Sir David Amess, who died aged 69 after being stabbed while undergoing surgery at a church in Leigh-on-Sea, was the Tory MP for Southend West in Essex. Although he spent more than half of his life in the Commons without ever reaching the ministerial office, it is likely that he would not have wanted it any other way.
He has dedicated his career to promoting his constituencies – first Basildon, then from 1997 Southend West – and addressing the concerns of their constituents. He had a high local profile and was always ready to meet with constituents, announcing his regular weekly surgeries in advance.
Amess has espoused a number of right-wing causes. A longtime Eurosceptic and committed Brexiter, he was also opposed to abortion and same-sex marriage and in favor of capital punishment. Some of these concerns were guided by his Roman Catholic faith: this is also what contributed to his more recent opposition to the government’s decision to cut overseas aid. His dedication to animal welfare led him to become one of the few Conservatives to support the abolition of fox hunting and hare racing.
His manners were cordial, friendly, and devoid of resentment or vanity, and he had friends from all sides of the House of Commons. When he stood up – as he often did – to ask for Southend-on-Sea to become a town, the laughter at his local boosterism was essentially good-natured. His boyish appearance changed just over four decades in Westminster, and his naivety led him to fall prey to a stunt in the satirical television series Brass Eye that persuaded him to speak out against the evils of the ‘cake’, a supposedly dangerous drug rather than a tea time staple.
Yet he was not a regular in the headlines for the national media. He wrote a weekly column for one of his local newspapers and was particularly excited about the headline “Pope Francis Meets David Amess” after queuing with thousands of others at an audience at the Vatican. But he was also a serious politician who pulled off the rare feat of getting two private members’ bills enacted: one on animal welfare – the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act (1988) – and the other obliging the government to implement policies to reduce fuel poverty – the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act (2000) – a cause taken up after the death of one of its constituents from hypothermia.
Born in Plaistow, on the fringes of London’s East End, David was the son of Maud (née Martin), a devout Catholic seamstress, who lived until the age of 104, and her husband, James, electrician, and grew up in a terraced house with no bathroom or indoor toilet. As a child he developed a speech impediment, prolonged therapy eventually cured his stuttering and removed most of the traces of a Cockney accent.
From St Bonaventure High School in Forest Gate, he attended the then Bournemouth College of Technology and earned a degree in economics, specializing in government. He briefly became a specialist teacher at a junior school in Bethnal Green before working as a junior insurer (1974-76) and then a staff recruitment consultant.
His interest in politics apparently started in school, where he had appeared in a mock general election for the Revolutionary Party (key requirements: minimum pocket money and abolition of homework) but at the start of his age. as an adult, he had joined the Conservatives.
He safely challenged the Newham North West Labor Party in 1979, was elected to Redbridge Council in 1982 and narrowly won Basildon in the Margaret Thatcher landslide after the Falklands in 1983. The siege of the suburbs Essex was seen as an indicator, hovering between Tories and Labor: One of the most memorable televised events on election night of 1992 was the broad smile on Amess’ face as he was declared the winner by 1,400 votes. It was a harbinger that the Tories would beat Neil Kinnock’s challenge. “If we won Basildon, we won the election,” Prime Minister John Major immediately told his wife.
The redistribution of constituency boundaries nonetheless meant that Messrs sought a new seat ahead of the next election, moving to Southend West, which had previously been owned by successive generations of the Channon family – first Sir Henry “Chips” Channon and then his son, former cabinet minister Paul – since Henry was elected to the undivided constituency of Southend in 1935.
In the Commons, Amess was a staunch supporter first of her heroine, Thatcher, then successive leaders after her, except where Brexit came into play. He served as Michael Portillo’s parliamentary private secretary for 10 years, the following as he rose through the ministerial ranks, from health to transport, the environment, the treasury and defense.
However, much of his career has been spent in sometimes lonely committees and campaigns for the improvement of the health treatment of people with arthritis, asthma and other conditions. For the past three years, he has supported improved treatment for endometriosis, a cause he embraced after meeting a voter during one of his surgeries, and he recently supported a plan to erect a memorial to Vera Lynn on the White Cliffs of Dover. He was knighted in 2015.
In 1983, he married Julia Arnold. She and the couple’s son and her four daughters survive her.