'I refuse to let Sir David's death stop me meeting constituents'

EDITORIAL USE ONLY File photo dated 10/10/13 of Conservative MP David Amess with his pugs, Lily and

MP Sir David Amess - Credit: PA

The events of last Friday struck us all. The loss of Sir David Amess, a revered colleague and dedicated MP, has been felt deeply in parliament and throughout the country.

The mood was evident on Monday, as we attended the moving remembrance service for Sir David. As a member of parliament, Sir David Amess never lost sight of his principles, nor his purpose in representing the people of Essex.

His devotion to his constituency was second to none, making it all the more tragic that he died demonstrating just that dedication, speaking with constituents and trying to help people. Sir David had been representing constituents for longer than I have been alive, and yet never lost his characteristic enthusiasm for his role.

The abhorrent attack on an elected representative raises questions about the security of MPs and their staff. Only five years on from the brutal murder of Jo Cox MP at a constituency surgery in West Yorkshire, the attack on Sir David serves as a reminder of the threat of extremism and radicalisation.

While evidently discussions on safety will be ongoing in the coming weeks, and certain precautions will be taken going forward, I think it’s important to continue engaging and meeting with the people I serve in Ipswich.

I feel strongly about continuing to go out and about in the town, meeting constituents, hearing their concerns, visiting their businesses, and directly communicating with those who have put their faith and confidence in me as a representative. Of course, safety is paramount, and the safety of my staff continues to be a top priority – however I refuse to let this horrific act damage the nature of representative democracy in this country, and I will not let this overshadow or alter my duty to the constituency.

Being accessible and getting out into communities is a key function to our role as an MP. There is no greater priority than the constituency work which lies at the heart of the role of elected representatives, and this cannot be conducted effectively without engaging directly with members of the community.

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One of the things I've found most difficult about the last 22 months or so has been the restricted ability to get out and speak to residents directly. It is simply not possible to be an effective representative without going out in the community and meeting as many constituents as possible.

There remains a further growing problem in our society: the malevolent online abuse directed towards politicians. My office, like those of every MP, receives a stream of abuse from members of the public. The abusive messages directed towards elected representatives are completely unacceptable, and contribute to fostering an atmosphere of viciousness and derision towards politicians which ought not to be tolerated.

Personally, I disengage with any level of abuse on social media – a necessity to protect mental health – however, on this occasion I feel compelled to speak out. Groups online facilitate a toxic echo chamber, where individuals share unproductive and hateful messages. These are the kind of online caverns where spirals of negativity and hatefulness can spark violent reactions, even implicitly condoning individuals taking devastating actions, feeding into a climate which leads to increased violence against politicians.

The free speech which is so central to our democracy does not extend to grotesque statements of abuse, nor to incitements of violence. I have to condemn the vile words of senior Labour members, which contributes to a toxic rhetoric. It is never okay to verbally abuse political opponents. But how can we possibly expect civil discourse and communication with the electorate when senior politicians like Angela Rayner set such a disgraceful example? The appalling comment directed at Conservatives, labelling Tories as “scum” is unacceptable – and it shouldn’t take the untimely death of a colleague to realise that. The demonisation of politicians by their opposition must stop, now more than ever.

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