On Friday, 15 October, Conservative Party Member of Parliament, Sir David Amess died while holding a constituency surgery at the Belfairs Methodist Church in his home town of Leigh-on-Sea. He was stabbed multiple times. Sir Amess was one of Essex's longest-standing MPs.
Media reports say that he would hold meetings with his Southend constituents every second week at different locations to meet more of the local residents who relied upon his help. Earlier in the week, he had informed his constituents about the upcoming surgery and invited them to join him. Sir David was known to be passionate about his job and was accessible to his constituents. Perhaps that was the reason that he was an MP for 38 years: he was first elected to represent Basildon, and then served as MP for Southend West after 1997. Prior to becoming an MP, he was elected as a Conservative councillor for Redbridge in 1982.
A 25-year-old British citizen of Somali heritage was arrested on suspicion of murder and has since been held under the Terrorism Act. He had been referred to the Prevent scheme a few years ago but was not on the MI5 “subjects of interest" watch list. Prevent is the UK's terrorism-prevention programme and aims to stop people from getting radicalised.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer laid flowers at the scene, as did Home Secretary Priti Patel and Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. PM Johnson called Sir Amess "one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics", while HS Priti Patel called him “dear and loyal friend" and described him as ‘a man of the people’. Tributes also poured in from his constituents and friends who were left shell-shocked by his unexpected demise.
The shocking event reminded people of the death of Labour MP for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox in June 2016. She died after being shot and stabbed multiple times by Thomas Mair, in a street in the village of Birstall, where she had been due to hold a constituency surgery. These and other recent incidents once again brought to the fore questions about the security of MPs going about their regular work.
In a democracy, MPs are expected to keep in touch with their constituents. Outreach to various sections of their constituency is part of their job. As constituents, we judge our representatives on their accessibility and approachability. A representative who is never seen is invariably judged negatively by the people he/she represents. Sir David was, by all accounts, one of those people to whom regular contact with his constituents was the soul of his politics and the crux of his popularity. A statement issued by his family reflected the compassionate values of the family when it called on people to show kindness and love and "set aside hatred and work towards togetherness".
Why would anybody want to harm such a warm and decent person? This is a question on most lips.
I made the acquaintance of Sir David under somewhat peculiar circumstances. While I was in London, an agitated Sir David contacted me one day as the person from the High Commission who had promised to attend one of his events had failed to turn up. The officer had to suddenly travel out of the UK and an unfortunate mix up had followed. I became aware of the mishap only when I received his complaint. Realising the mix-up at our end, I apologised to him profusely and promised to do better for the next event. He was considerate enough not to hold a grudge. We spoke to each other at least a couple of times after that and he was always amiable. We promised to meet each other soon. I had to travel to India in early February last year and got involved with a Sari show at the London Fashion Week in the middle of February. It was my intention to fix up a meeting with Sir David sometime after that as per his convenience. Covid-19 distracted me from doing so. As cases started going up in the UK, my close associate contracted the virus and I had to go into self-isolation. A lockdown was soon announced. I left London in the middle of the pandemic, with no opportunity to say goodbye to anyone. My promise to Sir David remained unfulfilled. I was reminded of that when I saw the shocking news of his death on Friday.
Through this column, I pay my tribute to the warm, gentle and courteous person that he was and convey condolences to his family. May all those who hold him dear, have the strength to bear this tragic loss. Rest in Peace Sir David Amess.