Following a three-day suspension of the General Election campaign following Monday’s Manchester Arena bombing, the campaign restarted yesterday with Jeremy Corbyn giving a speech in which he said that the War on Terror was not working and that the UK Government needs to accept the fact that its foreign policy, in particular its military interventions in the Middle East, were increasing the risk of terrorism here in the UK. His speech, as I said in my post yesterday, has generated criticism from the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats who have accused him of suggesting that Britain was to blame for the terrorist attack on Monday. Today, the Prime Minister Theresa May (above) chose to focus her return to electioneering by making a extraordinary attack on Jeremy Corbyn and yesterday’s speech. Speaking at a press conference at the end of her first G7 summit, she said:
“I have been here with the G7, working with other international leaders to fight terrorism.
“At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn has said that terror attacks in Britain are our own fault and he has chosen to do that a few days after one of the worst terrorist atrocities we have experienced in the United Kingdom.
“I want to make something clear to Jeremy Corbyn and to you: there can never be an excuse for terrorism, there can be no excuse for what happened in Manchester.”
The Labour party immediately accused her of “not telling the truth”, continuing: “In his speech, Jeremy said protecting this country requires us to be both strong against terrorism and strong against the causes of terrorism. The blame is with the terrorists, but if we are to protect our people we must be honest about what threatens our security.” Mr Corbyn was making the point that UK interventions have created “huge ungovernable spaces” in the Middle East, which are exploited by group such as Islamic State. Mr Corbyn clarified his view when interviewed further by Andrew Neil for the BBC:
“The attack on Manchester was shocking, appalling, indefensible, wrong in every possible way.
“The parallel I was drawing this morning was that a number of people ever since the interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq have drawn attention to the links with foreign policy, including Boris Johnson in 2005, two former heads of MI5, and of course the foreign affairs select committee.”
Theresa May’s attack effectively re-focuses the election campaign onto extremism and the UK’s foreign policy, taking it away from the issue of Brexit which Theresa May was obsessing about before Monday’s bomb atrocity in Manchester. The Tories lead in the opinion polls has been gradually falling over the last few weeks and this may have spurred the Prime Minister to switch tactics with less than two weeks to go until the General Election on 8 June. An opinion poll from YouGov puts Labour just five points behind the Conservatives. She did bring in the issue of Brexit again, asking who people want to be sitting down for Brexit negotiations just 11 days after the election. She also suggested that Mr Corbyn cannot be trusted:
“It is a choice between me working constantly to protect the national interest and to protect our security, and Jeremy Corbyn, who frankly isn’t up to the job.”
The Prime Minister is clearly concerned about the headway Labour are making in the opinion polls. As the Prime Minister has pointed out, the Conservatives only need to lose six seats at the General Election to lose their majority in Parliament.
The attacks on Mr Corbyn have even come from people in his own party. The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham told TalkRadio of Mr Corbyn’s views: “I have a different view to Jeremy on this. 9/11 happened before any interventions overseas, and the ideology was in existence before that […] The people who committed this appalling act are responsible for it, 100%.” He continued that radical Islamists “used things” to justify violence but “We didn’t create it. [There’s] a tendency to blame governments for everything, and I don’t think we should.”
Following a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee this morning, the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC), who decide at which level the UK’s threat level should be set, have reduced the level from “critical” to “severe”. It had been raised to “critical” on Tuesday evening when the investigation into the Manchester bombing realised that the bomber Salman Abedi was not working alone and that another attack was possible. “Critical” means that JTAC believe an attack is imminent, while “severe” implies it is highly likely. The decision to reduce the threat level was partly a response to the progress made in the investigation and the belief that “immense progress” and, what the Prime Minister today said was, “a significant amount of police activity.” The investigation has made huge steps towards uncovering those involved in the attack and its planning and therefore reducing the risk of another attack. Eleven people are now in custody here in the UK and in Libya.
The reduction will also mean that troops will be gradually taken off the streets from Monday. They had been deployed on Wednesday following the threat level being risen to “critical.” The Prime Minister said: “The public should be clear about what this means – a threat level of severe means an attack is highly likely. The country should remain vigilant.”
Sources & Further Reading:
- The Guardian view on the resumed election campaign: there’s a message in the poll wobble – theguardian.com – 26 May 2017
- May puts Manchester attack at heart of election with attack on Corbyn – theguardian.com – 26 May 2017 – by Anushka Asthana in Sicily and Rowena Mason
- Election choice ‘starker’ after Corbyn said Manchester bombing ‘our own fault’, claims Theresa May – independent.co.uk – 26 May 2017 – by Rob Merrick, Deputy Political Editor
- Fallon: ‘No correlation between foreign policy and this appalling act of terrorism’ – channel4.com/news – 26 May 2017 – by Krishnan Guru-Murthy
- ‘Immense’ progress made in Manchester attack investigation – euronews.com – updated 27 May 2017
- Jeremy Corbyn carefull avoids committing to make Diane Abbott his Home Secretary – independent.co.uk – 28 May 2017 – by Chris Baynes
- Nicola Sturgeon defends Jeremy Corbyn linking terrorism in UK to foreign policy – independent.co.uk – 28 May 2017 – by Rachael Revesz