Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of Her Majesty The Queen, my wife and I are immensely proud to join you (albeit later than originally intended, for which I can only apologise profusely), at this historic moment for Southend-on-Sea.
I recall with great fondness an occasion in January 2014, when my wife and I visited the Palace Theatre in Westcliff-on-Sea. We were most impressed as local school children from the area expertly performed scenes from Shakespeare plays to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the playwright’s birth. It was a very happy occasion, and we were enormously touched by the warmth of the reception from everyone we met.
During that visit we recall our conversation with Sir David Amess. I knew of him, of course, as a renowned and respected Parliamentarian and an effective campaigner on many national and local issues. Among them was his passionate determination to secure city status for Southend-on-Sea.
Today, we mark the culmination of that dedicated campaign - and yet, how we all wish we could celebrate the occasion without the shadow of the dreadful event which took the life of such a devoted public servant.
Sir David’s tragic and senseless murder in October 2021, and the appalling circumstances under which he died, shocked the nation. I am only too aware that today’s ceremony cannot possibly replace the agonising loss felt by Sir David’s widow, Lady Amess, and their five children, but I do hope it will offer at least some comfort in such unbearable sorrow.
I have no doubt that Sir David would have been immensely proud today. However, as was the case throughout his life, it would not have been pride in personal success, but would have stemmed from his deep understanding of duty and his unfailing ambition to serve his constituency and improve the lives of those he represented. We can only hope that those who are, too often, cynically dismissive of those in public life will look at his example of service. No-one could have given more for the values which underpin the society we share – values which appear all the more precious at this present time when we see, more starkly than for many years, the appalling suffering and devastation caused when the path of violence is chosen. What we saw in the terrible tragedy in Southend was an attack on democracy, on an open society, on freedom itself. We are seeing those same values under attack today in Ukraine in the most unconscionable way. In the stand we take here, we are in solidarity with all those who are resisting brutal aggression.
In the aftermath of Sir David’s brutal murder, the people of Southend-on-Sea came together in a remarkable and inspiring way to bring good out of evil. In doing so, they demonstrated a deep truth: that what matters more than any name, whether of a person or a place, is the spirit. Today, Southend becomes a city. As we celebrate and honour that fact, we remember that it is always, and crucially, a community.
By that measure, Ladies and Gentleman, Southend-on-Sea is a marvellous example to our nation. It epitomises the heartfelt words offered by Sir David’s family following his death about the need, and I quote – ‘to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all’. There could be no greater legacy.
I pray that this new city of Southend-on-Sea will continue from strength to strength, honouring the memory and legacy of Sir David Amess - one of its greatest ambassadors - and inspired always by the example of his dedication to the community he loved.