Some thoughts on the Battle of Westminster
17 Sep 2004
I have been on all the Countryside Rallies and Marches, and they have been good-humoured and well-behaved. When the countryside came to Hyde Park a few years ago, the marchers left it cleaner than when they arrived as they removed everyone else's litter as well as their own.
I was in Parliament Square on Wednesday morning talking to constituents and, at that point, it was entirely peaceful. I sat in on part of the debate in the Chamber in the afternoon - but the truth is there are no new arguments for either side to bring forward. All conceivable arguments have been run into the ground - which is why the Chamber was less than full when the protesters arrived.
What the protesters did has not advanced the cause they sought to promote. They were on the fringes of the movement, but they have wounded all those within it. You seek to persuade Parliamentarians by argument and debate; and, if you don't, you can vote them out. You don't persuade them by invading their Chamber. All our instincts are to resist pressures of this kind - which is after all why we have a Parliament.
Of course the protesters revealed serious lapses in the security of the building - though they still had to go through the checks at St Stephens Entrance, where any firearms and explosives were likely to be detected.
It is not sensible to discuss the details of security arrangements within the Palace, but MP's have a role to play in improving it. How often have we seen someone fumbling for their pass to open a door, put in our own pass and let them through - even holding the door open if they are a lady?
Does it make sense to allow protesters so close to the Palace of Westminster, giving the police so little space in which to exercise proper control? Should the BBC, who were tipped off about the protest, have passed the information on? Should Parliament be sitting when there is so much building work going on that navigation around the place is difficult even for those who thought they knew it well? Have we got the interface between the House authorities, the Metropolitan Police and the spooks right? (They all have a contribution to make)
MP's are relaxed about their own security - they want to be accessible, and they want people to come to where they work. We take risks. But we have to remember that most of the people in the Palace of Westminster are not MP's and they don't want to take risks. The building is one of the prime targets in the terrorists handbook. We may have to raise our guard.
Yes, my constituents may want to see me at Westminster and it may take them longer to get in. But most see me in the constituency, or email, telephone or write to me. And they can follow our proceedings on TV if they have the stamina. Protecting the building more effectively would not be the end of democracy as we know it.
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