• Attack on Democracy

    Mid Devon Advertiser
    31 March 2017

    Last Wednesday is a day I will not forget. One of my roles in Government is to ensure that we maintain our majority through what is known as ‘Pairing’. Basically, any Conservative MP who wishes to absent themselves from Parliament when there may be votes needs my permission to do so. I enter into private agreements with the opposition parties to ‘Pair’ so that for some of our MPs who will be away there is an opposition member who will also be absent. This allows me to maintain our majority whilst permitting the Foreign Secretary to travel to Washington or the Home Secretary to be in Manchester. With a wafer-thin majority and occasional unauthorised absences on our side, winning votes is not a foregone conclusion. So, back to the commons last Wednesday. The division bell has just sounded - its 2:35pm. Having ensured that our Tellers are in place alongside the Speaker’s Chair I go to the main entrance to the No Lobby and acknowledge our MPs as they arrive to vote. Then something starts to bother me. Our numbers look thin – we were around 6 minutes into the 8 allowed for members to get into the Lobby but it just felt that there were not enough of us coming through to win. I started to wonder if, for some reason, this time I had got it wrong. I had often had nervous divisions but perhaps this was going to be my first loss. Then Ben Wallace the security minister sought me out – “there have been shots outside,” he says. Did I need him to vote or could he go? I gave him the option and he quickly voted before heading off. I updated the Chief Whip, voted and then went to the Chair to discuss what was going on. Within minutes the vote was cancelled and the Chamber ‘locked down’ so that no one could leave. The thin numbers that had momentarily spooked me had resulted from other colleagues being ‘locked down’ elsewhere. Unknown to us at that moment, a brave policeman, Keith Palmer had been brutally murdered - others lay dead or dying on Westminster Bridge. The House adjourned. Still locked in the Chamber, the following five hours fell slow. News filtered around via internet newsfeeds. Announcements were made by the Leader of the House, The Deputy Speaker, security people. There was speculation that perhaps the attacker was not alone - that there might be others nearby. Outside the Chamber armed police were clearing a thousand rooms. There was certainly no panic where I was or undue alarm. The mood was quiet, supportive, perhaps thoughtful. There will be many lessons to learn regarding the security of our Parliament but the greatest of them, as we all knew, as the moments ticked, inside the very cradle of our democracy, was the same as it will be always and forever – that we carry on still – that the terrorist might know – that he will never win.