Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Too close for comfort

Have often said that politics is my "roller coaster ride" but those who know me will know that the "Big Max" is not my thing. Unfortunately, I feel as though I have been throught the parliamentary equivalent of the Big Max.

Last Wednesday life seemed good. There was a real buzz about the place when the news spread of London's success in the bid to host the Olympics in 2012. No sooner was I out of the Whips office than the announcement was being made in Central Lobby.

Fast forward to Thursday morning. I travelled in on the bus and was aware of a lot of "siren noise". It registered as being something more than the background noise. During the walk between bus stop and Portcullis house I saw three minibuses full of police, sirens blaring. Struck me as odd and I mentally registered that I didn't want to be where they were going. Confirmed when I saw the bright red mobile command unit with lights flashing and sirens blaring.

Somewhat bizarrely I then went to my office and started work.

e-mail from Gallery news mentioned "power surges" on the tube. Registered disbelief but carried on with in tray. Only realised that something "was up" when received pager messages from daughter and husband in rapid succession (son, Nick later told me that he had been allowed time to try and contact me by mobile).

It all seemed somewhat distant. There were TV pictures , there was a ministerial statement but there was also an air of unreality and some things (business questions) carying on as normal. Jumped at the chance of a lift home.

So, the message seemed to be that we are British and we deal with these things. This is fine when they don't impinge on the every day but I can tell you that I my heart was pounding as I boarded the bus this morning. But to everyone else I would have appeared cool, calm and collected.

Fast forward to this evening. I had accepted an invitation to the IPPF reception on the terrace at the House of Lords.

The crowd was thin and we soon realised that many attendees had been prevented from entering because of a "threat to the building". Blitz spirit prevailed and the speeches had started but by this time I had noticed that the river was eerily silent. Minister's (substitutes) speech was interrupted by an armed police officer telling everyone to move off the terrace and into the Cholmondely room. Five minutes later we were moved further indoors. The Minister (substitute) carried on where she left off.

Eventually I made my way back to the office as staff were being allowed out of the building. We had no idea what the threat was and no one communicated what we should be doing. I feel vulnerable in a way I have not felt before and can't help feeling that we should somehow be better informed than this. On an individual level staff were clearly doing their job but I can't help wishing that we had been treated as grown ups.