and personal animosity. It’s a process that will take time. It will also take courage and real leadership – from the very top.

I hoped that we wouldn’t be again facing this debate, but I’m not surprised that we are. One thing is certain: I won’t be cowed by the forces of hatred and division. Of course, I’ll take whatever precautions are necessary to protect my family, my team and myself – but I’ll always be out there representing my constituents, meeting them on their doorsteps, helping them in their hour of need.

Anything less would betray the memories of David and Jo.

Dan Jarvis is Labour MP for Barnsley Central and the South Yorkshire mayor.