What happened in Manchester was a failure of humanity, not of policing. A young man stood in his home city, barely older than the teenagers he had decided to kill, and went ahead with his murderous plan. He had a choice until the final moment. His last sight would have been of super-excited young people streaming out of the arena after the night of their lives.
We don’t have the moral framework to process this. Not the planning of it nor the decision to see it though. Every time we think we’ve carved out a pit deep enough for IS, we need to dig deeper. Not just a bomb but a shrapnel bomb, designed to maim those it can’t kill. Not just a random attack but a specific targeting of a pop concert. Not just a generalised attack on the public but a seeking-out of women and girls. We have no words and we have no comprehension.
We also have no understanding yet of how this hate-filled young man will affect the whole direction of our country and of Europe. He’s probably sealed a Conservative election win, and with it removed any remaining chance of avoiding a hard Brexit. He’s shut down campaigning, giving Theresa May endless opportunities to look prime ministerial and yes, strong and stable.
We need people to be angry with, and there’s a void where the election campaign used to be. Into this void has slunk the accusation that Theresa May herself is to blame, cutting police to the point that we need the army on the streets, and in some quarters held responsible for the bombing itself. UKIP, continuing to strut on its customary media platform as other parties respectfully maintain their silence, accused Mrs May of being partly responsible. UKIP, and some Labour supporters and Remainers, are suddenly on the same page: If she hadn’t cut the police, we wouldn’t be here. (Corbyn’s subsequent comments on foreign policy also seem mistimed and inappropriate).
Scoring political points in this context seems morally questionable at best, and reprehensible at worst. It’s disrespectful to the victims to make political capital out of their personal tragedies.
It seems less likely that the army is on the streets to beef up police numbers, than as a reciprocal “upping of the ante” and a recognition of the fact that whoever built the Manchester bomb might have built others. It also seems probably that the decision would have been taken however many police officers were available. The army deployment is probably about messaging, not numbers.
All the police officers in the world are essentially powerless to stop deranged and trained members of a death cult targeting public spaces. The soldiers are unlikely to be in the right place to stop an attack, any more than the 20,000 “missing” officers would have been, but as a signalling exercise it’s a powerful one.
If there is an experienced bomb-maker or more bombs out there, it’s a grim prospect in the moral void in which these terrorists live. “Lone wolf” attackers have recently used the bluntest of blunt instruments – vehicles, kitchen knives. A lone suicide bomber with such a powerful and deadly bomb has not been seen in either the UK nor mainland Europe in the recent attacks.
The horror we feel at the Manchester murders is probably close to the horror we felt when Andreas Lubitz pointed his plane at a mountain. We had no framework for that, either. The smiling students who boarded his plane and the chattering masses emerging from Manchester Arena had that much in common: none of them was in a situation where the possibility of being murdered had even remotely occurred to them.
In other parts of life, we wonder, we look around, we tell each other to stay safe and “be careful”. I was recently at a large market in London when a very loud bang sounded. Everyone stood stock still with absolute fear on their faces. After maybe 30 seconds of this frozen tableau, everyone moved again. We all knew we were in the sort of place likely to be targeted; some small part of our guard was up. The Ariana Grande audience had no idea they were “targets” in anyone’s twisted logic, and why should they have had? But in future anyone at a similar event will be. It’s a vile side-effect of an evil attack.
Now we watch as the broken families try to find out how to live on. We think we’ve all suffered but we haven’t; in the huge swell of public emotion we mistake for personal grief (as happened after Princess Diana’s death) most of us soon be back to normal, saddened but essentially unchanged. We’ll feel we’ve overcome the terrorists by getting back to normal, and we’ll all-too-easily lose sight of the lives that can never be the same again.
But let’s not resort to scoring political points over the bodies of the Manchester victims. Theresa May’s sweeping police cuts as Home Secretary were arguably the delivery of a Conservative mandate from the public at the previous election. In this campaign, the police cuts weren’t even an issue before Manchester attack; to watch so many people jump on this bloodied bandwagon has been disheartening to say the least.
I’ve got no time for Theresa May as a politician or prime minister and I have no idea how she squares her faith with her policies. And I certainly have no time for her demented drive towards cliff-edge Brexit, claiming we’re all on the charabanc now.
But let’s not forget what happened was essentially an expression of hatred by a Manchester lad who’d lost his humanity somewhere along the way. Blame should be laid at no one else’s door.