As MPs, when people come to our surgeries, we are trying to help them with their concerns (Picture: Getty Images)
We’ve heard some very powerful and moving tributes to Sir David Amess over the past few days.
His passion for his constituency in Southend, his love for his family and the myriad of organisations and causes he supported as an MP – from animal rights to the children’s parliament to support for women who suffer from endometriosis.
What struck me about that last issue was that his interest was triggered by a meeting with a constituent. He didn’t just listen to her, he said he would work with her to do something about it and he did.
He chaired the all-party group on endometriosis to raise awareness in Parliament of the condition; he pushed the Government to provide information about it in schools, and called for more investment into research.
For me, this didn’t just say something about Sir David as a person. It said something about the work of a constituency MP.
When people come to our surgeries, we are trying to help them with their concerns. But we are also learning so much from them, and sometimes just one conversation can lead to real change.
For me, it was hearing the shocking statistic back in 2010, when I was first elected, that my constituency in Brighton had the highest number of drug-related deaths in the UK. The drug laws clearly weren’t working and it was drug misusers, their families and the wider community losing out. I knew we needed to do things differently.
In the years since, I’ve talked to the police, health professionals and government ministers, as well as countless more constituents, about the need to treat drug misuse as a health issue, not a criminal one and bring forward proper regulation of drug use. I’ve called for a comprehensive review of the 1971 Misuse of Drugs Act to ensure our drug policies are evidence-based, too.
This work is ongoing. But it’s a campaign that I became involved in because of my work as a constituency MP and it’s a vital part of our democratic process. MPs who doggedly champion particular causes, brought to their attention by a constituent, can sometimes bring about real change that benefits us all.
I don’t know a single MP who wants a police officer or anyone else ‘standing guard’ while they talk to constituents
That is why the terrible attack on Sir David wasn’t just an attack on a defenceless public servant; it was an attack on one of the cornerstones of our democracy – that close link between elected representatives and the people who’ve sent them to Parliament. It could result in MPs having to have intrusive security arrangements at their constituency surgeries.
Many of us already had to take precautions over security during these assemblies. But I don’t know a single MP who wants a police officer or anyone else ‘standing guard’ while they talk to constituents, sometimes about very troubling and private issues.
Nor do we want to hold surgeries on Zoom, even though that’s been necessary for public health reasons during the pandemic. It excludes many constituents who don’t have the technology or the know-how to access video calls and can never be an adequate substitute for an in-person meeting.
The harsh truth is that our democracy is facing a range of threats. Sir David was the fourth MP to be the target of a deadly attack this century, our elections face malicious meddling from hostile actors abroad, and the Elections Bill would suppress the vote by requiring voter ID and make the Electoral Commission, the independent regulator of elections, answerable to Government.
Politics is far too important to just be left to politicians. That is why the relationship between an MP and their constituents is so important.
Around the House of Commons are small plaques put up in tribute to an MP who has died doing their job – Sir Ian Gow, who was blown up by the IRA in 1990, and Jo Cox, murdered by a right-wing extremist in 2016, are both commemorated.
It is a chilling thought that soon there’ll be another plaque put up for Sir David Amess. But it will also be a reminder of the frailty of our democracy and our need to constantly defend it.