Blair shuts gates on open government

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The Independent Online
Tony Blair caught the public mood on the morning after the election by walking into Downing Street to be greeted by members of the public, friends and party workers, with their children waving flags. But since then the gates have remained shut, and it appears they will have to stay so for the foreseeable future.

Mr Blair will throw open the doors of No 10 to President Bill and Hillary Clinton for an informal visit next week, and some of Mr Blair's supporters felt that removing the Thatcher gates from the end of Downing Street would be the perfect public symbol for the new mood of optimism brought about by the change of government.

But Mr Blair has said in a written Commons answer: "Security measures at Downing Street are kept under constant review and our advice is at present they should remain."

Crowds outside No 10 were a common sight until Margaret Thatcher was advised to install the gates during her term of office to deter IRA bombers.

The need for the gates has been underlined on a number of occasions, but the IRA has also shown they are no barrier to attack. It launched a mortar attack on Downing Street in February 1992 and disrupted a Cabinet meeting. In October 1992, the IRA forced a taxi driver to take a bomb to the gates - the explosion shook Whitehall but did not cause any injuries.

The security forces believe the gates are still serving their purpose. They are supplemented by a hydraulic ramp in Downing Street to stop a suicide bomber crashing through with a lorry. The famous front door to No 10 was replaced by a blast-proof version during Mr Major's tenure, as were the Georgian sash windows.

A sustained IRA ceasefire might persuade the security forces to risk taking the black iron gates off their hinges and throwing Downing Street open to the public again.

But they are expected to argue that other groups desperate for publicity could still present a threat.

t Downing Street sources said it was likely Hillary Clinton and Cherie Blair would have lunch together, while the President and Prime Minister lunch in Downing Street next Thursday. The Clintons are dropping in on the Blairs en route for a summit in Europe to mark the 50th anniversary of the Marshall Plan. The Blairs will spend bank holiday Monday at Chequers.

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