Mitchell Goldie is the Senior Communications Officer for Iain Duncan Smith.
Following the tragic death of Sir David Amess, I – along with the rest of the UK – was thinking of his family as they reeled from the shocking news. I could also not stop thinking about his staff who turned up for a normal days work, to help constituents in a drafty church hall, and then saw their boss stabbed to death in front of their eyes.
The Prime Minister rightly paid tribute to the staff of Members of the House of Commons last week at Prime Ministers Questions, recognising it is often they who are on the receiving end of the abusive phone calls, open the hate mail and monitor the death threats on social media. This should not be an accepted part of the job.
We must also never forget Andy Pennington, an aide to the Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones, who was stabbed in January 2000 as he tried to protect his boss from an armed attacker who stormed the constituency office in Cheltenham armed with a sword. Andy died from his injuries, an unspeakable tragedy.
I was elected as a Councillor for a ward in Waltham Forest, where I grew up and went to school, a few weeks after my 19th birthday. As part of this role, and working for an MP myself, I am no stranger to the daily abuse that elected politicians and their staff experience as part and parcel of the role.
Behind every MP there is a whole team of people who work, often way beyond their paid for hours, for every constituent. These may be the constituents who slammed the door in their bosses’ face during the election campaign, but if they turn up to a surgery or call the office, no matter who they voted for, the MP and their team will do their utmost to help them.
The work MPs staff do is beyond party politics and my colleagues and I throw ourselves into each new case – whether that be chasing someone’s immigration application, working with the local authority to prevent a family being made homeless or securing much needed SEND funding for a child.
MPs may be able to deal with abuse shouted at them in the street, but their staff have learnt to expect it and deal with it too. It was staff that during the election campaign of 2019 opened the dead and decaying rat that was sent to Sir Iain Duncan Smith’s office as part of a vicious campaign by the hard left. It was staff that worked alongside MPs during the evacuation of Kabul to reassure constituents all through the bank holiday weekend and who worked to get their family members out of the country as it imploded.
All those who work in Parliament understand what a privilege it is to work so closely with elected politicians, to walk along the historic corridors and to maybe catch sight of the Prime Minister as you grab some lunch. A privilege or not, it shouldn’t negate the fact that the role can be overlooked and undervalued.
There are quirks of the system which mean long service and experience is not always rewarded. Staff who work for one MP then move to another often find the benefits they thought would be automatic, such as sick leave and maternity pay, do not transfer.
Moving to work for a new MP is seen as a completely separate contract meaning a minimum number of weeks have to be reached before these benefits are accessible again. My colleagues and I see this job as a vocation, but if our boss loses their seat our jobs are gone overnight too. Job security can be very precarious especially for those working in marginal seats.
While decisions are made about what more can be done to protect MPs as they go about their constituencies, attention should also be given to their staff who are also a target.
MPs’ staff play a vital role in the functions of our democracy and they deserve to be acknowledged and protected.
Over the last two weeks, I and many others have had to have difficult conversations with our loved ones about the danger posed to us because of the jobs we do. We are all reeling from the shocking events and are counting the cost of playing our part to protect and defend democracy. I hope we won’t be forgotten when the dust settles on this tragedy.