I prefer to write about Tameside than Westminster, but this week I must say I am reeling from the shocking murder of my parliamentary colleague Sir David Amess MP.
David was just doing his job, holding an advice surgery in his local church, something most MPs including myself do regularly, when he was stabbed repeatedly, and pronounced dead. David was a proud Conservative, and his voting record and political beliefs were not close to my own, but all sides of the House of Commons are united in grief, sadness and anger that a kind and innocent man has been lost, perhaps to terrorism, leaving his family (his wife, and five children, including one daughter just married, and another due to be shortly) devastated.
MPs from all parties came together to gather in silence, and then to share moving, and often very funny, tributes to David’s life and work. I could relate to his love of animals, and, as a fellow dog devotee, the seriousness with which he took the Westminster Dog of the Year contest. A beautiful and fitting church service followed.
As a workplace, we are mourning. But as a democracy, we are defiant. We can never let those who seek to cause fear and chaos win.
So many of us face additional risks to our personal safety because of our jobs. Not just the obvious professions who are trained to bravely run toward danger -police, armed forces- but many others are at increased threat, from teachers to taxi drivers, factory workers to shop assistants, and many more.
We have come a long way in reducing the risks effecting many workplaces over the years, thanks in part to the trade union movement, but it remains the case that many jobs involve an element of danger. As the son of a firefighter, watching my dad leave for a shift and seeing a huge fire breakout on the news will always stay with me. We never took for granted he would make it home unharmed. I had rarely considered my kids might grow up fearing the same.
Sir David’s death brought back difficult memories for me of the assassination of my good friend Jo Cox MP five years ago, which unfolded in seemingly similar circumstances. Attacks on MPs have become more common in recent years. MP’s aide Andy Pennington was tragically killed protecting his boss Nigel Jones MP in 2000; Stephen Timms MP was lucky to survive a knife attack at his surgery in 2010; and a detailed plot to kill Rosie Cooper MP in 2017 was mercifully brought to justice before it was actioned. MPs are thought to have been the primary target of the Westminster terror attack in in 2017, were it not for the heroic actions of PC Keith Palmer.
When MPs are targeted it is an attack on our democratic way of life. Much has been proposed about how to go further to physically protect MPs and -just as importantly- their hardworking staff. I’m grateful to both Parliament and Greater Manchester Police for their efforts to ensure I can do my job safely. But part of the job -indeed, my favourite part- is proximity to the public. Armed presences and metal detectors and glass screens are neither practical nor necessarily desirable.
As a dad of four, and as your elected public servant, I take my duty to stick around seriously. Yet I can’t help but think the answers lie not in more barriers to politicians, but in conducting our political discourse better. We can all commit to disagreeing well, to not abusing those hold views to the contrary, to diffusing not aggravating culture wars, and reducing not encouraging extremism in all its forms. Basically, to remembering we have more in common than that which divides us.
A heartfelt thank you to everyone who reached out to my, my family and my team in the hours and days following David’s attack. It means a great deal to us. It is my absolute privilege to represent our area, and nothing will ever deter me from getting on with the job.