Iain Duncan Smith – 2021 Speech in the House of Commons on David Amess

The speech made by Iain Duncan Smith, the Conservative MP for Chingford and Wood Green, in the House of Commons on 18 October 2021.

I am going to be, or at least intend to be, brief; after all, pretty much everything about David has been said, but that does not mean I cannot repeat it.

I knew David for 29 years. When I first came into this place in 1992, he was outstandingly and unfailingly kind, conscientious and generous, even to new Members who had arrived here eight years after him. I remember that very clearly. Later on, when I got to know him better, I recalled that a constituent of mine had referred to David, when he represented Basildon, as somebody who would go to the opening of an envelope. I put this to him, saying, “You are accused of going to the opening of an envelope,” and he said, “I damned well hope so, because I wrote it to them so I could go there in the first place.”

When the Conservatives won Basildon Council—for the first time, I think—David was there. It was not enough for him just to be with the councillors when they went in; he formed a conga that took the whole of the newly elected council through the council buildings and into the chamber. His sense of humour was always there, preceded by that megawatt smile that he could turn on. For most of us in this Chamber, it is hard work sometimes being able to smile enough, but for David it was hard work not to smile, and he would smile even in some of the most difficult circumstances.

After I ceased being Leader of the Opposition—I have to say, with respect, to the right hon. and learned Gentleman the current Leader of the Opposition that no matter how much he is enjoying it now, it really is not what it is cracked up to be—[Laughter.] I have to tell him that. [Interruption.] That is what I thought, too. I had to go and speak at an event for David, and he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Are you going all right?” I said, “Yes, fine,” and he got up and introduced me by saying, “I’m so pleased to have Iain Duncan Smith here; he has just slid down the greasy pole”—and then he carried on. [Laughter.] He did tell me directly afterwards that he had retired finally from a long time in government and thought that he would have more influence elsewhere; actually he spent a very short time in government, but that did not bother him in the slightest.

On a more serious note, I want to say that David has shown us the way—the way of co-operation. Most Members in this place know that we get things done by co-operating across the Floor. Little is talked about that, Mr Speaker, as you know, but it is the embodiment of who we are in this place. We cannot get stuff done by ourselves, so we form alliances. Whether it is on modern-day slavery or, in my case, gambling harms, we go on, we form alliances and we eventually move things and get them done. David was the architect of that. There was not an alliance that he could not form; even if there was not an issue on which he could form it, he would form it. [Laughter.]

My point is that this is who we are. We are often, as Jo Cox said, more united by the things we believe in than necessarily divided. The fact is that we are in this place because we argue with each other about our ideas. The important feature of this place is that we may disagree with arguments, but we do not disrespect the motives of those who hold them.

This is a lesson to us that we need to be careful here what we legitimise in what we say about our colleagues. They are not evil people. Nobody in this Chamber is an evil individual. They have strong beliefs. I was struck when the media had finished talking about David and then said, “And he was a man with very strongly held beliefs,” as though that was an aside that they wanted to bury. We come here because we have strong beliefs, and we should be proud of that. We argue with each other because we are the point where people can see us debate these things, have power of emotion and be angry about them—this place is a cockpit of that—so that they do not have to do it outside, violently, elsewhere. I believe the point that David was making was that we need publicly to show each other the respect that those ideas are greatly held. We respect each other, but we do not dislike or hate each other. That is not for us, and it is not for that that he lost his life.

I have been told that today, a document came through the door of my constituency office. The front page was all about David, and on it was written, “Like you. You bastard.” In fact, I did think he might have done it, because it was spelled “Barsted”. Even in that threat, I think there is a sense of irony.

In conclusion, let me say that for David’s family, this is a tragedy, which this deranged, hateful and violent individual has brought to them, unwarranted and without cause. David taught us something very important that they can remember. He believed not in the power of position, but in the power of purpose. Mr Speaker,

“They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,

They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.

I wept as I remember’d how often you and I

Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,

A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,

Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake”—

that is the important thing, Mr Speaker: he will be with us forever.