Up to this point, I haven’t written anything about the appalling terrorist attack in Manchester. I know silence isn’t how a site about British politics should respond and I apologise to all our visitors, but my honest view is I was firstly, too sad and secondly, too mad to write anything.
On Monday night at 10:30pm I saw a ‘breaking news’ alert on my phone about an explosion at the Arena, somewhere I have been many times. For a fleeting moment I hoped it was a pyrotechnic mistake, a gas canister, anything but this. But really, I knew. The sad reality is attacks are becoming more common, and although the security level for some time has meant an attack was highly likely I don’t think anyone thought it would come so soon after the Westminster attack, or be so severe. The sick and twisted mind of someone who would target children and families at a pop concert is unfathomable. What was their thought process as they bought the rucksack days before, plotted the route, picked up the bomb, and saw the faces in the crowd before detonation and decided they didn’t care?
As the victims are named and we hear their stories, I’m unsure if this will take the predictable route of inaction that frustrates so many. The key difference may be that the terrorist (I will not use his name) was not a so-called lone wolf, acting alone, unknown and unpredictable, but part of a ‘network’. A network, allowed to exist and prosper on the streets of Manchester, a network that means troops on our streets as part of the highest security level we have.We are rightly still in the first phase of national grief, coming together and remembering those affected. But there are signs we are moving into the second investigative phase with more public determination. Yes, there is the usual blame game – what did the security services know? and the (disgraceful) distraction of leaked intelligence by the Americans, but the public is openly demanding more from our policy makers and I for one join them.
I get how things work. So many plots have been foiled because people who would want to cause us harm thought they were freer and smarter than they actually were. They could use the Internet, their phone, do reconnaissance on targets, and meet with senior figures, with no knowledge a case was being built up against them and their associates. But, the latest figures show that the number of people to monitor is heading towards the 3,000 mark. What this leaves us with is an unsustainable, reactive policy. We thank the police and security services for foiling plots but if Manchester has shown us anything it’s that we’re giving you an impossible job.
A lot of politicians, in my view, are not helping but wringing their hands and trying not to upset anyone. Two experienced MPs, who shall remain nameless, had me fuming. When asked what could be done their response amounted to ‘it’s complex’ and ‘it’s all Facebook’s fault’ – is this the best we’ve got!
The Prime Minister, although acting swiftly and competently, is yet to move into the second phase, the phase where stoicism is mixed with policy realism. The phase when we say the way we’re currently doing things is wrong, it doesn’t work, it allows networks to develop, it allows I.S recruiters to live side by side with law-abiding civilized individuals in our major cities, it allows people with intent to join or support a terrorist organization free movement across borders, it allows hate to be preached to impressionable damaged people.
Theresa May is often compared to our first female Prime Minister. This week I have no doubt she would have once again said ‘No. No. No.’ – I hope Mrs. May does the same, because the public, I believe, are behind her.