“The hatred that took Sir David’s life will never win”: Keir Starmer on David Amess

Keir Starmer
© UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

Below is the full text of Keir Starmer’s speech in the House of Commons today on Sir David Amess.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. In the last few days, there have been many tributes to Sir David from politicians of all parties, from his constituents and members of the public, from friends and family and from faith leaders, especially the Catholic Church of which he was such a devoted follower.

Each tribute paints its own picture of a committed public servant, of kindness and of a man whose decency touched everybody he met. Together they are powerful testimony to the respect, affection and love that David was held in across politics and across different communities.

Sir David was a dedicated parliamentarian and his loss is felt profoundly across this House. We are united in our grief at this terrible time.

We are thinking – once again – of our dear friend Jo Cox, who was killed just five years ago and I know that Honourable members and their staff will have spent the weekend worrying about their own safety.

The emotion is the same across the House. But I remember how acutely Jo’s loss was felt on these benches. So today, on behalf of the entire Labour Party, I want to reach across the aisle and acknowledge just how deeply the pain is felt on the benches opposite.

Of course our differences matter, after all, that’s what democracy is about. But today we are reminded that what we have in common matters far more.

I spoke to Jo Cox’s parents on Friday afternoon because I knew they would be reliving that terrible day. They said to me they were thinking of David’s family and how their lives would be changed forever.

So, today, this House holds in our hearts David’s wife Julia, his children Katie, David, Sarah, Florence and Alexandra and all those that loved him. We cannot begin to imagine what they are going through but our thoughts, our love and our prayers are with them.

I also thank those who did everything they could to save David’s life. Every day, our emergency services run toward danger to protect the rest of us from it – we must never forget that.

This parliament that David so loved has lost one of its finest advocates, his colleagues have a lost a dear friend and the people of Southend have lost one of their own.

Sir David was a dedicated constituency MP. When I visited Southend on Saturday, I was struck by the affection and regard he was held in by everybody I met. He rejected ministerial office to focus on Southend and we remember his heroic battle to see it given city status. And I am so pleased at the announcement the Prime Minister has just made. It is a fitting tribute to Sir David’s hard work.

Fitting, because David delivered for the causes he championed. He passed a bill that forced action on fuel poverty, he paved the way for better standards of fire safety and delivered protections for animal welfare. But no tribute that has emerged in recent days resonates more vividly than one from his former parliamentary staffer, Edward Holmes.

In his first job out of university, Holmes forgot to tell Sir David about an urgent call from the then-Prime Minister, David Cameron. He said he felt “terrified”. When he plucked up the courage to tell David, his response was typically laid back: “Don’t worry about that, Edward” he said. So relaxed was David, that Mr Holmes says he suspects he never called the Prime Minister back.

And while I’m sure the PM would join me in hoping our own MPs don’t get too many ideas, I think we can agree it speaks volumes about the sort of character David was.

In the very same week, an invite to a charity duck race in his constituency went missing. David and his team spent the entire afternoon turning the office upside down trying to find it. That tells of a politician who had his priorities straight – one who put his people before his party and his patch before his personal advancement.

Even as a political opponent he was a man and a politician we could all learn much from. I use that phrase – ‘political opponent’ – very deliberately. Because David held his beliefs passionately but gently. I believe that not only can we learn from that but that we have a duty to do so.

Civility in politics matters. But we must not lose sight of the fact that David’s killing was an act of terror on the streets of our country. We can’t help today but think of Jo Cox and Andrew Pennington and PC Keith Palmer who lost his life defending all of us in this place in 2017. We thank God that the Hon. Member for East Ham is with us in the chamber today and that the Hon. Member for West Lancashire’s would-be attackers were stopped in their tracks. And politicians across the country have their own experiences of threats to their security.

Today is a chance to remember David but in the days and weeks to come we must finally confront the threats and violence people face while enacting this country’s democracy. I want to pledge to you, Mr Speaker, and to you, Prime Minister, the full weight of the Labour Party in this.

It is too early for us to comment on the exact motivations and circumstances of David’s killing. But I want to finish by saying this.

A cowardly attack on a public servant doing their job, is an attack on our country and our way of life. A way of life that prizes tolerance, democracy and respect. That accepts our differences – but cherishes our commonalities. That refuses to succumb to the poison of extremism. No matter what perverted cause, faith or ideology these attackers support, their intention is always the same – to sow division among us. That is why our response must always be to show we will never be cowed. That our bonds to one another cannot be eroded. That the hatred that took Sir David’s life will never win.

Our democracy is precious, it has held firm against many tests but it is also a fragile, living thing. Let us use the memory of Sir David’s life and passions to nourish it, to recommit ourselves in standing for the things that he stood for, the things the extremists will never comprehend. For decency in our disagreements. For kindness in our hearts. For our great democracy and for the hope that – through it – we can make our country and our world a better place.

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