LONDON – Last week, British MP Christian Wakeford opened the door of his office in the market town of Radcliffe to a passerby who wanted to talk about the regeneration of the area.

- Advertisement -

A day later, Wakeford said, he would not let the man go straight into his office.

What changed was that a day after Wakeford had a conversation with the man, his fellow Conservative Party MP David Ames was stabbed to death in a church in southern England, as he was meeting locals. Were.

advertisement

The murder, five years after opposition Labor legislator Joe Cox was shot dead by a Nazi-obsessed bachelor while she visited voters, once again raised questions about the safety of British Members of Parliament (MPs).

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Priti Patel announced that the threat level for lawmakers is now considered adequate, following an independent review by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

- Advertisement -

The announcement came as no surprise to Wakeford, 36, who has received a death threat and ransacked his office twice since being elected to represent the Bury South district in northern England for the first time in 2019 Is.

“But Friday and Saturday were the first time I really questioned my safety. I think it was just ‘What does this mean? What are we doing? Are we really safe?’ There are so many questions that are still not being answered,” he said in a telephone interview.

MPs routinely perform one-to-one “surgery”, which is similar to a patient consultation with a doctor, at whom they meet, listen and advise members of the public who have elected them.

They consider this traditional practice the basis of British politics, a system unmatched in most other countries, where the public rarely has the opportunity to interrogate the holders of public office.

But with little or no protection and an emphasis on accessibility for all, surgery can leave lawmakers vulnerable.

“Nobody can understand the mindset behind doing something like this, but David was one of the nicest people you could think of,” Wakeford said, as he explained how much he was involved in the Ames murder. was shaken. “It was more, if it could happen to him, it could happen to literally anyone.”

Police are questioning a 25-year-old man of Somali heritage arrested at the site of the AIIMS murder under anti-terrorism laws, saying the killing could be linked to Islamic extremism.

be virtual?

Following Cox’s assassination, a nationwide program aimed at providing lawmakers with additional security for their homes and offices, known as Operation Bridger, was established, although after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic With the meetings being online, many measures had become irrelevant. .

Since lockdown measures were lifted in July, many MPs have returned to public appearances and made an extra effort to show up in their polling districts or constituencies. Many believe that his absence could hurt his electoral chances.

But the AIIMS killing has again put their security in mind, Patel said, adding that lawmakers should take the risk change seriously and use the security available to them. He said that the police has now contacted all the MPs to discuss their security arrangements.

The risks pose a dilemma for lawmakers. Wakeford said police were “very good in terms of assurances in the past week” but he is unsure whether he wants security guards at the various sites where he meets with voters, fearing it could create roadblocks.

Some lawmakers have encouraged allies to hold remote meetings only. Others, including Labour’s Stephen Timms, who was stabbed in his constituency’s surgery in 2010, suggested asking police to review his appointment lists.

A large number believe that the tone of political discourse, especially on social media sites, where many people are victims of daily abuse, should change, but lawmakers are divided on whether social media Anonymity should be banned.

After Cox’s sister and now Labor MP Kim Leadbeater said her partner had urged her to step down, some have begun to wonder out loud whether she should move on.

“It will scare many MPs,” he told the BBC after the AIIMS murder. “My partner came home and said, ‘I don’t want you to do this any more’ because the next time he calls, it might be a different conversation.”

But despite the risks involved, most constituents will not accept the idea of ​​not meeting face-to-face, saying it undermines the democracy they believe in.

“We must not leave out the access of Members of Parliament,” Timms told Parliament. “If we do that, the sponsors of those who attacked Dawood and those who attacked me will be successful. This should not happen.”

(Editing by Gareth Jones)