Manchester attack weighing on British elections

Manchester attack weighing on British elections

Saturday, May 27, 2017 9:52 am

Owei Lakemfa

By Owei Lakemfa

I have poured over the face of 22-year old Salman Abedi several times. He looked so innocent and charming. I played in my mind how such a young man would have left his South Manchester home on Monday, May 22 and headed for the Manchester Arena packed with mostly children and young people who had gone for a concert by American pop star, Ariana Grande. I wondered what might have been going on in his mind watching the faces of the innocent, mostly excited young people, as they exited the concert into the crowded foyer, before he detonated a powerful bomb that killed 22 and injured 64. Famous English dramatist, William Shakespeare might have had people like Abedi in mind when he wrote “O’ What may man within him hide, though angel on the outward side!” and his conclusion that: “There’s no art to find the mind’s construction in the face.”

Abedi’s choices of a large bomb with nuts and bolts, and a crowded concert, must have been to ensure maximum casualties. So what cause can push a human being to such an extreme?
Then the faces of the victims; here an eight- year old Saffie Rose Roussos; there a fourteen-year old Neil Jones; fifteen year-old Olivia Campbell, then, an eighteen- year old Georgina Callender. There are also, the scores of the injured, some of them children, fighting for their lives. There are of course, the victims loved ones, locked in grief or hope.

It is not difficult to identify with British Prime Minister Theresa May when she said “It is an absolutely barbaric attack that has taken place, to cut off young lives in this way, and it is absolutely devastating and our thoughts and prayers must be with their families and friends at this horrendous tragedy that has taken place.”

Two massacres at the theatre that come readily to mind are those at the Dubrovka Theatre, Moscow on October 23, 2002 in which 130 hostages were killed by Chechen terrorists. The other was the November 13, 2015 Bataclan Theatre, Paris massacre in which Islamic State terrorists murdered 130 persons and injured 352.

Although the Manchester attack led to the British political parties halting their campaigns for the June 8, general elections, the tragedy may also shift the focus of the elections. May had no new ideas to sell to the electorate, so she had fitted her campaigns into two rockets. The first was to personalize the campaigns by focusing on Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who she sought to present as an unsellable candidate and one incapable of leading the United Kingdom through the tough, messy divorce from the European Union (EU) Her Chief Secretary to the Treasury, David Gauke in furthering this strategy wrote: “Jeremy Corbyn’s policies are in shambles and he simply doesn’t have what it takes to lead our country through Brexit and beyond. It is not worth taking the risk, it’s ordinary working people who will pay for the chaos of Corbyn.”

The second May strategy was to play on the strong anti-EU sentiments in the country, accusing the latter of working for her downfall and trying to influence the elections. The implication of her unsubstantiated claims is that Corbyn is the preferred EU candidate in the elections.

The Manchester terror attacks might strengthen her hand especially when the bomber is of Libyan descent. One of the main reasons why the British voted to exit the EU is over control of immigration. Although the main concern was about migrants from Eastern Europe, the Abedi case has become handy.

May had in her speech at the 2015 Conservative Party conference, told the Tories “There are millions of people in poorer countries who would love to live in Britain, and there is a limit to the amount of immigration any country can and should take. The best way of helping the most people is not by bringing relatively small numbers of refugees to this country, but by working with the vast numbers who remain in the region. When immigration is too high, when the pace of change is too fast, it’s impossible to build a cohesive society.”

Having being Home Secretary from 2010 until her elevation as Prime Minister in 2016, she will claim to be an experienced hand in handling internal security and that her plans to cut migration annually by 100,000 in the next three years, is the best option for Britain.

On the other hand, Corbyn has always campaigned against restricting the rights of people from coming to Britain. He argues that immigrants play a valuable role in helping the British economy run and ensuring that services are efficient.

The Manchester disaster may also lead to marked increases in defence spending . Spending on counter insurgency in Britain was $770 million in 2015-2016, and $869 million in the current budget. May, who told Britons this week that the likelihood of another terrorist attack is high, would likely push the campaigns towards the need for tougher security measures and higher spending on security. On the other hand, Corbyn might remain on his track of finding the resources for more social spending, and fixing the economy. The Manchester nightmare is not likely to go away quick enough before the elections on June 8.

The Labour Party was last week trailing behind the Conservative Party by 20 points. But this week it reduced the gap to 14 points having 33 percent to the Tories 47 percent. The opinion polls in the new week which directly leads to the elections, might indicate how much the Manchester attack has affected the elections. However, It is not unlikely that Labour’s attractive promises which include extra spending on the National Health Service, higher social spending and abolition of Tuition Fees, may be buried in the fears and concerns that follow the Manchester attack.

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