It was the morning after the murder of PC Keith Palmer. As I arrived in Parliament at 7AM, I spoke to the police officer on duty at Chancellor's Gate. “Did you know Keith?” I asked. “I was on duty with him yesterday morning,” he said with a distinct tear in his eye. “Mind how you go now, Sir.” The Prime Minister was absolutely right in her magnificent statement later that morning. (As was Margaret Thatcher when she addressed the Party Conference the morning after the Brighton Bomb in 1984). If we allow terrorist outrages to interfere with our everyday business, then we are letting them win.
I had been having a drink on the Terrace of the House of Commons with Brinkworth farming family, the Collingbornes a few moments before the murderer hit the pedestrians 100 yards away on Westminster Bridge. Thankfully, we had moved just inside to the Terrace Cafeteria and were just sitting down to a plate of British beef when a civilian looking policeman burst in - body armour and helmet, balaclava and bristling radios and weapons making him look pretty terrifying. He was screaming and shouting at us to follow him (only slightly hampered by trying to go out the ‘In’ door which stubbornly refused to budge until I got my fingers around it). All six of us, including young Bede, who at 8 years old was as cool as a cucumber, filed quietly up to Central Lobby, where, together with 500 or so other random people we spent the next 3 hours or so standing up on the hard marble floors.
There was no official announcement of what was going on as the special forces policemen rushed in and out brandishing their weapons, and changing their minds about how to handle this crowd of MPs, peers, staff and visitors. We kept ourselves up to date with events outside on our mobile phones. But of course no-one knew whether or not this might have been a part of a more concerted Mumbai-style attack perhaps involving several gunmen, some quite possibly inside the building. We kept pretty calm, but some of us understood the risks and worries. We were then evacuated in single file down to Westminster Hall to join a good few hundred others, yet more having been evacuated to the Abbey. Then about 8PM, or 5 and a half hours after the terrible incident we were allowed to return to our rooms. I was glad to find that all of my team were fit and well, despite my Private Secretary, Amy, having heard the shots directly outside our office window, and my Chief of Staff, Adam, having witnessed the immediate aftermath. They did not have to come into the office the next morning, nor did Duncan. But they were at their desks on time and in good humour. I salute their resolution.
There is something particularly wicked, and saddening about the killing of a policeman doing his duty. But returning to duty afterwards - as we then all did, and as Keith’s colleague on my way in that morning led by example in doing - is absolutely the right thing to do. We will defeat these wicked people. We defeated the IRA, and despite his apparent conversion in recent years, I have to say that I shed no tears at the death of convicted terrorist Martin McGuinness’s funeral the following morning.