Last Friday, I had just finished my advice surgery at the constituency office when news broke that Sir David Amess, Conservative MP for Southend West, had been stabbed multiple times during a routine constituency surgery that he had been doing at the same time. We were all shocked. Sir David had been engaging with his constituents in the normal way that MPs do, in the way that we all love, directly engaging with the people we serve and represent - even though it can be challenging at times.
Serving the people he represents. A public servant. That is what MPs, councillors and many other people working in positions of government do on a daily basis. MPs are elected to represent the interests and concerns of their constituents in Parliament. We are not state employees but draw a salary for the work we do on behalf of the people we represent and being an MP is not just a job, it is a vocation, a calling and, for many, a way of life.
Over the past two hundred years, nine MPs have been murdered. Two MPs have been murdered in the last decade, as well as the non-fatal stabbing of the delightful Labour MP, Stephen Timms, who was attacked during a surgery. In the first five months of 2019 there was a 90% rise in criminal and other related incidents against MPs compared to the same period in 2018. When you take a step back and think about this, it is a truly concerning development, the blame for which I do not believe we can lay wholly at the feet of social media.
Having served our local community as a magistrate for nearly fifteen years, I admit to being slightly nonplussed at becoming a pariah overnight within a small section of society when elected as the Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye. I had not changed overnight but the toxic atmosphere which I encountered, the vitriol I had never before experienced, the false accusations made against me, and the threats of violence (and even death) during the short time that I have been an MP has been eye-opening. My experience, however, pales into insignificance compared to those suffered by many of my colleagues.
To be driven by hatred against someone because of their political beliefs, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or anything else is not only unacceptable but sad because hatred damages the very core and soul of the person who is so full of hate. I therefore found it very moving to read the statement of Sir David’s family asking people to ‘set aside hatred’, work towards togetherness and show kindness and love.
We all have to take responsibility for the ways in which we engage with each other as it is not just MPs who suffer physical and verbal abuse; a culture of hate has become part of public discourse from abuse of NHS staff to Camber residents being insulted and abused by visitors and much, much more.
The dehumanising of MPs causes me great concern. In my brief time as your MP, I have witnessed inappropriate name-calling by some MPs in the Commons Chamber, the language of activists on YouTube, on the streets, social media and on the television. I have watched some national interviewers and reporters on the television cajole, scorn, and even tell the Prime Minister to stop talking. Again, dehumanising politicians. We cannot allow threats of violence and verbal abuse to become normalised or part of the job because of the view that MPs deserve it as they are self-serving and in it for themselves. The cynicism against MPs is discouraging; I have yet to meet an MP who is in this role for personal gain – far from it.
It is really important that decent people come forward to become MPs. We cannot have a situation where only extremists stand for election because they are the only people willing to do so, where their ambition and ideology trumps everything else. I live with my family in our community – a community I am so proud of and happy to represent. It is my home, and I will continue to live and work amongst you, popping to the local shops, eating and drinking in local pubs and restaurants, and chatting to residents in the street (and in carparks!). I became an MP to do what I can to end poverty, deprivation, and hopelessness, to strengthen families, and to try to bring aspiration, hope and confidence to the many people in Hastings and Rye who are neglected, disadvantaged, vulnerable and lonely. That is public service and Sir David Amess paid for his love, his faith, and his belief in people with his life.