Politics

David Amess: From horse-riding to open-top bus, how 'MP aged 11' never hid from public



An arch-Thatcherite who opposed abortion and gay marriage and campaigned for Brexit, Sir David Amess was not a natural ally of the left.

But his murder aged 69 has prompted an outpouring of grief from MPs on all sides of politics, who remember his warm manner and devotion to his constituents.

In his 38 years as an MP – a job he wanted since the age of 11 – he never served as a minister, instead putting his time into campaign issues and his Essex seat.

First as MP for Basildon from 1983 to 1997 and then for Southend West, Sir David forged campaigning alliances with MPs from other parties.

Ahead of his time on key issues despite being a self-confessed “dinosaur”, he campaigned on animal rights in the 1980s, fuel poverty in the 1990s and more recently the plight of people with endometriosis.

His violent death has prompted questions about whether MPs should continue face-to-face surgeries – but Sir David’s answer would have been firm.








David Amess with his wife Julia and three of their fice children, David, Katherine and Alexandra
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Image:

Bill Cross/ANL/REX/Shutterstock)










The Brexiteer MP in a photo in his book, released last year
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Image:

David Amess)



In his book Ayes & Ears: A Survivor’s Guide to Westminster – published last November – he bemoaned the fact “increasing attacks” on MPs had “spoilt the great British tradition” of meeting face-to-face.

The book gives a fascinating insight into the life of a man who was ultra-traditional but loved a publicity stunt; a career MP but resisted the greasy pole.

He arrived to Parliament on horseback to campaign against cruel tethering. Knighted in 2015, he dressed up in a suit of armour astride a horse for celebrations at a school in his constituency organised by the Knights of Middle England.








Sir David posed on horseback with an edited background in a suit of armour
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Image:

David Amess)










One of the open-topped buses he used during his general election campaigns
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Image:

David Amess)



He also won a cult following after repeatedly speaking about his mother at Prime Minister’s Questions, and his incessant campaign for Southend to be named a city.

The MP was born in 1952 in east London with no fridge, phone or car, instead making do with an outside toilet and a tin bath hanging on the outside wall.

His mother took him to a speech therapist for two-and-a-half years to help him pronounce “st” and “th” – treatment he says was essential to his future career.





At his grammar school he stood in mock elections for his own ‘Revolutionist Party’, pledging to abolish homework and set a national minimum pocket money allowance.

“I got to a point where I found myself standing at the top of a fire escape in the playground addressing a large proportion of the school,” he wrote.

The soapbox spirit would not be lost. In election campaigns he rode an open-top bus bedecked with a Union flag and sang his own song: “If you want to be true blue, and to air your points of view, Then David Amess is the only man for you”.

He joined the Tories aged 16 after concluding the local Labour Party was responsible for “neglected” roads and “shabby” housing – and never looked back.








Sir David in 1976, in the few years of his adult life before he entered Parliament
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Image:

Neville Marriner/ANL/REX/Shutterstock)










With wife Julia and their baby daughter Sarah Elizabeth after her christening in the House Of Commons Crypt Chapel
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Image:

Clive Limpkin/ANL/REX/Shutterstock)



He said Tony Blair has “blood on his hands” over the “dreadful deceit” in going to war in Iraq – while heaping praise on Margaret Thatcher, who he personally delivered flowers when she claimed the Tory leadership.

“She changed the Conservative Party, our country and the world for the better,” he proclaimed in his book.

Sir David, who branded himself a “self-confessed dinosaur”, defended old-style Commons sittings until 2am on the grounds they brought MPs closer together, commended the lost art of filibustering and lamented the move to televise the Commons in 1989.

He also decried the coverage of the expenses scandal, saying it has “destroyed” Parliament’s reputation and asking: “What good has come of it all?”

But he won praise for his unflinching devotion to his constituents.

Ed Holmes, who worked with the MP, told on Twitter how it “couldn’t have bothered him less” that staff forgot to reply to then-PM David Cameron.







One staffer remembered Sir David as incessantly fighting for his constituency



By comparison, when an invitation to the Leigh Duck Race went missing “nothing was more important. We spent the entire afternoon turning the office upside down trying to find it.”

He added: “When he heard someone he knew in the constituency was seriously ill, he would call everyone he could think of.

“I remember listening to him late into the evening on the phone to some of the most senior medics in the land- nagging, cajoling, pleading for them to intervene.”

Sir David’s book highlights the importance of his good doorstep campaign, for many years run by now-MP Mark Francois – who Sir David nicknamed “Little Hitler”.

Sir David wrote how at every social event, he would try to glad-hand every person in the room – never regarding his area as a “safe seat”.

These tactics shot to prominence in the 1992 general election, when his early victory in Basildon marked the beginning of a surprise win for then-PM John Major.








The MP in Basildon in 1992, when the media glare fell on him during the general election
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Image:

EssexLive/BPM)



He wrote in his memoir: “When I am lowered into my grave, because I intend to be buried and not cremated, I will probably only be remembered, if indeed I am, for the 1992 election campaign.”

He was fooled by Channel 4’s Brass Eye into condemning a fake drug named “cake” after the death of Leah Betts in his constituency.

To this day he did not forgive the show, writing in his book: “How could you make a mockery of such a serious issue?”

Sir David was less than friendly to the media, blasting the “naivety” of MPs who were convinced by journalists to share secrets.

He suggested parts of the media “are almost wholly responsible” for inciting “dangerous and vitriolic abuse” against MPs.

“It seems that more and more consistently, some members of the press go after politicians personally rather than properly critiquing their policy and ideology,” he wrote.








Constituent Ruth Verrinder (R) and former councillor and mayor Judith McMahon (L) gather their thoughts before lighting a candle at St Michael and All Angels Church, following the stabbing
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Image:

Getty Images)



“They have a lot to answer for and must share some responsibility for the anger directed towards MPs which can end in such tragic circumstances.

“While it is easy to say that this is all part of the job, does it really have to be?”

Sir David was also waspish about some MPs in his book, portraying a few as “plain stupid” and others as career climbers.

But he had praise for those as wide-ranging as Tony Benn to Enoch Powell, who he called “a great patriot”, “putting aside the Rivers of Blood Speech”.

And as a colleague, he was remembered for his warmth – including by former Labour MP Paula Sherriff, who he helped through a diagnosis with cancer.

“He was the epitome of a gentleman, he was quite old-fashioned, he was very respectful and so chivalrous,” she told the Mirror.

“I’m very partisan and I suppose in some ways I tried to resist liking him so much because, ‘Oh, he was a Tory’. But you couldn’t help it – you couldn’t help but love him, he was absolutely infectious.”

A committed Brexiteer, devout Catholic and great animal lover, he fought for “pro-life” and animal welfare issues. He was responsible for introducing the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act in 1988.

He also campaigned to stop the testing of domestic products on animals, tackled the illegal wildlife trade and fought for an end to puppy farming, according to his website.

He opposed the culling of badgers and was one of the few Tory MPs in favour of a fox-hunting ban.

In his most recent Commons intervention, on September 23, he called for a debate on “animal welfare generally, cruelty to animals and the welfare of farmyard animals” to mark World Animal Day on October 4.

He was a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation and won the Dods Animal Welfare and Environment Award in 2011 for his work on the issue.

Channel 4’s Countdown mathematician Rachel Riley said Sir David had supported her mother Celia’s work with the Essex Horse and Pony Protection Society.

The charity said it was shocked and saddened by the loss of the “local MP and animal advocate”.

Last month Sir David told how he was putting his three-year-old French bulldog Vivienne up for the annual Westminster Dog of the Year Show.




Marking the “dark and shocking day” yesterday, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “Informed by his faith, David had a profound sense of duty, that I witnessed first-hand in Parliament.

“His Catholicism was central to his political life and he was highly respected across Parliament, within the church and in the Christian community.”

Boris Johnson added: “The reason people are so shocked and sad is above all he was one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics.

“He also had an outstanding record of passing laws to help the most vulnerable.”


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