As British poll campaign enters last lap, security emerges the top issue

Vidya Ram London | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on June 07, 2017

bl08_Britain votes

Campaign saw intense attacks on top party leadership

Britain heads to the polls on Thursday even as the issue of terrorism continued to dominate the agenda, with Conservatives and Laborseeking to get the upper hand in the debate on security, following three terrorist attacks in the country within the space of three months.

While Prime Minister Theresa May signalled her party’s willingness to put aside human rights laws in order to be able to bring in greater restrictions on those suspected of being involved in terrorism activities, Labour continued to emphasise the impact of cuts to police forces brought in by the Conservative government, describing attempts to attack human rights legislation as a “diversion.”

Human Rights Act

“There is nothing in the Human Rights Act that gets in the way of effectively tackling terrorism,” Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s spokesperson on Brexit, and the former Director of Public Prosecutions and Head of the Crown Prosecution Service in the U.K, told BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday, pointing to his work on these issues for five years, working closely with security and intelligence services.

“We prosecuted some very serious criminals, and the Human Rights Act did not get in the way of what we were doing. The problem is people just coming on to the radar, the risk assessment and what resources we are putting into it.” Late on Tuesday, May pledged her party would introduce steps to restrict the movement of terror suspects, even those against whom there was not enough evidence to launch formal prosecutions. “If your human rights laws stop us from doing it, we’ll change the laws so we can do it,” she said.

The party’s manifesto committed the party not to repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while exiting the EU, but said the party would “consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes.”

The rollercoaster electoral campaign, which began less than two months ago, has seen a dramatic turnaround in the fortunes of the main political parties, and a shift of focus away from the reason for which the election was purportedly called: Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union, with many domestic issues such as the state of the National Health Service, and other public services entering the forefront of the debate.

Gain for Labour

The past weeks have led to an 11 point gain by the Labour — the most dramatic consistent movement in the polls in modern British electoral history, says John Curtice, a prominent pollster, and professor of politics at Strathclyde.

The shift was partly spurred by the launch of the Labour manifesto in May, which was seen as a sign of the party’s willingness to work together, incorporating the radical politics of leader Jeremy Corbyn (such as on renationalisation or infrastructure) while taking into account the wider Labour view on others (such as the nuclear deterrent, and immigration).

While the Conservatives were boosted in the early days by a shift from UKIP supporters to the Conservatives, “A lot of people who are Labour inclined who four weeks ago would have said, ‘I usually vote Labour but can’t vote for Corbyn’. Now they’ve changed their mind,” said Curtice.

Support for the Conservatives has been hit by a controversy over social care for the elderly, alienating some traditional Conservative supporters over plans that would hit the ability of people to be able to pass on their homes, and earnings to their families.

The campaign has seen intense personalisation too, with the main political parties seeking to attack perceived weaknesses in the top leadership of their opponents. While the Conservatives have put May and her “team” at the heart of their campaign, emphasising her “strong and stable” track record, the Labour party has attacked her as aloof, and unwilling to engage with the public and other parties, such as her refusal to take part in a televised leaders debate last month.

Conservatives retaliate

The Conservatives, on the other hand, have sought to emphasise the past battles within the Labour party, which saw a no confidence vote against Corbyn brought last year, as well as comments made in the past such as his description in 2009 of members of Hamas and Hezbollah as “friends” and his opposition to certain anti-terror legislation of past governments.

They’ve also attacked other members of Corbyn’s top team, including Diane Abbot, the party’s spokesperson on home affairs who had two disastrous interviews over the course of the campaign, and who stepped down at the last minute for reasons of “ill health.”

A poll conducted by Survation for the news programme Good Morning Britain, and published on Tuesday showed support for the Conservatives dropping from 46.8 per cent to 51.5 per cent, while support for Labour has surged from 30 per cent to 40.4 per cent, giving the Conservatives a 1 point lead. The same poll found that support for Corbyn has risen by 15 points to 36 per cent, while that of May has fallen by 10 points to 50 per cent.

Published on June 07, 2017
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