7/7 came a long time after 9/11. During that time Britain and western nations have grown increasingly complacent. That complacency has been encouraged by the many talking heads who suggested that the threat of terror was exaggerated. The BBC even produced a whole series dedicated to what it called the politics of fear. The series suggested that politicians were concocting nightmarish threats with which to scare voters.
Today we woke up to the reality of the terrorist threat. At least 37 people died in the terrorist attacks on London. Sadly, the number of fatalities is certain to rise. That number is the mask to heart-rending stories of children who will never see their fathers again and others who have lost daughters, husbands and brothers. Our prayers are with those who mourn tonight.
But do we appreciate – even now – the seriousness of the terrorist threat?
The terrorists used conventional weapons today and brought London to a standstill. If they get hold of chemical or biological weapons they wouldn’t hesitate to use them. The human and economic cost of the use of such weapons would be immeasurably greater.
Are we doing everything we can to deal with that possibility?
Clearly not. The Conservative Party has long demanded that Britain should appoint a Cabinet Minister with responsibility for co-ordinating ‘Homeland Security’. Such an appointment could never provide 100% protection but it would increase preparedness amongst the public and co-ordination amongst the emergency and security services.
But the Conservative Party also needs to get much more serious about homeland security. Margaret Thatcher said that “the first duty of any Government is to safeguard its people against external aggression.” That duty has traditionally been best understood by the Conservative Party. Throughout the 1980s and ‘90s it was Tony Blair’s Labour Party that opposed the renewal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Today it sometimes seems that Conservatives and Labour have traded places. Conservatives are often seen to be finding fault with Labour’s anti-terror measures but without energetically proposing superior courses of action.
The issue of global terror will grow and grow if we do not act. Civil liberties should never be compromised unnecessarily but Conservatives should be leading calls for much tougher action against the sleeping terrorist cells that lie within our midst. We should be helping to educate the public about the dangerous link between terrorist networks and rogue nations.
Despite Tony Blair’s rhetoric about our resolve being greater than that of the terrorists we all know that the IRA bombed Britain into a deadly appeasement process. Al-Qaeda and other Islamist terrorist groups do not want to sit down and deal with us. We start hunting them down in Afghanistan, Iraq and in our own cities or they will be the winners of the war on terror. The cost of defeat would be unimaginable.