Mon, 26 February 2024

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By Lord Forsyth
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson pays tribute to Sir David Amess

Boris Johnson lays a wreath at the site of Sir David Amess's death

3 min read

Sir David Amess would have been the first to admit that he was one of the more traditional MPs at Westminster. In his recent memoir he rails against everything from the introduction of TV cameras to the Commons chamber – he’d already been an MP for almost seven years when that happened – to Tony Blair’s abolition of routine all-night sittings, which he felt helped MPs get to know each other a little better.

Yet anyone who heard the heartfelt tributes paid by MPs yesterday will recognise that Sir David was not just a consummate politician, but also a truly exceptional human being.

From both sides of the Commons, seasoned backbenchers and recent arrivals, right-wing and left-wing, it seemed everyone had a story to tell about the time Sir David used his decades of experience to assist them with a campaign, offer a word of quiet encouragement, or simply help them navigate the byzantine processes and corridors of Parliament.

And that those decades were spent entirely on the backbenches – first as MP for Basildon, then for Southend West – tells us everything about where his priorities lay.

Year after year, under seven different prime ministers, he simply got on with what he thought was the best and most important job in the world: serving the people of his beloved Essex. 

An archetypal Essex Man – born in the East End of London before migrating to the suburbs – Sir David didn’t just champion the values espoused by Margaret Thatcher but lived them himself.

He showed what a working class boy from Plaistow could achieve given the opportunity and fought like a tiger for others to do the same.

Sir David never backed down and never took no for answer, no matter what the cause

He helped countless families move from tenancy to home ownership under Right To Buy.

He defied the hard-left leaders of his local council – “Little Moscow-down-the-Thames” as he liked to call them – to support constituents on low incomes whether they voted for him or not.

And he refused to accept the conventional Westminster wisdom that says backbenchers can’t get things done, by mastering all manner of arcane rules in order to pass legislation on everything from animal welfare to fuel poverty to the registration of driving instructors.

You don’t achieve that kind of success without being a phenomenal campaigner, a real fighter, and that’s what the people of Basildon and Southend had in their corner.

While nobody can ever recall seeing Sir David without a broad, welcoming smile on his face, you underestimated him at your peril. Because behind that irresistibly warm beam lurked a steely determination to get things done.

Sir David never backed down and never took no for answer, no matter what the cause, whether he was battling for Brexit, demanding freedom for the people of Iran, supporting women with endometriosis, or courting support in the Westminster Dog of the Year contest.

His most famous campaign, raised week after week, year after year to any minister who would listen and several who would rather not, was to grant city status to Southend. A campaign that mattered immensely to Sir David and to all those involved.

And of course, like so many causes picked up by Sir David over the years, it was a campaign that ended in success, with the Queen confirming that Southend will become a city as a lasting tribute to its great champion.

The tributes paid to Sir David over the past few days will be dutifully recorded in Hansard and dusty newspaper archives. But his real legacy, his real memory, lies in a lifetime of selfless achievement, a career spent giving a voice to the voiceless and protection to the vulnerable.

Sir David Amess made this a better country for us all, and no cowardly act of violence can ever take that away.

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