The terrorist attacks in London and Manchester recently have shaken the United Kingdom and security concerns have dominated the public discourse during the run up to the elections slated for Thursday. The attacks at the Manchester Arena last month and the London Bridge last week have posed an imposing question–whether Theresa May has changed her stance on how to handle security threats with a more hardline approach? Or is it a move to calm the nerves in a country that is already on the edge of being overwhelmed by fear?
The fact is her statements and interviews in the last few days come across as anything but subtle. Her famous “enough is enough” quote in a speech after the London attack to a vow to increase powers of police and security forces to a huge extent suggest a hardline approach being adopted by her. In an interview to British newspaper The Sun on Tuesday, she said that she will end terror. She also proposed a move to increase the time limit to hold a person without charge from 14 days at a stretch to 28 days. Her intent to get human rights out of the way was notable as well. “If human rights laws get in the way of doing these things, we will change those laws to make sure we can do them.”
“Universities have started. We’ve made the Prevent duty statutory, which was important. Overall, the problem we have is we’ve been too tolerant of extremism. We need to go further,” she said. May even proposed an extremism commissioner to police businesses and communities to identify extremists. She has decided to speak against indoctrination of students as a crime equal to the manifestation of that idea into violence.
Terror attacks before elections
As UK goes to votes, May faces an uphill task of convincing the voters that she is capable enough of tackling terrorism. So, her statements a couple of days before the elections are probably suggestive of something similar. A study titled “Fear in the Voting Booth: The 2004 Presidential Election” and published by researchers of US’ Duke University and Michigan State University said 42 per cent voters cited terrorism as the principal election issue. Despite 45 per cent voting negative growth of the US economy from the previous year, George Bush won the election. In 2004, ten explosions at three railway stations in Madrid, Spain killed 192 people and injured over 2,000. The attack took place three days before the general election.
In the study Terrorism and Democratic Legitimacy: Conflicting Interpretations of the Spanish Elections, political scientist Ingrid Van Biezen postulated that unlike the US, the people voted against the ruling Partido Popular government. She argued that the government discounted the role Islamic terrorism played in the attacks and the party blamed it on ETA, a Basque separatist organisation. Spain had a strong economy and the attack was the worst in Europe since the 1988 bombing of a Pan Am jetliner over Lockerbie, Scotland.
The facts at hand and historical research show that even a threat of terrorist attacks can influence voters to vote for a government that gives fewer quarters to ultras and those that are insecure about their security vote for leaders promising action against the ‘enemy’ or the ‘aggressor’. That would probably explain the stance of the British PM.