David Amess Priti Patel
Politicians

Death is the price we pay for freedom

“We cannot have the death of an MP being a price worth paying for our democracy,” said Labour’s Harriet Harman on the BBC Radio 4 Today Programme. “It can’t be an occupational hazard of being an MP that you can face death when just going about your duties,” she also told Channel 4 News. Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has called for face-to-face meetings between MPs and constituents to be halted, and others are calling for an armed police presence in constituency surgeries. In a parallel security move, Speaker Lindsay Hoyle is calling online anonymity to end, so that those who are abusive or threatening may be tracked and held to account.

The curious thing is that from all the coverage and all the tributes to Sir David Amess over the past few days, you sense the heart of liberty in the man, and you just know he wouldn’t want any of this. An attack upon democracy must be met with an assertion of democracy; a violation of our freedoms must be met with more freedom. To restrict access to our democratic representatives because two MPs have been murdered in the past five years (and seven in the past century, and nine in British history) would be to hand the fanatics and terrorists a victory. It is interesting that Sir David had informed the police of a threat he received shortly before he was stabbed 17 times by Ali Harbi Ali, but he proceeded to advertise his constituency surgery on Twitter, and continued to meet people face-to-face without an appointment.

Sir David Amess was like a priest and pastor to his flock in Southend. In almost 40 years in Parliament, he never held ministerial office, and never expressed a desire to do so. He was most content being a back-bencher, listening to the needs and concerns of his constituents, and serving them as best he could, always with great humility, grace and humour. Those who worked for him have nothing but praise and profoundly moving admiration:

This, from Ed Holmes:

#DavidAmessMP gave me my first proper job after university. Early on, I was absolutely terrified we had forgotten to tell him about an urgent call from David Cameron’s office. Couldn’t have bothered him less ‘don’t worry about that, Edward’. I don’t think he ever returned it.
That week his invitation to a local charity event in the constituency – the Leigh Duck race – went missing. Nothing was more important. We spent the entire afternoon turning the office upside down trying to find it.
Another time I took a message from the Whips Office for him to call them. They said if David voted the right way on a piece of legislation, they would consider him for a ministerial role. When I told him, David just laughed (I don’t think he ever returned that call either).
But when he heard someone he knew in the constituency was seriously ill, he would call everyone he could think of. I remember listening to him late into the evening on the phone to some of the most senior medics in the land- nagging, cajoling, pleading for them to intervene.
Even when they were clearly fed up of him- and even when it was clearly a hopeless case – David never stopped trying. No votes to be had, no cameras in sight. I think that’s when I admired him the most.
No MP could have been clearer about putting the needs of his constituents first – before party, ambition and everything else – than #DavidAmessMP. My thoughts with Julia and his family at this dreadful time.

This, from Liam Walpole:

Such a surreal few days. It is not an exaggeration to say that I wouldn’t be where I am today without this man, in more ways than one.

Many people have met him, but not many people have known him like we did. He was just so much fun and he always wanted you to get the most out of any experience.

The role was wide-ranging. From cleaning fish tanks, organising centenarian tea parties, organising pet shows, attending surgeries, helping him work his mobile phone and taking dictation – one of my favourite tasks.

One highlight was being asked to drive his car in the middle of a traffic jam near Tower Bridge because he was going to be late for oral questions in the House. He thought he’d best take the tube instead. “Liam, you have a license don’t you?” he asked. “Yes, but I’ve never driven an automatic,” I said to him, panic -stricken. “You’ll be fine!” He smiled and off he went across four lanes of stationary traffic to the tube. Oh, and his two pet pugs were in the car, I should add (to attend the Dog Show, of course!)The security guards when I arrived in Parliament were perplexed that this twenty year-old had arrived in the MP’s car with two yapping pugs. It was just classic David and a memory I will never forget.

Another story very close to my heart was when he asked me to meet some of Rebecca Harris’ staff in the car park to exchange copies of Ann Widdecombe’s recently published autobiography for a local event. The guy I was meeting from Rebecca’s office was called Alex – quite a looker he was, too. He later came to work in 1 Parliament Street and seven years on we’re still going strong. I think he would have found it quite amusing that he and Ann Widdecombe were our very own matchmakers.

Sir David Amess, thank you for answering my letter asking for an opportunity to work in your office as an intern back in 2013. You were the only MP that replied and I will never forget it.

This, from Becky Paton:

Haven’t been able to post yet, it’s been a difficult weekend to process. I worked for David Amess in Parliament, and ahead of the tributes in the House tomorrow I wanted to post my own…
Seeing every photo being shared, he’s always smiling, usually with a dog in tow, beautifully sums up the man. He taught me lots about politics, but the most important thing he taught me was to start with kindness and the only thing that matters is how many people you help…
…everything else in politics is just ego. Everyone’s talked of his kindness this weekend, I can’t add much, the cross-party tributes speak for themselves. Walking round Parliament with him was an exhausting affair, constantly stopping to say hello, he knew everyone…
… every MP and Lord, every Commons clerk, the kitchen staff, the door keepers. He’d been there so long he was able to point out people in Portcullis House and say ‘I knew his dad back in the 80s’…
For constituents, he had time for everyone. No problem was too big or small. He was there to listen and help. He knew so many personally by name. He kept a list of all the constituents who’d thanked him for his help to send a handwritten Christmas card every year…
When making speeches in Westminster, he always made sure to pay tribute to whoever had brought the issue to his attention. Name-checking the constituent or campaigner personally in Parliament…
I also had the perpetual task when writing speeches for Sir David to make sure that every speech, no matter what the topic, issue or campaign, could end with the immortal words ‘…And that’s why Southend should become a city!’
So much has been made of his love of animals and campaigns for animal rights. It’s the reason I went to work for him. He was about 20 years ahead of the crowd on opposing fox-hunting, and had done so much to improve legislation for all animals in this country…
With half a dozen budgies and fish, his Westminster office was constant chorus. Despite being reminded by officials for decades that animals were not allowed in Parliament, they remained. One day we came into the office to find Maggie the budgie had perished…
…he put her in a box and took her home on the train to Essex to be buried in his garden. I’ll never forgot the day spent on the phone to the Qatari Ambassador to negotiate whether David could bring back a rescue turtle from the country in his hand luggage…
Most of all, he had the most infectious sense of fun. There was so much laughter in his office. Decorations were serious business. We had to climb outside to put up an inflatable Santa over the balcony every year, one year it broke free and flew across Parliament Square…
At Halloween, an animatic monster outside his office door loudly greeted anyone who passed the corridor. Cabinet Ministers were frequently startled as the zombie came to life and screamed ‘mwahahaha’ at them…
He had a school-boyish charm and loved a practical joke. On my first day, a bit overwhelmed, I came to my desk to find David had left an antique chamber pot as a welcoming present, chuckling to himself as he tried to convince me the all ladies toilets were out of order…
For Christmas, he bought and wrapped presents for my two cats. He got them Christmas stockings filled with weapons-grade catnip imported from China. They love them and are still playing with them two years later. Here’s Marcus enjoying his just today, such a sweet legacy
I’ve spent most of my short journalistic and campaigning career writing about the very worst MPs, those who use their position to hurt and abuse under the guise of public service. It has been a joy to finally be able to write about one of the very best. RIP Sir David Amess

David Amess was a very rare thing in politics: compassionate, humble, caring, unambitious, gracious, humorous, faithful and popular. And he was all this while being a pro-Life, Brexit-supporting Thatcherite. He loved his neighbour, and he loved them with both gentle words and good deeds. And he loved freedom and the joy of freedom, which he preached in the House of Commons and spread in his community as he waved and smiled and winked at everyone he saw. He was an authentic incarnation of a gospel vision, which he walked and talked every day, and to which he responded with imaginative freedom.

In short, David Amess was a good witness for Christ. His death is unutterably tragic and a great loss to so many, yet it is but one more sorrow in a creation that still groans for redemption. People face enormous dangers as they go about their daily jobs every day: police officers, paramedics, prison officers, priests and so many others could have their lives snuffed out in a second. MPs are not special in this regard. For David Amess and his community and his faith and his moral vision, his murder should not be a cause of greater state control or surveillance, or the further diminution of our freedoms, or restrictions upon democracy. The perpetual risk of death is a price we pay for freedom.