Monday, March 27, 2017

My Chronicle Column - Terrorism in Westminster

Last week's 'terrorist incident' at Westminster was a surreal experience for Members of Parliament. After driving his vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, a terrorist sought to enter the House of Commons armed with a large blade, intent on murder. For PC Keith Palmer, guarding the entrance to Parliament, and for 3 pedestrians on Westminster Bridge it was a deadly terrifying experience which ended their lives. For the families of those killed or severely injured it was a tragic event which will impact on their lives for as long as they live. 

It was absolutely right that MPs continued their work next morning, as scheduled. Terror cannot be seen to win. It’s crucial that we do not over-react, or equate protection from terrorists as increased separation from the people we represent. So we have to be cautious in how we MPs react and in what we say.

Inevitably there will be some changes in security procedures. Actually, consideration of security is ongoing, and not just in and around Westminster, as terrorist attacks evolve to take different forms. While all of us should await results of formal inquires, we can reflect on what we think might be sensible and proportionate changes.

Personally, I would not want to see the policemen protecting the entrances to Parliament to be armed. Parliament must be 'of the people' and lethal weaponry on display increases separation - even if we would become used to it. But while the policemen on guard should continue to chat amiably with visitors, I do think there's a case for a position where an armed observer is always ready to act. I also think that pavements and bike lines should be made less accessible to vehicles being used as killing machines by judicial placing of security safety posts.

Every aspect of the way we all live, as well as how our Parliament functions should be considered for sensible potential change. For example, while I believe strongly in a free press (as far as possible), I cannot help but reflect that the wall-to-wall media coverage of this terrorist outrage is exactly what the terrorist wanted. The main purpose of terrorism is to spread fear, and the most effective mechanism to achieve this is publicity. This is why parliamentarians have to be cautious in how we react and what we say.

The worst culprits of all are internet giants such as Google and Facebook, who hide behind the facade that they don't control content, just providing the platform for the content, no matter how vile. Whether it's content promoting terrorism or paedophilia, this attitude is becoming unsustainable. We must not over-react, but there are some changes that any civilised society should act on. 

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