BACKGROUND: On Friday, October 15th, Member of the UK Parliament, Sir David Ames was holding his regular surgery (opportunity to bring cases to their MP by the public) in Leigh-on-Sea, within his Southend West constituency when he was stabbed and killed by Ali Harbi Ali, a 25-year-old of Somali heritage, who had made an appointment to see him and traveled 50 miles from London to commit the act. He is now in police custody. The MP Jo Cox was assaulted and killed in similar circumstances in 2016 and the weekend UK media is full of debate how to prevent further occurrences.
Surgeries in Public
I was outraged to hear of the murder of Sir David Ames MP as he held a public surgery in his constituency. Many across the political spectrum have been fulsome in praise of his assiduous availability to hear issues raised by his constituents.
Coming within five years of the murder of Jo Cox MP and of abusive trolling on social media, I hear a rising clamour to increase security, vet attendees and even suspend face-to-face meetings to avoide firther such tragedies. I believe any such actions to be misplaced, as they would damage the democracy upon which society depends.
As well as 59 MPs, Scotland elects 129 MSPs, and ten times that number of councillors, all of whom hold public surgeries. In my own eighteen years as councillor representing North Berwick, I held over 800 surgeries. To make sure people knew they were public, I held them on two chairs at the foot of steps leading to the Council Chambers in Quality Street, with a plaque on the wall saying “The Councillor is IN”, visible to all passing. Half the resulting chats were social, not ward issues. I found this delightful, as I believe the best representation comes through interaction. In this, I hope I was following Sir David’s superb example.
Retiring indoors, only to discuss private matters, I did experience heated exchanges that rose to abuse on two occasions. But only one required a half-nelson and bum’s rush to resolve. In my old-fashioned view, exposure to risk 0.1% of the time was part of doing the job properly.
I appreciate not all elected feel as safe, much less up for robust self-defence. But it would be a sad day when they could not mingle with local residents, or be isolated by security or pre-booking systems.
David S. Berry