I have big boxes to bring back from Parliament – so for the first time – drive in. I give my daughter (Jenna) a lift to Bedford Square where she is studying. We leave at 9.00am. Shortly after begin reports on the radio about a major incident at a tube station – a power surge is being mooted as the cause. Other reports of other incidents at other stations are now being reported. I am trying to imagine why a power surge would be surging to this effect – given the amount of safety devices which must exist to stop surges surging.
Jenna and I think it is a terrorist attack despite what is being said on the radio. I hear Christian Woolmar (rail and tube pundit) verbalising on the radio the exact thoughts running through my brain. All the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. The National Grid is not reporting any signs of electrical surges in London. Cut outs cut in when there is a power surge. Christian hypothesizes that this is a terrorist attack.
We have always believed that the tube would be a key target. We have always known that G8 would be a ‘high alert’ status day/period. Add it all up together with the new report of an eyewitness who says he has just seen the top blown off of a bus in Woburn Place – and any last doubts have fled.
So what to do? I decide to continue onto Westminster, dropping Jenna at Bedford Square and instructing her not to leave the college until she hears from me again – under no circumstances. I try telephoning my other daughter who is still asleep at home – but the networks are down. I drive on as herds of people are exiting tube stations as the whole system shuts down. I see a bus driver receiving a call – stopping the bus – and emptying out the passengers.
The roads are pretty empty. Buses now are mostly empty and the pavements are thronging with people. Outside shops with TVs are small congregations of people trying to find out what is going on.
As this is the first time I had brought the car in – I am not sure of the procedure as I drive in the gates of the Palace of Westminster. First you stop at a barrier where two security guards check the car for bombs very thoroughly. Embarrassed by not knowing how to open my bonnet when required to do so. Turns out there’s a little handle on floor of car by right foot.
On to various other security bits and pieces and then down into a huge car park – which I didn’t even know existed.
Rush up to office to try to use landlines to contact younger daughter and put TV on to see what is happening. I get through to my new caseworker who is still working in my house as constituency office not ready yet – and ask him to go wake Cady and tell her there has been a major terrorist attack on London and that I will phone on the house line in 5 minutes – which I do. I forbid her to go on the bus – and say if she wants to go into school for the last day of term (which it is – so all fun and no work – thus the keenness!) she will have to walk or get a lift. She begs me to come home as is worried that Westminster is key target. I tell her not to worry.
TV now reporting it as terrorist attack on London although number and timing of different incidents not clear. Pager goes off to tell me that the Home Secretary will come to the chamber at 12.15pm to make a statement. Impossible to get on with any real work.
The emergency plans appear to have swept faultlessly into operation – with all emergency services and transport staff doing an incredible job which I have no doubt saved lives and kept what actually was an eerie calm in the City.
I go into the chamber about 15 minutes before the statement – and it is business questions to the Leader of the House. As we reach the appointed hour – it is clear that Charles Clarke is not yet ready and we get whispers to keep questions going. I think of one and start standing up to get called – just an obliging person willing to help. However after about another 15 minutes where many of the questions are clearly becoming pretty unfocused – Mr Speaker decides to suspend the House until 12.50pm – so we all leave.
When I come back into the chamber it fills suddenly and the Speaker takes his seat. Charles Clarke comes to the Despatch Box and makes a truly statesmanlike announcement sticking only to facts. He gives our sympathy to the relatives of those who have died and support to those injured along with friends and family. No politics at all.
David Davis and Ming Campbell make equally strong speeches praising the emergency services and condemning speculation. The House pulls together in the way it does best in times of crisis.
I had had to cancel a radio interview that morning – but the Beeb reschedules for 2.30pm and I walk over to Millbank to the BBC studios. It is strange outside on the streets. The sun is shining and there are, albeit in hugely reduced numbers, tourists still around the Palace – but the roads are virtually empty.
I am being interviewed by Mark Darcy for the Friday “Today in Parliament” program about my on-line campaigning. I really enjoy the interview as it is so removed from everything else going on around me. Except that in another studio, Brian Paddick from the Met Police is fronting media interviews on the attack.
Back to Parliament and start to think about getting home. I ring eldest daughter to say will pick up at 4pm and to be outside her building. I give a colleague a lift too and as I leave the Westminster Village the roads are still strangely empty – and there is not a bus to be seen. But the pavements are absolutely thronging with people setting off early for the long march home. It’s a different world out there today.