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Slain British MP remembered as one of ‘most gentle people in politics’

  • October 15, 2021

LONDON (AFP) — A British lawmaker since 1983 from the Conservatives’ right wing, David Amess was a maverick but courteous Eurosceptic long before the party leadership embraced all-out opposition to the EU.

Amess, who was stabbed to death on Friday at the age of 69, never made it to the front ranks of government.

But his outspokenness and unfashionable opinions kept him in the media limelight, and his beaming face was a standout image from the Conservatives’ shock election victory in 1992 under John Major.

The successor to Margaret Thatcher, Major had been written off by most pundits. But when Amess retained his marginal seat of Basildon, east of London, it was clear that the opposition Labour party had fallen short.

Major was plagued by revolts from Tory backbenchers opposed to his attempts to adopt the latest EU treaty. It was a portent of future battles.

By 2016, when Britain held its Brexit referendum, Amess and other anti-EU diehards were far closer to the Conservative mainstream.

Amess, a Roman Catholic, also opposed abortion among other right-wing totems. But he was hard to categorize, and enjoyed respect in the House of Commons where many colleagues lauded his generosity and tenacity.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the leader who eventually delivered Amess’ dream of divorcing Britain from Brussels, lauded him as “one of the kindest, nicest, most gentle people in politics”.

Trade minister Penny Mordaunt said Amess helped 200 children with learning disabilities perform at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which was “a measure of the man”.

Fellow Tory Roger Gale entered parliament on the same day in 1983 and the two became fast friends.

“He was funny. He was fun. He was dedicated and determined. But unlike some of us who maybe take things too seriously, he was never too serious, but was always serious at the right time,” Gale told Sky News.

“That’s why he was such an effective member of parliament. He was like a terrier,” he said. “If he got his teeth into an issue on behalf of a constituent, he wouldn’t let go.”

Israel and Iran

Amess came from a modest background in Essex, on London’s eastern fringe, and went on to represent many former Labour working-class voters who embraced Thatcher’s entrepreneurial zeal in the 1980s.

Unlike many in his party, Amess did not study at an elite private school or university.

He worked in insurance and recruitment before graduating from local council politics to the Westminster parliament, and was known as a hard-working MP.

He was a passionate advocate for animal welfare and opposed to fox-hunting, which was eventually banned by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 2005.

He also waged a long campaign to erect a statue in honor of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who saved thousands of Hungarian Jews from deportation to Nazi death camps in World War II.

The campaign reached fruition when Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the statue in 1997 outside a synagogue in London.

In January this year, he called the event “one of the proudest moments of my life,” and urged the government to redouble efforts against antisemitism, during a speech to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Amess was the Honorary Secretary of the Conservative Friends of Israel from 1998, and was regarded as a longtime friend of the UK Jewish community.

“Although I myself am not a Jew but a Catholic, there is Jewish blood in each and every one of us. I would certainly have been proud to have been born a Jew, and I stand shoulder to shoulder with our local Jewish community,” he said in the January speech.

“He always stood with the Jewish community and was a true friend of Israel. May his memory be for a blessing,” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said.

Another cause was support for the exiled opposition to Iran’s Islamic government.

Maryam Rajavi, the Paris-based leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, called him “an honorable friend of the Iranian people… in their quest for freedom and democracy”.

A favorite in the 1990s for broadcast bookers, Amess was spoofed by a satirical news program in 1997 about a new drugs craze supposedly sweeping Britain, later even raising the issue in parliament.

Knighted in 2015, he celebrated the occasion by donning full medieval armor, bearing a standard athwart a garlanded horse.

He had five children with his wife Julia, including an actress daughter.

Times of Israel Staff contributedto this report

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