SIOBHAN BAILLIE: Violence against MPs poses risk to democracy

The Stroud MP’s weekly column.

The shock of what happened to Sir David Amess has still not sunk in even though we were back in parliament to pay tribute to him on Monday.

What a kind and generous man he was. When, as a newbie MP, I sat in the wrong place in the House of Commons he came over to tell me.

It was not done in any arrogant way, he just wanted to help. I really appreciated it.

The outpouring of grief across the political spectrum, the country and in his constituency shows what an admirable public servant Sir David was. His death was cruel and despicable. I have thought of his family, friends and staff since the murder.

For all MPs there was a moment on Friday as the terrible news came in when our blood ran cold. Nearly all of us were doing constituency or surgery work, just like Sir David, and the obvious and perfectly human response was ‘that could have been me’.

People who go into politics do not expect an easy ride. They expect criticism through the rough and tumble of elected office. But the majority of MPs have now received death threats and had to involve the police for abuse to our offices and we are often vulnerable when it comes to meeting the public. I do not want sympathy. I think there needs to be a greater debate about the risks to all public figures and, more importantly, the wider risk to democracy if MPs continue to be attacked, abused and killed.

The personal link between an MP and their constituents will be broken if MPs do not feel able to go about their business due to a real threat of violence. That would break a central plank of our democratic process and we would all be losers in those circumstances.

There is no doubt the coarsening of public discourse and normalised hate towards politicians in recent years is playing an incredibly corrosive part.

Very able people, especially women, are really thinking twice about becoming an MP or any public role. Who wants threats of violence or sexual violence every single day on social media platforms?

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