On Saturday the 8 January, we saw the launch of the Conservative campaign for Anna Firth in the Southend West by-election, since the saddening and unexpected death of Sir David Amess MP. Sir David served as my MP and became a dear friend to me as a mentor and political inspiration.

Almost three months since the tragic passing of Sir David, the time has now begun for the by-election to take place and for democracy to continue. We Conservatives do not have to contend with the political threat posed by the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green parties, each of whom has agreed to not contest the election given the cause of its tragic circumstances. However, whilst we in the Conservative Party appreciate this sign of generosity, it is unfortunate that several far-right parties, including UKIP, the British Freedom Party and the English Constitution Party, have announced their intention to stand candidates in the by-election. I strenuously condemn these moves on all accounts but anticipate more distasteful candidates to stand against Anna Firth in the coming weeks.

Nevertheless, despite the pouring Essex rain, the official start of the Conservative campaign was a successful and positive day. We had a fantastic turnout with activists from both Southend and across the country coming out to support Anna, including those who knew her from her time in Kent who could not stop speaking highly of her. I must admit, at a time when I still feel nervous about what to expect in the campaign, hearing such positive statements about what good she has done for our Party in Sevenoaks has done much to reassure me. By the time I got home, I was completely drenched, but I loved being out and about in Southend and enjoyed leafleting amidst the positive atmosphere of the Conservative campaign.

However, none of this should be happening and Sir David should still be here representing Southend West, as he brilliantly did for us both locally and nationally in Parliament. But regrettably, these are the circumstances in which we find ourselves and it is our responsibility to carry on his legacy as he would want us to. Yet inside campaign HQ – Iveagh Hall, in which I have spent many good days over the past few years that I have been a resident of Southend – there was a positive and upbeat feeling: people were coming and going with leaflets throughout the day, and it was fantastic to see.

Given the state of the world over the last two years with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, and whilst facemasks were commonplace around Iveagh Hall and the Conservative club next door, it was great to be socialising again with one another and sharing in the positive atmosphere. I have been leafletting all week in my ward for the by-election, but this Saturday was no doubt the launch of the campaign, and now the hard work begins to achieve electoral success and elect Anna Firth the MP for Southend West. My priority is to help ensure that we comfortably win this election in a spirit of unity. In 2019, Sir David managed to gain a vote share of 59.2 per cent, and I believe that with hard work we can increase this to over 80 per cent.

In all this time, in remembering the good days I had with Sir David as did many other friends and colleagues, I have seen the best and worst of humanity. And credit where credit is due to several local Labour councillors in Southend; they have been incredibly supportive throughout this difficult time for the Conservative family, for which I am sure we are all very grateful.

Thus, a few final thoughts left from our formal campaign launch: I was very wet from the rain, but in all that, I feel the satisfaction that we had all achieved a fantastic job across Southend West. And if Saturday is anything to go by, then the rest of the campaign will be a decent and positive experience for us all as Conservative members. Sir David’s legacy will forever be remembered and carried on in the months and years ahead as we remember his lifetime of service and devotion to the people of Southend for the last twenty years and Basildon before that for fourteen dedicated years.