We haven't, and we won't.
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake up in the day to find it was vanity, but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible." T.E. Lawrence; Seven Pillars of Wisdom
We have heard the 'Manchester Spirit,' quoted a great deal this week. I must admit, I'd never heard of it before. I last visited Manchester a couple of years ago. While there I wrote an irreverent and tongue-in-cheek blog post but decided not to publish it because it was somewhat disparaging about a place that I do have a degree of affection for. Here is an extract of what I wrote,.
"I spent a couple of days in Manchester, (pronounced "Manchest-Orr"), this week. Wednesday was apparently the hottest day of the year; it rained all day in Manchester. It is in fact many years since I last visited and the place if anything has become more glum than ever it previously was despite its attempts to sell itself as being “cool.”.
Manchester abounds with people who look either like Liam Gallagher or as if they have just walked out of a young offenders institution, (I think many have). The rest give the appearance first thing in the morning of having done half a row of optics in three pubs the night before and there is barely a flicker of enthusiasm anywhere except in the electric trams hurtling back and fore. An early near miss with the Eccles tram on Market Street in fact alerted me to this new urban threat..
I quickly picked up on the idiosyncrasies of the locals who mostly say "eye-yoh" instead of hello and "c-yoh lateoh" instead of goodbye. An additional linguistic hindrance is the inability of the populous to pronounce the word car correctly, instead sounding like a deranged and demented parrot being put through a wringer. Most of the girls appear with the same hairstyles, the same clothes and many are rumoured to all have the same husband. Husband by the way is loosely defined as someone who is "avin-yoh" and who need not actually be married "2-yoh" to qualify for this role. Most Mancunians tend to like spending their annual holiday in places like "ayanap-oh" drinking lots of "larg-oh." .
While there I bought a birthday present in Selfridges only to find on return home that the security tag was still in place. I suppose the shop assistants must not be in the habit of having to remove many. I wasn’t an early fan of the City Mayor idea but Boris has turned me. Manchester badly needs a personality to pull it together and help it rediscover it’s soul which is deeper and richer than the sum of a bunch of night clubs and the BBC, dragged kicking and screaming to Salford by the last government.".
How terrible then that a night of indescribable pain and suffering brought to bear on the most innocent of innocents by a barbaric murderer should be the catalyst for the deep and iridescent soul of the City to find itself and shine through. As was the case after the Arndale Centre bombing by the Provisionals, Manchester is more united and in a better place as a community but at a cost which is obviously not worth paying. The many acts of individual and collective kindness in the immediate aftermath, and since the tragedy, are a fine example of people pulling together in the worst of times. From taxi drivers to local residents and passers-by, hoteliers and business owners who threw their doors open to the distressed and disorientated, to the homeless man who rushed in to give first aid to casualties. All are Samaritans and an example to the rest of us. (I would not though, recommend removing nails, glass and shrapnel from the wounded as the well meaning homeless fellow did; just leave it there for skilled surgeons to deal with)..
This was the incident when our luck ran out. A 'big one,' has been expected for a long time, ever since 7/7 in fact. That it happened in Manchester, a city with the resources and skill-sets to deal with a major incident is better than it happening in, for example, a medium sized city or market town. The grievous casualty list could have been worse had the perpetrator entered the arena itself. Instead, he detonated the device, or it accidentally detonated, in the waiting area, just before the security entry point. This is similar to the Brussels Airport bombing where the terrorists detonated the device in the soft area before security. This has implications for security planners and for the rest of us. At a minimum, we can expect further disruption, queues and waiting when entering any crowded events for the foreseeable future.
The challenge for the Security Services seems overwhelming. Some have been quick to criticise them this week but when we learn that five terror plots have been disrupted in just the last two months and that there are 500+ active investigations drawn from a pool of 3,000 suspects with a further 23,000+ 'subjects of interest,' the scale of the task at hand becomes clearer. When one considers it takes in excess of 20 operators to do covert surveillance properly on just one target the size of the challenge is self evident. Remember too that for some of our Security Service personnel their lives are at constant risk. They live and operate in the dark shadows to keep the rest of us safe. Most of their stories will never be told. Perhaps some stories will see the light in forty or fifty years time, (as was the case with Bletchley Park), but most secrets will stay secret. They do what they do out of a sense of duty and responsibility to do the right thing. Collectively, we ought to be just a little more appreciative and thankful for their service, sacrifice and courage.
Investigations will be following many strands but a priority will be to determine if the bomber manufactured the device himself or if there is a bomb maker on the loose. Making a bomb is not difficult. The ingredients for TATP for example, which was used in the 7/7, Brussels and Paris attacks, (and is rumoured to have been used in Manchester), are easily found in most household kitchens and ladies make-up bags. An electrical circuit, initiator and battery complete the package. The biggest hurdle for the would be terrorist is in making the decision to commit to the act. A separate specialist bomb maker however, is a game changer because it suggests that bomb making may evolve in sophistication. The good thing about DIY bombers blowing themselves up is that the evolution stops there. While acts of terror perpetrated by 'lone wolf,' individuals are difficult to predict, terrorist cells give the security services a slightly better opportunity to penetrate them. However, the numbers of jihadists out there are a concern given, if they ever got together in numbers, our problems would grow exponentially. In Belfast in the early seventies I wouldn't have thought there were not many more than 50 or 60 PIRA 'volunteers,' with perhaps 300 'runners,' behind them. At the height of the Troubles, they tied up 16,000 soldiers in Belfast alone.
So, where does this leave us?.
The incident was followed by a well worn and choreographed sequence of announcements, pronouncements and platitudes designed to arrest any sense of public panic and foreboding and to encourage us to be nice to one another whilst remaining alert for anything untoward or unusual happening around us. Given the aim of the terrorist is to murder and maim, to instil fear and to create divisions in society by their monstrous acts, the public script is fine in as far as it goes. I fear though, that as a society, we are some way from the moment of 'collective recognition,' when we become more demanding and questioning of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. .
If seventy-five of our young and unprotected citizens being shredded by high velocity 'shipyard confetti,' isn't a wake up call then it is worrying to think what kind of escalation will bring about a meaningful change in our efforts to confront home grown terrorists. Were it not so distressing for the families I sometimes think some of the images of the aftermath of a bombing should be published to bring some people to their senses. President Trump was eviscerated by social media when he introduced a travel ban to the US from some countries yet we allow the free movement of 'persons of interest,' between the Middle East and the UK. The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, returned to the UK from Libya via Turkey just four days before the attack. TPIM's, (Prevention and Investigation Measures), should be strengthened and Control Orders, which were pushed back by the then Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in 2011 should be reinstated. Personally, I would drag Nick Clegg by the collar around all the mortuaries in Manchester and make him apologise to the families of the victims.
The 'Prevent,' strategy also does not deserve all the criticism which has been thrown at it. It requires more resource and probably, some more imaginative and creative thinking but it is a start. The war against Jihadists will be with us for 100 years. We are in the early days of this conflict, at least domestically. As a society we by and large rub along together reasonably well given the enormity of change which has been forced upon the natural population in the last two generations. Certainly, we have problems but less so than some of our European neighbours who are seemingly culturally less well equipped to deal with the challenge. We are after all, despite what some may believe, something of a bastard nation in terms of our historical DNA.
Op Temperer, which saw soldiers deployed to release police officers for other duties was a not unreasonable thing to do for public reassurance and PR but nonetheless, leaves informed individuals with a slight sense of unease. There is no possible way that an armed 19 year old soldier will react with anything like the degree of professionalism, in the public domain, that one would expect from a trained police firearms officer, (many of whom are anyway, ex Army and are trained to a very specific and high degree of training for those very difficult environments and situations). That doesn't mean that soldiers cannot do the task. It means they have to be trained for it rather than for general warfare. In a previous post in 2015 I criticised the low numbers of available trained armed police officers. We need more. Here is what I suggested,
"The basis of national confidence in our response rests on 22 SAS. Even with a sub unit based in London though, they can’t be everywhere. Even if they could be within 45 mins of every town in England, 45 mins is too long in these situations. I think the Home Secretary and Chief Constables have no choice but to radically upgrade fire arms training and arming of police officers across the UK. To send an ordinary unarmed beat officer into one of these situations will have only one outcome. In mitigation, it is very difficult to acquire and move around automatic weapons in the UK. The police are very skilled at interdicting plots before they get to maturity and especially when working with GCHQ, 5 and 6 it is not easy for terrorists to plan and execute operations. It isn’t impossible though. Cuts in the numbers of police officers should be suspended immediately. Military support should not be considered by the COBRA committee after a bad thing happens but the committee should start planning on that basis now.
What does that mean? I would nominate two infantry battalions or Marine Commandos for Home Defence, one operational the other resting and training on 4 week rotations and rotate the battalions with others every 12 months. The operational battalion would be dispersed in platoon sized sub units across the UK, each with a serving or retired SAS or SBS instructor with a section on short notice to move 24 hrs a day. Their aim would be simple; in the event of a terrorist attack their task is to rapidly deploy and kill the terrorist. I would rebuild the old Northern Ireland ‘Tin City,’ to suit current scenarios, ie shopping malls, theatres, spaces for large groups and train both police and soldiers relentlessly. This is not a game, when this new enemy get in their stride the casualty list climbs by scores every minute. They do not negotiate. Speed and aggression are paramount. Our current intelligence and Special Forces based response is not commensurate with the threat. Many would recoil at the inclusion of military assets as part of normal support to the police but these are not normal times and this is no ordinary enemy. The safety and well-being of ordinary citizens is much more important that what column writers in the Guardian think. Anyone thinking that such a plan is excessive may wish to consider how we would deal with a four man fire group letting rip at the Metro Centre in Gateshead two weeks before Christmas. Thought so. I’d mostly be calling in the Commanding Officers for their briefings right now."
Street poets and liberals who think a declaration of love and some hugs are going to keep our children safe are misguided, delusional or are just barking mad. The bad people are amongst us and are intent on bringing us harm. We need to ramp up the resources we devote to anti terrorism and do so with the same unfettered determination which the US did with their creation of Homeland Security after 9/11. Any talk or debate with an air of 'we will not let them change our way of life,' is simply detached from reality. Here's a newsflash, life changed forever on Monday evening in Manchester. The quicker we get with the programme the fewer victims we will be burying. Moreover, and despite the efforts of the good people who stood up when they were needed on Monday, Manchester and it's new Mayor need to admit that the Manchester area is a key hub in the UK for Jihadist sympathisers and activists. It has a problem and it needs to first admit it, then deal with it.
Finally, for individuals going about their normal daily routine, I do think this old post , from which the clip above comes, about situational awareness and personal security is worth revisiting for those who have a care.
The Bank Holiday weekend has delivered a welcome respite for most from the General Election campaign which actually, is delivering all that was expected with few surprises. The Conservatives are pitching the ‘strong and stable,’ script with tedious monotony and downplaying their strong lead lest the volatile electorate begin to sniff some trace of a sense of entitlement from them. Labour continue to veer off in so many directions it is difficult to keep up, especially so for the blundering idiot charged with leading them over the cliff which he will achieve with almost no effort at all, (although I’m convinced he won’t make it to the end of the campaign and suspect he’ll have a breakdown long before the end of May). The LibDems have got themselves in a right old tizzy with their leader, Tim Farron, (he’s the one that looks like a Spitting Image puppet thats been left in direct sunlight for too long), seemingly unsure of where he stands on the gay sex thing and he now tells us he’s ‘a bit of a Eurosceptic.’ Right on Timmy boy. All those supporters who knit their own clothes and cut their own hair will have been pulling it out in clumps over the weekend. The SNP meanwhile are still being mean about the English and deflecting criticism about education in Scotland like true Dodgeball champions while UKIP appear to have spontaneously combusted without many people having noticed. Across the main parties there is an unseemly rush to the exits with shouts of ‘Carpe Diem,’ from a raft of special political advisors and party apparatchiks, anxious to grab a safe seat from retiring members of Parliament and the political press can’t believe their luck that Westminster just keeps on giving with their workload brimming over with yet another election.
So far so good.
There is change though. Some of it subtle enough to be missed, or ignored by the mainstream. The first concerns Corbyn, which I will deal with in this post. There has been a gentle hidden hand on the tiller attempting to alter the narrative where Corbyn's relationship with Sinn Fein and the Provisional IRA is concerned. The historical canvas is being recoloured to suggest that during all the years that Corbyn was involved with, and supported PIRA, he did so in pursuit and attainment of peace. This is facile nonsense. Corbyn voted against the peace process and with it the Anglo Irish agreement. This is the man who hosted Sinn Fein in the Houses of Parliament just weeks after the Brighton bombing. The same man who was a mouthpiece for the Republican pressure group in the UK, Troops Out. Corbyn regularly attended and spoke at commemorations for terrorists in the eighties and was general secretary of the left wing publication Labour Briefing,’ which supported PIRA atrocities and backed the Brighton bombing which lets remind ourselves, killed five and maimed 31. While Corbyn was honouring dead PIRA terrorists, PIRA ‘prisoners of war,’ and the active ‘soldiers of the IRA,’ families across the United Kingdom were grieving for those men women and children murdered by the terrorist and those left with broken bodies and minds, civilian and military alike. Corbyn and his acolytes are being allowed to rewrite history and it stinks. This man wanted the IRA to win and to win at any cost. If he had been sincere in pursuing a peaceful outcome he would have supported not criticised John Hume and the SDLP. He did not though. Instead he supported the bad guys and moreover, supported a continuance of extreme violence.
The difficult truth for Corbyn is that the Provisionals lost. They were forced to negotiate when they realised they their organisation was riddled from top to bottom by British security intelligence and the cost of continuing was unsustainable. Even when the peace process was gaining traction Corbyn and John McDonnell could not bring themselves to support it. Corbyn in fact was a very long way from helping any successful outcome and over the years made a contribution to prolonging the conflict.
Certainly, as far as I am concerned the concept of anyone voting for a man who supported people who would have liked nothing better than to give me or any one of my friends a headshot or blow us to bits all over the nearest three villages is total anathema. To my mind, anyone who does is spitting on the grave of all those who suffered at the hands of the terrorist and is disrespecting their memory. So too, are those who choose not to report the truth.
I’ve never been to a pop concert. I won’t be going to one anytime soon. The son of a friend was at the Bataclan concert in Paris on Friday night and thankfully, made it out with his friend. 80 others didn’t and many more are left with life threatening and life changing injuries. Those young people saw things that evening that most soldiers don’t see in a career. Just as their lives have changed, so has life for us all. The attack which security services in Europe expected but dreaded manifested itself in a brutal slaughter of the innocent on a medieval scale. It is an unfortunate irony that many of those kids who were perhaps living life to the full, brimming with optimism and idealism would have been the very constituency who supported mass migration from Syria, Africa and the Middle East this year. I described it at the time as possibly the biggest Trojan Horse in history. The full ramifications of unfettered migration over many months from war zones is yet to be felt. The media has been very sensitive to cross referencing migration and terrorism, especially the BBC who were at the forefront in creating political pressure to open the doors, but the fact remains that mainland Europe does not know what internal security risks it has created as a result of its liberal approach to the problem.
The threat from Sunni jihadists is not new, especially in France. Returning foreign fighters, domestic supporters of ISIS and other individuals sympathetic to the jihadist cause who pre date problems in Syria create a complex and multi stranded threat. At the moment, it is not known if the perpetrators on Friday were returnees working to Syrian based planning and funding or grassroots operators sponsored by domestic organisations or a combination of both. The dominant threat currently comes from ISIS and that pre dates Fridays incident with 10 out of 17 previous attacks since September 2014 being perpetrated by ISIS fighters or sympathisers. A French returnee has also reportedly told the authorities that Syria was a “terrorist factory” where individuals were being trained to attack Europe in the near future, and it has also been reported that returnees would attack not in their countries of origin, but elsewhere to lessen the risk of detection upon return (Le Monde, October 20). According to The Jamestown Foundation there is roughly a 3:1 ratio of domestic sympathiser events versus returnee attacks and while the security services stop or disrupt more than half of those initiated we know from old experience that the terrorist only needs to get through once. Certainly, the events of Friday in Paris wholly justify the British Governments approach to the Syrian refugee crisis in focusing on the camps and only letting individuals in directly from those camps who have been fully vetted.
Whatever the source of funding and planning of the terrorist operation France plans to hit ISIS hard. Air operations overnight are a start but the skies over Syria are becoming congested with Allied and Russian aircraft and the French may decide to focus on Northern Iraq where they have already flown 1,285 sorties against Islamic State targets whereas up until last night they had flown only two sorties in Syria. At some point, the Allies are going to have to commit ground forces to destroy and eradicate ISIS. Given justification for previous conflicts it shouldn’t be difficult to come to that conclusion. ISIS is engaged in genocide in Northern Iraq, they present a high level threat to our own populations and war from the air is not working. Having created the vacuum in which ISIS has flourished I’m not sure for how much longer governments can continue to ignore their moral and political duty.
It’s also clear that Schengen is finished in an already rattling European construct. No government will survive if they fail to protect their citizens. The Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer knows this and is becoming more vocal in his demands for permanent border controls and faster repatriation of asylum seekers. That view in Germany is underpinned by the popular view which is hardening, helped by incidents such as the one last week when a Montenegrin citizen was arrested while allegedly driving to Paris with several weapons. While German police have not established a direct connection between this incident and Friday’s attacks, they have said that a link cannot be ruled out. The fact that this man was from Montenegro and made it to Germany in his car will strengthen the demands for stricter border controls along the so-called Balkan route of migration. Politically, Merkel is now in a weakened state which will probably be terminal and we can expect a rise in support for parties coming from the extreme left and right wings, especially if governments are not seen to act.
2001 New York
2004 Beslan, Russia
2009 Maiduguri, Nigeria
2012 Kano, Nigeria
2013 Baga, Nigeria
2014 Kaduna, Nigeria
What about the UK? The list of significant terrorist actions above reminds us that we are well within their reach from either internal or external operators. Our Security Services will stop most incidents but what of those who get through? Our experience with Jihadists is mostly limited to the 7/7 bus and tube attacks in 2005. The big difference between Jihadists and the Provisionals, who we fought for 30 years, is that the Jihadists are prepared, or expect, to die. That was never the case with PIRA. Moreover, we have to ask the basic question, ‘is our lightly armed police force trained and prepared to respond to a fire group attack like Paris?’ I don’t doubt the bravery of individual coppers but facing multiple battle hardened assassins armed with automatic weapons and suicide belts is a level beyond their normal drills, even if they are an armed response unit. Witness the television scenes of the armed French policemen outside the Bataclan concert, unsure of what to do. The basis and success of previous actions were on attacks going wrong which led to armed sieges and negotiated outcomes or by action after much preparation and reconnaissance by special forces. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. To save lives action has to be swift, aggressive and lethal.
The basis of national confidence in our response rests on 22 SAS. Even with a sub unit based in London though, they can’t be everywhere. Even if they could be within 45 mins of every town in England, 45 mins is too long in these situations. I think the Home Secretary and Chief Constables have no choice but to radically upgrade fire arms training and arming of police officers across the UK. To send an ordinary unarmed beat officer into one of these situations will have only one outcome. In mitigation, it is very difficult to acquire and move around automatic weapons in the UK. The police are very skilled at interdicting plots before they get to maturity and especially when working with GCHQ, 5 and 6 it is not easy for terrorists to plan and execute operations. It isn’t impossible though. Cuts in the numbers of police officers should be suspended immediately. Military support should not be considered by the COBRA committee after a bad thing happens but the committee should start planning on that basis now.
What does that mean? I would nominate two infantry battalions or Marine Commandos for Home Defence, one operational the other resting and training on 4 week rotations and rotate the battalions with others every 12 months. The operational battalion would be dispersed in platoon sized sub units across the UK, each with a serving or retired SAS or SBS instructor with a section on short notice to move 24 hrs a day. Their aim would be simple; in the event of a terrorist attack their task is to rapidly deploy and kill the terrorist. I would rebuild the old Northern Ireland ‘Tin City,’ to suit current scenarios, ie shopping malls, theatres, spaces for large groups and train both police and soldiers relentlessly. This is not a game, when this new enemy get in their stride the casualty list climbs by scores every minute. They do not negotiate. Speed and aggression are paramount. Our current intelligence and Special Forces based response is not commensurate with the threat. Many would recoil at the inclusion of military assets as part of normal support to the police but these are not normal times and this is no ordinary enemy. The safety and well-being of ordinary citizens is much more important that what column writers in the Guardian think. Anyone thinking that such a plan is excessive may wish to consider how we would deal with a four man fire group letting rip at the Metro Centre in Gateshead two weeks before Christmas. Thought so. I’d mostly be calling in the Commanding Officers for their briefings right now.
Jeremy Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet meeting
It was clear immediately after the General Election that the Labour Party meltdown would result in them being out of power for ten years. Obliteration in Scotland, forthcoming electoral boundary changes, splits within the party and no coherent vision whatsoever would make sure of that. Not content with being a party without a cause, fractured and humiliated they then set about self-combustion with an political miscalculation of epic proportions in a spectacular weapons grade cock up when some party ‘thinkers,’ decided the so called ‘debate on the future,’ (which never happened), needed some left wing input. They certainly got that. Step forward the sandal wearing bloke who knits his own clothes, eats tofu and cuts his own hair. Friend to every terrorist group and crack pot dictator on the planet, their very own rebel with 500 causes, Jeremy Corbyn; the new Leader of the Opposition. To describe him as a man taking Labour back to its old roots is a dishonest slur on previous mainstream Labour leaders, many of whom like Dennis Healy, (Landing Officer at Anzio), James Callahan, (Royal Navy in the Far East), Roy Jenkins, (Royal Artillery & Bletchley Park), Merlyn Rees, (Squadron Leader RAF), had an honourable war record. Even Harold Wilson and Michael Foot volunteered but were rejected.
Portrayed as a soft and cuddly, tweed wearing standard bearer for the weak and oppressed he has resolutely failed to support his own party in Parliament on 500 occasions. Let me tell you, he is not soft and cuddly. He is a short tempered individual who takes any criticism poorly and is a leading candidate for the men in flapping white coats to come and carry him away in a white van with a blue flashing light on top. Years ago I lived in Islington and despised and despaired that the local MP was an individual who supported PIRA when they were busy blowing the arms and legs off children in our towns and cities. He supports Hamas, Hezbollah, criticised the SEALs who took out Bin Laden, is sympathetic to ISIS, AQ, the Taliban and Boko Haram and would cede the Falklands to Argentina, leave NATO and abandon Trident. How anyone will find a way of explain this calamitous hotch potch of insane ramblings to Washington goodness only knows.
While his election reflects a general tide of discontent with mainstream politics, (UKIP and the SNP in the UK, Saunders and Trump in the US, Catalonian separatists, Syriaz in Greece, Le Pen in France), there is a zero possibility of him being elected. He is himself incidentally, yet another individual who hasn’t done a day’s work in his life outside the Labour movement and politics. My Labradors are more plausible candidates. It will though, ensure that the Labour Party in its current form is finished and the insiders, (who already are plotting his downfall), know that. His one shot at widening his appeal is in the Euro referendum. If he decides to back Brexit he may pull back voters previously lost to UKIP but they are the very voters who will recoil at his stance on the Falklands and support of terrorists given most of our dead and wounded come from white working class communities where patriotism is not the dirty word that is might be among the champagne socialist of Islington and Highgate or with the luvies at the BBC or Guardian, (and aren't they having a heart wrenching weekend!).
There aren’t many winners here, except perhaps political satirists and cartoonists. Parliamentary democracy and our international reputation certainly won’t gain anything with a weak and wild eyed opposition led by a barmy Looney Tunes Marxist. Monty Python couldn’t have come up with a more bizarre script. The fact that Corbyn never really wanted or expected to be Leader hurtles the whole nonsense into the realms of chaotic comedy, especially and contrary to what the media portray, not that many people actually care about Labour sailing off the political cliff. The Tories meanwhile will lie in wait for Corbyn and his fellow delusional barking mad chums to embed themselves properly before ripping them apart in a merciless feeding frenzy. That way, the whole of Labour will be tainted and not just a few extremists.
There is viable concern that weak opposition leads to bad government and that is the challenge before Cameron now; to pursue the traditional Conservative ideal of one nation politics. The astonishing advancement of state Academy schools in London, much of it supported by City funding, is a good example of the way forward. It’s now his game to lose. The rest of us can sit back and enjoy the show. Personally, I’m hoping that Diane Abbot gets the education brief. It will be good to hear her justification for educating her own son privately whilst criticising the rest of us for so doing.