Britain’s embattled Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May is shamelessly playing the “terror card” to bolster her “strong leader” posture, just days before the general election this week.
Breaking an informal agreement with rival political parties to temporarily suspend election campaigning, May rushed to deliver a speech in front of 10 Downing Street calling for a “robust” law and order response to a “new threat terror”.
May made her nationwide appeal the morning after the deadly terror attack in London on Saturday night in which seven bystanders were killed. Her grandstanding speech also attempted to tar her main rival, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, as being “soft on terrorism”.
It’s a well-worn Tory ploy of presenting the Conservative party as the strong national-security defenders, while casting others as the “enemy within”. This may have worked efficaciously in the past. But in the present circumstances the trusty old terror card has become threadbare from lies and fatal contradictions.
At the weekend, all British political parties had agreed to suspend campaigning for 24 hours following the assault late on Saturday night in which three British-born jihadists launched a van and knife attack on pedestrians near London Bridge. But, in a sign of desperation, Theresa May broke ranks and appeared early Sunday morning to make her anti-terror appeal.
The latest events come at a critical time ahead of the British snap election. Since the Conservative government made the surprise call for an early election, Theresa May has seen her poll ratings collapse from a 20-plus point lead to a nail-biting margin of only a few points over Labour rival Jeremy Corbyn.
Under Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour party is campaigning on a platform that has been described as the most left-wing seen in decades. His pitch for wide-ranging socialist policies has unexpectedly rallied the British public in support. That surge has alarmed the Tories who are traditionally pro-business and advocates of neoliberal austerity policies.
The British media which is largely supportive of the Conservatives have over recent weeks been piling up negative claims against Corbyn as being “soft on terrorism”. Those claims have referred to his past verbal support for groups like Hamas in the Palestinian territories, Iranian-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Irish republicans during the 1980s. Corbyn contends that his past support for such groups was aimed at facilitating inclusive peace talks.
But the Conservatives have been ruthlessly vilifying the Labour leader as a “terrorist sympathizer” as well as being “anti-NATO” and “soft on Russia”. The latter epithet stems partly from Corbyn’s stated reluctance to order the use of nuclear weapons if he were prime minister.
The latest terror attack in London – Britain’s third deadly jihadist-related attack in three months – has given Theresa May and her embattled Tory party more ammunition to go after Corbyn, or so they would like to think.
But just like May’s gamble to call an early general election, betting that it would strengthen her government, the ploy to use the terror card might also rebound badly.
For a start Labour and other opposition parties have pointed out that the spate of terror attacks hitting Britain have been made possible by the huge public spending cutbacks that the Conservatives have implemented over several years. Corbyn countered May’s latest posturing of “strong leadership” by reminding voters that her government has reduced police force ranks by some 20,000 personnel. That reduction, he says, inevitably impairs state security, allowing would-be jihadists to organize.
Indeed media reports have documented that the jihadist who killed four people on London’s Westminster Bridge in April, as well as the suicide bomber who killed 22 at a concert last month in Manchester, and the three suspects in the latest terror attack on London Bridge were all known to the security services.
Why these suspects were not picked up in advance suggests that police services are overstretched and under-manned. Very arguably therefore, the cost-cutting Conservative government bears responsibility for security impairment. And the angry public know that.
Some commentators have gone further and said that secretive forces within the British establishment might even be allowing these terror attacks to proceed in a nefarious calculation that the public repercussions are more harmful politically to Labour’s Corbyn. Wittingly or unwittingly it allows the Conservative party to focus attention on allegations of Corbyn being a “terrorist sympathizer”.
Nevertheless, as noted above, the ploy could still go badly wrong for the Conservatives. Before she took over the premiership from David Cameron, who resigned last year over the Brexit referendum, Theresa May served as the Home Secretary for five years. It was under her watch that police services incurred swinging manpower cuts, which have inevitably undermined security measures. Her latest gambit of posing as a strong leader and calling for a “tough” law and order response is in danger of sounding hollow, if not contemptible.
Also, as veteran journalist John Pilger recently reported, there is much evidence pointing to links between Britain’s spy agencies MI5 and MI6 and their clandestine involvement in cultivating homegrown jihadists to fight in British-backed wars for regime change in Libya and Syria. This covert policy of British state collusion with jihadists was conducted during May’s stint as Home Secretary. So when May piously talks about a new threat of terrorism facing Britain, it is not a difficult stretch for the public to connect this threat as being blowback from Britain’s involvement in dirty wars.
While May and her government would like to treat the terror attacks in Britain as “isolated” manifestations of “evil ideology”, there is a growing public understanding that the violence assailing British streets is inextricably linked to Britain’s criminal foreign policy of sponsoring wars for regime change and consorting with proxy terror groups.
After May’s dig at Corbyn with her claim that there was “too much tolerance towards terrorism”, the Labour leader hit back, saying that Britain must look critically at its relations with Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf monarchies which are systematically connected to jihadist extremism.
“We do need to have some difficult conversations starting with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fueled extremist ideology,” said Corbyn.
May’s government has in particular sought to increase weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states even while these regimes are increasingly seen as having a notorious record on human rights violations at home and abroad. The British-backed Saudi slaughter in Yemen is a particular cause of public disgust in Britain.
When Theresa May stood in front of Downing Street at the weekend and intoned that “terrorism breeds terrorism” she was inadvertently making a self-indicting statement on her own government’s appalling record. Her government and its consorting with terrorist-sponsoring Wahhabi oil kingdoms has not only wreaked havoc in the Middle East. Such a reckless criminal policy is ricocheting all over Britain’s streets. And the British public can see that, despite government and media deflections over responsibility.
The increasing awareness among the British public about Britain’s complicity in terrorism makes the once-trusty terror card an unreliable card to play. It’s not the ace that Theresa May thinks she is playing against Corbyn. Instead, it could turn out to be a bad joker.
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