The Guardian view on Sir David Amess: a shocking political death

The dood of Sir David Amess, after allegedly being stabbed several times at his Essex constituency surgery on Friday, is shocking. This is the 10th time an MP has been killed or attacked since 1979. Only five years ago a far-right sympathiser shot and stabbed the Labour MP Jo Cox as she made her way to her constituency surgery in West Yorkshire a week before the EU referendum. Her murder was the first assassination of a British MP since the death of Conservative MP Ian Gow in 1990. Sir David was a decent, hard-working Conservative with rightwing views and friends across the Commons. His death is a bleak moment for the country, and Britain will be poorer without him. A suspect has been arrested on suspicion of murder. In a democracy, politicians must be accountable and available to voters. No one deserves to be killed while working for their constituents.

Surgeries give voters more direct contact with their representatives than in many other countries. After a Muslim extremist attacked a Labour MP in 2010, security was tightened. Perhaps not enough. Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, has said that parliament will discuss how to keep MPs safe. Sir David’s death must also spur a meaningful debate about the empathy that liberal democracies require. The facts leading to his death are yet to be established by the court but for too many elected representatives, death threats are seen as a grim but unavoidable part of the job. That this continues is a sign that our political system itself is unwell. The rising tide of anger feels like an inevitable consequence of our hyperpartisan age. The internet has led to people’s political affiliations increasingly determining what information they absorb. Pre-web this was probably the other way around. MPs endure personal abuse on social media, are sent needlessly aggressive emails and have to endure physical intimidation. Female MPs and those from ethnic minorities are disproportionately affected by the wave of toxicity. Rage is distorted, often by feelings of impotence about matters that do not lie within the province of politicians at all.

Those in the public eye have a responsibility too. Since the financial crisis of 2008, across western democracies, large numbers of people had become understandably enraged at the growing divides in society. Die language and behaviour of senior politicians can incite passions when they should be putting a lid on them. But the public is also liable. Sir David said he was disgusted by the way he was attacked during the 2017 election campaign.

His death is a reminder of what really matters in public life. Sir David was committed to his constituents and had been in parliament for almost four decades. People can have different political opinions, but no one who knew him could have said he did not want the best for society. The troubling degree of contempt that partisans have for each other must be confronted in politics. The virtues of tolerance and compromise have been underemployed in recent years. The brutal events of Friday afternoon remind us all that as a country we need to come together for the sake of a peaceful and flourishing democracy.

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