I welcomed the shock, horror and outrage that greeted the vicious murder of my colleague David Amess. The response of the public highlighted that, thank God, such events are very few and far between in our national life. Their very rarity ensures that they stand out. We have not become accustomed to them. The senselessness of his death acts as a prompt for us to all to reaffirm our expectations of decency, courtesy and respect. It allows us to remind ourselves that these are the golden threads that bind us together – a virtually universally shared set of values all based on a broadly similar moral and ethical compass. His dying will have some meaning if it acts as a spur to all us to reaffirm, loudly and proudly, those shared values.
Like many, if not most of my Parliamentary colleagues from across the Parties, I have received many kind messages of support, thanks and human kindness from across the political spectrum of North Dorset and indeed further afield. Let me share an example – “it is so incomprehensible when a tragedy like this happens. We also wanted Simon and his colleagues to know how grateful we are that there are people willing to represent the people of our country and fight to keep our democracy. We send you all our love and prayers. God Bless.” And another sent from my friend and Labour opponent at the last two elections Pat Osborne – “Shocking sickening events today Simon. I’m truly sorry for the loss of your colleague. I hope you’re OK. Please stay safe.” Strangely, (or perhaps not) when those with actively different political views take the time and care to send a message it doubly warms the heart. All those messages cheered and provided succour in a bleak time. I doubt that anyone who did write will have known how much all of us have appreciated those messages of simple, unvarnished humanity. Thank you.
As I write we do not know the answer as to why was David Amess killed. We do know however, that it shines a light on lessons needed to be learned by us all. We politicos need less populist dogma driving a wedge between people and more respectful debate designed to bind together and heal. The country needs to learn that we politicians are not saints. We can get it wrong, fail and annoy. When we do it must be called out and appropriate sanctions taken. However, the vile tsunami of social media that pours continually from keyboards must stop. The anonymity of social media has made it anti-social media. I know I’ve typed a few things in the past that should have been phrased differently. Have been less dogmatic. Let’s remind ourselves we can disagree without being disagreeable. Many of us use metaphor, irony, sarcasm and robust language knowing we do not mean the words as they actually mean. We presume that our readers, listeners, followers will understand this however, we make an error to think that everyone else will ‘get it’. The disturbed mind, the troubled soul, often needs little to break it and impel it to acts of ill and evil.
I remember receiving, shortly after my first election in 2015 an absolutely abhorrent email. The author hoped I would die in anguish with my children surrounding me helpless and then burn in hell’s fire (you will get the drift). I contacted the sender to ask these questions in relation to his message: would he have said it face to face; would he have said it a telephone call; would he have put it in a letter? I asked him to reread what he had sent me. He was appalled. He cried. He apologised. We then had a perfectly civil conversation. There is too much ‘type and press send’. An email address, Twitter handle or social media account does not create a cloak of anonymity. It does not absolve one of responsibility for one’s words. It harms. It hurts. It invokes anxiety and fear. It creates an imbalance of entitlement - I can say what I want (says the writer) but woe betide if my MP/Councillor/official fights fire with fire.
So, as we come to terms with the murder of a decent public servant, husband and father killed solely because he was a public servant, let us try to find a way as a country to cherish and use our freedom of thought and speech but in ways that don’t lead to hate, violence and potential loss of life. I remain of the view that we can. I only hope that we do.