For much of the 1990s, David Amess’s smile was one of the defining images of British politics. At 10pm on general election night, 1992 many expected John Major’s Conservative government to be voted out of office. A huge recession and poor poll ratings pointed that way.
Perhaps it would be a hung Parliament from which a Labour government emerged, but after three very comfortable Conservative election victories in a row, the end of their period of power seemed imminent, even to many in that party.
The exit polls then seemed to point the same way.
But then came the result from Basildon. A shock Conservative win in this key marginal seat, a huge smile on David Amess’s face and a flurry of worse results for Labour followed.
It was a pivotal moment and a dominant image. “Oh bugger Basildon” became one of the lyrics sung at Liberal Democrat Glee Clubs for many years after.
Yet there was much more to David Amess, and his smile, than that one moment of fame. For since his tragic death, I’ve been struck by how many in other parties have talked of how warm and smiling he always was towards them. People who might disagree passionately with him on issues very close to the heart, such as personal liberties and equalities, but still fellow humans.
What particularly shocks about his death too is that it happened at a surgery, something that is the part of the normal political life of thousands of elected public officials all across the country. The day after his death, there will be many doing just what he did yesterday – sat in a room, waiting for strangers to enter and to see how they can be helped.
It’s a quiet, common part of politics, one of the parts of politics that makes the most difference to people’s lives.
Today, though, won’t be a common day to be doing a surgery, so thank you to everyone who will be there serving the public even today.
UPDATE: In deference to the particular tragic circumstances, the Liberal Democrats won’t be standing in the Southend West by-election.