Jun 5, 2017 | 13:02 GMT

3 mins read

U.K.: The Political Ramifications of Terror

On June 3, the United Kingdom suffered its third terror attack in three months. Three attackers armed with 10-12 inch blades moved across London Bridge and through the Borough Market area of Central London, stabbing bystanders. Seven people were killed and more than 50 were injured. Security forces reacted rapidly, and all three attackers had been shot dead within eight minutes of the first emergency call. On June 4, security forces arrested 12 people suspected of involvement with the attack.
Initially, all major British political parties declared a break in campaigning ahead of elections to be held June 8. But the suspension did not last. Incumbent Prime Minister Theresa May made a speech that could be viewed as part of her campaign, and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also made statements. In her speech, May toughened some of her previous rhetoric on terrorism, and she criticized the "safe space" provided by social media platforms and by the internet more broadly that has enabled radicalism to spread. This is a position has taken throughout the campaign, including at the G-7 meeting in Sicily last month. Corbyn changed his position some, claiming that the United Kingdom needs more police officers to cope with the problem and blaming Conservative spending cuts for the events.
There is little concrete political action that can be taken before the election. Successive British governments have already introduced laws to clamp down on terrorism; more than 100 statutory instruments since 2000 have included "terrorism" in the title. But because two of the three recent attacks involved vehicles running over pedestrians on bridges, barriers are now being installed on Waterloo, Westminster and London bridges. Whether or not the government campaign against technology companies will continue will depend on the election results.
When it comes to the election itself, these events may boost the incumbent Conservatives, since security is a traditional area of strength for May's party. Though it is notable that Tory support in polls did not increase after the May 22 Manchester bombing, at that point the political momentum was strongly with Corbyn's Labour Party, largely thanks to political missteps by the Conservatives, including several unexpected policy shifts in the party's most recent manifesto. In the days before the latest attacks, the momentum had been shifting back to the Tories following some positive performances on the campaign trail, and the focus on security could further aid Theresa May's party. On June 5, May said in a speech that a Labour administration would have negative effects on the British economy and accused Labour of not having a coherent plan for Brexit. This suggests that the Tories want to keep focus on the topics where they feel most comfortable.
Electoral polls continue to favor the Conservatives, though with a considerably smaller majority than when the election was called. With that in mind, a narrow win for the Conservatives may still be seen as a defeat overall, and May's position as leader might come under threat. The party has tended to ruthlessly replace its leaders when they are perceived to be weak.
The election will also be watched very closely by the leaders of the European Union. May called it in the hope of securing a strong majority with a view to more effectively tackling difficult Brexit negotiations. With the possibility of a slim majority and a new leader, or even a hung parliament and a minority government, the United Kingdom might end up emerging with a weak and divided administration instead. 

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