Lawmaker's death wounds the 'British tradition of openness'

The name "the surgery" evokes a place of help and assistance. David Amess, a British lawmaker, hosted his all are welcome surgeries frequently, greeting the voters with a smile, and being open to hearing any concerns, problems, or hopes they may have.

Lawmaker's death wounds the 'British tradition of openness'

Surprisingly, for a country that is proud of its parliamentary democracy and has been a model for other systems of government, Amess's availability ended up costing him his life.

The stabbing death of a long-serving member of parliament in an attack that police are investigating as a terrorist incident Friday immediately raised doubts about whether it is safe for British parliamentarians continue to meet so freely and openly with voters.

British MPs are distinguished from other lawmakers in countries like the United States by their so-called "surgeries". The governed seldom, if ever, get to meet with those who govern them. Being able to stop by without appointment to talk with and maybe to chide the leaders of British politics helps to keep them engaged in their communities. It also allows voters to voice concerns that could otherwise go unresolved.

So the thinking went.

Public accessibility is becoming more difficult in an age of polarized politics and terrorism threats. Five years ago, Jo Cox was murdered by a far right extremist in her small-town constituency. A man with a sword attacked Nigel Jones, the lawmaker, and Andrew Pennington, his aide, in 2000. Pennington was also killed and the MP was injured.

Those attacks did force MPs into greater care. They are still easily accessible and could be vulnerable.

Don Foster was the MP for Bath from 1993 to 2015. He is now a member of the House of Lords. Foster said he was often alone at surgeries listening to constituent concerns. These concerns included housing, schools and money. Foster's staff had to deal with hundreds of calls and emails each week from constituents.

People would come to surgeries and sit in an outside room until they were all seen. Foster said that he would take notes and suggest the correct action to my staff. Foster also mentioned that his staff often visited Foster during off-hours, even collaring him while he was shopping. After the Jones attack, Foster increased his office security. Foster said that he had a confidential list of people he wouldn't meet alone. Foster says that they included a stalker who was obsessed with him and a man who lost his job and believed the MP should give him a new one.

Foster said that there were more than 20 people on the list by the time he retired. Foster said that he saw several people on a regular basis, many of whom I deemed to have mental health problems.

A 25-year-old British citizen was arrested by police for attacking Amess. Amess, a lawmaker from 1983 to 1983, would post a sign outside titled "Meet Your Local Member" to let his constituents know when he was available. Three days before his final surgery, he tweeted the details, including an email address, a phone number to book appointments, and even the complete address. He also included a photo of the Belfairs Methodist Church, Leigh-on-Sea as a meeting point.

British MPs are a standout among European democracies due to their regular and roving surgeries. Germany has a number of lawmakers who can be reached by appointment. France's lawmakers are available by appointment in Germany. Normandy lawmaker, a van equipped with a mobile telephone number and a folding table inside has been seen traversing his constituency. In Greece, voters are allowed to drop in at the offices of their MPs. However, open-house meetings in Italy and Spain are not a common practice.

The United States has fewer and more relaxed town meetings between Congress members and constituents than their British counterparts. Since 2011, when six people were killed and 13 others were injured by a gunman at the "Congress on Your Corner" event hosted by Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (now U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords), security precautions have increased.

Amess was aware of the dangers, but he didn't want his access to be denied.

He wrote that "A Survivor's Guide to Westminster" published last year, "We are advised to not see people alone, and we must be extra cautious when opening mail and ensure that our offices and facilities are properly secure and safe."

He said, "In short, these increasing attacks have rather spoilt Britain's great tradition of the people meeting their elected politicians openly."

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