Opinion: ‘Remembering MP Sir David Amess’

Councillor Shaz Nawaz, Labour Group leader on Peterborough City Council

Sunday, 24th October 2021, 2:15 pm
A photograph of Sir David Amess is displayed during a vigil held at Saint Peter's Catholic Church in Leigh-on-Sea. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Although it’s commonplace to mock it, we should cherish democracy.

It offers a means to resolve disputes without resort to violence.

Democracy allows opinions to be aired and policies debated within a safe context. The arguments can be heated, words sharp, but in the end, there is a veneer of civility and the structure of law which prevents disputes from bursting out into something truly ugly.

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The death of Sir David Amess shows how fragile democracy can be.

He was doing his duty as an elected representative when he was stabbed: he was meeting his constituents and discussing their concerns with them.

The attack on Sir David was not a one-off.

In the year 2000, a staffer for then Cheltenham MP Nigel Jones was stabbed and killed. Stephen Timms was stabbed in 2010. Jo Cox was killed in 2016. This pattern indicates that there is something truly wrong: perhaps there is a breakdown in society, and some feel that a resort to violence is justified.

Perhaps this reflects a loss of faith in democracy. Perhaps demagoguery on social media about elites versus the majority has gone too far and infected already diseased minds.

Perhaps we should reflect on the state of mental health in this country, particularly given the recent traumas that our nation has endured. We need to find out why this happened and do what we can to address the root causes.

Elected representatives, however, should not allow themselves to succumb to fear.

I have already heard some statements about improving security for members of Parliament and it’s right that security is offered so that MPs feel safe and can do their jobs.

In the absence of a defined threat, however, it’s difficult to see what can be done. MPs and councillors alike must continue to meet with their constituents in the same manner as Sir David as that’s a big part of what we do. Having surgeries have always had an element of risk: what happened to Sir David has shown how dangerous these have become.

However, when one decides to become a public servant, one takes on not just the responsibilities of office, but also its perils. No matter how well we do our jobs, there will be someone who will be aggrieved. That someone may express their dissatisfaction in healthy or diabolical ways. We risk being exposed to the latter when we open ourselves to the former. But without the dynamic of criticism, our democracy cannot survive nor improve.

As much as I disagreed with many of Sir David’s ideas, I think he would agree. He was an MP who rose to prominence from a modest background. It was clear that he believed he should use his talents to represent his community. He was clearly beloved by his constituents: he served as an MP since 1983. The word that has been most frequently used in describing him was “kind”.

This was not a man who would believe that elected representatives should shut their doors and hide from the public. Rather, his memory should inspire us to stand bravely even if the risks are greater than they were.

The Labour Group on Peterborough council will continue to engage with the public as we have done, unafraid.