As Paul wrote this morning, it seems clear that the attackers last night had the disruption of the election among their goals, attacking, along with their other targets, our democracy itself. This isn’t the first time violent Islamists have targeted attacks in this way, nor is ours the only country to have suffered from such tactics – the Madrid attack in 2004 springs to mind. They hate our democracy just as much as they hate our freedom.
It’s absolutely right, therefore, that campaigning should resume in full as soon as possible. In this instance, national campaigning is suspended until tomorrow, while local campaigning continues where people on the ground feel it to be appropriate.
Perhaps inadvertently, it has become the standard form to suspend campaign activity when a terrorist attack occurs. I understand why: as David Davis told Andrew Marr, it’s about respect and commemoration of the victims of these atrocities. But while we rightly respect propriety, we must not allow terrorists the certain knowledge that if they choose to kill then democracy will be put on hold in return. There is clearly a balance to be struck, and the democratic process must not be hobbled by its enemies.
There’s also a more difficult balance to find on how to carry out the necessary discussion of security and counter-terrorism policy. Nobody should be out to hijack such events for partisan gain. But at the same time, voters rightly want to know what will be done to prevent such attacks in future and to crush the ideas and organisations that make them happen. Not only should the process of democracy not be hobbled, but the practice of it must not be muzzled, either.
This is particularly hard because it comes down to taste and feeling rather than objective questions of timing. Some people will feel a particular intervention – or silence – to be outrageously inappropriate, while others will feel the same event or comment to be necessary and right. Get it wrong, and you bear a huge weight of fury. You can imagine how that prospect makes people in the public eye extremely wary. But our politicians owe us the bravery to try, and only by doing so will we ever get it right.
The alternative, to postpone and self-censor our democracy, is unacceptable.