Much has been written and watched about yesterday’s incident in Portcullis House when a self-described comedian and now ex-member of the Labour Party and UK Uncut decided to divert the entire media attention away from what was being said by the Murdochs.
There is no doubt in most commentators that the stunt did a lot to shrink the amount of media space available for the testimony to fit coverage of the attack – so much so that I saw some conspiracy theorists initially claiming the whole thing was set up by the Murdochs themselves.
What concerns me is that repeated stunts like this will slowly erode the ability of the public to enter these buildings and be seen to hold our elected masters to account in person.
I am a semi-regular visitor to Parliament (less so right now), and apart from the security checks, there really is very little to stop anyone going into Parliament for any reason whatsoever.
And that is a good thing.
Yes, the police ask where you are going at the entrance, so you need to have some vague idea of why you are going inside, but I have never seen anyone stopped from going inside simply to have a look around the public areas of the building. Once through security, you are fairly free to wander around at will within the public areas. Obviously private offices are private.
People smuggling in foam pies – and the amount involved could easily have been hidden in an asthma inhaler or similar innocent container – or similar will always happen while you let the public wander in without a full body search. We need to balance the risk of attack versus the deeply intrusive body searches that happen in the USA airports.
Some might, justifiably I think argue that being able to throw a foam pie at a politician is part of what makes British politics so singular. Do that in the USA and you’ll be shot dead on the spot. Do it is less liberal countries, and you’ll probably vanish and spend the rest of your short life in a lot of pain.
But a foam pie isn’t really a big issue is it? It’s a bit silly, but hardly worth the fuss about tightening security that people are already talking about. Is it?
Someone throws something at you, and it might just be a foam pie, but what if it was oil of vitriol? The difference between a silly media stunt and a very serious assault is vanishingly small in the eyes of the bystanders. For a few seconds there is panic, do we need a damp cloth, or an ambulance?
That is why, for all the benefits that I think UK politics gets from the ease of throwing things at politicians, the potential downside of surrounding politicians with trigger happy armed security guards is just too serious to risk.
Before there is another clamp-down on access to Parliament, let calmer heads consider the issue at length, and hopefully come to the conclusion that for all the downsides and the risks involved, the benefits of easy public access to Parliament is too valuable a right to be spoilt by a silly activist seeking his moment of fame.