A Knife’s Edge: What the Stabbing of Sir David Amess Says About the State of the United Kingdom

On October 15, Sir David Amess, a member of the British parliament, was killed while at a constituency meeting in Essex. Amess had been moving around the country in order to meet as many people as possible in his regularly held constituency meetings. He was stabbed by a man who had been on the phone for most of the meeting and died shortly after. Ali Harbi Ali has been detained as the prime suspect for the crime. The attack has been labeled as an act of terrorism by the Crown Prosecution Service as it had “both religious and ideological motivations.” However, the full case for these allegations has not yet been released to the public.

Amess was famously both socially and politically conservative. As a result of his extremely Catholic upbringing, he was against abortion rights and same-sex marrage. He was also a vocal advocate for animal rights, and had spent a large amount of his political career trying to get the town of Southend registered as a city (following his death, Southend was officially made a city as a tribute to him). Like many other British conservatives, Amess approved of Britain’s exit from the EU. Most notably, Amess was quite vocal about combating the rise of the Islamic State in the Middle East. He had backed British airstrikes on Syria in order to suppress the Islamic State’s presence there. Investigators believe that this may be the reason why Amess was stabbed, as they found connections between Amess’ killer and ISIS. As a teenager, Ali was briefly on a watchlist for potential extremists but was never of much interest in that regard. He had also supposedly considered killing other members of Parliament before turning his attention to Amess. Investigators speculate that Amess’ vocal opposition to Ali’s rumored ISIS affiliates was the reason why Amess was chosen as his target. 

This was not the first time that a member of Parliament has been the victim of ideological extremism. In 2016, Labor Party MP Jo Cox was killed by a white supremacist due to her views on immigration. In 2010, a similar incident of politically incensed violence targeted Stephen Pimm, who was injured by the attack but ultimately survived. The fact that two members of Parliament have been killed in constituency meetings in the past five years raises questions about the security system that is currently in place for MPs. Currently, MPs are protected by an entourage of armed police when in Parliament. However, they are significantly less well-protected. Cox’s murder in 2016 sparked an increase in the security budget for members of Parliament, and the British government is already considering similar ways to improve the safety of MPs following Amess’ murder. Most members of Parliament have reportedly been threatened in constituency meetings at some point, but an increase in security may discourage these threats and thereby make it more convenient for MPs to communicate with the public.

Amess’ death is set apart from garden variety stabbings due to the political motivation and repercussions related to it. However, a high profile murder like Amess’ does raise questions about the state of violent crime in England. The country has very strict gun laws, as ordinary civilians are not allowed to purchase firearms without special approval from the police. As a result, sharp objects accounted for around 40 percent of violent crime in 2020 for the UK. Although this doesn’t say much about the state of the country on its own, it does point to the potential effectiveness of increased security measures for members of Parliament. Violent crime rates also increased in the 2020-2021 period, which might have been a result of widespread feelings of listlessness and dissatisfaction as a result of the country-wide quarantine.

Amess’ death has left people from all sides of the political spectrum in a state of mutual horror. The murder has sparked bipartisan efforts to improve security, something that also happened in 2016 in the aftermath of the stabbing of Jo Cox. In a polarized world, it is rare to have an event that can cause political unity. So it is surpising that, despite his divisive social views, Amess’ murder is actually bridging political divides. Amess’s murder was a tragedy, and the force of that tragedy has the power to propell the UK into a new political age.

By: Sebastian Lemberger