Let's get these terrorist killings in perspective. Classic Guardian with Polly Toynbee:
Count the number of times you hear the chancellor and prime minister say “security”, their watchword and their excuse for all they mean to do, from brutal spending cuts to purchasing an armoury of foreign military hardware.
But fears are rarely rational. If, say, jihadis were roaming our streets with automatic weapons, killing off 35 people a week, and critically injuring another 420, that terror would see a Brussels-style total lockdown of everything, everywhere. That’s the number killed and injured on the roads, but few shake with fear as they get into their car.
How true that is. What it has to do with terrorism, though, is not entirely clear. The Tories can be blamed though, and that's the main thing.
This is Road Safety Week, after a year when British road deaths have risen by 4% and injuries by 5%. Accidents, deaths and injuries had been falling steadily, and this is the first rise since 1997. Why? Too early to say if cuts in police are the cause, but the Bedfordshire police I visited last week had cut their traffic force by 60%, so driving arrests fell steeply too. When their commissioner suggested cameras for zero tolerance for speeding on their stretch of the M1, the outcry reverberated all over the press. If the accident rate goes on rising, cuts to traffic police will look like a false economy: overall road casualties, up by 6% last year, tipped 200,000 people into hard-pressed hospitals.
Brake, the road safety charity, points out that one of this government’s first acts in 2010 was to scrap Labour’s road casualty reduction targets and they are calling for its urgent reintroduction. With traffic comes air pollution that kills even more people: 12,000 air pollution deaths a year are directly attributable to road transport. As motor manufacturers have cheated on emissions tests, cars may bear far more of the pollution blame. Pedestrian deaths rose by 12% last year, with serious injuries to cyclists up by 8%. The theme of this road safety week is “drive less, live more” – for good health, safety and anti-pollution. The less people use their cars, the safer we all are.
You see? Dying from a (possible) traffic related lung disease or being shot by a crazed jihadi - what's the difference, really? Death comes in many disguises. Why bother to have any policies at all, come to that? We're all dead in the long run.
“Security” is mostly in the mind, a political necessity but different for each of us. We are not rational about real risk. Terror works because it does exactly what its name suggests: shocking murders by cult-crazed death-seekers looking for God terrify us with their ferocity, and they are intolerable as they are deliberate, not accidental. But irrational fear of terrorism has its own risk too: in the year after New York’s 9/11 horror, Americans fearing to fly took to the roads – and that caused 1,595 extra road deaths.
Everyday life in Britain is safer and less violent by historic standards, children rarely die and most people live to ripe old age, so we seek vicarious thrills with one serial-killer horror TV drama after another. In real life, two women a week die at the hands of their partner – why aren’t we more afraid of that? We like new panics – bird flu, the millennium bug or Ebola. Regular misreported contraceptive pill scares cause a rise in pregnancies – yet pregnancy has a 30 times higher risk of death than the pill. Most serious accidents in the home are caused by shoes. Cotton wool buds cause nearly 9,000 injuries, tights and stockings more than 12,000. How frightened are you by your hosiery?
We should be far more afraid of real risks – sugar, salt and the 100 deaths a day caused by alcohol. But pleasures have to be weighed against risks. The pleasure of cakes and ale or the convenience of driving may outweigh the risks we know we take, but governments have a duty to nudge us away from needless danger.
Don't they also have a duty to protect us from getting shot in the street, or having our tube trains blown up? Or is that just being irrational?