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Remembering David Amess a year on – more consensus is needed in politics

Sir David Amess at Old Leigh Regatta, 15th Sept, 2019 | Alamy

3 min read

From the moment one met David Amess one was effectively won over by his genial smile and cheery remarks. His first sighting was as Basildon Man, first elected in 1983, representing a bell weather constituency that predicted the outcome of an election. Later, as Southend Man, David gained cross-party cheers at every end of term debate, questions to ministers or prime ministers raising the stakes to make Southend a city.

As Members of Parliament once elected we serve all our constituents irrespective of their views or whether they voted for us.  But in a representative elected democracy voting in the House inevitably takes place along our party’s policy lines, making cross party work on legislation challenging.    

But more cross-party less cross work does take place in select committees, with a report signed off by all Members irrespective of their political affiliations; very rarely is there a minority report, and differences are hammered out in private to discuss the Chair’s draft report.

All Party Parliamentary Groups (APPGs) are formed across parties to progress issues that are important to members with a cross party consensus that can lead to change. And Ten Minute Rule Bills which can also effect change work best when they have cross party support.   

Consensus however can only be taken so far as political parties have different views about how society is organised and how to change it. We probably have different views of democracy, which to me is a society where all of us are created and treated equally. It is that proposition which should be the touchstone of every decision. James Miller in his book Can Democracy Work? referred to Pericles’ statement, “Our city is called a democracy because it is governed by the many not the few”. In his time Pericles was accountable to ordinary citizens in the assembly, or any “ common meeting of the multitude,” who voiced their opinion, sometimes resorting to vocal interruptions. Heckling is an ancient ritual.

It is sad that despite the consensus he never saw his beloved Southend become a city

Yes we can have less anger, more argument, but recently constituents feel they do not have a voice and there is anger. Our constituents want to be heard in-between elections and they look to us to voice their grievances and concerns when policies go wrong or do not work. The recommendation in the Wright Committee in 2005 “to make the Commons matter more and to give the public a greater voice in parliamentary proceedings led to the establishment of the Petitions Committee. The next step in my view would be Questions to the Prime Minister on topics the Petition Committee decides, so our constituents get an immediate answer.   

Whilst the referendum on leaving the European Union had many opposing views, Parliament was able to have a voice and to seek consensus. This was a new process for Parliament, and the indicative votes were a means of testing the will of the House on the different options before the House. After each motion was debated the House was suspended while we voted on a ballot paper. All voices were heard on all aspects of the EU- more argument, less anger.

David’s legacy is the UK’s Children’s Parliament which will promote, as our Education Service does, the understanding of Parliament, the transparency and accountability of decision making.

David brilliantly opened the pre-recess adjournment debates and at one Christmas debate managed to name practically his whole constituency, as we joked later, saving on Christmas cards. It is sad that despite the consensus he never saw his beloved Southend become a city.

Valerie Vaz is Labour MP for Walsall South

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