A foolish stunt that raises grave security issues

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The Independent Online

Outrageous acts of protest have long been a fact of life in Parliament. Indeed, it is only three months since a Commons debate had to be suspended because of anti-war hecklers, and only a few years since lesbian protesters slid down ropes into the chamber to draw attention to their cause.

Outrageous acts of protest have long been a fact of life in Parliament. Indeed, it is only three months since a Commons debate had to be suspended because of anti-war hecklers, and only a few years since lesbian protesters slid down ropes into the chamber to draw attention to their cause.

What is different about yesterday's protest by Fathers4Justice during a particularly fine session of Prime Minister's Questions was not the sheer idiocy of the antic in throwing cornflour-filled condoms at Mr Blair from the gallery. Headlines about "purple powder attack" hardly imbue their demands with much sense of dignity or urgency. It is the timing that makes the occasion serious. With the country's security forces trembling at the likelihood (or near-certainty, according to the police) of a major terrorist attack in response to Britain's part in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, now is not the time for such infantile gestures.

It does, however, raise valid security issues. Should this attack have involved anthrax or sarin nerve agent rather than purple-coloured cornflour, then the country would never have forgiven the security services for allowing it to happen. And they would have been right. There is an uneasy line between protecting politicians and state figures and isolating them from the public. It is a line that constantly changes according to the perceived threat - and, at this moment, the line has moved in favour of increasing the protection.

More barriers and tougher restrictions are bound to follow in the wake of this stunt. One can only hope that they are not too restrictive, since it is vital that in a modern democracy the Prime Minister and his colleagues should not live and work in a bunker. That would suit no one. But if we are moving further towards this state of affairs than either the politicians or the public would like, we can only blame the ill-timed foolishness of these selfish protesters. As this group and others have already demonstrated, there are other ways to publicise a cause without hurling a condom at the Prime Minister in the House of Commons.

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