Patrick Mercer: Terrorists must not be allowed to derail our democracy

Armed Police officers on London Bridge who helped deal with Saturday night's terrorist attack. (PA)
Armed Police officers on London Bridge who helped deal with Saturday night's terrorist attack. (PA)
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There’s a horrid, icy predictability about last night’s attacks in London. First comes the fact that the Government lowered the alert level from ‘critical’ - just like the Labour government did in 2005 after the July Tube attacks and just before another wave of bombers tried to strike two weeks later.

Now, I’m not suggesting that a high alert level would have stopped Saturday night’s ghastliness, but there was a sigh of relief when the alert level was reduced, a feeling that we’d had our attack and now it was back to ‘business as usual’. And that’s what the terrorists wanted, of course.

Why ‘of course’: because we’re in the middle of an election campaign! Those who attacked us want us to lower our guard and get back as soon as possible to the hysteria of democratic politics - all the better to throw the whole circus back into confusion with another attack. And that’s the next, familiar icicle.

Think back to Madrid in March 2004: it’s a long time ago now, but Islamist terrorists struck just before the Spanish General Election and completely overturned the expected result. The new government then withdrew Spanish troops from Iraq and won a strategic victory out of all proportion to the resources they put into the attacks and the lives they destroyed.

Be in no doubt, British Islamist terrorists are intent upon wrecking our election whilst using the media merry-go-round that surrounds it as a ready made platform to promote their twisted ideals. We’ve now had three terror attacks in three months and the situation lends itself to more in the run-up to polling day.

How can I say that? Well, it looks as though the relatively sophisticated team who mounted the Manchester bombing have now been neutralised whilst their henchmen will be lying low expecting those who have been arrested to be singing like budgies. And that’s why we’ve seen a low-tech, home made attack that requires nothing but a vehicle, some cutlery and a bit of contorted courage to pull it off and to continue their murderous march.

But we must keep this in proportion. Any death is a death too many, but this country and our cities have endured far worse at the hands of the Luftwaffe and the IRA in recent times and, indeed, the ghastly attacks of July 2005 which killed 52 and injured hundreds yet barely caused London’s heart to miss a beat.

That’s why the the hysterical cries from politicians, pundits and hacks to delay the election must not, at any cost, be heeded. Such an idea is pure nonsense and betrays a complete lack of understanding of our enemies’ mentality. Put the election off and we’ll pass a complete victory to our foes - let me spell it out: it will give them more time to mount attacks.

So, what should we do? Another lull in electioneering is sensible, showing due respect and allowing ministers to focus on their prime responsibility - the defence of the realm.

Meanwhile, the security forces and emergency services must remain on full alert (the sort of alert that’s seen London’s attackers stone dead within minutes of their assault) and the Government must not jib at footing the bill.

Then the tricky bit: the public must be told that there will be further attacks. Our best defence is for every man, woman and child to be on the lookout for suspicious behaviour and to know how to report it quickly and efficiently. But that will be tricky because political correctness and misguided liberalism will come into play whilst there is every opportunity, if the message is mishandled, to cause panic.

For instance, we must not frighten people away from the polling stations on Thursday - that would do our enemies’ job for them.

Many will scoff at these suggestions, but remember how the IRA was closed down during their 1984 attempts to bomb London and Manchester? No punches were pulled by the authorities, clear descriptions of Republicans’ deadly intentions being broadcast on radio and TV - and the terrorists found it impossible to operate. Importantly, the message was measured and sensible and people reacted maturely.

Then, no matter who wins the election, cheese-paring on the defence and security budgets must stop. We must mend whatever fences have been damaged with US intelligence agencies, invest in more cooperation with other countries’ intelligence gathering capabilities and - very simply - put more men and women on the payroll who are trained not just to pull a trigger but also to understand the constantly evolving threat to our safety.

The next few days will be crucial: security has been blasted to the forefront of the election and there will be further attacks planned.

It will be a tricky balancing act, but the future prime minister who carries the people with them and shows a proper concern for our country’s safety will deserve to be our leader.

Patrick Mercer served extensively in Northern Ireland before becoming MP for Newark, Shadow Minister for Security and Chairman of the Counter-Terrorism Sub-Committee.