MP's killing: A mortal danger that threatens without reason or explanation

Like Jo Cox, British politician David Amess was regarded as a 'proper MP' by the community he served

Sir David Amess was a very familiar figure to close observers of the British political scene. Photo: Alamy
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With a career stretching decades in parliament and demonstrable loyalty to the part of Essex he represented, Sir David Amess was a very familiar figure to close observers of the British political scene.

The 69-year-old was known in the 1980s as an outspoken supporter of the Thatcherite brand of politics, which then prime minister Margaret Thatcher had unleashed to shake up the country. Thus his politics were clear and he was not a bland figure. Not everyone agreed with him.

That does not make him a target however and, in the British political tradition, backbench MPs like Sir David are vital to all sides of the aisle.

One friend and constituent who lived near the site of the attack on Friday struggled to convey his shock at the loss. "He was a proper MP," the man told a TV interviewer.

Now Sir David will go down in history for a reason nobody could have foreseen – as the second member of the House of Commons to lose their life within a decade in a political attack.

A Labour MP, Jo Cox, was killed in 2016 by a man with far-right connections. In 2010 another opposition member, Stephen Timms, was stabbed multiple times during a surgery event to meet his constituents.

In the aftermath of the killing of Ms Cox, there was a grim mood of determination that bound politicians and the wider country together. A motion before parliament drew a line on the dangers facing the democratic representatives. The MPs spoke about how they as well as everyone else needed to come together.

"There is a growing recognition that intimidation experienced by those in public life poses a threat to the diversity, integrity, and vibrancy of representative democracy in the UK [and] tackling intimidation is a cross-party issue, the abuse and intimidation knows no political boundaries," the motion read in part.

The UK's chief law and order official, Home Secretary Priti Patel, said on Friday that she would address “in due course” concerns about the security of MPs after the death of Sir David.

“Questions are rightly being asked about the safety of our country’s elected representatives and I will provide updates in due course," she wrote.

There was a sense of a small corrective move, earlier this year, when Ms Cox's sister Kim Leadbeater won an election for the seat her sister held.

In the aftermath of that incident, the Brexit referendum unleashed a chaotic political period in which attacks between the two sides of the Europe debate became shrill and hostile.

Ms Leadbeater wrote a public plea in 2019 for recognition that the insults could trigger further violence.

"Let us dial down the rhetoric," she said. "Talk of dictators, enemies of the people, coups and capitulations help nobody. Ours is a democracy in which for centuries seemingly irreconcilable political differences have been thrashed out without calling into question the fundamentals that underpin it."

In the aftermath of the 2016 attack friends of Ms Cox were able to take consolation from what the country learnt about her campaign work with many, including Syrian refugees, and the humanity and compassion that informed her political activism.

"Her community and the whole country has been united in grief and united in rejecting the well of hatred that killed her in what increasingly appears to have been an act of extreme political violence," the Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell said weeks after her death.

Taunting opponents and trading accusations was not the kind of language that Sir David would use in his political life.

His political passions were local issues and Middle East-focused work. He had a long-standing relationship with Israel and was chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Qatar.

In addition the welfare of animals was something of a cause where he developed deep political and policy expertise that was respected across politics.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson summed up the experience of many who dealt with Sir David, when he spoke of shock and sadness that the MP was killed while carrying out his duties as a public representative.

“The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics," Mr Johnson said.

Updated: October 15, 2021, 8:50 PM