Like all MPs caught up in last week’s attack, I was well aware that such an event could happen.
When you work in such an iconic building, you can’t dismiss the possibility. But that awareness can never prepare you for the shock of being in such close proximity to an act of mindless cruelty. Those who think it was anything else need to recall that this wasn’t just an attack on parliament – the perpetrator initially targeted people walking across Westminster Bridge, enjoying one of the world’s most popular tourist hotspots.
The truth is, in such moments you can never predict how people will respond. Yet it’s worth reflecting, now that the shock has subsided, on how well protected we are.
There’s very little that the state can do to prevent individuals carrying out attacks of this nature. But the response from staff on the parliamentary estate and the emergency services was exemplary.
Due to the professionalism of those on the front line, the attacker only managed to get around 20 yards into the parliamentary estate itself. There then followed a process in which myself and most of my colleagues in parliament were in lockdown for some six hours. But it wasn’t just MPs who went through that process.
Parliament is constantly full of people of all ages, from all walks of life, with all manner of different reasons to be there. So during the period of lockdown I found myself talking to a group of primary schoolchildren from Somerset. They were confused, tired and a bit shaken – as we all were – but a credit to their teachers, parents and school nonetheless.
In moments of adversity people are capable of showing remarkable resilience – you see bravery and strength in many different forms.
Sadly, some have already tried to turn this event into yet another opportunity to spread more hate and division. These people are part of a tiny minority – they should be ignored.
In contrast, the enormous number of messages that have poured into my office, for which I am extremely grateful, offer a comforting reminder that the vast majority understand that we have to defy those that seek to divide us with hate by coming together.
Acts of terrorism are specifically designed to paralyse with fear. But rather than paralysis, parliament resolved to carry on with the vital work of democracy.
Yes, people were frightened in the moment; yes, the act itself was despicable and cruel; and yes, we have to adapt and learn lessons to better protect ourselves.
But it’s important to remember that the attack was a failure. It failed because the thousands of ordinary people who work in parliament, including the security personnel who had just lost one of their own, dusted themselves off and went straight back to work the next day.
Ultimately, we defeat such acts by refusing to let those responsible define who we are, or how we carry ourselves, by deciding that the work must go on.