Let me do you the courtesy of explaining why I think Patrick Mercer’s ‘Tory conference terror alert’ story is a crock of beans.
To begin with, Patrick Mercer claims his sources are retired police and Army intelligence officers:
Sources in Northern Ireland said that the October conference in central Birmingham had emerged as the prize target on a hit list drawn up by resurgent republican paramilitaries. Patrick Mercer, ex-chairman of the Commons subcommittee on counter-terrorism, said former senior police and army intelligence officers had informed him that dissident splinter groups had discussed targeting David Cameron’s first conference as prime minister. (source)
Elsewhere this is reported/repeated as “sources in Northern Ireland” or even “police/intelligence sources in Northern Ireland” but really this should carry the health warning “according to Conservative MP Patrick Mercer…” because as Mark Townsend and Toby Helm (authors of the original Observer article) noted at the time;
Sources for West Midlands police said they had no intelligence of a specific threat against the Tory party conference. (source)
So this is not from the official song sheet and we only have Mercer’s word to go on that anyone sang otherwise. As far as the police charged with policing the event are concerned, there is no evidence of a specific threat. (You may wish to add ‘that they wish to discuss at this time’, which changes little about what follows, even if true.)
This leaves us with the possibility that this is (a) a leak, (b) the opinion of one or two retired officers, or (c) wholly imagined bullshit
(a) Exploring the possibility that it is a leak from the active police/intelligence community, we encounter the minor problem of Patrick Mercer’s recent embarrassments. Anyone in the loop will be aware of criminal investigations into/involving (hopefully former) associates of Patrick Mercer who, crucially, turned out to be conspicuously if not spectacularly discredited as sources of terrorism ‘intelligence’. Any proper cop on the job should also be aware that Mercer very recently involved police in a childish and damaging tabloid claim about his former mistress. Similarly, no serving soldier can afford to be associated with Mercer’s HIV bomb fantasies/alarmism. Ultimately, Mercer offers as much integrity and discretion as a pair of crotchless panties. If there’s a genuine threat to the Tory party conference that needs to be leaked for some reason, there are far more credible channels at present (if not in general). I’d sooner believe the NHS were issuing leaks through Nadine Dorries.
(b) If this is the opinion of one or two retired officers, years of anti-corruption regulation and legislation are working against them in an effort to keep them out of the loop, so at best they are making a judgement based on material in the public domain… or passed on in a public house. If they are privy to anything beyond that, they are most likely breaking the law if not the terms they agreed to upon employment and then retirement. If so, then to what end? One has to ask what the purpose of such whistle-blowing might be if the threat is real and it is not the wish of the authorities that it be known (see ‘a’ above). If it is as Mercer implies and there’s a pattern of senior police and army intelligence officers privately expressing concern about a specific threat to the Tory party conference, why is this specific threat not being dealt with through the usual channels? Most probably because it doesn’t exist:
Laurence Robertson, a Conservative MP who chairs a British parliamentary committee on Northern Ireland, told Sky he had no information that dissident nationalists planned a mainland bombing campaign…” (source)
(c) This leaves us with the possibility that Patrick Mercer’s sources have succumbed to bullshit or fantasy, or (more likely, in my view) Patrick Mercer himself introduced/positioned mention of a specific threat (while simultaneously leaving himself some wiggle room for later);
[Mercer] said: “They want to kill by the end of August in order to get themselves poised for whatever operations they can mount in September leading up to the Tory party conference in early October. There are doubts over whether they have the capability, but the aspiration is certainly there and West Midlands police would be crazy not to take the threat seriously.” – (source)
“I have no doubt there is an aspiration, a hope, a desire to bomb the mainland (Britain) and probably the Tory (Conservative) or indeed any of the party political conferences,” Mercer told Sky News. – (source)
In short, I fail to see how this is any different to past media alerts by Mercer that threaten to do more harm than good, and I suspect the primary component of this alert is Mercer’s wish to gain some positive publicity and re-establish himself as a credible spokesperson on terrorism.
[Psst! If CCHQ plan to play up the perceived threat in order to pressure police into providing added security for their conference that the taxpayer will have to pay for (i.e. neatly keeping anti-Tory protestors at bay at no cost to them while simultaneously associating them with militant elements), then Cameron may as well start rolling tanks into Heathrow and be done with it.]