I have rarely been as politically disappointed as I was in mid-March when we Londoners were informed by London’s Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner that loss of life in our home city was ‘inevitable’ from an imminent terrorist attack in the Capital.
The strategy of waiting for the ‘inevitable’ attack to happen and only then choosing to act makes no sense. It cannot be the right way forward. The public have been told almost nothing about the nature of the terrorist threat. There has been virtually no formal training while the emergency services here in London remain stretched in trying to deal with the aftermath of a major incident.
Alongside his "inevitable" declaration, Britain’s most senior police officer, Sir John Stevens, issued a call for the creation of a new European anti-terrorist body but it would help us here in London if we could feel that we had a policy in this country of keeping terrorists from these shores.
The Home Secretary, David Blunkett, has spent much of the past two and a half years introducing an array of new laws onto the statute book, undermining many of this country’s traditional freedoms. Yet at the same time he seems to have lost control of the asylum system to the extent that tens of thousands of people are finding their way illegally to this country annually and simply going underground, out of sight of the security services.
Similarly, there is a need to build a proper civil contingency reaction force here in London. Currently there are only 7,000 people nationwide charged with civil contingency protection duties and London, whilst being the prime UK target, is massively short of such a capability and heavily reliant on the territorial army reservists. At the same time many in the London TA Regiment are abroad serving in Iraq.
We need to instil confidence in those who live, work and travel to London that more – much more – is being done to keep the threat posed by terrorists at bay. Vigilance should be the watchword for all Londoners, but I believe it is also vital that life goes on in this city because it is so vital to the wellbeing and economy of the country.
The government talks big about resolve in the face of terrorism, but passes the responsibility to local authorities (and to the Mayor here in London) without providing adequate financial resources for contingency, resilience and emergency planning. Make no mistake, terrorism will have won if the climate of fear paralyses people going about their every day business.
Today we need leadership from our Mayor of London such that he speaks out against terrorism in all its forms and roars his belief in favour of democracy and the rule of law, rather than simply sitting back and waiting for the ‘inevitable’.
Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations have already made it clear that Britain is high on their hit list of countries targeted for terrorist action. From the desperate fate that befell Spain I believe that Al Qaeda achieved its goal of unsettling peace loving people the world over, let alone in cities such as ours. We all can recognise that the threat to our lives is serious and imminent.
We need our leaders to take charge and show that something is being done. Following the Madrid bombings the head of Britain’s top emergency planning unit, Patrick Cunningham, warned that the UK would be unable to cope with a similar attack. What Londoners have very right to expect is the very opposite – that we do have the capacity to cope and cope well.
London’s Mayor, the Metropolitan Police commissioner and the government should be doing everything to make us vigilant but feel secure here in the Capital. Enhanced civil contingency protection is the least we should expect against the imminent danger rather than a sense of impending doom.