UPDATE 1930 EST – The police have confirmed that this was a terrorist incident
Days like today, thank goodness, rarely come around. When they do, the mental traffic stops amongst most and seems to take a vile, new energy amongst some.
I didn’t know Sir David Amess. Not personally. Yes, I’d met him a few times, but so generous was he with his time, and so long he had been an MP, that anybody who spends much time in the political bubble of Westminster will have come across him.
But to discover today that he had been stabbed to death in the performance of his public duties. That was a shock. The pubs and bars of the Westminster village are quiet for a Friday night. Mainly because pretty much everybody is in a state of staggered horror. What there are, are the tales. Everybody who met him seems to have a story about him. And those stories are almost entirely positive.
Sir David was first elected in 1983, and represented the town of Southend from 1997, a mere 33 miles from his birthplace, in the same county, Essex, to the east of London. He was a man of small personal ambition though huge ambition for his adopted town (it is possible it will receive the city status he has long campaigned for in honour of his service) and for the causes he espoused.
A rarity in modern British politics, in that he was a devout and public Roman Catholic, and did not shy away from voting on many matters in accordance with his beliefs. Not for him the weasel and dishonest discarding of his faith for political preference. But despite his opposition to abortion, his opposition to gay marriage, he rarely drew personal flack.
An ardent Thatcherite he was a perfect representative of what was known as Essex man, the working class, aspirational self-starters that flocked to Mrs Thatcher in the 80’s and unsurprisingly he was a staunch supporter of Brexit. This, “representative of new Essex man, working class, father electrician, right wing, keen hanger, noisily rambunctious, no subtlety” was indeed subtle. He was a lifelong campaigner for animal welfare, one of the few Tories to have opposed hunting. He was a passionate supporter of honouring Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat murdered by the Soviets who had saved so many Jewish lives during the Holocaust.
He publicly supported the Iranian opposition, and had campaigned for the rights of Hong Kong Chinese. A famed charity worker, and the sort of man who would send private messages to opposition politicians when they were ill, but neglected to respond when sent peremptory notes by his own Prime MInister.
Ther sort of public servant, with integrity and honour we would hope would be a model for all, no matter what their beliefs.
But all that ended today. It ended in the local Church where he was having his public surgery. It ended when he was doing the job he loved, listening to, caring for, and acting on behalf of his constituents. His pinned tweet, still tragically signalling his inherent decency, is encouraging people to come and meet him there, with the address and times he will be available is heartrending.
Because one person, as yet un-named, but they have arrested a 25 year old man of Somalian heritage and are not looking for any other suspects, one man took upon himself to use that invitation to arrive and slaughter the 69 year old public servant as he did his job.
British politics is shocked. We are all appalled. We do not yet know the motivation or the reasons behind this appalling act, and we must not speculate.
One thing I do know, from the little I knew of him, and the outpouring of anecdotes and stories about him, is that despite the danger, Sir David would never use this horrific occasion as a reason why politicians should retreat behind walls of security and away from the public they serve. Instead he would try to work out a way in which we can make the whole of society safer and better for all who live in it.