Losing the War on Terror

The front page of today’s Guardian has a picture of what it looks like when you let the terrorists win:

96237412 27may1national01  1

Armed police used to be almost unknown on British streets. Now they’re becoming alarmingly commonplace. I saw two outside Liverpool Street Station yesterday; armed, like the two above, not just with pistols, but with big, two handed things that most people would call “machine guns.” This increasing militarisation of the police was taken a step further this week when the Maybot ordered actual troops onto the streets. And I read that armoured vehicles were going to be deployed at the FA Cup final.

Armed police on a beach: why? Was there a reasonable expectation of some sort of attack on Scarborough beach? And if there was: would weapons have helped? Armed police would not have stopped the tragedy in Manchester.

The aim of the terrorist is to cause terror. All this escalation does is make ordinary people feel more worried, more scared. Worry and low-grade fear aren’t terror, but they’re on the same axis. Overreacting like this is playing into the terrorists’ hands. As well, of course, as being a cynical political move in the runup to an election whose calling was, itself, a cynical political move.

Meanwhile Jeremy Corbyn gave speech making reasonable, uncontentious points about the links between foreign policy and terrorism. Predictably the right-wing press and Tory politicians went ape.

On Security at Stansted

To Glasgow, then, and a weekend visit to my Mum. The kids and I caught the train to Stansted on Friday afternoon, to find the security theatre in full force. Although we made EasyJet’s last checkin time with a good ten minutes to spare, I really thought we would miss our flight when we joined the back of one of two or three giant, slow-moving queues. Especially so when, after a few minutes, we realised that we were in fact at the back of a queue for another checkin desk. We weren’t alone in this error, though: the queues mingled, and quite a few others had made the same mistake.

But in the end it wasn’t that bad. The queue began moving fairly quickly — or smoothly, at least — and while it was frustrating, it was bearable, as long as you didn’t let yourself get frustrated. The passport/boarding-pass-control desk looked a right mess, though, covered as it was by abandoned bottles, cosmetics containers and what have you.

To be honest, I’m not actually sure why the queues were so long. The only things that have changed in security terms compared with a few months ago are the prohibited items in hand baggage, and the enforcement of the “only one item” rule (I’m sure this has been the rule for decades, but it just wasn’t strictly enforced). Both of those issues should be dealt with at checkin, so when you get to the security gates you should be ready. Every bag and coat is x-rayed, as before: but there should be fewer bags; everyone goes through a metal detector, just as they always did. There was a “please take off your shoes” section after the metal detectors, but as we paused at it, one security guy called, “Not everybody, not everybody,” and waved us on. I suppose people were randomly chosen, and incidentally, everyone I saw taking their shoes off was white. This may, of course, just mean that people who look like terrorists (whatever that may mean) are not travelling, from fear of being hassled.

I conclude that the only reason for the giant queues must be stupidity: there must be people who, even though they are asked about prohibited items at checkin, and even though this stuff has been in the news for weeks, still have drinks in their hand luggage, and then have to stop to abandon them at security. Or who try to take more than one item on, even though they’ve been told not to. And yet, I didn’t see much of that happening. I really don’t understand why the queues got so big. There were plenty of security staff on duty, too.

Coming back, things were much less fraught at Glasgow Airport, as they generally are at smaller airports, in my experience.

Throughout, I have to say, all the security staff we encountered were cheerful, polite, and helpful, while doing a largely thankless, probably quite dull, job, filled with seemingly-arbitrary rule changes handed down from above. I can’t really fault them, no matter how daft some of the things they have to enforce may be.

A last thought: we are being conditioned to accept travelling with photo ID, even within the country. It was strange to see everyone queuing up to get onto a flight to Scotland, with their passports ready. Now I’d be quite happy to see EU passports issued by the Republic of Scotland (as long as it was a republic), but for now, it was still a journey within the UK.

And the strange thing is, it seems to be the airlines that are driving this, not the authorities. I have had to show photo ID on RyanAir and EasyJet, but a few months ago — this year, certainly — I flew to Scotland with BMI Baby, and not only did they not ask for ID, but I didn’t even have to see a human to check in: hand baggage, a credit card, and a self-checkin machine, and there I was. That was before all the recent fuss, true, but RyanAir (and possibly EasyJet) have been asking for ID for years. Are they secretly being used by the government to get us used to carrying ID cards? And if so, why is it only some airlines?

Or am I being unreasonably paranoid? ‘Cos I only want to be reasonably paranoid, you know.