Ring of steel won't eradicate threats to MPs - Martyn McLaughlin

The tragic killing of Sir David Amess MP has reignited debate over the future of a bedrock of our parliamentary democracy - constituency surgeries. Every day, these are held in churches, community centres, and offices across the country, allowing constituents to meet face to face with their local MPs.

The work is the bread and butter of electoral politics, and serves a crucial bond between communities and those elected to serve them. For that reason, the surgeries are widely advertised, easily accessible, and open to all.

But the death of Sir David, coupled with the 2016 murder of Labour’s Jo Cox, has prompted searching questions over whether that should remain the case.

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Over the weekend, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker of the House of Commons, acknowledged that any attempts to distance MPs from members of the public risked undermining a fundamental part of their role.

“The very essence of being an MP is to help and be seen by our constituents,” he noted. “They are the people who elected us to represent them, so surely making ourselves available to them is the cornerstone of our democracy?”

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Ensuring that age-old process can continue while enhancing security measures is not straightforward. It is impossible to replicate the robust and highly visible deterrents in place at the Palace of Westminster at every constituency surgery across the UK. Crucially, the vast majority of MPs would not want that.

The likeliest solutions are blunt instruments: the presence of police officers or private security guards at every surgery meeting, or as has been suggested in recent days, the installation of airport-style scanners. Some may deem these steps disproportionate and expensive. Others may regard them as a necessary step.

Tributes continue to be paid to Sir David Amess, the MP for Southend West. Picture: Dan Kitwood/GettyTributes continue to be paid to Sir David Amess, the MP for Southend West. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty
Tributes continue to be paid to Sir David Amess, the MP for Southend West. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty

Either way, we should not pretend that they will eradicate the threats faced by MPs and their staff. To do that is an altogether steeper challenge, one which requires the reset of an increasingly intemperate political climate.

The growing distrust and contempt for those who hold public office is a very real crisis, and unless we find a way of addressing it, the risks will remain perilously high.

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