After three attacks, the fight against terror has become a central election issue. Theresa May is facing fierce criticism.
Half full? Half empty? British security policy is under scrutiny Photo: reuters
The second bloody terrorist attack in the current election campaign in Great Britain has only briefly interrupted the competition between the parties. After the attack in Manchester, there is nothing left of the restraint after the attack in London. The fight against terror dominates politics.
Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday backed calls for Prime Minister Theresa May to resign. He criticized May for cutting 20,000 police jobs between 20, saying that this was the reason why not all terrorist attacks could be thwarted in time.
Theresa May indirectly countered with a keynote speech on leadership. "This election is about which leader and which team people trust to make the big decisions and keep Britain safe," she said. "In this election, there is one leader who boasts of having opposed every anti-terror law and one who was responsible for enforcing them," she thundered.
On the specific accusation of police cuts, she said Labour had called for greater savings just a few years ago. From a Conservative perspective, Corbyn is seen as a security risk. He did not commit to Britain’s status as a nuclear power and repeatedly squirmed in discussions when his past sympathies for terror groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the IRA were brought up.
On Sunday, May had announced sweeping tightening of anti-terror laws in response to the London attack. "Enough is enough!" she declared, demanding, "When it comes to terror and extremism, things have to change." The three terror attacks since March, she said, were "linked by the evil ideology of Islamist extremism. Defeating that ideology is one of the greatest challenges of our time," May said: "There is, to be honest, far too much tolerance of extremism in our country."
Make encryption more difficult
Much discussion has been sparked by May’s call to take away radical Islamism’s "safe spaces" ("safe spaces") on the Internet. It’s not about surveillance – the UK is already the European leader in that regard, with a one-year data retention law passed under Prime Minister May in 2016. It’s about removing content.
"When it comes to terror and extremism, things have to change"
The current Conservative election manifesto states that in the future the same laws should apply online as in reality, for example with regard to glorification of violence, hate propaganda and defamation. In addition, the British government wants to make encryption more difficult or, in some cases, ban it altogether.
The programs against Islamist radicalization are also to be put to the test. In the eyes of critics, the current government program "Prevent" relies too much on denunciation of possible dangers by their communities and neglects monitoring.
During the election campaign, the right-wing populist Ukip denounced the fact that only 3,000 of the alleged 23,000 known Islamist threats in the United Kingdom are continuously monitored. After each attack, it emerges that the suspected perpetrators or parts of their entourage are known to the police.
May was responsible for this area for a long time as home secretary before she became prime minister in 2016. At the time, there was widespread talk of the need to counteract the authoritarian tendencies of the previous era of Prime Minister Tony Blair. After their election victory in 2010, for example, the Conservatives rejected Labour’s plans to introduce compulsory ID cards.
Guided by war-experienced fighters?
As early as the end of 2005, a few months after the London subway attacks, the Conservatives in Parliament had brought down Blair’s plans to be able to detain terror suspects without charge for up to 90 days – together with the left-wing Labour party, which included the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. The cap remained at 28 days and was halved to 14 by Home Secretary May in 2011.
The fact that May and Corbyn once voted together against Blair’s anti-terror policy is not something May likes to hear today. Also considered sensitive is the question of whether British authorities have been too lax in returning British jihadists from Syria and Iraq. Around 850 British citizens are said to have joined the "Islamic State" (IS) there, and many of those still alive are now on their way back, the British intelligence services warned as early as March. The perpetrators of the current attacks may have been guided by such war-hardened fighters.
May also has to touch a particularly hot potato: a government investigation into the financial flows for radical Islamists in Great Britain. According to press reports, the analysis has found clear indications pointing in the direction of Saudi Arabia – but this very country is one of the most important customers of the British arms industry, and so the report is officially considered "not ready" and may never be published. Labour and the Liberal Democrats have now called for disclosure. May is silent on the matter.