Terror threat to MPs and democracy must be confronted – Patrick Mercer
But let’s be clear. If elected representatives want to meet their electorate face-to-face, that is not without risk and it never has been.
Since the Prime Minister Spencer Perceval was shot at point-blank range in 1812 through to Jo Cox’s murder five years ago and now Sir David Amess, there have been nine serving MPs who have been killed.
I can’t find one that hasn’t been politically motivated except for Perceval, who died due to a personal grudge.
All too obviously, the assassins have exploited the fact that our brand of democracy expects MPs to be amongst their people.
One of the only things I got right as an MP was, I believe, living in my constituency, bringing up my family there, doing my shopping there and generally being available.
But, having served in Northern Ireland and spoken trenchantly about it in Parliament and then been shadow Minister for Security, I was fairly used to death threats.
A handful were credible and I got outstanding help from Nottinghamshire Constabulary, but I resigned before social media really got into is stride.
Certainly, a dribble of internet threats occurred (some directed at my family) but nothing like the torrent which today’s MPs have to endure.
And if you ask what precautions I took, exactly those I employed in Northern Ireland except for one constituent who looked as though he might get a bit tasty.
I invited this gentleman to a surgery in a room made available in Newark Police Station and, unsurprisingly, this cooled his ardour.
That has got to be a better than a police officer or G4S standing guard in a constituency office as has been suggested, hasn’t it?
This isn’t really the point, though. If you put yourself in the public arena you’re certain to be criticised and that criticism is likely to be crude, insulting, base and anonymous.
And none of that is helped, of course, by the deeply aggressive language of the likes of Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, who described the Tories as “homophobic, racist, misogynistic…scum”. But it is also vital to remember that hurtful though they are, these are only words.
All this has now led to what some MPs are calling ‘David’s Law’. This demands that the Online Safety Bill should be toughened up by ending authors’ anonymity.
It’s believed that this will drastically curb online hate crime and, in tribute to Sir David, the amended Act should bear his name.
But this honourable man was not drowned by a Twitter storm. He was allegedly knifed to death by a 25-year-old who has now been charged with murder under the Terrorism Act.
We had earlier been told that Ali Harbi Ali had been referred to the Government’s Prevent programme.
Prevent is one of the three strands of the Government’s Contest strategy and concentrates on individuals who have been exposed to extremist propaganda, prisons being the most usual location.
Whilst this sounds, at face value, like a shocking security lapse, it’s worth remembering that Fusilier Lee Rigby’s murderers as well as the Manchester Arena bomber were all known to the security services.
The truth is that there are many suspects on the Prevent list and simply not enough officers to monitor them round the clock: that’s just the reality of day-to-day counter-terrorism.
What would really help to deter any more murders like this, though, would be a clear recognition that terrorism of all stripes must be confronted, not ducked.
For instance, the London Mayor, Sadiq Khan’s, recent tweet about George Floyd’s death in America spoke of a ‘shocking killing’ yet his tribute to David Amess suggested that he’d ‘passed away’ rather than been horribly murdered.
I could list countless other examples where commentators have pussyfooted around the issue of the tiny number of violent Islamists.
We had no difficulties in squaring up to Irish terrorism and, whilst times have changed, there is no room for wokery when dealing with thugs: lives are too important.
Our stamp of democracy may be quaint, but it pivots on our MPs, mayors and councillors not only being available to their constituents, but also being in touch with everyday life.
To shy away from ordinary people would be to hand the terrorists yet another victory.
And I’ll add this: no amount of ‘David’s Law’ would have spared his family the agony of his murder.
Mean words may bruise but brutal acts will kill – the question, therefore, is how best to protect our MPs and public servants without compromising their accessibility and ability to meet their constituents.
Patrick Mercer is a former Conservative MP for Newark.
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