Over the last ten years or so living in Rome, during which time I have organised innumerable meetings for visiting dignitaries, churchmen, and politicians (gratuitously, I note only for the record), occasionally afterwards I have received a rare thank you note.
Only one person, however, has ever thought to thank me publicly on his website for my time: Sir David Amess MP.
Anyone who has ever spent even a little time among our narcissistic political class will automatically intuit the character and uniqueness of the man from this single remark alone.
Politicians believe that when you do them a favour, they are actually—with their tell-tale magnanimity and graciousness—bestowing on you an enormous privilege and honour in allowing you to serve people as important as them.
Not David Amess. When Prime Minister Boris Johnson called him “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics,” he spoke the simple truth.
In a 2007 interview with Edward Pentin—which is worth reading—Amess referred to himself as a “born optimist,” an autobiographical description which certainly summed up the man.
I first met Amess, though at the time not yet knighted, in 2010 when the Dignitatis Humanae Institute was setting up the UK’s All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Dignity. Another great Catholic in British politics, David, Lord Alton of Liverpool, was seeking a suitable deputy chairman for the initiative.
In Amess, Lord Alton chose well.
In the often delicate and tetchy work of promoting Christian anthropology in the political sphere, navigating the inevitable hyper-paranoid sensibilities of militant secularists, Amess was ever prudent, experienced, and diplomatic.
His engaging amiability, complemented by an almost childlike enthusiasm and unaffected, somewhat out-of-place innocence—all the more notable for one who had been in parliament for nearly four decades—were his unmatchable secret weapons in disarming potential foes.
His life and career
David Amess was born in 1952 and first elected to parliament in 1983, the same election that gave Margaret Thatcher her second mandate, tripling her parliamentary majority.
A typical Essex man (though actually born and raised in London’s East End), David Amess was a natural Thatcherite. But he was as much known for his advocacy of unborn babies, children with disabilities, and maternal health care.
Amess represented Basildon in Essex until 1997. He was well-known in this period as being the member of parliament most enthusiastic about nominating his great constituents of Basildon at every appropriate opportunity—and even more opportunities that weren’t.
But his constituents returned the love, re-electing him in 1987 and again in 1992.
Basildon was the bellwether as-goes-here-so-goes-the-country seat. His 1992 victory, surprising nearly every professional observer, heralded the wider general election as the results came in, and somehow John Major managed to cling on to power.
At the constituency boundary changes in 1997, after 14 years of regaling the House with tales of how his constituents in Basildon were the greatest in the world, Amess cheerfully decamped to the neighbouring, far safer, Southend. His new constituents then immediately became the greatest in the world, without his missing a beat.
It was a sign of Amess’ natural and unforced affability that his parliamentary colleagues only subjected him to the lightest of affectionate ribbing at his shrewd and deftly executed political manoeuvring.
Amess represented Southend from 1997, being comfortably returned to his seat in the following general elections of 2001, 2005, 2010, 2015, 2017, and 2019 up until 15 October 2021, when his life came to a brutal and violent end at a local Methodist church during a constituency surgery.
I was surprised, listening to The Economist’s daily podcast mentioning David Amess’s death and legacy, that there was no mention of his Catholicism.
Surely, along with his family, his faith was the key animating force in his long parliamentary career.
Perhaps there was also an eery symmetrical omission in The Economist’s absence of any mention of his assassin Ali Harbi Ali’s motivating faith: the ‘religion of peace.’ At least The Economist’s listeners will be equally uninformed without prejudice as to the motivating factors at play in the world’s protagonists and antagonists.
Perhaps it is too early to suggest a motive for the murder of one of the UK’s most visible and well-known Christian parliamentarians by an Islamic fundamentalist, but I am surprised that more has not been made of at least the possibility that Amess was killed in odium fidei (out of hatred for the faith)—the Catholic Church’s traditional and ancient formulation for recognising martyrdom.
If you like to cultivate what the late Franciscan friar Benedict Groeschel used to call “friends in high places,” pray for David Amess now—one day he may intercede for you.
Amess was simply too agreeable to be objectionable or contrarian by inclination. But when it came to matters of faith, his natural decency and sense of fairness gave enormous strength to Catholic principles that he would not compromise, principles that in the end probably somewhat inhibited further political advancement.
Perhaps there are parallels here with the patron saint of statesmen himself, St. Thomas More.
As an aside, having now spent over 15 years living abroad, during which I’ve come to study first-hand many other national characteristics, I believe this particular characteristic is archetypically English. If you know what I mean to describe by this personality trait, you will know what David Amess was like without having met him.
I remain profoundly struck by how much we’ve lost with the passing of Sir David Amess, and how poorer we are for his absence—now that we no longer have in our parliament this uncomplicated, good-natured, and principled man who had an irrepressibly sunny disposition that you couldn’t help but be lifted by.
Our prayers for his wife Julia and five children, and for the repose of his soul. Requiescat in pace, David.
This tribute appears in the Winter 2021 edition of The European Conservative, Number 21: 116-117.