Death of David Amess reminds us we still have a long way to go

CROYDON COMMENTARY: After the second murder of an MP in five years, PETER UNDERWOOD reflects on the importance of our politicians being able to meet the people they are supposed to represent

Solemn: the book of remembrance for Essex MP Sir David Amess at a local church yesterday

I am writing this on Sunday morning, two days after the dreadful killing of the MP, Sir David Amess.

My first thoughts are with David’s family and friends. It’s difficult to imagine what they are feeling and what they are going through right now. It’s something I hope none of us ever have to deal with and I wish them all the strength, love and support they need to see them through this time.

Like many other politicians and people who work in the political world, I am overcome with immense sadness for all those who knew David and still in shock to see a politician killed while doing their job.

The press usually focuses on politicians disagreeing with each other on the big issues of the day but rarely shine a light on the biggest part of most politicians’ lives, and that is trying to help the people in the area they represent.

Fridays are the usual day that MPs hold surgeries where people can come in and talk to them and their teams. Most local councillors also regularly hold surgeries in their ward. As someone who hopes to get elected next May I’m also out most weeks meeting local people and trying to help them with their problems. This is the less glamorous side of politics but it’s the reason why many of us got into politics in the first place – to try to make life better for people.

People often come to us with problems where we can have little influence on the outcome.

We try our best but don’t always succeed. I’ve seen politicians and their staff shedding tears of frustration and anger when they have not been able to get help for people who clearly need it despite all their best efforts. But usually, we can point people towards where they can get help and sometimes a phone call or an email from a local politician can be just the nudge required to unblock what has seemed to be an impossible problem.

Sadness: there were many floral tributes laid for Jo Cox when she was killed in 2016

Up and down the country there are politicians trying their best to help, and we should never forget that.

Surgeries are not only about politicians dealing with individual problems. It is a way for politicians to  stay connected to what is happening in people’s lives, understanding their concerns, and finding out what their priorities are. As a representative of the people, these occasions are a way of ensuring that politicians don’t lose touch with the people they are supposed to represent.

I’ve worked with politicians at national, international and local level from many different parties and I retain respect for the ones that I know were trying their best to work for their constituents. Like many others across the political spectrum, even though I would completely disagree with David Amess on so many issues, I would never wish him harm and I am genuinely deeply saddened to see him attacked while he was just trying to help people.

This is particularly poignant for me because I’ve always believed that politics exists to prevent violence. If civilisation and democracy mean anything, they mean that when we disagree with each other, we deal with it through debate and discussion, not through physically attacking each other. Physical conflict happens when politics fails.

I will still attack policies I see as wrong. But I always try to remember that each person involved in politics is still a person: a fellow human being.

As was said famously by Jo Cox, the Labour MP who was killed in 2016, “We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

And sometimes we can achieve far more by working together than we can by just arguing with each other.

Now I am not asking you to let politicians off for what they say and do. I am not asking you to like them. But I am asking you to remember that there is a difference between attacking a political view and attacking a politician that supports it.

Too many politicians are receiving threats of physical violence, hate mail, and levels of abuse that are completely unjustified. Too often this is turning into physical attacks and we have now seen a second MP killed while  going about their regular business, doing their job, in five years.

For democracy to work properly, politicians need to be able to safely meet with the public: to provide help to people in need and to stay connected to voters. The escalation of threats, abuse, and actual violence against politicians and their teams is an attack on democracy itself.

Following the death of Jo Cox there was a realisation that politics in this country had taken a nasty turn and we all needed to think about the way we talk about and to our opponents.

The death of David Amess is a reminder that we still have a long way to go.

  • Peter Underwood, pictured right, is a member of the Green Party in Croydon

Read more: MPs discuss security arrangements following death of David Amess
Read more: Jo Cox’s sister urged to stand down by partner
Read more: Jo Cox, Ian Gow and the UK politicians who have been killed in service

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