Will Manchester Attack Influence UK Election?
It is often believed that a terror attack will benefit a right-wing party in an election since such a political party would usually support immigration control and greater security. Various polls and surveys seem to justify such a view since they have shown how Theresa May is the preferred “strong and stable” candidate to lead the country and respond accordingly in times of crisis. British right-wing tabloids have pushed this message and, even before the Manchester terror attack, sought to incriminate Jeremy Corbyn by stressing his connections to the Irish Republican Army (IRA).
At the same time, there have been warnings against the Conservatives’ policies, especially on the issue of security in relation to cuts to police budgets as well as Brexit itself, which might make it harder for the UK to fight terrorism.
For many swing voters, the Manchester terror attack won’t affect their decision when they vote on 8 June, according to a project by political consultancy, Britain Thinks. Most of these undecided voters, who were asked about their opinion on how the various UK parties responded to the attack, conceded that Theresa May would be the strongest when dealing with a crisis.
The political consultancy, Britain Thinks, is collaborating with the newspaper the Guardian on a project to “see the 2017 General Election through voters’ eyes,” and has explored the views of undecided voters in six key constituencies—Glasgow East, Wells, Birmingham Erdington, Harrow West, Cambridge and Hartlepool. Through online research methods and face-to-face research approaches the consultancy aims to find out what citizens feel about the election and how it is impacting on their lives.
When asked about the election and the recent tragic events in Manchester, the majority of these voters agreed that it won’t have an immediate effect on their vote while a few of them admitted that the Manchester terror attack has made them wonder who would be the most responsible to deal with unpredictable situations. Many voters also praised the temporary postponement of the election campaigning by all parties. Others pointed out that if the attack was used by any candidate, opportunistically, and in such a way as to insinuate how much stronger or better they are, then they wouldn’t be voting for such a candidate or party.
For Nathan, a Labour-Tory marginal in Birmingham Erdington, Theresa May “has done and said everything right. Condemning the US for their breach of trust regarding the investigation was really good to see, which sets her apart from previous prime ministers.”
Terrorism and security
For many undecided voters, terrorism was an important issue and a high political priority, but for others, terror attacks are despicable acts of senseless violence that cannot always be controlled and are unavoidable.
The Guardian cited two voters, according to whom security should increase: “They will not go against the politically correct mindset and will not want to look prejudiced against so-called minority religions,” said Ian. “In reality the government isn’t doing enough and is putting us all at risk allowing people to go to Iraq and Syria and then welcoming them back but putting them on a watchlist. Anyone on the list or anyone related to anyone on the list should be deported, or if they are from the UK they should be jailed.”
Theresa May vs. Jeremy Corbyn
The NY Times also drew attention to the Manchester bombing as a significant event that will shift the political narrative and benefit Theresa May, no matter how unfortunate and horrific such a tragedy is. As Steven Erlanger wrote, last “Monday’s terrorist attack has changed the narrative of Britain’s election, just two weeks away — and in her favor.” He added: “The events in Manchester have both allowed and required Mrs. May to reassert herself as Britain’s reassuring grown-up, a trusted pair of hands on security issues — especially in contrast with her main rival, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.”
The Conservatives might not want to exploit the tragic event, but as the NY Time article argues, the party was trying to move attention away from Theresa May’s U-turn on social policy and towards Corbyn’s sympathies with Sinn Fein and the IRA. Right-wing newspapers, the Daily Mail and the Sun, which support the Conservative party, published MI5’s file on Corbyn and emphasised his associations with the Irish Republicans. In a TV interview, Corbyn refused to condemn the IRA’s bombing in the UK and, instead, he condemned all the bombing “by both the Loyalists and the IRA.”
While terrible events shape our views and emotional response to the world, for many the attacks on Corbyn for being soft on terrorism might be interpreted as opportunistic. For others, this is the time that Theresa May will rise as the only capable figure and her party will “make this election as much as possible about leadership.” But, unfortunately, terrorism has become an everyday phenomenon, and for Professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, Tim Bale, “It’s very easy to see these absolutely terrible events as game changers, but they rarely are. And partly, sadly, because they’re more common than they used to be.”