The successor of murdered MP Sir David Amess is determined to keep meeting constituents in person but security at her surgeries has had to be increased, she said in an interview a year on from the veteran politician's death.
Anna Firth was elected as MP for Southend West at a by-election in February, four months after the 69-year-old father of five was stabbed to death while meeting constituents at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, on October 15, 2021.
Jurors found Sir David's killer, Ali Harbi Ali, guilty of murder after just 18 minutes of deliberation at the Old Bailey in April, and he was handed a whole-life prison term.
“One of the things I was very determined to do in carrying on his legacy was to continue meeting people face-to-face,” said Ms Firth.
“I think it's a really important aspect of an MP's job that people can contact you if they've got problems.
“It's something that David thought as well.”
She said she has continued with surgeries, but they are now held “where we've got slightly more security”.
“I think in some ways obviously I would rather we didn't have any barriers to seeing your MP but I would far rather that we do things safely, particularly as some of my staff were also involved with Sir David and I'm really, really lucky that some of his team have stayed with me,” Ms Firth said.
“It's really important that we keep them safe.”
She said she had been on a wreck diving holiday when she heard that an MP in the UK had been stabbed.
Ms Firth said she learnt later that day that it was Sir David.
“I genuinely think to this day no one can really believe that such a lovely, lovely man and fantastic MP could be taken from us just going about his job, doing the most brilliant job, and in a church,” she said.
Remembering a communitarian MP
Sir David had served Southend West since 1997, and Basildon before that from 1983, and Ms Firth said it was “as if he knew everybody”.
“It was as if he was a headmaster who didn't just have 500 pupils to know and look after,” she said. “He had 70,000 and he knew every one of them.”
Ms Firth said it was an “enormous privilege” to serve as his successor and “hard in one sense because people need to talk”.
“They need to talk about their memories of Sir David and their reflections,” she said.
“But because he was such an amazing MP it means that there's a fantastic legacy.
“My biggest problem is how to do as many things as Sir David did.
“I'm convinced he must have had about six body doubles following him around the constituency.
“He supported so many people and so many charities and to such a high level, so it's a challenge, but it's a wonderful challenge to have.”
Sir David Amess memorial — in pictures
Firth eyes culture accolade for Southend
Sir David was posthumously made the city of Southend's first freeman at a ceremony attended by King Charles — then the Prince of Wales — in March.
Ms Firth said that Southend becoming a city had “given everyone a huge boost”.
“Civic pride is important and it's given everybody a focus because what we all want to do now is to make the city of Southend the city that he would have been proud of,” said the 56-year-old.
“We're all coming together and working out ways in which we can take Southend forward.
“Just one of the suggestions which I've come up with is that we go for UK City of Culture in 2029 because culture was really important to Sir David and he led the charge for Southend to be UK City of Culture in 2017 and we didn't get it.
“We missed out to Hull.
“So what better legacy than for us to fulfil his dream and make us not only a city but a City of Culture.”