Not all heroes wear capes. Some wear ties and pumps.
In a suspected terrorist attack Wednesday on the Palace of Westminster, an assailant drove a vehicle into a crowd of tourists on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a police officer, PC Keith Palmer, who valiantly put himself between the attacker and further casualties. This was an attack on democracy, as the Prime Minister pointed out in a speech last night. "...the values our Parliament represents - democracy, freedom, human rights, the rule of law - command the admiration and respect of free people everywhere," she said. "That is why it is a target for those who reject those values."
Hear, hear. Those values were on full display during the attack, not just in the brave police and security forces who rushed into danger to save others, but in the very parliamentarians who occupy the Palace.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood bravely tried to save PC Keith Palmer and is rightly being hailed as a hero. Elsewhere, Labour MP Mary Creagh alerted the staff at the Westminster tube station that a terrorist attack was happening outside, prompting them to close it down and keep unsuspecting tourists inside - likely keeping the casualty list small. Labour MP Jess Phillips, locked in the Palace with some schoolkids from her constituency, worked with Virgin Trains to make sure their tickets would be honoured so that they could return home safely, even though they'd missed their train. And Tory MP Michael Fabricant comforted frightened colleagues and young researches by opening up his whiskey - which is exactly what I would have done in such a situation.
While none of this compares to the heroism of PC Palmer, it is a timely reminder that MPs truly do work for you. From the big to the small, MPs stepped up to make sure the public was safe and looked after. Even at a time when many were doubtlessly frightened, they put the needs of their constituents first. Sure, this is their jobs, but that they did it with such aplomb in such terrifying circumstances is nothing short of remarkable.
Since the expenses scandal of 2009 it has been in vogue to slag off MPs as lazy ne'er-do-wells who pillage the public purse or harbour no ambitions but to advance their own careers. Certainly, there are occasionally unethical MPs, and there's room to debate whether all of Parliament's practices (such as allowing a sitting member to edit a major newspaper) are squarely in the public interest. But as the assassination of Labour MP Jo Cox showed us last year, there are very real dangers that accompany public office, and the vitriol directed at MPs is frequently hysterical bordering on psychotic.
To stand for office is an admirable undertaking, and politics a noble pursuit. Without candidates there would be no elections, and without elections there would be no democracy. Indeed, politicians are the backbone of democracy, and democracy is what sets us apart from the terrorist thugs who would have us kowtow to their oppressive ideology.
We moan about career politicians, but every parliamentarian (whether in the Commons or the Lords) or aspiring MP I've spoken with has entered politics because they want to make a substantive difference to society. Regardless of party, if you get to talking to them, they are some of the most patriotic people you'll meet.
That showed yesterday, as MPs attempted to carry out their duties even while being told to hit the floor for fear they may be shot. It will doubtlessly show today, as they return to work as usual, tending to the business of the nation. That's nothing short of remarkable.
This attack was an attack on British democracy, and British democracy is nothing without those who serve the public. Yesterday showed the worst of humanity, but it showed the best of British public servants. As they sat under attack, not knowing whether or not they were safe, most thought not of themselves but of the country and citizens they serve. MPs did the Commons and the country proud, and we all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.