Sir David's death will not change MPs - but faceless abuse needs to be tackled

Torbay Weekly

Sir David Amess died doing what he loved doing the most, meeting people.

It what he had done as an MP, as a listening ear and simply as a friend for decades and I am sure would have continued to do if he had not been so cruelly struck down and killed.

But what now for MPs when meeting people and representing their constituents? In fact, it’s not just about MPs. It is about any figure in public life, including councillors and the front-line staff working for them in their offices.

Our two local MPs aren’t for changing but they both agree risks will have to be reduced, their staff protected and the online, faceless, anonymous abusers and so-called trolls sorted.

Torbay MP Kevin Foster is probably more at risk than some due to his role as a Home Office Minister.

But Kevin says: “David would not have wanted his legacy to be MPs stop meeting their constituents.”

He knew Sir David quite well: “He was a member of the Blue Fox Group, a group of Conservative MPs who supported a ban on fox hunting. He was one of the Conservative MPs who voted for the Hunting Act. That was about six years ago.

“He was always friendly and we always had a good chat. It is a real tragedy.”

Kevin insisted: “I am not going to stop being out and about in the Bay. I have never particularly felt threatened in the Bay.”

He has received some verbal threats, especially since he became a Home Office minister. He says it is about minimising risks – for instance re-directing people turning up at his home with queries to his office. And he is quick to emphasise that any abuse of his staff at the office will be a matter for the police.

He agrees online abuse has to be tackled with the social media giants and hints at the need for legislation.

But he says: “Most people are lovely to deal with. We get more flowers and boxes of chocolate than abuse and threats at the office”

Totnes and Brixham MP Anthony Mangnall also knew Sir David.

He said: “David was a great friend of mine. I saw him just before the parliament recess started and he said ‘don’t worry, it will come good.

“He was an extraordinary bloke. If I could be half as good an MP as he was I would be doing great."

Anthony holds surgeries twice a week at different venues in his constituency.

“I am going to carry on doing what I have always done,” he says.

“I will not change in the way people have access to me or how I engage with different groups."

He added: “I am grateful to the police for their support but I will be meeting people face-to-face. That is what democracy is about.”

He has received threats including physical threats – sometimes from places you would least expect like a village shop.

Anthony says: “What I find the most upsetting is my staff getting threats. They are on the front line and they do an enormous public service helping hundreds and thousands of people every week.

“It is not right that they get abused. If you are in the limelight, you expect it.”

He says the abuse on line is ‘definitely growing’.

“I believe in freedom speech and it is a way of engaging with people. But it does not give people the right to anonymity to say whatever you like. If we are going to tackle social media firms, we need to sort anonymity,” says Anthony

He also points out: “It is not just about MPs. Councillors get abuse as well and if you are a woman, it is ten times worse.”

MPs like Kevin and Anthony aren’t being heroes here. They are just determined to do what they were elected to do – meet, listen to and represent the people who elected them in the first place.

It is the dark side of the web and social media that needs addressing. Where people with no names can cause such damage and carnage and where people can be brainwashed into believing  extremist views, views that can ultimately lead to tragedies like the Sir David Amess death.