Baroness Jenny Randerson reflects on the Westminster attacks yesterday, 22nd March.
The mood in Westminster is sombre and thoughtful today. The streets are eerily still, with no traffic and none of the usual bustle of pedestrians. The noise of traffic is replaced by the endless whirr of helicopters overhead. The Lords’ Chamber was packed this morning as we held a minute’s silence for the victims of yesterday’s attack and heard tributes from Party Leaders and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The PM’s Statement was repeated. We paid particular respect to PC Keith Palmer who died protecting Parliamentarians and the institution of Parliament itself. But the carnage went well beyond Parliament.
The list of the dead and injured includes Romanians ,South Koreans ,a German, Irish, Polish, Chinese, Italian, American, Greeks, as well as French schoolchildren and many British. This is the melting pot that is central London – the heart of tourism as well as of our democracy. Terrorism is an international phenomenon and this time it struck in a way that will send reverberations across the world. In his comments Lib Dem Leader in the Lords, Dick Newby, reminded us all how much we depend on close relationships with our European neighbours in order to foil attacks like this.
I have been in Parliament for six years and have been aware that one day something like this was likely to happen. But that doesn’t reduce the shock when it does. I crossed the road into Parliament barely three minutes before the attack started, but once inside the building you are strangely insulated. We were told about it very quickly and rapidly corralled from one area to another in large groups, defended by armed police. We were locked down for over 5 hours. I spent a long while talking to Mark Williams MP for Ceredigion and our new MP Sarah Olney. Then we were moved into Westminster Hall, where I lost track of them but struck up conversations with several new friends.
Conversations were largely seeking news of what was going on outside. Despite the wonders of modern phones, we still lacked a real perspective on events.
As the hours moved on we became weary, hungry and thirsty, and rather cold, but there was never any doubt that we were being efficiently dealt with for our own safety. There were groups of bewildered schoolchildren there, as well as visitors and the staff of the Palace of Westminster. When eventually the area was declared safe, I trecked over to a far flung tube station, as Westminster Tube station was, and remains, shut.
When I got home I realised I was exhausted emotionally and physically – standing up for 5 hours is surprisingly tiring. My mood was reflected in speeches today. Speeches of defiance and determination to stand up for democratic values. In the face of violence and intolerance, there has never been a greater need to face outwards to the world and to refuse to change our values as a society.