It was supposed to be the Brexit election. Instead it is the issue of security that dominates today after another terror attack struck a British city and election campaigning was suspended for the second time. Sunday’s suspension was more brief than that agreed after the Manchester Arena bombing, and different in tone – perhaps inevitable after the second terrorist strike in a fortnight, and with just days to go before voters head to the polls.
Theresa May emerged from a meeting of the government’s emergency Cobra committee to announce: “Enough is enough. While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. ” On what she thought still needed to be done, May said there could be increased prison terms for even minor terrorism offences, and targeted internet companies:
“We cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed – yet that is precisely what the internet, and the big companies that provide internet-based services provide. We need to work with allied democratic governments to reach international agreements to regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorism planning.”
Returning to the stump on Sunday evening, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn took a different view on how extremism could be tackled: “You cannot protect the public on the cheap. The police and security services must get the resources they need, not 20,000 police cuts.”
Theresa May was warned by the Police Federation but she accused them of ‘crying wolf’. That is a reference to a speech made by May as home secretary two years ago, in which she accused Police Federation delegates of scaremongering and “crying wolf” over cuts in police funding.
Corbyn also sought to distance himself from some of his own past comments, notably a 2015 BBC interview in which he said he was “not happy with the shoot-to-kill policy in general” on Britain’s streets (an interview the BBC Trust later ruled was presented out of context). Speaking on Sunday, the Labour leader said he backed the actions of armed police who shot dead the three suspects just eight minutes after the first emergency call:
“I will take whatever action is necessary and effective to protect the security of our people and our country. That includes full authority for the police to use whatever force is necessary to protect and save life as they did last night.”
Corbyn finds backing this morning for his argument that “difficult conversations” need to be had with countries including Saudi Arabia over the funding of extremism. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron echoed Corbyn’s call for a report commissioned by David Cameron into funding of jihadi groups to be published.