UK

HENRY DEEDES watches a Commons in mourning: Dabbed eyes and quiet dignity for Sir David Amess

The minute’s silence that engulfed the House of Commons at 2.30pm yesterday was a moment of raw emotion.

There stood our legislators: heads bowed, arms by their side, the whole chamber wrapped in solemnity, that swarming cockpit of confrontation suddenly so utterly stilled.

The odd muffled beep of mobile phones coming from pockets and handbags only intensified the silence.

Members of Parliament held a minute’s silence in memory of their colleague, Conservative MP Amess, who was stabbed to death in a church hall on Friday

The House had come together to pay tribute to Sir David Amess, the Southend MP whose life was taken so brutally last week.

Gone were the usual playground punch ups and unseemly squabbles we’re used to seeing.

Conjecture and rancour were notably absent.

In fact, after the hubbub of the past few years, I can honestly say I have never seen the House quite so unified and consensual.

The atmosphere was funereal.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds his head in his hand at the service to honour Sir David Amess at St Margaret's church today

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds his head in his hand at the service to honour Sir David Amess at St Margaret’s church today

Black ties, black dresses. And on all sides of the House, MPs appeared to be pondering afresh the dreadful event on Friday.

And who could blame them?

This was one of their own after all, a dedicated public servant murdered in cold blood while carrying out his weekly duties at his constituency surgery.

The Speaker had called a special debate, giving members a chance to pay their respects to their fallen colleague. And it was a deeply moving occasion.

Boris Johnson arrived without fuss or fanfare.

He hovered for a while behind the Speaker’s chair before taking his seat, allowing himself perhaps a moment or two more to give his speech one last meticulous once over.

His face was drawn, his voice smokily sorrowful. Yet he brought both a sense of composure and headmasterly warmth to the proceedings.

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, sat beside the PM paying tribute to their killed colleague Sir David Amess

Sir Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition, sat beside the PM paying tribute to their killed colleague Sir David Amess

Last Friday’s horrific attack had robbed Parliament of one of the ‘nicest, kindest most gentle individuals to have graced these benches,’ the Prime Minister said. Amess had been the victim of a ‘contemptible act of violence’.

When he announced that the Queen had agreed to grant Southend city status, something for which Amess had long campaigned, growling cheers erupted.

A scattering of Labour MPs burst into applause. A good moment. Sir Keir Starmer’s response oozed gracefulness.

He spoke of the need ‘to reach across and to acknowledge the pain that is felt on the opposite benches’.

Whatever his shortcomings as a performer, the Labour leader does empathy very well. His appearance in Southend on Saturday alongside the PM seems to have earned him some new admirers.

It was touching to see how well attended Labour’s benches were.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May praised him for his ¿laughter, service and compassion¿. Every MP had ¿lost a friend,¿ she added

Former Prime Minister Theresa May praised him for his ‘laughter, service and compassion’. Every MP had ‘lost a friend,’ she added

Directly behind Sir Keir sat Kim Leadbeater (Lab, Batley & Spen) whose sister Jo Cox was murdered in her constituency in 2016.

Sorrow etched on her face, she expressed heartbreak that ‘another family has had to experience that phone call and the nightmare which follows’.

The best speech of the day belonged to Mark Francois (Con, Rayleigh), who described Amess as his ‘best and oldest’ friend in politics.

Next to him there remained a space where Amess would usually have been perched.

Francois is often seen as a figure of fun in these parts, a hardline Brexiteer who’s fond of a military metaphor or three, he’s not considered an homme serieux.

But he delivered a performance both witty and hard hitting. He demanded a crackdown on the social media firms where female MPs are routinely subjected to misogynistic attacks.

The best speech of the day belonged to Conservative MP for Rayleigh, Mark Francois, pictured, who described Amess as his 'best and oldest' friend in politics

The best speech of the day belonged to Conservative MP for Rayleigh, Mark Francois, pictured, who described Amess as his ‘best and oldest’ friend in politics

He threatened to drag Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey to the Commons ‘kicking and screaming if I have to’ to answer for their inaction.

At times he was emotional, damming the waterworks as best he could, but as he signed off with a remark about Amess being ‘quite simply the best bloke I ever knew’, he choked.

As soon as Francois resumed his seat, it was clear his speech had struck a nerve. Attorney General Suella Braverman’s top lip trembled.

Next to her, Lord Commissioner of the Treasury Rebecca Harris ducked into her bag to search for some Kleenex with which to dab her eyes.

The SNP’s Ian Blackford rose and lightened the mood in an appropriate fashion, announcing with jocular incredulity that was probably the first time he agreed with everything Mark Francois had said.

Then for two hours, the tributes flowed. Some funny, others touching, all of them warm and respectful.

PM Boris Johnson pictured with Home Secretary Priti Patel, as they listened to tributes in memory of the slain MP Amess

PM Boris Johnson pictured with Home Secretary Priti Patel, as they listened to tributes in memory of the slain MP Amess

James Duddridge (Con, Rochford) recalled how Amess, a devout Catholic, had been in the receiving line at the Vatican once where the Pope mistakenly blessed a cough sweet Sir David was holding up at the time.

That every MP seemed to have heard this story before did nothing to stifle the laughter.

At the forefront of every speech made in his honour was Sir David’s defining dignity and courtesy of manner.

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer as they walk from the Houses of Parliament to attend a service of remembrance and prayer for Sir David Amess

Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer as they walk from the Houses of Parliament to attend a service of remembrance and prayer for Sir David Amess

Former prime minister Theresa May praised him for his ‘laughter, service and compassion’. Every MP had ‘lost a friend,’ she added.

Andrew Rosindell (Con, Romford) described Amess as ‘one of the nicest people I have ever met in my entire life’.

Eventually at 5.30pm, Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle adjourned the House and led members over the road to St Margaret’s Church for a service of remembrance.

So often it is in response to senseless acts of barbarity that Parliament shows itself at its best, at its kindest.

It certainly felt that way yesterday.


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