On 3rd May Parliament was dissolved. Assuming all goes to plan on 8th June, the estimated date for the opening of the new Parliament will take place on 14th or even 21st June. Clearly it may be possible to bring that date forward and may indeed need to be. Under any other circumstances had Parliament been sitting, the Prime Minister would have made the announcement in Parliament regarding the national threat level to Parliament, after first consulting with their Cabinet and the leader of the Opposition. Whilst there would have been few words of challenge to such a complex decision, it would have been in principle, scrutinised by Parliament including my MP. At ‘best’ we have a month between the bomb exploding and the first realistic day for a Parliament to sit. In the meantime we have a vestiges of a Government with no mechanism for holding its members to account for their actions. Yesterday was a near normal day for me, I did not have the heart to write a blog but otherwise apart from the start of the day when we caught up with the news that had begun to unfold the evening before it was a normal day. Under normal circumstances from time to time I have the privilege of working closely with a small number of senior police officers in Sussex and I can only begin to imagine how much adrenaline was flowing in the corridors of the various offices and how many many unexpected hours of extra activity have taken place over the last 36 hours. However this is a scenario that has been planned and rehearsed and practiced on numerous occasions before. No doubt some of the elements did not go as expected, some of the right people will have been in the wrong places, but otherwise the wheels will be running smoothly, if at a different pace to normal. The drawing into civil protection of the Army will raise a different set of challenges for both the Army and the Police who are nominally in charge of their work. However such processes are also practiced and tested on a regular basis (I suspect on a much less regular basis than when the Police have to go into a different gear on their own). I recall on one occasion many years ago participating in an exercise which involved the Army and the Police and there is a noticeable change in atmosphere when the Army arrive on the premises, whatever the rules say.
I share concerns that have been expressed on twitter about seeing the Army on our Streets, particularly in the light of the 20,000 fewer police officers across the UK. Had there been more police officers, would this escalation have been needed? I also have concerns about some of the language being used by Theresa May who is not afraid to promote weapon sales to places such as Saudi Arabia or indeed launch attacks on Syria when we know that innocent men women and children are regularly being killed by our munitions in both Syria and Yemen and in the past in other nations such as Iraq and Libya. All of these actions have bee approved by Mrs May and her colleagues. An innocent life is an innocent life, whether in the city of Manchester or Sanaa.
We are in the middle of a strange period, when we have the vestiges of a Government but they are accountable to no one. We have no Parliament to raise questions or concerns with the Government or to answer to their constituents about the decisions they would have taken, had they been in a position to do so. The Parliamentary lights may be on, but there is no one at home. Many people argue that the lack of a written constitution and our whimsical way of running the country is one of the strengths of the UK. This week it is clear that something has happened that will test a part of our democratic infrastructure and in my view exposes it for its weakness, not its strength. This is at odds with the way in which Manchester residents demonstrated strength in the face of unthinkable adversity. Perhaps when the election is over and Black Rod and the Queen have played their part in the formal proceedings, that the new Government will introduce changes in the light of this very difficult moment. Let us hope for the sake of all of us, that the issue of overseas arms sales will be considered alongside the issue of combatting British terrorism, but that most of all our democratic system will get a thorough overhaul.