Courage of MPs deserves respect after Sir David Amess killed – Andrew Vine

COURAGE is not a word routinely associated with MPs, but it should be. Week in, week out, they summon the courage to face down the deranged and malevolent who harangue or threaten them on social media.

People light candles during a vigil at St Michael & All Angels church in Leigh-on-Sea in Essex for Conservative MP Sir David Amess who died after he was stabbed several times at a constituency surgery on Friday.

Then they go out to meet their constituents at surgeries never knowing if the unthinkable will happen and somebody walks through the door intent on acting on a threat.

That takes real courage and it is too little recognised.

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A candle and a photo at a vigil at St Michael & All Angels church in Leigh-on-Sea Essex for Conservative MP Sir David Amess who died after he was stabbed several times at a constituency surgery on Friday.

Sir David Amess knew the courage it took to be an MP and so did our own Jo Cox. So do all the other MPs who mourned for Mrs Cox five years ago and did so again in the House of Commons yesterday for Sir David.

That courage – and a renewed appreciation of it by Britain’s people – is going to be needed more than ever in the weeks and months ahead, as more details emerge about what lay behind the murder of Sir David and his alleged killer eventually stands trial.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner (right) did not retract recent comments that she made against Tory politicians.

It will be essential in continuing the close and accessible relationship between MPs and their constituents that lies at the heart of our democracy.

The ability of MPs to meet those who send them to Parliament and our right as constituents to talk to them face-to-face about the issues that concern us must be maintained at all costs.

That is what both sides – MPs and voters alike – want and need to happen if our democracy is not to be undermined by acts of evil.

Whatever it takes for that to happen must be put in place. If it means a police presence at MPs’ surgeries, or the use of airport-style scanners for weapons through which those attending must pass, then so be it.

Flowers and tributes at the scene near Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, where Conservative MP Sir David Amess died after he was stabbed several times at a constituency surgery on Friday.

MPs must be kept safe, but equally the principle of access to them has to be kept at the heart of our politics.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Online video meetings will play a part, as they have during the pandemic, but every MP knows the value of personal contact when it comes to sitting down with a worried constituent they are doing their best to help.

And surgeries are only part of the story. Our MPs cannot be shut away from the public, because their job depends on contact and the strength of our democracy on their involvement with the constituencies they represent.

They live on the same streets as people who vote – or oppose – them, shop in the same supermarkets, send their children to the same schools.

At checkouts, on trains, at the school gates or at community events and official openings they engage with the public, hearing about what goes on in their constituencies, often getting early wind of issues that might land on their desks.

The relentless focus on politics at Westminster can obscure this aspect of MPs’ work, the unheard and unsung graft that goes on for the benefit of people who might not even have voted for them.

This is the sort of grassroots representation at which Sir David and Mrs Cox excelled, and ensuring it continues is the best way to honour their memories.

But if that is to happen, more than just the physical security of MPs going about their work has to change.

After Mrs Cox’s murder, there was much talk about changing the discourse of politics, of taking the rancour, bitterness and abuse out of it. It hasn’t happened. If anything, there is more toxicity in political debate than five years ago. Even at the level of party leaders, personal insults are traded and the abuse grows worse farther down the hierarchy.

Witness Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, branding Conservatives “scum” at her party conference, and then proudly refusing to retract the insult to the delight of her social media following. If a senior politician and those who support her are prepared to sink so low – with her party leader failing to issue a public rebuke – then is it really any surprise that a poisonous online culture towards politicians is flourishing?

Britain’s political leaders cannot hope to stamp out the death or rape threats towards MPs – especially women – until they crack down on what is being said or feverishly fired off via social media within their own parties and amongst supporters.

The murders of two MPs demand that should happen, and the tone of political debate becomes altogether more civilised. They also demand an end to anonymous social media accounts, which give those who are as cowardly as they are abusive licence to make threats without fear of the prosecution their actions merit. There is not a trace of courage in these abusers, unlike the targets of their online vitriol.

Sir David Amess and Jo Cox were, in their undemonstrative way, admirably courageous. And so are the colleagues in Parliament who mourn them and will continue to keep our open and accessible democratic tradition alive. For that, they deserve our gratitude.

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