The death of David Amess has caused shock and dismay. The sheer senselessness of the wanton destruction of a life dedicated to public service has led us all to seek broader meaning.
Take the meaning of party politics – it hardly needed saying that in our universal expression of revulsion, nobody would draw attention to their political differences, too. More unites human beings than divides us. Each and every politician could be the potential target of grotesque, extreme violence and the very fabric of open democracy relies upon protecting one another from such harm, but we cannot eliminate the threat entirely.
The tendency to be overly critical of those perceived to be political opponents, without any recognition that they also do some good from time to time, simply festers cynicism about politics. It makes politics look like a Punch and Judy show, where politicians pounce upon one another’s perceived faults and lose sight of any wider shared goals.
Next, take the contribution of social media – commentators quickly went on to question the inaction by social media platforms to properly tackle online abuse. A recent BBC report found that reports of sex abuse between children had doubled in two years. Girls were the victim in about eight in every 10 cases. We need more partnerships between schools and police, health authorities and social services to help combat this scourge of modern society.
The Online Harms Bill, too, is being looked at as a means to better address malicious communications. The question of online anonymity is a debate worth our contributing towards. It’s natural to want to allow social media users to not always have to reveal their true identities, but this also raises the risk of abuse by perpetrators hiding behind a veil of ignorance in order to evade responsibility for their actions.
Moreover, some assume mock identities or pseudonyms only in order to be able to engage in debate online and reduce the risk of being bullied. But herein lies a vicious circle. Whilst some may adopt anonymity in order to protect themselves from harassment, others use anonymous accounts to perpetrate from. Perhaps a more palatable solution would be for true identities to be recorded at least by the companies, in the back end, so that police authorities can be facilitated in their work when pursuing suspects of online criminal activity. Not everybody will welcome companies holding such vast stores of personal data, though.
Finally, we must not diminish the importance of trying to understand the motivations that led to murderers doing their murderous acts; the better to be able to develop strategies to reduce their recurrence. The Plymouth shooter was possibly motivated by ‘incel’ (involuntarily celibate) ideology, and arguably their acts of mass murder could justify characterisation as terroristic towards women as a result. Such a classification would allow the police to direct more resources towards a line of enquiry.
The suspect in the Amess killing has also been described as terroristic. Even this framing can remind us that, thank God, such acts are rare and that our best response to terrorism is to stand tall against it. Certainly, we do not give in to terrorism or seek to curtail one of our most fundamental of liberties, the right to participate in a democratic society, whether as a constituency MP or a constituent seeking representation through them.