Terrorist murder of David Amess threatens tradition of ‘surgeries’ for British MPs – .

Terrorist murder of David Amess threatens tradition of ‘surgeries’ for British MPs – .

AP – The name alone – “surgery” – evokes a place where one seeks and gives help. British lawmaker David Amess, like others, held his welcome surgeries on a regular basis, meeting the voters he represented with a smile and an attentive ear for any concerns, problems, complaints and hopes they might have.

Surprisingly for a country proud of its parliamentary democracy that has served as a model for systems of government elsewhere, Amess’ availability ultimately cost her her life.

The longtime MP’s fatal stab in an attack on Friday which police were investigating as a terrorist incident immediately cast new doubt on whether it remains safe and reasonable for UK parliamentarians to continue to meet if easily and openly to voters.

Their so-called “surgeries” distinguish British MPs from lawmakers in other countries where the governed rarely, if ever, meet those who govern them. Being able to drop by, even without an appointment, chat with and perhaps berate those in power helps keep UK politicians engaged with their communities and allows voters to raise and voice issues that might otherwise escalate if they were ignored.

Or so the thought is gone.

In an era of polarized politics, terrorist threats, social media awash in fury, and – not limited to Britain – eroded respect for authority figures, public accessibility has become increasingly risky .

A note can be seen in a photograph showing slain MP David Amess (right), placed near a floral tribute near the scene where Amess was killed on Friday, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England on October 16 2021. (AP Photo / Alberto Pezzali)

Amess’ stabbing came five years after another MP, Jo Cox, was killed by a far-right extremist in his small constituency. In 2000, a sword-wielding man also attacked lawmaker Nigel Jones and his aide Andrew Pennington, killing him and injuring the MP.

These assaults forced MPs to be more careful. But they remain remarkably accessible – and potentially vulnerable.

Don Foster, who served as a Member of Parliament for Bath for 23 years until 2015 and now sits in the Upper House, the House of Lords, says he was often alone during his surgeries, listening to voters’ concerns about housing , schools, money, public services, hot -button issues like immigration and the member’s position on such and such an issue. Others have sent emails or letters and phoned, generating hundreds of cases every week for Foster and his staff to handle.

During surgeries, “people would introduce themselves, sit in an outside room, and be called by me every 10 minutes or so until I saw everyone. I would take notes on the issue and suggest actions my staff should take, ”Foster told The Associated Press.

A balloon and floral tributes are placed on the road leading to Belfairs Methodist Church at Eastwood Road North, in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England on October 16, 2021 (AP Photo / Alberto Pezzali)

Voters also came to see him during off-peak hours, putting his collar on when he was shopping. On the advice of the police, he stepped up the security of his office after Jones’ attack. Foster also said he keeps a private list of people he won’t meet on his own. He said they included a stalker “who had a fixation on me” and a man who had lost his job and thought the MP should find him a new one.

“By the time I retired there were over 20 people on this list,” Foster told the AP. “There were a number of people who came to see me very regularly – often people I felt had mental health issues. “

British MP David Amess in parliament in 2015 (video screenshot)

Police arrested a 25-year-old British Muslim national of Somali descent for the Amess attack. A lawmaker since 1983, Amess posted a sign outside – “Meet your local MP” – to let voters know when her door was open. He tweeted about his latest surgery three days in advance, with an email address and phone number for people to make an appointment and the full address and even a photo of the meeting point , Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, to make him easy to find.

Even compared to other European democracies, British MPs stand out for their regular and traveling surgeries. Lawmakers are available by appointment in Germany. In France, lawmakers regularly walk from town to town to make themselves available to voters, and not all of them require an appointment. A Norman MP crisscrosses his constituency in a van with a cell phone number on the side door and a folding table inside. And in Greece, voters can go to MPs’ offices. But regular open houses are not a thing in Italy or Spain.

Flowers are laid near Belfairs Methodist Church in Eastwood Road North, Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, England on October 16, 2021, where British Conservative lawmaker David Amess died after being stabbed during an operation riding Friday. (AP Photo / Alberto Pezzali)

In the United States, meetings of members of Congress with voters are also less frequent and less easy-going than the surgeries of their British counterparts. Security measures have intensified since 2011, when a gunman killed six people and injured 13, including then-US representative Gabrielle Giffords, at the Congress in Your Corner event. Arizona MP.

While being aware of the risks, Amess didn’t want to become unreachable.

“We are advised never to see people alone, we have to be very careful when opening mail and we have to make sure our offices are properly secured,” he wrote in “A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster ”, published last year.

“In short,” he added, “these growing attacks have rather spoiled the great British tradition of people meeting openly with their elected politicians. ”


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