RIP David Amess, victim of an inability to protect public servants

David Amess (Photo: BBC)

I am deeply shocked to hear about the death of Southend West MP David Amess.

Attending an advice surgery in a Methodist Church within his constituency, Mr Amess was stabbed several times and later died of his injuries.

I don't have the words to express how appalling this murderous act is. It's not the first time something like this has happened - we only have to cast our minds back five years to the equally horrific murder of Jo Cox. Stephen Timms was stabbed twice in 2010, while in 2000 Lib Dem MP Nigel Jones was attacked by a samurai sword. What all these attacks have in common is that they occured at, or just prior to, MPs' advice surgeries. Questions surely have to be asked about the safety of parliamentarians and their staff while conducting their community-based work.

I have no idea what the motivations of Mr Amess's murderer were; no doubt we'll soon be enlightened. But in a sense they are irrelevant. No-one should be killed in a public place while going about their day-to-day work. 

I have already seen a little anti-politician reaction on social media, as if somehow MPs are legitimate targets because of the nature of their work. I completely reject this. No-one - absolutely no-one - should go to work fearing for their own safety. Exposure to increased risk of violent attack does not "come with the territory" of being a constituency MP. 

There are ways of holding MPs accountable and it is not with violence.

I did not know David Amess, although I met him once at a health-related event in Westminster (he was chair of the health select committee at the time and I was involved in a campaign to improve funding into endometriosis research, something he supported). He was never a government minister and I doubt he had any aspirations to be one. He always seemed in his element in committee work, and I believe was deeply committed to his constituency. Amess always seemed to me like a thoughtful man and while inevitably there is much we disagreed on politically it would be churlish not to acknowledge the work he did on health equalities, the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act and the creation of the all-party group on endometriosis.

It should be shocking to all of us when an MP serving his constituents is killed in the process of carrying out his public work. This morning he will have been preparing to met his constituencts in order to help address their needs and concerns. Advice surgeries should never end with brutal, deadly attacks and neither should a politician's life.

How should we respond to this tragedy? Firstly, I'd like to offer my concolences to David Amess's family, friends and colleagues. Secondly, we have to make sure that this assault on democracy is met with more democracy. Thirdly, and most importantly, we have to think about how we can work towards creating a democracy that is kinder, inclusive, tolerant and, well, safer - what I call a "generous democracy". The increasingly toxic culture around political conversation doesn't help matters and neither does the anti-politician rhetoric. There are human costs to our failure to respond adequately to Jo Cox's murder, which have today proved all too real. 

What can we do better? I'm not simply talking about improved security for MPs and other public servants, but about changing our expectations of them, moving away from a culture that regards MPs with thinly-disguised contempt and challenging the tendency of political conversation to become binary, adversarial and divisive. 

David Amess is the latest victim of an inability to learn lessons from experience and safeguard public servants. I hope he will be the last but, sadly, I have no reason for such optimism unless overdue actions are taken to better protect our parliamentarians.