No Pause from Politics in Latest London Terror Plot By Stephen Barber
Perhaps the most telling political intervention following this month's failed attempt to bomb a London Tube train came from Scottish Conservative Leader Ruth Davidson. “On the day of a terror attack where Britons were maimed, just hours after the threat level is raised, our only thoughts should be on service,” she tweeted at her colleague, the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. Johnson wrote a 4,000 word controversial article published nationally renewing the case for a hard Brexit, and in doing so, stretching the principles of collective responsibility.
There is little love lost between Davidson and Johnson. They are two popular figures from very different backgrounds and on opposite sides of the Brexit referendum campaign. But it is telling that Boris, a London MP and former Mayor, needed a member of the Scottish Parliament to remind him of the seriousness of the threat to the Capital. And it wasn't just the marginalised Foreign Secretary reasserting his relevance ahead of Prime Minister Theresa May's long trailed Florence speech on the UK/EU negotiations. This time politics did not really pause.
The usual defiant statements were of course issued. The authorities managed the terror threat levels. Press conferences were staged and journalists reported developments. But it was largely business as usual in Westminster and Whitehall. The Opposition maintained its critical stance of this weak administration, domestic debates rolled on unabated, and the government exposed its divisions (once again) over Brexit.
Indeed the biggest political story seemed to revolve around another tweet. This time President Trump's unhelpful assertion that “Another attack in London by a loser terrorist. These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!” drew a polite rebuke from London.
Now let's be clear - this was a failed plot. The devise did not properly explode, injuries suffered by the public were relatively minor and the attacker(s) fled the scene. Moreover the police and security operation appeared successful with a series of significant arrests in the following days.
But it was the fifth attempt by terrorists to kill innocent people in the UK this year, four of them in the capital. London has now lived with this terrorist threat for twelve years since the devastating Tube bombings of 2005. Then there was the slaying of soldier Lee Rigby in 2013. The number of incidents this year, in the UK and other European countries, shows that the frequency of attacks has increased.
The political reaction was muted this time because the consequences of this incident were relatively minor. There is little appetite to push the button for more authoritarian measures. We could just be getting used to these attacks or maybe Brexit represents the bigger threat to British interests.
Stephen Barber (@StephenBarberUK) is Associate Professor of Public Policy at The University of Bedfordshire and a Senior Fellow of the Global Policy Institute.