Robert Halfon is MP for Harlow, a former Conservative Party Deputy Chairman, Chair of the Education Select Committee and President of Conservative Workers and Trade Unionists.
I’m from the Jewish faith so readers might not be surprised to learn that I wasn’t an expert on the Sermon on the Mount. However, thanks to my wonderful former colleague Sir David Amess, I soon became one.
One of the fondest memories I have of David was during a visit to Jerusalem hosted by the Conservative Friends of Israel. We were discussing the next day’s itinerary, which included a trip to the sea of Galilee. David said to me that, during this trip, he would make sure that I would fully understand what the Sermon on the Mount was all about.
As we got on the minibus to begin the journey, I spotted that David had borrowed a large white sheet from his hotel room. Upon questioning him about why he had brought this with him, I was told with a smile, to “wait and see”.
Later that day we arrived at the sacred spot. Moved by the historical significance of the location, I was momentarily distracted. I turned around and suddenly, there appeared a biblical figure shrouded in white, walking around.
It was none other than David, who was attempting to provide me with a literal visualisation as to what happened many thousands of years ago. In the midst of our laughter, I remember spotting a few Japanese tourists being shocked by this apparition, wondering what on earth was going on and perhaps thinking that the Messiah had arrived.
This was typical of David. Not only was he one of the kindest and most compassionate MPs I have ever met, but he had an incredible sense of humour which never dampened, no matter what the situation.
Later that afternoon, we returned to the city to visit the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. David got out of our minibus and promptly threw up in a plant pot outside the building. This was not because he was making a statement about his view on Middle Eastern politics, but more because of the slightly dodgy kebab we had eaten for lunch.
Despite the unprompted nausea, it was a truly wonderful experience to visit Israel with David. For many years he was a friend both of Israel and of the Jewish people. Indeed, he spoke many times in Parliament against anti-Semitism.
He also relentlessly campaigned to cut the cost of living and combat fuel poverty. Better than most, he understood the ladder of opportunity that we as Conservatives must continue to extend. This, in part, is why he did so much to support the improvement of educational settings, particularly children and early years provision.
His Adjournment debates were legendary. I remember watching him in absolute awe because when he spoke, not only did he cover the topic in question, but effortlessly managed to include at least 50 constituency issues in the space of one speech. He had a unique and original skill of public speaking that few possess. It is my hope that, one day, his speeches will be published so they can be enjoyed by a wider audience
David embodied a truth: that being an MP is not just a job, it is a vocation. He recognised that being elected, and the honour of serving your constituents – however you can – is a way of life.
Of course, this tragedy will once again bring to light the need for care and caution when it comes to MPs’ security.
However, I doubt that he would want all of us to live our lives only meeting constituents on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. Interacting with our constituents goes beyond this, because most MPs also host stalls and visits in their constituencies, or walk about their towns and city centres. Whether these events are policed, or whether these activities are advertised or not, it is easy for these types of people to find and locate MPs.
But it is vital we continue these activities so that the remarkable link that exists between Parliamentarians and the public is not broken. We must not be cowed by the actions of a few. David would not have wanted that.
To me, David Amess was the original blue-collar Conservative. Brought up in East London, he embodied the values of an Essex man – of decency, hard work and of a social entrepreneur.
He wasn’t just friends with the great and the good, and he helped me in the dark days of Opposition when I first arrived in Harlow in 1999 and stood for election in 2001.
It is hard to believe that such a good man has been lost in this tragic way. It is not enough to say that he will be missed. All of us will never forget him, and I will do my part to make sure I honour his memory every way I can.