Monday, April 26, 2004

Improving parliament's security

As is now well reported, our MPs recently voted to spend £2 million on building a huge glass wall across the House of Commons, in order to protect them from putative terrorists ensconced in the public gallery. Or perhaps from the justified fury of the citizens, but let that pass. Apparently, this is to protect them in the event someone was to squirt or toss poison or germs down into the chamber. Having first of all passed through two independent security checks and left the contents of their pockets at the second, naturally. No, the guards would apparently leave your sarin spray can with you. Obviously, because they have to have a wall to keep it out! If I were an assassin with pockets stuffed with smallpox, would I brave the second check when I could simply loiter in the corridors until a minister passed? If I had a pass, I could probably get close enough to the chamber to release it anyway - wall or no wall.

Note the meaning of this. In the event of someone producing, as the ridiculous Conservative Angela Browning suggested, an Estee Lauder perfume bottle laced with MacCluskie's disease or whatever and squirting away, they should be on the other side of the glass wall watching us die. Hell, why bother to evacuate when they need the parliamentary time to get the ID card legislation through? Browning produced a perfume bottle and waved it about, while declaring that "we would all be doomed to die". I'm not an aerodynamicist, so I can't really rule on the effectiveness of a perfume bottle for dispersing chemical agent in a space as large as the Commons Chamber. But I suspect it wouldn't be fantastic. Aum Shinirikyo, after all, needed several gallons of sarin in bags to kill a fairly small number of people in the much greater confinement of tube trains.

I have a small proposal fitting the case, which would tend to render our great national institutions far more suited to the realities of modern British politics. I say we build the glass wall, and big enough to enclose the whole Palace of Westminster in a seamless box; a glass case quite appropriate for an irrelevant and outmoded theatre in a country defined more and more by dictatorially minded press barons, control-obsessed security bureaucrats, and the President of the United States. It would keep them all quite safe, and prevent anything dangerous leaking out as well as in. Alternatively, we could build the wall around the chamber out of mirror glass, at last making real what politicians have sought for years - an entirely self-regarding, self-serving world where everything looks like a politician and tiresome reality never intrudes.

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