Recent terror attacks in Britain appear to have contributed significantly to the disastrous election result for Theresa May’s ruling Conservatives. The country has suffered an unprecedented terror wave this year, the London Bridge incident being the third after the earlier Westminster and Manchester attacks.
During the election campaign, May called for tougher measures to fight terrorism, claiming there was no direct link among the three incidents, but that “terrorism breeds terrorism.” There had been relative peace since the attack in July 2005 when suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated attacks on London’s transport system. But the threat level this year had been raised after similar attacks in Europe.
Confounding May’s surprise strategy to call an early election while she led opinion polls, the recent attacks only served to expose her negligence. May temporarily suspended her campaign, a move that was criticized by her opponents, and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn cited various factors that contributed to the worsening security crises.
Security concerns helped rally people further in support of Labour due to the government’s apparent inability to prevent the attacks. Corbyn said May was trying to protect the public “on the cheap.” Police and security services “must get the resources they need” to safeguard the country, he said.
Cuts to policing hamper anti-terror efforts
Corbyn had earlier backed calls for May to resign as prime minister for her decision while she was home secretary to reduce spending on domestic policing. The reduction in police officers by 20,000 is thought to be the main reason security forces could not tackle rising extremism and that counter-insurgency efforts lacked effectiveness this year.
May raised the threat level in 2015, citing the conflicts in Syria and Iraq; Northern Ireland-related terrorism remained a lesser threat. After attacks in France and German, Kevin Hurley, former head of counter-terrorism for the City of London police, observed, “No-one can predict where it can happen next. There is no way of knowing where these attacks will occur.” The UK was considered at risk and there was no plausible reason for decreasing police forces.
Countering criticism from Corbyn after the Manchester attack, Security Minister Ben Wallace claimed the Labour leader was helping “justify” terrorism during a speech linking attacks with the UK’s foreign policy. Corbyn said it is the responsibility of governments to minimize the risk of further atrocities and to recognize the West’s “war on terror” is not working, Wallace said it was “incredibly disappointing and crass” to raise the subject just days after the Manchester attack. But the ongoing security threat saw the Conservatives lose the 20% lead it had before the election was called.
Labour gained significant strength, drawing 40.2% of the vote, while the Conservatives held on to 48.6%. May’s controversial policies, the economic slump, Brexit-caused inflation, forced austerity and a plan to cut welfare entitlements resulted in a hung Parliament.
Corbyn the reluctant replacement vows change
After Ed Miliband resigned as Labour head in May 2015, Corbyn said he only accepted the leadership so he could “promote some causes.” It was Corbyn who vowed to “change what we do abroad”, referring to Britain’s overseas military involvements as well as its air strikes against Isis.
Riding a popularity wave, Corbyn proposed a radical party manifesto aimed at returning the railways, the energy industry, water and even the Royal Mail, to public ownership. He also proposed a national education service similar to the National Health Service, and promised to build 100,000 council houses yearly and to establish a national investment bank to finance public spending. His promise to abolish university tuition fees was popular among the youth, who uncharacteristically turned out in strong numbers on election day.
The election result is evidence of a leftward swing in Britain while recent results in other Western countries showed a more populist move to the right. The current terror situation has encouraged racism and support for anti-immigration policies. Corbyn will have an uphill fight against prevalent racist trends. Support for refugee migration will also be difficult as the spike in terrorism is increasingly seen as a spill-over from the troubles in the Middle East. Effective intelligence and an efficient police network can help prevent attacks. A change in tactics with a fresh approach may be exactly what is required for a stable and peaceful Britain.