We should envy the people of Manchester their sense of solidarity, but defiance in the face of killers is not enough

British reaction to the Manchester atrocity has not yet reached the level of reproaching the authorities for “ the one that got away.” But it soon will, if the reaction to 7/7 is followed.

MI5’s investigation into Crevice threw up 55 individuals associated with the plotters. MI5 said it would have liked to have pursued all of them. But it was a matter of resources and only 15 were seen as “essential” targets.

The remaining 40, including those later identified as Mohammad Sidique Khan and Shehzad Tanweer, were “parked up” – not treated as urgent cases. The two had not been heard discussing terrorist acts in Britain, MI5 insisted.

From interviews gathered in a few hours by the Guardian  the Mail and others, we’ve quickly learned  that the suicide bomber was a young Manchester-born man with strong links to Libya who had a home a few miles up the road at Fallowfield, and had obvious jihadist sympathies and contacts. Another one  who escaped the net. The police are now lifting the whole little network of contacts but if precedent is followed, they’ll  release most of them soon.

We are left little the wiser about what ministers’ solemn and guarded jargon about raising the level to “critical” actually means about the level of risk to the public. The army deployment around public buildings in London seems like obvious PR, the moves of a government racing ahead  to forestall inevitable future criticism.

The police have enough  “resources” we’re  told.  So they had enough resources on Monday night and yet the suicide  bomber got through. So it isn’t a question of “resources” then. That seems to be quite  a different issue about releasing enough regional police officers for arms training to be able to deal with a Bataclan – type gun attack.

It’s tempting and so easy to be cynical.  But cynicism is impotent and runs away from responsibility.  Those with experience of the Troubles can easily identify the problem. Pull the net tighter and you radicalise more.  Keep it too loose and they get away. And no net is big enough anyway. Danny Morrison had a point: “ we( they) only need to be lucky once.”  Ghettos become separate worlds, even armed camps.

What can people do? Jihadism is not a political cause to “get round the table and talk” about, whatever the bitter regrets about Iraq and however many hair shirts we wear for ” British imperialism.” It is an implacable movement that lusts for revenge with maximum cruelty endorsed by perverted religion. Even Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t want us to take all the  blame for it, a view which is a far left form of condescending imperialism in itself.

Well focused public opinion at local level can make a difference even against cells. Jihadists have behavioural traits and religious expression which are tell tale signs. The general, mass public response of solidarity and defiance that we saw in Albert Square is valuable as it concentrates  opinion in favour of civilisation. It  limits polarisation and emphasises the marginalisation of militants on all sides. It creates a weight of numbers and gives decent people courage to take on angry militants.

But I’m not aware of moderate Moslems fighting battles against extremists. Why aren’t these happening? Not enough of them happened in Northern Ireland.

When extremism is rampant and on the offensive, peace rhetoric has very limited impact, as the Nobel Peace prize winning Peace People sadly proved.

White militancy cannot be ignored any more than militant Islamism but this tends to be expressed more in terms of anti-immigration than anti-Islam or outright racism. For all the fears about globalisation, cultural and religious differences  are harder to handle once they reach the domestic intimate level.  A  proper desire to contain  community tensions should mean facing problems rather than evading them. Inevitably pressure is rising to stiffen the controversial Prevent strategy.

 David Anderson, who stepped down from the role of independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in February, said the suicide bombing which killed 22 people is likely to “focus minds” on the importance of Prevent.

I think it may also focus some Muslim groups on the question of are they prepared to help, do they understand that, unpalatable as it may seem, part of the answer to this lies in people in the communities trusting the police enough to tell them when they are suspicious of something, cooperating with local authorities and police in trying to stop people who are going off the rails.

(Home Secretary Amber) Rudd said plans to give an “uplift” to Prevent to improve its effectiveness were already in the pipeline.

Communities have to own anti-terrorist strategies, not imposed from above. Easy to state, difficult to make happen because of the dilemmas and ambivalence that we recognise so well.  It was Northern Ireland’s  tragedy that we were so divided before the Troubles began that we never achieved the necessary level of solidarity to bring them to a halt for 30 years.  Despite so much progress, solidarity still eludes us.

Yet  defiance however movingly expressed in Manchester is no longer enough. That’s the new conclusion of  Lucy Easthope, a planner for emergencies  in a piece of required reading in the Guardian

The statements from local politicians, imbued with messages of resilience and defiance, emphasising that it will be “business as usual”, are carefully planned in advance. The vigils to show solidarity are expected now, including a pre-negotiated multi-faith element, and the UK’s ability to put its services back together in a show of strength are admired around the world. It has been said that on the night after the bombings in Boston, USA, in 2013, the mayor of that city gathered his staff together and in a reference to the attacks that took place in Britain on 7/7 stated “tonight we do a London”. After all, in the UK capital, after four suicide bombers targeted the transport networks on a Thursday, the theatres were back open 48 hours later.

I have been writing these emergency plans for over a decade as a national adviser on “recovery management”, running exercises and training events all over the country for police and civil servants. I present Powerpoints to them on “recovery lessons” from around the world – “I heart Stockholm; I heart Paris … here is some wording from the USA about never giving in …” We design scenarios and we test the kit, the emergency phone line, the evacuation, the family liaison, the press conference and the politician’s first statement, all to a narrative that we invent involving a fake airline or a fictitious shopping mall.

I glimpsed a future of repeated attacks – I believe we are in that era now. I glimpsed the carnage and the loss and the pain; attacks designed by terrorists to try to create a tear in the relationship between Muslims and their friends and neighbours…

It was always going to be children. That fits the new terrorist modus operandi of hitting us where we hurt most, and yet this is always the scenario we censor in exercises.

Yesterday I realised that the fight rhetoric has gone too far and instead what we need to do is to admit how much this hurts. Ever since 9/11 there has been a sense that falling to our knees in despair would be letting “them” win but there is perhaps a greater bravery in admitting what the loss of people means to us. By rushing to show that this will not break us we are also allowing a cycle to emerge; we are hit; we will stand strong; we are hit; we stand together and thus we allow our leaders to never address just how much damage is being done to our nation.

Is she saying the victims, injured and bereaved are already being sidelined. Is this wrong and if so, how long should they come first, before the needs of society to ” heal?”  We’re still struggling with these questions today.

What do parents tell their small  children about Arena? What we did in the Troubles. There are bad people who want to harm us but  there are more good people who want us to be safe and happy, starting above all with Mummy and Daddy, then your wider family, your friends and their families and your teachers. That depicts a world of discreetly guarded safety. Older kids? The unbiased  truth, carefully formulated against bigotry with no easy solutions, succinct and well rehearsed.

Nice to see Gaby Hinsliff make one of the few references to Northern Ireland I’ve seen.

(Manchester) will overcome this, just as it overcame an IRA bombing two decades ago; I doubt this atrocity will change the city half as much as its perpetrators hope. Even at the height of the Northern Ireland Troubles, Belfast still had a nightlife, albeit one circumscribed by complex rules and security constraints that clubbers in the rest of the UK never had to learn.




Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London