You don’t make eye contact on the Tube. It’s one of the rules. But 10 years ago today, the morning after the 7/7 bombings that killed 52 Londoners, when the Tube re-opened and everyone was doing their best to get back to normal, we all looked each other in the eye. Out of nervous solidarity, perhaps a little out of fear. The important thing was that we were all there.
The trains weren’t packed but they were busy. And over the following fortnight, they slowly filled up again towards that unpleasant, cramped, face-in-another-person’s-armpit glory they had always been. The second bombing attempt on 21 July – a weak copycat that failed when none of the four bombs managed to explode – made us all nervous once more, but the following day, again, we all got back on the Tube.
Getting back to normal, not “letting the terrorists win”, this is what we’re supposed to do. And yet, it’s rare that a political leader follows that advice in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. “The rules of the game have changed,” proclaimed Tony Blair, a few weeks 7/7, before listing off 10 laws that needed to be introduced or dramatically altered. His response was similar to George W Bush’s following September 11, and it’s been repeated since by François Hollande after Charlie Hebdo and most recently by David Cameron after Tunisia. Cameron echoed that line again yesterday, reminding us that “the threat continues to be as real as it is deadly”.
Over the last decade the majority of Londoners have proved themselves to be far calmer and less fearful than the majority of politicians. We don’t tend to panic when we see an unattended suitcase on a train platform, nor – on the whole – do we eye our fellow passengers with suspicion if their skin is a different colour.
And our attitude has been vindicated. Over the past 10 years there has been just one successful terrorist attack against London, the killing of Lee Rigby, a fusilier murdered by two men in Woolwich in 2013. The unspoken truth about terrorism on British shores, despite the often-heated rhetoric from political leaders, is that it’s exceedingly rare.
There was one politician who understood the need for London to return to normality as quickly as possible: the mayor at the time of the attack, Ken Livingstone. His initial speech, made without notes, with tears in his eyes, was shared widely again yesterday. It captured that sense of solidarity that so many Londoners felt and it ended with a promise that London would continue to be a city that people from all over the world would want to come to. Livingstone also had one decision to take: whether or not to re-open the Tube. It was a simple decision, he recalled, years later. We had to carry on.
Steve Bloomfield is Monocle’s Executive Editor.