'Everything I ever learned about how to be a constituency MP, I learnt from him'. Mark Francois pays tribute to Sir David Amess
Sir David Amess was my best and oldest friend in politics. Everything I ever learned about how to be a constituency MP, I learnt from him. He sponsored me for the candidates list and mentored me when I arrived in this place.
Without David I would never have become a MP. So, some might argue he has much to answer for!
But David is now our fallen comrade. He was a devoted and loving family man, and our deepest sympathies are with his widow Lady Julia and his five children, who produced the most amazingly courageous statement, the essence of which was that “love must conquer hate”. He was also the best potential Father of the House we will now never have.
He had a zest for life, a joie de vivre, for him the glass was never half empty but rather three quarters full. He was a doughty champion for Basildon and then for Southend. But you never knew what he was going to do next! That Essex “cheeky chappie” smile, that impish Amess grin, always with a hint of gentle mischief.
He was the best potential Father of the House we will now never have
But he did have a serious side too, In the last few years David had become increasingly concerned about what he called the “toxic” environment in which MPs, particularly female MPs, were having to operate. He was appalled by the vile, misogynistic abuse which female MPs had to endure online and he told me, very recently, that he really wanted something done about it.
So, as I argued during my recent speech in the tribute to him in the House, we should now put “David’s Law” on the statute book. The essence of this proposed legislation would be that while people in public life must remain open to legitimate criticism, they can longer be vilified and their families subject to the most horrendous abuse, especially from people who hide behind a cloak of anonymity to do so.
Unfortunately, virtually every MP can now attest to having received vile forms of abuse on social media in recent years; be that threats against them or their families, their homes or their offices or even their staff, all of which is completely unacceptable.
The forthcoming Online Safety Bill, which has already received considerable pre-legislative scrutiny and which is now likely to come to the House in the New Year, presents a perfect opportunity to tighten online governance, not to stifle legitimate criticism of elected officials but to compel the social media companies to resolutely deal with instigators of vicious abuse, for the benefit of all the people in public life – and their families.
In short, I am absolutely determined that Sir David will not have died in vain.
Mark Francois is the Conservative MP for Rayleigh and Wickford.
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