On the 22nd of March our democracy was the target of terror, but we will prevail.
On Wednesday afternoon the division bell on the Parliamentary estate sounded so I made my way from my office on foot from the new wing of the building to the “Palace of Westminster”- the historic hub of the mother of Parliaments- to vote. To do so you cross a corridor linking the two parts which to its right looks onto Carriage Gates, the vehicle entrance where the public also come through security.
I was following a large number of MPs whose attention was diverted to what looked to be a fracas ongoing to the right. At first we thought it was a rowdy demonstration as is quite standard, but then I heard shouts of “get down!”, “get out of the way!” and then bang-bang-bang-bang four gunshots diagonally in front to the right of me. I diverted to the left and through a door I’d never been through that took me up a staircase to the lobby to vote. Upstairs there was the usual air of calm prevailing, I obediently cast my vote with the shots ringing in my ears. Many were unaware but word was spreading. After the voting process finished the doors either side of the lobbies and chamber were sealed and the House adjourned due to what we were told by the Leader of the House was a “serious incident”. We were told to stay where we were.
The next 5 hours MPs were in “lockdown”. A tv was located in the ante room off the chamber where the doorkeepers keep carafes of water for frontbench speakers as our channel of contact with the outside world. MPs spoke to reassure loved ones. I’d left my mobile behind, I had to phone my office to check on my staff from Keith Vaz’s iphone. It’s moments like this that crossparty alliances are forged as the divisions of Labour and Tory dissolve – we really are all in it together.
We were eventually released first to our offices then through an alternative entrance at the House of Lords end of the building as our normal exit was roped off as a crime scene. With Westminster and surrounding streets blocked off it took longer to get back to Ealing than usual but I was back by 9pm. This minor inconvenience is nothing in the wider context of what happened.
My heart goes out to the families of the innocent people who lost their lives in this senseless attack on Parliament and the surrounding area which was indiscriminate, maiming people who did nothing other than be on Westminster Bridge. In particular I salute PC Keith Palmer who put himself in harm's way to keep all those thousands of people who work on the parliamentary estate safe. The Parliamentary police officers are true professionals, heroes who ran towards danger when we ran away from it.
The next day the House sat as normal, beginning at 9.30am. In her statement the Prime Minister stressed the values of Britishness and praised London as the greatest city on earth. I am proud to be a London MP. This great city of which Ealing, Acton and Chiswick are key constituent parts is one where we must not allow those who will seek to exploit this for political aims to succeed.
It is important that we continue undeterred. The loss of life is tragic. Terror struck the Mother of Parliaments but the attacker did not gain access. I’m incredibly privileged to participate daily in democracy at Westminster and it’s important that those who attack those values of tolerance, where people of all faiths and none are welcome, will not win.