The election campaign now feels remote, as if of another time.
The shrill, partisan hostility that had already come to characterise the debate has given way to softer, sombre tones. Manifesto U-turns and arguments over funding claims lose their significance in an instant when confronted with the horrifying reality of Monday night’s terror and the developing threat the country now seems to face.
The Manchester attacker targeted children. He assembled his bomb with sickening intent, seeking to cause maximum damage and terrible injuries. Lives have been lost and the lives of those left behind have been changed forever.
The Prime Minister, who now considers the threat so severe that she is deploying soldiers to the streets, was right when she said yesterday that “we struggle to comprehend the warped and twisted mind that sees a room packed with young children not as a scene to cherish, but as an opportunity for carnage”.
As statements of condolence and outrage rolled in from across the world, politicians here in the UK agreed to suspend their campaigning activity. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said “there can be nothing worse than losing a child in a situation like this” and Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, whose children had friends at the concert, branded the attack “beyond wicked.”
Our political leaders put aside their agendas and their differences in a rare show of unity. But politics, and political debate, must resume as soon as possible. The boisterous, passionate and loud performance of democracy is the only possible response to an attack motivated by hatred for our way of life. Indeed, it is a necessary one.
Atrocities in Brussels, Paris, Nice and now Manchester all elicit a vow that the terrorists won’t win, and there can be no greater demonstration of this spirit of defiance than the noisy spectacle of a General Election campaign.
After all, this country chooses its path through peaceful debate and the exercising of hard-won democratic rights. It is not deterred or cowed by the violent and the hate-filled.
The vast crowd gathered outside Manchester Town Hall last night is proof of this, as would be the earliest possible restoration of the General Election campaign. The country faces uncertain days ahead, but the cornerstones of our democracy will outlast the current threat.