Remembering David Amess - we need more compassion in politics and out
The day after the Queen’s funeral a constituent reported to me that his daily cycling commute had been noticeably much less stressful in the previous week as everyone seemed to be much more respectful towards their fellow road-users. How long could this last and could we possibly bottle it?
So, are there crossovers with politics here too? Normal politics was certainly suspended during the period of mourning and in two days of touching tributes in the Commons you would be hard pressed to identify the party of the MP making them. Certainly, regarded as "royalty" in his own Southend constituency there was a similar atmosphere following the shocking murder of David Amess a year earlier. That was even more striking because David held robust views, usually on the right of the Conservative Party and on controversial moral issues like abortion.
Yet the most glowing tributes to David came often from those who were most diametrically opposed to him politically. Having travelled abroad on delegations with David or worked with him on All Party Parliamentary Groups on sensitive issues, he had an extraordinary gift for bringing people together in pursuit of common goals. When we were overseas, he always batted for Team UK and in Westminster, Team Parliament, when he wasn’t constantly lauding the merits of the now City of Southend of course. He was a great team player.
But though David was extraordinary his approach was not exceptional and that is the side of Parliament that people are rarely shown, largely because it does not make for good media copy. Whilst the adversarial knock about that is Prime Ministers Questions gets maximum exposure, often leading to the biggest criticism of badly behaved MPs, it is by far the most popular ticket that the public want at Westminster. As in so many ways MPs can’t win. Half of a seemingly schizophrenic public complain that the trouble with MPs is that "they are all the same and you can’t tell the difference between the parties." The other half complain "why can’t you lot just get on and agree on more things rather than argue (for which read debate?)"
We may wear different colours but for the most part our compassion and consideration is no different to that between colleagues in any other challenging business
The truth is that there is a rather a lot we do agree on, usually not on the floor of the House itself, and it doesn’t take a high-profile death to bring that out. Away from the Chamber in standing committees on bills in front of a deserted public gallery I have co-sponsored many amendments with Labour MPs that I would rarely rub shoulders with in the same division lobby on everything from child asylum seekers to civil partnerships.
I co-chair the APPG on Tibet with an SNP MP who I think is fundamentally nuts on wanting to break-up the Union, yet we have stood shoulder to shoulder in defying the Chinese Communist regime on their appalling human rights’ abuses, though he is a bit of a lightweight given that he has yet to be officially sanctioned by China!
And even on heavyweight political fora like the excellent select committees when they work diligently in scrutiny of government departments and agencies there is a high degree of cross-party consensus. In eight years on the Home Affairs Select Committee, for example, never have we failed unanimously to agree a report.
As captain of the Commons and Lords Hockey Team for many years I can also testify to the great cross-party teamwork that reigns supreme when focussed on the common enemy at the other end of the pitch. And of course, it is those touching but usually hidden acts of kindness and consideration from members of one party to another when personal tragedy strikes that emphasise how we may wear different colours but for the most part our compassion and consideration is no different to that between colleagues in any other challenging business. If only we could find a way of getting the media and consequently the public to show an interest in appreciating consensus and that politicians are in fact only human rather than grandstanding division and caricaturing MPs as some oddball aliens, we might be on to something!
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