Stilt-walkers and triangle players among warm memories of David Amess

Tributes to slain MP’s passion and promotion of Southend enliven Commons

The mood in the House of Commons was appropriately grave as MPs took their places, many dressed in black, to pay tribute to David Amess, who was stabbed to death last Friday. But within minutes of Boris Johnson opening the debate, the benches were rocking with laughter, something that happened again and again over the next couple of hours.

Amess, who became MP for Basildon in 1983 before moving to nearby Southend, was among the kindest and most amiable figures at Westminster. He was also self-consciously comical, even when he was promoting causes he felt passionately about.

“He never once witnessed any achievement by any resident of Southend that could not, somehow, be cited in his bid to secure city status for that distinguished town,” Johnson said.

‘A patriot’

"Highlights of that bulging folder included a world record for most triangles being played at once; a group of stilt-walkers travelling non-stop from the Essex coast to Downing Street; and a visiting foreign dignitary allegedly flouting protocol by saying he liked Southend more than Cleethorpes. "


Johnson's tribute was perfectly judged and Keir Starmer also rose to the occasion but the outstanding speech of the day came from Mark Francois, Amess's friend and fellow Brexiteer. Francois credited Amess for getting him into politics, helping him to win a seat on Basildon council, "once described as the only place in Britain the councillors actively heckle the public gallery".

Describing him as "an animal-lover, a patriot, a Thatcherite, a Eurosceptic, a monarchist and a staunch Roman Catholic", Francois said Amess had expressed concern about the online abuse suffered especially by women MPs and called for Twitter and Facebook to be forced to take action against it.

Kind and courteous

Johnson noted that Amess – who opposed abortion, favoured the death penalty, voted against LGBT rights, abhorred fox-hunting and campaigned against fuel poverty – often confounded expectation and defied easy stereotype. Labour's Chris Bryant was among many MPs who praised Amess's capacity to hold views passionately while remaining unfailingly kind and courteous to those who disagreed with him.

“I never managed to persuade him to support gay marriage, but he always asked after my husband. I think that was the character of the man,” he said.

As the debate continued it became clear that MPs were not only grieving for Amess but for some of the norms and values which have been battered within the cauldron of British political life in the past five years.