The tories are flapping: they have underestimated Corbyn and the class he represents, observes Lindsey German
Theresa May’s opportunistic attempt to use the terrorist attacks to win the election is not going the way she planned. She is blathering so much that even the devoted Laura Kuenssberg is having to ask one or two questions about cuts to police numbers. She got quite a roasting from the press yesterday, which shows that even they are turning against her. Her culture secretary, Karen Brady, had a meltdown on the Today programme when asked whether police numbers had been cut. And her response to Piers Morgan on breakfast television was that this is not a pub quiz. No, in a pub quiz you’re expected to know a proportion of the answers. If this is the calibre of May’s cabinet, it isn’t up to much.
Jeremy Corbyn’s call for May to resign is taking the fight right into the heart of the Tory campaign. May doesn’t really have any answers. She is refusing to publish a report on state links to terrorism, especially from the Saudis. More embarrassing for her is the fact that all the recent perpetrators of terror attacks have been known to the authorities. One of the killers from Saturday was apparently an Islamist extremist who took part in a Channel 4 documentary - called The Jihadis Next Door - on the subject and was filmed raising an Islamist flag in Regents Park. The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, flew an ISIS flag over his house. Both were reported to the authorities, and several neighbours said that they had expressed serious concerns about the London attacker Butt.
These attacks have all happened on May’s watch. Her attacks on Jeremy Corbyn for voting against terror legislation fail to mention that she voted against much terror legislation herself when proposed by a Labour government. While she parrots the strong and stable routine, her campaign is melting down.
This election is quite remarkable in that it has seen two major terrorist attacks, both in the heart of big cities. It would be amazing if they did not overshadow the last days of the election. So far it has not created a right wing backlash, which is what the attackers would have wanted. The vigils in Manchester and London, the desire on most sides to avoid attacks on Muslims, and the sense of unity in the face of such attacks, have all helped to prevent this. The fact that at least one of the latest terrorist attackers was so prominent and known to the authorities is cause for concern, as is the fact that none of the latest three attacks were anticipated by the authorities.
May is using these last few days to throw as much mud as possible at Jeremy Corbyn. So far, a lot of it isn’t sticking. Take for example her now patently ludicrous claim that she is the only one who can negotiate Brexit. Who knows how the European negotiators are viewing the British election. But you can bet your life they’re not quaking at the thought of Theresa May. Laughing, maybe.
Time to look at the context
Dealing with the terrorist threat will be a major task for any government in the present circumstances. As I have outlined before, I don't think this can be done without looking at the wider context in which these attacks happen. I also have to say I have problems with any type of shoot to kill policy. Don't get me wrong - the police were faced with an absolutely terrifying situation on Saturday and there was probably little alternative then. But we should remember that even in this case their killing of the terrorists also resulted in the shooting of one member of the public, who is wounded in hospital - a fact little reported in the media. I also remember after the 7/7 bombings an entirely innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes, was shot dead while running for a tube train as he was late to work. So I do not think that a big increase in armed police will help the situation.
There are, however, a whole number of other ways that people such as these attackers could be dealt with before they launch these deadly assaults. There has been much talk about cuts in routine policing and many people talk about this as a problem in a whole number of areas, but more police are also often seen as a problem, especially by young people, who feel they are singled out by them.
Many youth and social workers also complain that the cutting of youth services by councils is closing off a vital area where young people can be engaged, and are less likely therefore to be involved with such ideologies. The failure in spotting terrorism also derives from a situation partly created by the attitude of the authorities to the Muslim community. Wouldn't it be good if, instead of criminalising and demonising whole communities, whacking them over the head with Prevent and talk of community cohesion, maybe they could try listening to them when they express concerns? There needs to be a very different approach to challenging the threat of terrorism, which doesn't resort to knee-jerk call for more laws and more armed police. We have these already and the problem continues.
Vote May, prepare for war
Interestingly, May has refused to in any way distance herself from the disgusting remarks about the London attacks from Donald Trump, especially over his criticism of London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan. This signals to me that she is intent on getting as close to Trump as possible, as she did with her Washington visit in January, even though this may be unpopular with people in Britain.
This is particularly dangerous at this moment, as bitter divisions in the Middle East are opening up. Qatar is being blockaded by other Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia, for allegedly supporting terrorism in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood (which is a very different kettle of fish from ISIS, as even the British government admits). This follows Trump's very recent visit to Saudi Arabia, where he urged a new unity of Sunni states in the region. Iraq has already said it will support Qatar, as will no doubt Iran. We should be very afraid of a new war in the region which will put the fighting already there in the shade. We know where Theresa May will be – right behind the Saudis and Trump. If you want peace in this election, there is only one candidate to vote for. Bringing these wars to an end would also be a big step towards starting to deal with terrorism.
Who’s sorry now?
There’s been a flurry of articles from leftish commentators saying sorry for not supporting Jeremy Corbyn, and saying that he's now shown them he is much better than they thought. Good, encouraging, sinners come to repentance, and so on. But it doesn’t say much for their prescience and foresight. It really suggests that they’re not very reliable commentators. Also, a number of these people haven’t just walked away in the last few months, they have been available to and used by the media to attack Jeremy Corbyn. Hope they’re not even more sorry on Thursday night.
The polls are probably doing most people’s heads in. It seems to me impossible to tell very much from such divergence. There are too many unknowns: will young people turn out? How will the Labour vote be distributed across the country? Will more UKIP votes now go to Labour, or stay with UKIP, rather than going to the Tories, as some seem to suggest? What is the effect, if any, of the terror attacks? I just think there are too many of these factors to get a clear or uniform picture.
So, let’s just look at what the polls broadly agree on. The gap between the two parties is closing all the time, and in Labour’s favour, but Labour is still behind. The raw data from the polls shows a very narrow gap between the two. The other parties are being squeezed, and young people are opting for Labour in large numbers, while the opposite is true for over 65s. Turnout is going to be absolutely key in this election, which means getting the young, black and poor to vote in their millions.
If they do, Jeremy will get elected. There will be a lot of discussion and speculation about this in the next couple of days. But it’s worth saying now, that this is down to Jeremy Corbyn and his excellent campaign, and the wider sense that things must change in this country. Credit should also go to the multi-million-pound disaster that is the Tory campaign. Whoever wins or loses on Thursday, things are already changing, and that isn’t going to stop on Friday.
It's a mass movement, stupid
Jeremy Corbyn's excellent speech in Gateshead last night was attended by many thousands of people, a lot of them stuck outside in the rain. This is a major phenomenon, whatever the outcome on Thursday. Of course, dramatically under-reported. Indeed, the Today programme this morning went to Beamish, not far away, and found people who, guess what, wouldn't vote Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn. With a few notable exceptions, the journalists covering this campaign have distinguished themselves only by their sheep-like following of the latest steer from Lynton Crosby, and their inability to understand what exists outside the Westminster bubble. Well, this is real politics, a rising of working class and young people, who are fed up with austerity and want a better life.
We're on the edge of something tremendous if we win. And even if we don't win, we will carry on fighting.
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
- The nasty parties unite to stop Corbyn - election briefing 12 November 2019
- The world turned upside down - election briefing 11 November
- Why have the Greens joined an anti-Labour alliance? - election briefing 8 November
- The mask keeps slipping - election briefing 7 November
- Rees-Mogg: the ugly face of class privilege - daily election briefing 6 November
- The battle that will shape a generation – weekly briefing
- Trump’s coming to London during the election