In response to last week’s atrocity in Manchester, the Prime Minister has deployed British soldiers to the streets.
Having thousands of military personnel leave their barracks and take up residence on British streets has been a shock to the system for this country. While other nations are used to the sight of armed soldiers in their capital, at large venues, or outside their parliaments, this is a first for Britain. This is a country, after all, that takes great pride in the fact its police officers do not carry side-arms with them and are armed only with a metal stick.
In France, large scale military postings have become a depressingly common sight since the country was placed into a state of emergency in the wake of the terrorist attacks in November 2015. Sadly for the French people, this does not look likely to change any time soon.
At the moment, for many British people, seeing our soldiers patrolling around the landmarks of London is a novelty, a photo opportunity if you will. But the reasons behind this historic deployment of troops onto British soil is far from a novelty; there is an imminent danger in this country, and it appears the police themselves have lost confidence in their ability to protect the public.
The presence of up to 3,800 heavily armed soldiers on our streets is a clear indicator of the very real danger that ordinary people in this country have to face. For the first time in a decade, our terrorist threat level sits at critical. This, combined with the presence of troops in our capital, is a chilling reminder of the reality of the modern world.
And, of course, there is another factor about the timing of this deployment that cannot be ignored: our government is having to send troops onto the streets of Britain in the midst of a general election campaign. Regardless of the necessity of this and the reasons behind it, that is an unsettling step for British democracy.
Inevitably this action, and its unfortunate timing, has led some people to sceptically accuse Theresa May of opportunistically ramping up the threat level, and the accompanying state of public anxiety, to better place her to take the general election victory.
That is simply stupidity.
This was not a call originating from Mrs May; it was an operational decision taken by security chiefs whose primary concern is not with politics, but with the security of this country and its populace. Theresa May made a decision to agree with and approve of this move; she did not formulate this plan for her own ends. This was a drastic and unprecedented move that she had no choice but to make, and it was based on far more secret intelligence that these sceptical commentators will ever understand or comprehend.
Yet you don’t have to believe in questionable motives or stupid conspiracies to worry about this development, and to hope that it does not last for much longer. The ‘critical’ periods following such an atrocity normally last a few days as the security services work together to catch and dismantle terrorist cell and networks. The troops, therefore, may simply become the novelty some people are seeing them as, and some sense of normality can soon return to our streets.
This certainly needs to be the hope of every British individual. We do not want to live under this heightened martial state for long enough that it becomes our status quo, as we have sadly seen happen in France. And we certainly have to hope that there are no troops on UK streets on the 8th of June. If that happens, then this will be an election under siege. If that happens, the very democracy these terrorists are fighting against will be under siege.
The horror that was unleashed in Manchester was of such a depraved depth we are still, as a nation, attempting to come to terms with it. The deliberate slaughter of children has reignited the anger of people who had thought they were becoming cold to the nihilism of these cowardly murderers. Yet we must never – and I’m confident we will never – allow it to besiege our democracy. Our freedoms and values will not be bowed by these attacks. We are all still standing, and we are stronger and more united than ever.
If the worst happens and we must go to a ballot under the gaze of armed soldiers, then these pathetic men and women who deem it their duty to bring down our freedom and democracy will claim a victory. They will see it as the crumbling of our democratic freedoms.
So let us all, as one, hope that the soldiers’ work is done by the 8th of June, so that we can all go to a booth and exercise our freedom and send a big two fingered salute to any coward who wishes to extinguish our flames of democracy.