The late David Amess - Conservative MP for Southend West. (Photo by Jeff Overs/BBC News & Current Affairs via Getty Images)
Artillery Row

Remembering Sir David Amess

Well loved by Commons staff and MPs alike

One of the longest-serving MPs in the Commons, Sir David Amess, 69, was first elected to Parliament for Basildon in 1983 but represented Southend West since 1997.

He is best-remembered by Westminster-watchers in the General Election of 1992 when his beaming face was broadcast live on TV as he held onto his Basildon seat.  It was the moment it became clear that the Conservatives had unexpectedly retained their majority, made all the sweeter for party members because it was also the moment the BBC, seen by the Tories to be supportive of Neil Kinnock, had to admit that Labour had lost.

But amongst the staff of the House of Commons, he is perhaps remembered better for his humbleness. One researcher said he was always chatting to the low-paid door men and women around Westminster, the researchers and security staff, with no thought of their relative position:  “They all knew him and liked him very much. The little people often remember your kindness better than those of high status”. 

This willingness to give everyone the time of day did, however, seem to have an unexpected benefit. A keen animal-lover (and one of the few Tory MPs in favour of a fox-hunting ban) the parliamentary authorities were said to be unhappy about the fish and birds he kept in his office — cheerful tweeting could often be heard from his corridor — but although they had objected to it for years, they never forced him to get rid of them.

Another object in his office — which he displayed with pride — was his “holy sweet”. Colleagues recall a story from when Amess, a practicing Roman Catholic, went on a Parliamentary trip to the Vatican. Lining up to meet the Pope, the visitors were asked to present objects for him to bless but reaching the front of the queue he realised he had forgotten to bring anything, Amess solemnly produced a boiled sweet from his pocket and presented it to the Pontiff. It was duly blessed.

Amess, a pro-life campaigner, was knighted in the 2015 New Year’s Honours List for political and public service. David Jones MP, the former Brexit Minister, paid tribute to a “highly principled and highly regarded man” who, amongst many causes, “did so much for the Iranian democracy movement”. 

Jones had recently interviewed Amess about his recently published memoir Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster but speaking about the circumstances surrounding his death, Jones said it was a worry that MPs were so exposed but that it was vital for them to still see people:

“You can’t expect people to just come to your constituency office. You just have to come to terms with the fact that there are some disturbed people out there but that can’t stop us from meeting our constituents. I don’t think David would have changed his ways.”

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