I cannot think straight. I cannot understand how this could happen again and yet, I have expected it to. When MPs talk about attacks against us it is always a matter of when, not if.
David Amess was a man who smiled all the time, a figure of great warmth in his seemingly fruitless campaign for Southend-on-Sea to be accorded city status. My god, did he love the place. He was a proper, decent constituency MP, whose constituents and their needs were on his mind all the time. He was a public servant, a frontline worker and a champion for his town, which I will refer to as the city of Southend-on-Sea for the rest of my days.
At the moment I found out he had been attacked, I was in the middle of a very beautiful park. On hearing the news, I was instantly transported back – not just emotionally, you understand, but the vision in front of my eyes was of the room where I had sat in shocked, contemplative silence waiting to hear whether Jo Cox had survived her injuries.
When Jo was hurt, I literally couldn’t compute it as a reality. I didn’t have the references, and was actually, for the first time in my life, struck dumb. I had none of the processing synapses to know how to feel or think or behave, so denial and silence were the only option. I sat in silence for hours while my friends took it in turns to sit silently beside me. This time I had previous, and so my brain took me back there, I guess to help me process it.
But I still can’t. I am still drawing a grief-filled blank. MPs are used to people coming to us with an issue and, together, coming up with a plan for action. We cannot always help people, but we can always bl**dy well try. It is the best part of our jobs. I don’t know what to do about the threats of violence, aggression and intimidation that we face. I cannot see a pathway or a solution. Maybe time will allow the clouds to lift so that I can see the road ahead, or at least the tools to build one, but at the moment it just feels like a cul-de-sac.
There is no job without interaction with the public. No job I want to do, at least. Then, of course, there is no job I want to do where I have to ask my brilliant, dedicated and underpaid staff to put themselves at risk.
The dehumanising of MPs is writ large in almost every security breach I have faced. There is a dreadful expectation that the violence and threats that we face should simply be part of our jobs. We wouldn’t say that about any other frontline worker, and that is what we are, regardless of the rhetoric about us being lofty, detached and other-worldly.
Week in, week out, my office and I deal with hundreds of people. Lovely people who send us beautiful thank-you cards and boxes of chocolates, not death threats. But still the common parlance is that I am out of touch, it’s not personal to me, and it’s just part of the role of an MP.
No one is asking not to be scrutinised; I just don’t think I should be demonised. I am a human being who is trying to help other human beings.
There is so much content to be found online about how I am part of some establishment coup against the people. People who make money from clicks tell possibly dangerous audiences that I hate men, think fathers should have no rights, hate the British, and think X or Y group are stupid and should be crushed. None of it is true, but the truth is not important. I am a position, not a person. They pay my wages so think they can treat me as they wish. Someone, somewhere is making a pretty penny, or garnering power, out of keeping this rhetoric of hatred alive.
The conversation will inevitably turn to increased security. I am sure that we will find a way, if we are actually allowed to discuss it without it becoming a story about MPs being on the take. Practical things can, should, and I hope will, be done, but until the anti-politics, dehumanising hatred of people who step forward for elected office ends, the danger will continue.
Like anyone who has suffered a trauma, I find myself stuck in a needless and unanswerable loop. I just keep on repeating: “Why would anyone want to harm David Amess?” There isn’t an answer, he couldn’t have prevented it, and he didn’t deserve it because nobody does.
At the very least, he deserved to be considered a somebody; a human with feelings, a family, hopes, dreams and warmth. It shouldn’t be the death of an elected representative that humanises them; his humanity was clear to see in the fact that he spent his Fridays sitting in a draughty hall, hoping to help others feel more human in a bureaucratic system. What an amazing person he was.
Jess Phillips is the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding and Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley