John Whittingdale – 2021 Speech in the House of Commons on David Amess

The speech made by John Whittingdale, the Conservative MP for Maldon, in the House of Commons on 18 October 2021.

I first met David Amess nearly 40 years ago, shortly after his historic election as MP for Basildon, the image of which, the picture of his smiling face, came to symbolise the Conservative victory under Margaret Thatcher’s leadership. He won because he embodied all that was best about Essex man: he was patriotic, he came from a working-class background, he was devoted to his family and he was passionately independent. I got to know him when I was working for Margaret Thatcher in No. 10 Downing Street. He adored her. He was absolutely furious when she was removed from office and, indeed, remained furious long after. In 2013, he held an Adjournment debate on her legacy, following her death. She, in turn, hugely valued him.

David championed many causes, as others have said, but most of all he loved his constituency and the people he was so proud to represent. My constituency is just about 30 minutes away from his, and a number of times I spoke for him at events and he spoke for me. The huge respect and affection in which he was held was always obvious. He loved meeting people and he made sure that he spoke to every single person at whatever gathering he was present. As has been referred to, it became a joke that for his first 14 years he would make sure that, in every question and every speech, he referenced Basildon in ringing tones, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford (Mr Francois) demonstrated in his contribution.

After David’s election to Southend, his campaign for Southend to become a city was mentioned at every opportunity. It is well known that he was a great animal lover and devoted to his dogs. Even when seeking support for his French bulldog, Vivienne, in this year’s Westminster Dog of the Year competition—as the Prime Minister referenced—the reason he gave as to why we should vote for Vivienne as Westminster dog of the year was that she is an enthusiastic supporter of Southend becoming a city. [Laughter.] So when, in 2012, Chelmsford, as the county town of Essex, was granted city status, David took the news reasonably well. [Laughter.] I can say, on behalf of my constituents in Chelmsford, how delighted we are that Essex will now have two cities.

I represent a part of the Chelmsford local authority area, but my hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford (Vicky Ford) represents the city itself. She is unable to be here today, as she is on ministerial duties abroad, but she asked me to say on her behalf how much she appreciated the kindness and gentle wisdom that David typically showed to her and other new Essex MPs when they were first elected. I also join her in paying tribute to the work that David did for all of us to improve our hospitals across mid and south Essex, a legacy that will continue to benefit hundreds of thousands of Essex residents.

David was, quite simply, the best of us. All of us are still in shock but our hearts go out to his family, and I hope that people listen to their words. My right hon. Friend the Member for Rayleigh and Wickford spoke powerfully about the abuse that particularly Members of Parliament—but not just MPs; a lot of other public servants—suffer from online in social media. I have been heartened by the huge number of messages that I have had from my constituents and others, first, to express condolences and, secondly, just to express their appreciation of the work that we do in this place. I like to think—and I strongly believe—that those horrible, aggressive voices that sometimes seem to dominate social media are not representative of the views of the vast majority of people, who share all the qualities and would respond to the appeal of David’s family that we should show each other kindness and love, and that that should be his lasting legacy.