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Nadhim Zahawi column: Loss, security and the need for reflection

Since my last column, we have lost two tremendous and committed public servants in James Brokenshire and Sir David Amess. Both were friends and colleagues of mine and leave behind families, who my thoughts have been with every day since their passing.

A candle and a photo of Sir David Amess greeted mourners at a vigil in Essex. Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA (52785929)
A candle and a photo of Sir David Amess greeted mourners at a vigil in Essex. Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA (52785929)

In James, who died before his time, the country has lost an extremely effective minister and Parliamentarian, which tributes made across the House of Commons reflected.

In my experience of James there was no job he thought he was too big for, nor was there a job too big for him to handle. He conducted himself with a unique stoicism and dignity in the face of his diagnosis of lung cancer and became a prominent campaigner for better lung cancer screening.

I am proud targeted lung health checks are being rolled out across England, focusing on those most at risk of cancer. In the 23 areas chosen, anyone who has ever smoked and is aged between 55 and 75 years old will be invited to a free lung check. This project aims to help the government to achieve the ambition of seeing 55,000 more people surviving their cancers for five years in England each year from 2028. James’ family have raised over £53,000 for the Lung Cancer Foundation since his passing.

Events on 15th October shook me, Parliament, and the country to its core. I recall first hearing reports of a stabbing at Sir David’s constituency surgery, the world stopped for a moment and I hoped our amazing emergency service staff would be able to save him.

Shortly afterwards the news broke that he had not made it. He died as he lived, serving his constituents. Tragically, he is not the first.

Understandably this has raised a number of questions from constituents; primarily, how can we stop this happening again and will it change the way in which Members of Parliament engage with the communities they represent?

It is clear we will need take a multifaceted approach; one which has the preventative measures in place to reduce online content which intends to radicalise, as well as one that ensures MPs can carry out their duties without fear in their day-to-day interactions with their constituents.

The government recognises this which is why every MP has been contacted by local law enforcement to reassess their individual security arrangements and security guards are now available to Members of Parliament for their constituency surgeries.

This will run parallel to the government’s Online Harms Bill, which will force social media companies to take decisive action against content inciting violence or radicalisation.

Importantly, we must all take time to reflect the way we conduct ourselves in political discourse. While we should be robust when debating the issues facing the country, it undermines our democracy, and the safety of those in public life, when we dehumanise or other-ise our opposition.

This is vital because it is not just about the MPs we have today, but also the MPs of the future. It is better for everyone if the best, the brightest and the most talented children of today become the leaders of tomorrow, and it is all of our responsibility to foster and cultivate a political environment which encourages those children to take the step to enter public life.

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