17 Oct 2021

Ending MP-constituent contact would be ‘a terrible mistake for democracy’, says Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell

Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell knew murdered MP Sir David Amess well after working closely with him in the House of Commons for years. He paid tribute to his friend and said he hoped the killing would not have a detrimental impact on the way members of parliament interact with their constituents.

Andrew Mitchell (AM): My heart goes out to his family and the brave statement they’ve just issued. For the last eight years he’s been my parliamentary neighbour at Westminster in the next door office, so we’ve seen a great deal of each other and I’ve very much admired (him), as I have since I first met him when we were both in parliament in 1987. He was there from 1983, but I’ve known him well and he is the best of us and obviously we deeply mourn this tragic, tragic event.

Krishnan Guru-Murthy (KGM): Indeed. The conversation today is very much turning to how to keep MPs and democracy safe. Do you have worries about police officers at surgeries, background checks on people making appointments? Do you think that would change the nature of your interaction with constituents?

AM: I think the home secretary is absolutely right to have set in place the reviews of these security matters, and I greatly respect what Tobias Ellwood has just said. He’s a former soldier, he’s the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, and he understands these security issues better than most of us. But my view is that to change, radically, the way in which we interact with our constituents would be a terrible mistake for democracy and would mean that the bad guys are winning. So I think we should move with care. After the murder of Jo Cox, in my own constituency we looked carefully at the security. We took advice and I’m happy that the advice that we took then is the right advice to continue with today. And in the end, we do not want to change this fundamental relationship with our constituents. That’s what democracy is all about. I walk around my constituency every week. I’ve been there now for more than 20 years. People come up to me. They tell me what they think about what’s going on. Sometimes supportive, sometimes not. But that’s the very essence of democracy. To change it in some of the ways that are being suggested, I think would be a terrible mistake.

KGM: Do you think involving the police at those surgeries would have an effect on who comes to them. If you think about the debate in the public realm over the last couple of weeks, it’s been about trust in the police in the wake of the Sarah Everard case.

AM: I think we have the police nearby in Sutton Coldfield. We, of course, rely on them for our security. But I have no intention of having the police in my advice sessions. I think that the security circumstances which we have set in place are the right circumstances, the right measures to take. And I’m not going to put that sort of barrier between me and the constituents who are seeking my advice or help.

KGM: Do you ever feel under threat yourself?

AM: Well, no, although we have had an incident some years ago, which in fact led to a man being put before the courts and being locked up, and he was threatening to kill me and I don’t think that I took the issue as seriously as I should have done. In the end, I did take steps because I was very concerned about my staff and those who worked in our office in Sutton Coldfield. But he was mentally ill and I feel very sorry for him and for those around him and I regret it very much, the measures we had to take.