The March 22 murders in Westminster have been described as an attack on democracy and an assault on our constitution but I think that this is wildly over the top and actually elevates the actions of a pathetic failure as a human being who achieved nothing in his life except the brutal slaughter of some good and decent people and the contempt of all.
In a darkened bedroom a sad soul may gloat in the flickering light of a computer screen and the nihilists of Daesh may seek to posthumously recognise he who they choose to describe as a soldier but sane and civilised people will see him for what he was and few will mourn his passing.
I don’t see evidence of an assault on democracy. The Daily Mail is more than capable of taking care of that responsibility and in their headlong journey over the cliff and into the gutter they manage to exceed even the lowest expectations whether it be their labelling of the Law Lords as “enemies of the people” or the sniggering sweaty stupidity of a front page devoted to the legs of two women.
No. Wednesday was an attack for sure but as we whiled away the lonely hours in the Chamber none of us felt that democracy was the target. Like so many moments of crisis there were long periods of stultifying boredom interspersed with occasions of high drama – as when one of the counter terrorism officers hoofed in the door from the Members’ Lobby to the tea room corridor and sent a beautiful piece of Victorian brass door furniture flying across the Lobby.
Bizarrely the firearms officers wore what looked like mattresses on their backs – presumable as an anti-blast precaution in the same way as once we pushed mattresses against the windows of the Europa Hotel in Belfast – but also thin soled slippers that looked like something a ballet dancer would wear.
In the Chamber a couple of hundred MPs and a fair sprinkling of civilians tended to channel either the spirit of the blitz or the Lord of The Flies and panic did start to set in as all the smart phones ran out of power and things got a little tasty around the charging point in the post office. As the possessor of an excellent no-frills Nokia from the last century I had no such problems and the three month battery life for which that handy tool is noted served me well. A more entrepreneurial person might have flogged a few minutes of phone time, but socialism survives even in extremis.
After about three hours some were feeling the pangs of hunger and it was suggested that we may have to eat Tom Watson if we were kettled for any length of time. Amidst objections by vegetarians it was suggested that perhaps a raiding party could be dispatched to the tea room and all that could be scavenged be rushed back to us.
When the mounds of Tunnock’s tea cakes and prawn sandwiches appeared the noble Catherine McKinnell immediately suggested that all the visitors and staff members trapped with us should get first dibs at the food. The SNP cadre did not agree – or did not hear – and in what was described as a buffet version of the Barnett formula they fell upon the provender like a tartan wolf on the fold.
Throughout the desperate hours one figure remained calm and in control – Lindsay Hoyle, the Deputy Speaker, really rose to greatness on this afternoon and whilst there were rumours – surely base – that the Speaker was regretful that it was not he who was in the Chair when the dramatic announcement was made we were all grateful that the People’s Lindsay was on the bridge.
If his was the proof of greatness there were others who did not have a good afternoon. Their Lordships were not inconsiderably perturbed that as their House had not formally commenced business that were not entitled to their allowances – even though they were as kettled as we were, albeit in rather more luxurious surroundings.
Poor Tulip Siddiq was desperate to collect her infant child from the crèche but was not able to do so while others who should have known better tried to remonstrate with the doorkeepers and ask to be slipped through the cordon as they had important matters pertaining to the future of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to attend to.
In fact it was the men and women in tights and tailcoats who were the real heroes and heroines of the day.
By about 7pm we were back in our offices and as I climbed up to the second floor of 1 Parliament Street I encountered a wondrous smell that proved to be a vast stock of sausages, chips, eggs and beans prepared by the cooks at their own initiative with no prompting at all from management. The fact that one of these noble culinary artists is also the Staff Side TU Rep did not surprise me.
At the end of the day we had survived with a few minor inconveniences. PC Keith Palmer and the victims on Westminster Bridge were dead. That puts things into perspective and anyone who dared to moan about our experience needs to get a sense of proportion – as does the press that reported the day as if London had fallen.