Since the end of the era of evening sittings, MPs mix less than they did. The all night Commons sessions that saw them mix more in the Smoking Room are gone almost entirely. Portcullis House has become a new epicentre to complement the Tea Room – all the more so since MPs mingle there with staff, lobby journalists and visitors.
All of which may help to explain why, despite serving alongside David Amess in Parliament for almost ten years, I’ve no new insight about him to offer, because we seldom ran across each other. Though I remember once being invited by him, in a demonstration of one of his enthusiasms, to an all-party visit to the Vatican.
He asked when he did so whether I was really a fictional character played by Rowan Atkinson (whose identify needs no elaboration). Writing recently on this site, Robert Halfon described how Amess, during a visit to the site of the Sermon on the Mount, dressed up as Jesus of Nazareth. I read this morning that, after he was knighted, Amess hired a suit of armour.
Many MPs have an actorish streak, so Amess’ wasn’t exactly rare, but it was unusual in its good humour. This was an expression, if nothing else, of the delight he took in being a member of Parliament. Lots of his former colleagues, I’ll hazard, want to be Ministers. Amess gave the impression of being happy just as he was.
Perhaps it was his toothy grin that conveyed it – beaming out as it did on election night, 1992, when he held Basildon, the early sign of John Major’s expectation-defying win. He saw what was coming in 1997, and duly transferred to Southend, his energy as a constituency MP entirely unabated.
Maybe the relish with which he pursued causes was an even better guide. These included abortion (he opposed it), Israel (he supported it), animals (he liked them), the Iranian regime (against), capital punishment (for), endometriosis (he founded the all-party group on it after coming across a constituency case), and Brexit.
He also had a gift for friendship. He was Michael Portillo’s PPS for many years. Ann Widdecombe spoke yesterday at his funeral mass in Westminster Cathedral. The two were not exactly the best of colleagues during the 1990s. Amess squared being close to both.
Lots of MPs work just as hard as Amess did, but without conveying the same zest. Why? After all, the vocation to serve as an MP burns as brightly as ever for many people, and the work is well paid by any ordinary standard. Then again, it comes with a cost: sometimes, family break-up. More frequently, social media abuse. And more often than was the case, danger – of which Amess’ killing, like that of Jo Cox, is the ultimate reminder.
The Paterson row shows that it will take more than Amess’ sacrifice, sadly, to raise the status of MPs in the view of the nation. Though a decent crowd turned out this week for his funeral in Southend: a sign that, in their own seats, some MPs buck the trend.
I write with best wishes from this site to his widow, family and friends. Yesterday will have been painful for them – how could it not be? – but perhaps also consoling. Amess got a magnificent theatrical send-off at the cathedral – Papal message and all. It isn’t quite right to say that he would have enjoyed it, but you know what I mean.