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Sir David Amess: MPs safety back on agenda five years after murder of Labour's Jo Cox so what needs to change?


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As MPs prepare to pay their respects to Sir David Amess with tributes led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, political editor Paul Francis looks at the pertinent issue of their safety.

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In the aftermath of the murder of the Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016, much was said about the need to improve the safety of MPs and questions asked about the impact of the adverserial nature of our political system.

The utterly tragic death of Sir David has once again focused on the very same issues.

It is a cornerstone of our political system that as a representative democracy, voters are able to hold their elected representatives to account; to question them over the decisions they take and the support they give or the opposition they make.

And as important is that MPs listen to the concerns of their constituents and offer to help where they can - a task they fulfill partly through weekly surgeries done without any regard to whether they support the same party.

It should be clear now as it was in 2016 that the tradition of holding these constituency surgeries cannot continue in the same way. It would be understandable if MPs felt they could not continue with these weekly face-to-face surgeries with emotions running high.

Ways need to be found to better protect MPs and that may involve a compromise - possibly only holding surgeries in offices rather than in community centres or village halls and even churches.

A police officer at the scene near the Belfairs Methodist Church after MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death in Essex. Picture: PA
A police officer at the scene near the Belfairs Methodist Church after MP Sir David Amess was stabbed to death in Essex. Picture: PA

The question is whether any measures are proportionate and risk compromising the ability of MPs to help constituents and whether they limit access to constituents: many of Kent’s constituencies cover a large area and only holding surgeries in one place might make it harder for people to travel.

As to the issue of the way politics is conducted, that is trickier. It has been said in the last 72 hours that there is a problem with the adversarial nature of our system and that in recent years, there has been less respect, more personal attacks and a coarsening of language - all of which are true, and all of which were raised in the aftermath of the killing of Jo Cox.

And the proliferation of social media platforms has opened the door to uncontrollable and systematic abuse of MPs in new ways, providing a cloak of anonymity to the perpetrators.

There is no question that politics is more abrasive, less forgiving and in the Commons, too often characterised by intolerance and yah boo debates in which MPs trade verbal insults to undermine their opponents.

Many have called for more kindness in politics and no-one would deny that would be a good thing.

But on its own, it seems an inadequate response to the question of what needs to change to restore integrity, repair and improve the way politics is conducted.

"Whilst there is currently no specific threat to any individual in Kent, officers will continue to offer MPs additional support and assess any concerns raised..."

That is the challenge that lies ahead.

And Kent Police says it is continuing to support politicians in the county.

Chief Constable Alan Pughsley said: "We are continuing to support our local members of Parliament by offering safety and security advice, following the tragic death of MP Sir David Amess on Friday.

"Whilst there is currently no specific threat to any individual in Kent, officers will continue to offer MPs additional support and assess any concerns raised.

"No one should be the subject of violence or abuse and it goes without saying that we take incidents of this nature extremely seriously and will take robust action against anyone who commits a criminal offence.

"Kent is a safe county. We continue to encourage all members of our communities, including local MPs and their staff...

"Kent is a safe county. We continue to encourage all members of our communities, including local MPs and their staff, to report any concerns to us immediately, either online, by calling 101 or by calling 999 in an emergency."

Politicians across Kent have been calling their safety into question

And speaking in Parliament earlier today, North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said that Sir David had been cruelly deprived of becoming the Father of the House.

“We had all hoped and expected that... in the fullness of time he would have become the Father of the House; because he would have been a magnificent successor. Sadly and cruelly that has been taken away.”

Sir Roger was among new MPs elected in 1983 alongside Sir David, who he praised as a “doughty campaigner” and was an MP much loved by his constituents.

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