The Prime Minister’s statement in the wake of the latest terrorist atrocity to occur in London is somewhat paradoxical. Her statement praising the response of the emergency services who managed to a) quickly neutralise the threat and b) evacuate those who were injured into hospital, seems somewhat shallow.
While at the Home Office and since entering Number 10 Downing Street, she and her Government have pursued a relentless campaign to shrink the size of the Police and the Fire and Rescue Service. Her statement is little short of hubris in the face of a dynamically metastasising terrorist threat. It’s an approach that needs to change.
It is the ultimate hypocrisy to issue statements praising those who so willingly go into harm’s way as terrorists ply their murderous ideology on the streets of the United Kingdom when you have cut their capacity to respond to such events. Chillingly the recent pattern of attacks could get even worse. Just imagine the aftermath of an attack including an improvised chemical weapon? The images of sick and dying people in Syria would not appear so distant at that point. Yet this Prime Minister has been at the heart of the process of shrinking down the emergency services.
Perhaps we should take Mrs May at her word. When she says ‘enough is enough’ perhaps she might like to reflect upon the real nature of the threat that we face today. The Security Services announced, out of the blue, a matter of days after the outrage in Manchester, that actually the total number of people that they fear might be involved in terrorist-related activity is 23,000. Quite astonishing.
Missed by most of the liberal newspapers and only reported by a small number of those in the media thought to represent extreme right-wing opinions about society it is a revelation that is extraordinary. Until now the generally accepted position was that the Security Service had around 3,000 people on its watch list. A situation publicly confirmed by the Director General of MI5 before Christmas.
Sneaking such a number out into the public domain in the wake of the attack in Manchester smacks of opportunism. But it is also the ultimate confirmation of political correctness. If this has been the figure generally accepted in Government circles how come it was not talked about before twenty-two people died at a music concert in Manchester? How could anyone have justified cutting back the emergency services when the threat was an order of magnitude higher than had been stated publicly?
It also poses wider question for those in senior positions in the emergency services who accepted this wisdom and agreed to see facilities, such as those bought after events in America on 11 September, cut back. Why was this not questioned? Where senior members of the Fire and Rescue Service not told the full picture? Even from open source reporting it is not difficult to understand how the threat has been evolving?
With opinion polling regularly suggesting that sympathies in the Muslim community towards the actions of terrorists lay at around ten percent of the total population of 3 million living in the United Kingdom it hardly seems unreasonable to think that one in ten of those (i.e. 30,000) might be on the periphery of terrorist activity.
With one in one hundred (i.e. the 3,000 that the Security Services previously spoke about) being an equally obvious reasonable guess as to who had been drawn deeper into the fanatical ideology the numbers that have been announced were easy to estimate. So why the secrecy?
When terrorism manifests itself in the form of a modern-day Kamikaze knifing people at random on a Saturday night in a popular restaurant and bar area in South London society is being challenged in an entirely new way. Add to that the simple fact that terrorists are getter smarter and becoming more unpredictable in their ways of attacking people and you have the right crucible for the events that have recently occurred.
But if all this seems reasonable why were we not told of the scale of this problem before? Why was it hidden? Was this the ultimate form of political correctness? Were the public and the leaders of the emergency services deceived into believing that the threat was lower to buy their acquiescence into the process of cutting back investment in the emergency services?
Above all what does this say about the scale of radicalisation that is occurring in the United Kingdom. Is this problem what political leaders were trying to hide? If so the situation we face is much more serious. And solutions to these problems even more urgent to find. Answers to those questions need to come. As does a reversal in the decline of the budgets of the emergency services. They need to be prepared to deal with terrorism and its aftermath. The luck enjoyed for many years by the Security Services has run out. That was always going to happen. So, the burden falls on those that have to clear up the mess.
In such a situation cutting the emergency services budgets was reprehensible and clearly not addressing the reality of the threat we face today. For those prone to trumpet that the first responsibility of government is to provide security for its citizens that is a major problem.
Even trying to make a virtue out of the fact that five attacks have been prevented since Khalid Masoud unleashed his own attack on Westminster Bridge does not cut it. The Security Services were always destined to be found wanting. They simply are not able to be on top of that kind of indigenous problem. When a social movement reaches anything of this size keeping track of it in any contemporary western society is going to be difficult. Ask the French and the Germans. They will agree wholeheartedly.
So, Prime Minister you are right. Enough is enough. Something does have to change. Those in communities that prefer to turn a blind eye need to realise the implications of their actions. People die if anyone choses to desert their societal obligations. Religious obligation does not trump anyone’s right to life.
One thing that needs to change is those of a specific viewpoint who call for the end of the Prevent Programme. The one piece of information still closely guarded by government is how many success stories that have actually occurred as a result of Prevent. This programme is crucial to our future safety.
Arguably the Fire and Rescue Service needs to become more engaged in this activity. They have just the right kind of outreach into communities that can act as a conduit for information to be filtered to the Security Services. What they see, hear and perhaps even smell could save people’s lives. It is simply not acceptable for such information not to be passed through the chain.
The one thing the recent spate of attacks tells us is that to manage this problem, note the avoidance of the word defeat or any implications this challenge to our society will go away soon, it requires a whole-of-society approach. Unless everyone gets engaged the attacks will continue. Given the Fire and Rescue Services success in preventing fires surely, they should also be actively engaged in preventing another scourge upon society.
The result of that, increased attacks against Muslim communities by disaffected members of the extreme right wing will inevitably result. Such a pathway can only lead to the break-down of society. That, Prime Minister, is why things have to change and why it is vital you invest more in the emergency services. The next attack will only be worse. Its outcome could shake the very foundations on which our society is based. For a person that says she understands that the role of the Prime Minister is to provide security for her country that should be a terrifying vision.