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18 October 2021

Why has so little been done to improve MPs’ security?

Five years after the murder of Jo Cox, the police response to threats against MPs remains patchy and inadequate.

By Stephen Bush

The killing of David Amess continues to reverberate around Westminster. Amess was a much-loved and respected politician across the House, and indeed across parliament as a whole. But as MPs return to work, questions about why this happened and how it might have been prevented are set to dominate. 

In a liberal democracy, there are hard limits on what you can do, and many MPs are intensely reluctant to make their constituency surgeries less publicly available than they are now. 

But it is striking to compare the 2016-21 period, in which two MPs tragically lost their lives, and the 1979-84 one, in which three MPs (Airey Neave in 1979, Robert Bradford in 1981, and Anthony Berry in 1984) were assassinated, which resulted in major changes both to security around the Palace of Westminster and to security at party conference. 

There has been some change of approach in recent times in terms of MPs’ security arrangements, but nothing to compare to the changes brought about in the 1980s. There hasn’t even been much of a debate about whether there should be a change of approach, and as the former Labour MP Paula Sherriff has revealed, the police response to threats against MPs remains patchy and inadequate. As MPs debate how to avoid a repeat of this tragedy, one item that is high on the agenda of many parliamentarians is working out why exactly not much has changed since 2016.

[See also: David Amess’s death and the threats to all MPs show we must change the way we do politics]

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