The appalling events of Monday evening are dominating the election campaign. Young children and teenagers should be able to attend a pop concert without fear of being killed. I struggle to understand the mind of a man that can choose to inflict so much pain and suffering on so many young people and their families. Feelings are understandably running high: grief, anger, outrage and despair are mingled.
Security is a primal concern. The knowledge that there are people who walk among us with malevolent intentions is chilling. We know something of their aims, though not as much as we like to think. Given the troubled history of many of those who have launched or planned such attacks, it sometimes seems that the malevolence is as important as the intentions, the cause legitimising the extreme violence.
How do we defeat an ideology? Just why is it so attractive to some young people who have grown up in our country? How do we dissuade those for whom that ideology is potentially attractive from taking it up? What do we do with those who have already immersed themselves in its foul waters? These are important questions and not ones that should be left to the security forces.
And so the rest of the campaign is likely to be dominated by security concerns. This is an unmitigated disaster for Jeremy Corbyn, who the public strongly distrust on the subject. It is far too late for him to regain their confidence on this subject now.
Politicians will – rightly – prioritise those risks that the public are most concerned about. Yet we overestimate the chance of risks which are very obvious and underestimate more insidious risks.
Thanks to the vigilance of our security services, terrorist attacks are mercifully rare. You are much more likely to die from falling down the stairs than in a terrorist attack (and the measures to reduce that risk that you or I can take are far easier to put into operation).
I note this not to minimise the unspeakable suffering that the families of those poor children are feeling but to note that there at any given moment there are many other families undergoing unspeakable suffering, unnoticed by the media or by public opinion.
In the absence of a truly catastrophic terrorist attack – which, worryingly cannot be completely ruled out – the everyday life of most British citizens is likely to be affected more by government decisions taken in other areas. The government’s handling of the economy is much more likely to make a real difference to most of them. The competing proposals for long term care of the two main parties would affect a much greater number of citizens than anti-terrorist policies. The funding arrangements of the NHS have far more potential to save more lives.
And hanging over the next few years is Brexit. The negotiations with the EU are shaping up to be difficult and demanding. The outcome of those negotiations have the potential to set the country’s future for decades to come.
Theresa May called the election on the pretext of getting a mandate to conduct those negotiations in the manner that she thinks fit. She looks set to get a mandate for something quite different. It is doubtful, for example, whether she can continue to argue that sharing security information is a bargaining chip that Britain can play, now that the public have had a reminder of the potential consequences of doing so.
The course of the rest of the election looks set now. Theresa May will no doubt use whatever mandate she gets for whatever purpose she thinks fit. Yet if Brexit does turn out as badly as many of the signs are suggesting, she may in time wish that there had been a more searching discussion during the election campaign of the options available to Britain. The implementation of the biggest decision for decades is going by default.