The House is at its best when it’s at its most sombre, as it was this week. Monday was entirely devoted to tributes to our dear friend, Sir David Amess, so brutally murdered, apparently by some kind of terrorist. There were superb speeches - most notably from Mark Francois who was perhaps David’s closest Parliamentary friend and constituency neighbour. Then, in a unique tribute, we all followed Mr Speaker across the road to St Margaret’s Westminster for a magnificent memorial service. On Wednesday after a very peaceful PMQs, the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition jointly paid lovely tributes to James Brokenshire who died too soon of cancer. South Swindon’s Robert Buckland spoke especially movingly. Normal business - and the hurly burly of normal politics - seemed suspended for the week in memory of people who had devoted their lives to public service.
I would draw two particular consequences from Sir David’s murder. First, politics in recent years seems to have been infected by a hatred, a toxicity, a readiness to be rude about politicians, of a kind which never used to besmirch our body politic. Robust views freely exchanged are central to our long-established democratic processes. But it should always be done with great respect. I may well often disagree with my Labour colleagues, but I have huge admiration and respect for them. Where I disagree with them, I say so in the nicest possible way, and go through the opposite Division Lobby in the House. But then we will often go off for dinner together.
The invention of the Internet, and especially Social Media seems to me to be particularly responsible for the coarsening of politics here and around the world. All of a sudden, any weirdo in a back room with a gripe or a vicious ideology can make his very nasty views known to all at the stroke of a few keys. And for some unknown reason we seem to take it seriously. I have a self-denying ordinance that I simply do not look at Facebook or Twitter or the other platforms, thereby ignoring the nonsense which sometimes pollutes them.
That leads me to my second conclusion resulting from Sir David’s murder. The only people who matter to me are the people of North Wiltshire, and I am absolutely clear that I will not be cowed by the increased terrorist threat against MPs. I will take normal precautions - of course I will; and I am closely in touch with Wiltshire Police over it all. But I am determined to continue with my surgeries in precisely the same way as I have always done - two Saturdays a month in six locations altogether spread around the Constituency. I have also always believed it to be my job to be visible up and down our high streets, in schools and businesses, speaking at local events and in so many other ways. That is an important part of representative Parliamentary democracy, and I will not be changing my long-held habits as a result of some terrorist threat.
North Wiltshire is a peaceful place, and we must keep it that way by maintaining the good and decent and peaceful norms of politics and society which may well be the envy of more troubled, perhaps urban areas. My job is to represent you all, and I can only do that if I live with you and talk to you and am wholly available to you. That must not - and will not - change.
I am truly shocked and saddened by the brutal murder of my friend and colleague Sir David Amess. He was one of the kindest, most thoughtful people in Parliament, and I have known him for 30 years. It is a particular wickedness that he lost his life just doing his ordinary job-in his surgery, and my thoughts and prayers are with all of his family and friends at this devastatingly sad time.
Having a go at MPs - their holidays, their pay, their slips of the tongue or imagined indiscretions - is pretty routine silly season red meat for the more excitable tabloids.
You may well have read some pretty unpleasant press coverage in recent days alleging that a small error I made at a St John Ambulance Reception I was hosting in Parliament by momentarily confusing Sajid Javid and Nadhim Zahawi was somehow or another racist. Anyone who knows me knows that could not be further...
“Long on rhetoric, short on policy content,” seems to have been the harshest criticism which the journalists and think-tankers could come up with of the Prime Minister’s brilliant Conference speech yesterday. If so, then I applaud it even more. The PM should always be the inspirational leader, setting the general course for the great ship of state, but leaving policy matters to individual Secretaries of State who then bear responsibility for their decisions. The PM should not be...
Our everyday hurly burly; our frenetic (if often needless) busy-ness; our madcap dash from home via school run, work, supermarket, sports club, friends, hobbies; my own whirligig of a political and Parliamentary life sometimes means that we lose sight of the big picture. The more fixated we are by our own immediate circumstances, the less aware we are of the big issues in life.
So I took advantage of the ‘Party Conference Recess’ (more on that later) to join 17 or so MPs and peers...
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