The official security threat level might have been raised to ‘critical’ in the past week, but the political temperature has moved in the opposite direction, arriving back to ‘normal’ with a thud. What a difference a week and sympathetic communication can make to the hearts and minds of Britons.
We live in strange times when bomb-laden Mercs and flaming four-wheel drives are the news items that pass with little more than a raised eyebrow.
As graffiti-tagged concrete barricades go up to create an oddly labeled ‘ring of steel’ around the UK’s key infrastructure, the populace is less perturbed than the digital TV news hounds and the Metropolitan Police. My neighbours remind me of the general mood: ‘We kind of missed it all, cos we had a big weekend. And I feel safe because there’s so much security. So I guess I’ll just keep on living with that false sense of security.’
Haymarket where one of the car bombs was. Image license
Formula One paced life doesn’t stop here for anything it seems, especially when almost everyone expected something like this to happen. Parked outside a bar I’d booked for weekend drinks, just a block from my office, the second car bomb was a peripheral issue to my social plans. It simply didn’t occur to me that drinks should be cancelled, or even to leave my office and gawk at the crime scene during my lunch hour.
That said, Baghdad has clearly come to town. Tony Blair might have moved out of Downing Street and into ‘Fortress Connaught Square,’ but his absence hasn’t dulled the maniacal enthusiasm of would-be bombers. And while Piccadilly Circus with its Eros statue and its dreamy neon signs escaped this time, Central London is full of other icons that make likely targets in this homemade campaign.
According to new PM Gordon Brown, the threat is here to stay. ‘We’re in the business of dealing with a long-term threat … one that is unrelated in detail to one specific point of conflict in the world.’ But if terrorism looms large over the new Cabinet, it is not fazing them.
Jacqui Smith, the new Home Secretary, hit her stride immediately. In her first morning on the job she gazumped the convention of not talking about Cobra, the UK’s top level security committee, by doorstopping surprised journalists (who hoped only for pictures) and astutely reassuring the nation as she walked without minders into her first Cobra meeting.
Smith’s response won plaudits even from her Conservative opponents, as well as from Liberty, the steadfast but impossible to please civil liberties group. Sworn enemies Brown and new Scottish First Minister and Leader of the (Left-wing) Scottish Nationalist Party Alex Salmond, were also forced together in the national interest.
As weekend rolled on, the nation rallied and yawned in equal measure. The Changing of the Guard may have been cancelled, but far from the magnetic force of 9/11 and 7/7 which drew everyone to their TV screens, last week’s events left us channel surfing Wimbledon and the Diana Concert all weekend long. Labour’s approval ratings went up and families went shopping at rainy midsummer sales.
While the disappearance in Portugal of Madeleine McCann remained headline news for three weeks, not even news that it may be middle class doctors behind the attempted attacks in London and Glasgow has made it into a third day. Indeed, the financial markets didn’t move Friday or Monday, except to inch upwards.
Instead, with Glasgow Airport aflame, it is the cult figure of John Smeaton or ‘British Airport’s answer to Jack Bauer’ who is set to last in the people’s imaginations. Smeaton, a chain-smoking, straight talking baggage supervisor, is now the subject of fan sites and pint-buying campaigns after he tackled the flaming Glasgow airport bomber to the ground. Truly a symbol of the reality TV age.
Smeaton aside, in the UK, at least, terrorism seems to be old news. And so the collective wisdom of the crowd may succeed where security forces offer no guarantee by starving these psychopaths of the oxygen of publicity and attention that they crave.
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