On the spectrum of acts than can be described as “political”, the everyday mundanity of constituency work in a politician’s local clinic and the lone-wolf murder of a politician lie about as far apart as is possible to imagine. The first, the expression in its purest form of politics as engagement with the ordinary citizen; the second, the ultimate substitution of the individual for that engagement, the act of one who looks into his heart to know what is right and arrogates to himself the entitlement to act on it, democracy’s antithesis.
It is no simple hyperbola to describe the brutal killing of well-liked family man, and diligent local MP Sir David Amess in Southend on Friday as more than a personal tragedy. It must be seen as an attack on democracy itself. And it matters not whether his killer was an Islamist extremist, in common with the culprit behind last week's bow-and-arrow murders in Norway, or a far-right militant, as in the killing of MP Jo Cox in 2016. Or indeed the previous killings of individual British MPs by the IRA – Ian Gow in 1990, Sir Anthony Berry in 1983, Unionist Robert Bradford in 1981, and Airey Neave in 1979 – a grim 42-year litany of public representatives who died in the line of duty.
On this island the IRA was also responsible for the murder of Senator Billy Fox in 1974, in recent memory the only member of the Oireachtas to have been killed.
Inevitably in Britain attention has now turned again to the issue of better protecting MPs and doing so without jeopardising all-important access in clinics or even on the street. That may not be entirely possible. Just as importantly, however, there is the need to challenge the increasingly toxic and coarsened culture of politics in the UK and beyond. Polemics about Brexit and migration have undermined a consent to be governed that is the cornerstone of a healthy democratic space. Here, that consent is the key product of the Belfast Agreement, an acceptance by the IRA – among others – that such methods are not acceptable.