As campaigning enters its final stretch, right wing reaction is plumbing new depths, writes Lindsey German
As all readers of the briefing will no doubt be aware by now, my opinions of Donald Trump and Theresa May are low. However, even I have lowered that opinion still further given the events of the past 36 hours. Trump set the scene by using the terrible attack at London Bridge to demand that US courts allow him to go ahead with his Muslim travel ban. He later launched a completely mendacious attack on London's Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan. Theresa May urged the calling off of election campaigning (apparently she wanted this for longer than one day) but then almost immediately made a speech which was anything but unpolitical and which allowed her to continue campaigning while others could not.
She certainly made the most of it. Her speech was shocking in that it deliberately took aim at both Jeremy Corbyn and the Muslim community, throwing in the public sector for good measure. This extract from the speech shows her trying to make political capital from the attack.
"While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is - to be frank - far too much tolerance of extremism in our country. So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out across the public sector and across society. That will require some difficult, and often embarrassing, conversations. But the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism, and we need to live our lives, not in a series of separated, segregated communities, but as one truly United Kingdom"
I take this not just as shoddy and disgraceful electioneering but as a signal that if she wins the election she will introduce further measures aimed at limiting civil liberties and especially aimed at the Muslim community. It is worth remembering a few things. Firstly, that May has been Home Secretary under coalition and Tory governments. Her policies have been increasingly draconian and restrictive yet they have not prevented a rise in terrorism - precisely the reverse.
They have also alienated many in the Muslim community who feel that they are being penalised for the actions of a tiny number, who are condemned by most Muslims. It should be remembered that Muslims are by far the majority of the victims of terrorism across the world, with terrible attacks taking place every week in Iraq and Afghanistan. May has also supported every twist and turn of this failed War on Terror which has seen a huge increase in such acts.
Secondly, the attacks on the public sector - by which I take it she means schools and universities - are signs of a very illiberal approach, which is already leading to restrictions of free speech and the penalising of Muslims in a range of institutions. Perhaps she might like to consider that this is the same public sector whose emergency services responded immediately to the attacks in conditions of great danger. It is a public sector that has been rewarded with a miserable 1% pay rise, effectively a pay cut, and has also seen jobs and resources cut back in a city which has grown massively and is now bigger than at any time since 1939.
Thirdly, the Tories have made it clear that they will use anything to win votes including playing on people's genuine fears and helping to stoke the racism which is never far from the surface in British society. I note that she is being aided in this by Nigel Farage, who claims that there are large areas of east London which are completely Muslim, where women can't wear short skirts and people aren't allowed to drink alcohol without being harassed. As someone who knows east London quite well, this is one of the biggest pieces of fake news I have seen.
As for tolerating extremism, the government should consider its own record. Not just arms sales to the Saudis, but the encouragement of massive investment in London by the Saudis and Qataris.
Jeremy Corbyn's speech in response to the terror attacks made the point about the Saudis, unreported in the broadcast media, and called on the government to publish a secret report on the funding of terrorists. The BBC is quoting a speech by Jeremy to a Stop the War conference where he said he had voted against terror legislation as if this is a mark of shame. But is there really any evidence that more legislation will reduce the threat of terrorism? There are already extensive laws to deal with it, but it still happens.
There needs to be an honest debate about how we deal with terrorism, but it has to start with a recognition that the policy carried out by successive governments has only worsened the situation. The best way to take that debate forward would be to defeat Theresa May on Thursday. That would have the added benefit of disinviting Trump to London. I'm sure most Londoners want nothing to do with him and resent his blatant racism and politicking over this tragedy.
London Pride for the many, not the few
On the question of Londoners, I'm all for praising the bravery of a great many people during the attacks on Saturday night, including the emergency services, catering workers and members of the public. But I get a bit fed up with all the stuff which implies that this is a sort of Blitz spirit and that Londoners always react in a stoical way.
The truth is that people - as we saw in Manchester - tend to react to such events in a cooperative and collective way, at least initially, to help people in any way that they can. What is important is to try to maintain that attitude, especially when there are those who will try and foster division. But it is also true that people act like this because they are faced with adversity and see little alternative.
What choice do people have but to go to work, take public transport, and yes, go out and socialise, even if they may feel fear or anxiety? And there are many whose jobs are vital to maintaining a city of 9 million, many of them, of course, the much-maligned public sector workers.
My generation was brought up by people who lived through the Second World War and endured hardship and danger. I don't think that most of them thought of themselves as particularly brave, and I knew no one who boasted about being so, although many of them undoubtedly were.
Often they were fatalistic about danger, and people of my parents' generation would say that if a bomb had your name on it there was nothing you could do. They saw no alternative to doing what they did, and it was this cooperative spirit that led to the Labour landslide in 1945. I find it particularly galling that this is now used to justify right wing ideologues calling for more repressive measures while trying to cut the public services on which we all rely. Especially when this comes from a party most of whose leadership appeased Hitler, refused to build deep shelters to protect the population and compared Labour to the Gestapo in the 1945 election. Just sayin’.
Killing is wrong unless it's on a nuclear scale
Isn't it amazing that there is so much talk about who would press the button in a nuclear attack, and the need to keep Trident? Pressing the button would be a zero option for Britain. All estimates of a nuclear attack suggest that it would wipe out much of central London and its population, and would have devastating effects in a much wider radius. Millions would die from the blast or from radiation sickness.
But this is regarded as incidental by the sorts of Neanderthals who, on Friday night's Question Time, kept demanding that Jeremy Corbyn should be willing to press the button. Surely anyone demanding this should have some idea of the consequences - it isn't like firing a machine gun, you know. And they should be aware that nearly every country in the world doesn't have nuclear weapons. Somehow countries such as Germany manage without being constantly attacked by others. That, of course, would also demand an intelligent and informed debate - something David Dimbleby seemed determined to avoid on Friday.
Labour's right needs to get with the programme
Some members of the PLP are particularly surprised and confounded by Jeremy Corbyn's surge in the polls. Top prize should go to Joan Ryan, candidate for Enfield North, who has sent out a letter - a Labour letter - saying that everyone knows Theresa May will win the election, but please still vote for Ryan as local MP for Enfield North. Well, thanks Joan. There's nothing like party loyalty and a bit of bravery in the face of the enemy. Actually, there is a big swing to Labour in London according to the recent polls, and marginals like hers are looking much safer.
But if she does get elected I hope she will realise that this is not because of anything she has done (because after all, telling people your opponent's leader is going to win really isn't very clever) but because of the very good campaign run by Jeremy Corbyn. I hope too that her party members in Enfield North will view this behaviour as the cowardice that it is and take appropriate action to stop her behaving like this.
Ryan is not alone in her stupidity, however. A Financial Times article 'Labour braced for significant losses in North and Midlands' actually reported something different. It talked to a number of candidates, and a well-placed party source (!) who said that Labour was not heading for a good night on Thursday. The evidence? Well actually it admitted that Labour would do well in London, that support for the Tories had receded considerably since the campaign began, but there were seats in 'provincial towns up north' (!) which are not safe for Labour. One candidate said that around 1 in 10 of his 'white working class' voters would not vote for Corbyn.
Even if true, that's hardly decisive in most seats, especially if more who haven't previously voted Labour can be persuaded to do so. Given that the same article demonstrates a very high degree of worry among Tories about the unpopularity of their manifesto and leader, I would make two observations. One is that the Financial Times really is not the paper that it was 20 years ago, which tended to rely on assessments that were based on fact not prejudice.
The second is that Labour can still win this election if it gets its vote out.
As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.
Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.
More articles from this author
- Lip service to the left, but moves to the right - weekly briefing
- Do not be fooled: Trump is the problem
- Soleimani assassination is an act of war
- Past mistakes, future opportunities - weekly briefing
- What we should take from the election and what we do next
- Where do we go from here? – election briefing 13 December
- We have a world to win – election briefing Polling Day