It was a freakish coincidence. At almost exactly the same time as Khalid Masood began his murderous attack on the Palace of Westminster, I was whizzing by the building on the south side of the river. My taxi must have missed him by minutes. As soon as I heard the news – a BBC News text update – my first thought was of my former colleagues in the Houses of Parliament. I had long expected the attack to come. After all, the estate had been at a “severe” level of alert ever since I joined in 2005. But still, it was, despite expectations, shocking. Suddenly the people of London (as well as the many visitors) had experienced what had been visited upon Paris, Brussels, Nice.
PC Keith Palmer arrived at work on Wednesday 22 March knowing the risk he could face, but surely expecting little. The security services have foiled dozens of would-be attacks on our institutions of democracy over the last ten or fifteen years, and we owe them a debt which can never be repaid. Sadly, on that day, our luck ran out. And so did PC Palmer’s. A deranged extremist, a pathetic Poundland terrorist, to use Andrew Neil’s brilliant phrase, crashed his car, then ran towards Carriage Gates wielding two knives. Not much, you might think, to take on the might of the British state, but enough to seal the fate of PC Palmer, who was, like the vast majority of UK policemen, unarmed. Palmer was cut down, literally, and bled out on the cobbles of New Palace Yard, despite the best efforts of paramedics and, in an absolutely heroic display of bravery, of Tobias Ellwood MP, a Foreign Office minister who served in the Army and whose brother was killed in the Bali bombings of 2002. When the alarm was sounded, Tobias, whom I know a little, ran towards the danger. Not away. Towards.
(Tobias has now been rewarded with membership of the Privy Council. It is the least he deserves. I had hoped for the George Medal or similar, and I will make the appropriate representations to the honours unit in the Cabinet Office. I invite you all to do the same. https://www.gov.uk/honours/nominate-someone-in-the-uk.)
I watched the drama of Wednesday afternoon unfold on my phone as I was in Holborn. It became clear that this was a lone wolf attack, or at least that there was only one attacker present. It now transpires that Masood was using WhatsApp barely minutes before he rammed into innocent people with his car, and there have been several arrests in several areas since. So maybe he was not alone. There may have been others, co-conspirators or helpmeets. To all of them, I have only one response, and it is blunter but less articulate than Andrew Neil’s: fuck you.
The people of London, indeed, of Britain more broadly, pride themselves on their resilience. And I think that is right. We have faced threats from all sorts of lunatics and madmen, from the deluded to the positively evil, and we have stood strong, and stood up. That is a spirit – the Blitz spirit, if you want to call it that – which is needed more than ever now. I was proud beyond words that my former colleagues in Parliament took it on the chin on Wednesday last, that they dealt with horror in calm and unruffled style, that they did what the police told them, and – most importantly – they turned up again for work on Thursday morning. I used to be an Associate Serjeant at Arms in the House of Commons, so I know a little about the security arrangements. We always feared the worst but hoped for the best. And Wednesday showed those responsible at their absolutely best: calm, controlled, on top of things.
There has been a great deal of debate about how we, as a nation, should react to last Wednesday’s atrocity. Some – like Katie Hopkins – have said it is proof that we are a broken society. That multiculturalism has rendered us dysfunctional, and we cannot go on like this. I understand the feeling. There is an instinctive response to say that something has gone horribly wrong, and that it may be a genuinely existential crisis. But I am not so sure. I think the British are best (with apologies to Flanders and Swann) when our backs are to the wall. I think we will mourn the dead, and say that this will not change us; that to alter our behaviour would be the ultimate surrender, and that is something we will not countenance.
If nothing else, we owe it to PC Palmer. He put his life on the line, with tragic consequences, and had previously served his country in the Royal Artillery. If we do nothing else, we owe it to him to stand up for our society. We say to the death-loving cultists of radical Islamism: you will not beat us. You will not cow us. You may hurt us, but we will come back swinging. No pasarán!
Eliot Wilson can be found tweeting at @SybariteLooks
Read The London Economic’s recent article “Terror Attack: We are determined to go on living the same way” Click Here