Cameron Has Set the Right Example over Extravagant Security; by Dispensing with Unnecessary Levels of Protection, the Prime Minister Has Sent a Clear Message to Police

The Evening Standard (London, England), May 18, 2010 | Go to article overview

Cameron Has Set the Right Example over Extravagant Security; by Dispensing with Unnecessary Levels of Protection, the Prime Minister Has Sent a Clear Message to Police


Byline: Simon Jenkins

WHEN Tony Blair arrived outside No 10 Downing Street in 1997, he stood by a front door flanked with two armed policemen heavy with stab vests. He was at no conceivable risk of assassination. The street was jammed with security. The presence of policemen was pure image. New Labour, new security obsession.

Last week the Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to rid his motorcades of the Soviet-style paraphernalia of sharpshooters, screaming outriders and cleared traffic lanes that characterised Blair's movement around his capital. To Cameron they were "ostentation" and an "unnecessary extravagance". In so far as possible, he wants to live with a public semblance of normality.

I was one of thousands who witnessed the Blairs racing through London traffic jams attended by wailing sirens like a member of the Soviet Politburo. The cavalcade embodied his and Gordon Brown's detachment from real life. Cameron is to be congratulated for taking control of his own life and facing down the security establishment.

The reaction of that establishment was typical. The Metropolitan Police and its elite club, the Special Support Group, howled with outrage. They leaked that Cameron was being "reckless" in dispensing with his outriders. The former Scotland Yard assistant commissioner, Andy Hayman, protested that the outriders "are not there to smooth his passage through congested streets but to prevent his car from becoming a sitting target for an attacker. The motorcycle cops are not just outriders but armed, highly trained protection officers."

Already Cameron has been forced to stop cycling and hide himself and his family inside a bullet-proof, bombproof car, his every movement covered by bodyguards. Apparently that is not enough. The same goes for Nick Clegg, though the chief threat to him appears to come from irate Liberal Democrats. Both will doubtless be forced to accept a second car packed with armed officers.

The police like to say that mere laymen cannot possibly comprehend the fiendish ingenuity of the modern terrorist.

But then they could not prevent the rocket assault on Downing Street in 1991. Nor could the hundreds of weapons deployed in central London stop the London Transport bombs of July 2005.

Police sources declare that Cameron is to be briefed on the terrible threats facing him from al Qaeda, the Real IRA and other dissident groups. This keeps the threat level at a perpetually paranoid "severe" -- meaning that a terrorist attack "is only a matter of time". This has been used to justify what any visitor to Westminster might think is the citadel of a police state.

Paddy wagons, minibuses, lines of police cars and roaming platoons of armed officers are now polluting the pavements of the capital. The oncebrave mother of parliaments faces the world with a phalanx of men with machine guns, weapons they could not conceivably fire without risking carnage. …

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