A couple of weeks ago, I wrote in this column about the statue that has been erected on the Embankment outside the Ministry of Defence to honour those who served their country in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I began that article by referring to the view out of my office window at the House of Commons, from which I can see along the Embankment towards Westminster Bridge and Speaker’s House.
At the moment when I was writing that article, there was no traffic because the roads had been closed to enable the Queen to unveil the statue.
As I write this article, I am sitting in the same place, looking at the same view. Twenty-four hours ago, the Embankment and Westminster Bridge were once again empty of the normal traffic and the normal crowds of pedestrians – for the ghoulish reason that a group of pedestrians had been mown down mercilessly on the bridge by an ideologically motivated maniac who subsequently entered the grounds of the House of Commons and murdered a policeman before being shot by another policeman.
I am very glad to say that, as I look out of the window now, the whole scene has been restored to normality; and the House of Commons is proceeding with its business in the ordinary way following the statements that were made in the Chamber at the opening of business.
This is exactly as it should be. The best answer to terrorism, by far, is to continue with ordinary life – thereby showing that those who seek to disrupt our institutions and our liberal democratic society have failed and will continue to fail in their deplorable endeavour.
This was, indeed, the message that came across loud and clear from all sides of the House of Commons when it met in the morning after the events of the afternoon before.
It was reassuring to see the unity of purpose across the Chamber. Despite the political differences that divide us, we are all determined to uphold the principles of freedom, tolerance and the rule of law that have characterised our society for so long – and we all recognise that this entails maintaining business as usual in the face of attacks of this kind, making neither any concessions nor any sudden or intolerant responses.
It was interesting to see that this same mood had already established itself when the great majority of MPs were locked into the Chamber of the House of Commons immediately following the attack.
It was, of course, a somewhat surreal experience to sit there, surrounded by colleagues, all somewhat uncertain whether a further and perhaps much larger attack would be heading our way. Those of us who had lived through experiences like the Brighton Bomb were certainly aware of the fragility of buildings and of the damage that can be caused by well-planned demolition.
But, as it became apparent that the attack was likely to have been a single incident, and as the ghastly details of what had happened to those who had suffered from it gradually filtered through to us, there was a clear and widespread understanding that a calm and settled attitude of utter defiance and a complete refusal to be bullied into over-reaction were the right responses under the circumstances.