An outrage in Leigh-on-Sea

Everyone’s heart goes out to the family of David Amess, Member of Parliament for Leigh-on-Sea, whose tragic death was reported at the end of last week. There is invariably an outpouring of public grief when such an event happens – but in this case the victim was clearly a lovely man, respected by his constituents and liked across the House of Commons whatever party affiliation his colleagues may have. He was a kind man, a listening ear, quite a character and a public servant of long and impeccable record. His murder was an outrage that affects us all, young or old, wherever we live and whatever club we may belong to.

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We live in a liberal democracy and, though we all spend quite a bit of time seeing just the cracks in the pavement our democratic values and freedoms were hard won and need protecting. Our society is under strain as never before. The legacy of the decision to leave the EU, the world arresting impact of the pandemic and the birth struggles of an economy as it tries to both re-awaken and achieve a new balance are intimidating. World trade is readjusting and new powers battle for supremacy; we feel the effects of those confrontations, as we wait to see whether Christmas 2021 will actually happen. The overwhelming influence of the internet and social media. A country and union divided as rarely before, and a climate crisis growing ever more threatening. At the very time when we all need unity in our home country we have little.

One of the exercises that I do every year here in school is to review everything that we do at Bishop’s to create a unified community from a group of very different individuals. There are growing differences within school of course – our population of students is bigger than ever before and is more diverse too, so it’s really important that we find as many ways as we can to explore those differences, so as to encourage understanding and tolerance. That job has become even more important now that we have all returned from our solitary existence in front of computer screens. We have to do as much as we can to get our boys and girls to interact with our local community, to contribute to Salisbury’s life and to make a meaningful effort to make things better in the future. Why else would our students help with testing and vaccinations, sing and play sport, support local charities, work with local junior school children, act as prefects or volunteer in so many ways that I cannot possibly list them all? That community cohesion, the understanding and empathy for others is the glue that holds us all together as a school community and ensures that we play our part in our city. That is our duty. That is our part in making sure that the centre holds, that things do not fall apart.

There is another way that Sir David’s death should focus all of our minds of course. We have a representative democracy, one in which politicians are voted for and, after the election, a constituency MP vows to represent all of his or her constituents, not just those whose vote went the right way. Because MPs represent everyone in their constituency, they must be accessible to all; there’s no point in having a politician who is remote, doesn’t seem to listen and is not an advocate for local causes that are right and just. Accessibility is both desirable and essential then, but with public access comes risk. MPs are increasingly on the receiving end of hate, usually via social media, from people who make their awful views known from behind a veil of anonymity. My experience of politicians has been that they are genuine, very hard working and dedicated people who entered their profession because they wanted to make others’ lives better. That doesn’t mean that I agree with their views necessarily, but I absolutely respect their integrity and their responsibility to do what they believe is right. Read twitter or Instagram and you don’t see a lot of that.

Sir David’s murder is a warning to all of us I think. You don’t have to be an adult (or a Headmaster for that matter!) to see that things have to change. We can all do our own personal bit, no matter how small, to make society more tolerant and not to fan the flames of hatred and abuse on Facebook, twitter and the rest. It helps to listen to others rather than just live in our own echo-chamber where tolerance is diminished and extreme views can flourish. It really doesn’t matter whether you are the youngest Year 7 or the most experienced teacher; every one of us can help to make a difference, make this world a bit kinder and make another desperately sad event like this one less likely to recur.