For some years now the term “Westminster bubble” has been a lazy term of abuse by those on the Left and Right, from populists, preachers and pariahs across the political spectrum. Some of the public contempt was deserved, at least by some, and it was certainly exploited by wannabees, bedsit nerds and outsiders, from UKIP upwards.
But during the mass lock-downs in the immediate aftermath of the terror attack on the Commons, I was proud to work within its precincts. Not just because of the obvious bravery of the police, paramedics and public sector workers involved, but also for the stoicism and calmness of the politicians who were perhaps the main targets.
And there is the institution itself. People easily forget that it was Parliament which, often reluctantly, it is true, abolished slavery, achieved universal suffrage, created the NHS and the welfare state, introduced the minimum wage and comprehensive education, race relations legislation and workplace rights, penal reform and the abolition of draconian laws covering homosexuality …the list goes on and on.
After the attack by fanatic Khalid Masood, who appears to have been “radicalised” relatively recently, the day-to-day business of Parliament simply went on. Debates and statements due to be delivered during the initial lockdown were merely delayed. And, crucially, there was no appetite for crackdowns against the wider Muslim community. Simply carrying on was in itself an act of defiance mixed with tolerance and an acceptance of current realities. As commentator Philip Collins put it: “Unless we all consent to live in a security cage there are no intelligence operations, no local resilience forums or Cabinet Office guidelines that can guarantee that a fantasist drunk on ideology will not drive a car into pedestrians in the name of God knows what.”
There is a new terminology of terrorism – soft targets, low-tech weaponry, indoctrination – that has become daily more relevant since Isis began losing its ground battles, its strategy of creating a caliphate. What underpins it, however, is hatred. As Edmund Burke wrote: “By hating vices too much, they come to love men too little.”
The Left needs to learn some hard lessons about the reality of multi-culturism and the tensions involved. Of course, it is true that out of two million British Muslims, maybe only a few hundred actively preach hate, but attitudes have to change across all sorts of racial and cultural divides. For the liberally-minded, there are some very uncomfortable attitudes indeed within the Muslim community. A Channel 4 survey two years ago found that more than half believe that homosexuality should be illegal, two-fifths thought that wives should always defer to their husbands, and one in 20 support public execution by stoning for adultery.
Former Tory Cabinet minister Baroness Warsi, in her recently-published, almost unreadable polemic, urges more understanding in all communities and tells fellow Muslims: “Cohesion is a two-way dance, we must accommodate and compromise as we expect others to do.” That means having no truck with racism or the knee-jerk reactions of the Tory press pack; it also means no moves towards sharia law in segregated communities, and no more excuses from apologists on the Left. Both racial and sectarian intolerance are two sides of the same card.
Which brings us to the ongoing stramash about the ‘Great Reform Bill’ signed by Theresa May to deliver Brexit in two years. While it is true that UKIP and some Tory Right-wingers played the race hate card during last year’s referendum, it is also true that a clear majority voted Out. Many, like this columnist, did so for old-fashioned socialist reasons, with little regard to the immigration issue. It is also true that the liberal elite didn’t recognise the complaints of the remaining, industrial and rural, working class that big business rather likes a steady stream of low-paid Eastern European immigrants permanently on tap.
The Remainers are threatening a guerrilla war in both Houses on the thousand or so bits of legislation that need to be unravelled. But their main agenda is to force a rethink. If you don’t like the outcome of an election, call another one. If that happens, the ‘Westminster bubble’ tag may well be justified.