The attack on the Manchester Arena 18 days before the UK General election will have a profound effect on its result. I, for one, expected return to campaigning to be somewhat subdued, it was anything but that. The day following the Manchester attack began with damning reports on both the Labour and Tory manifestos by the IFS, followed in short order by Jeremy Corbyn’s security speech (plus the inevitable Tory attacks on what is a very sensible position, more on that to follow) and finally Corbyn’s interview with Andrew Neil.
As campaigning resumed it became apparent that the two weeks of the General election campaign will be defined by security and defence, which, given its leaders past, may hurt Labour. Indeed, as soon as Corbyn finished his speech a number of high profile Tories sprung up to denounce him, including Boris Johnson calling the speech “absolutely monstrous” (after convenient change of opinion on the matter).
What these Tory attacks show is that the position taken by Corbyn has some validity and that if they engage with the substance of Corbyn’s speech they may have trouble showing that it is the as “monstrous” as they would like it to be. According to Robert Pape, a leading expert on suicide terrorism who has studied every case since 1980, suicide terrorism has more to do with the terrorist’s strategic aims and little to do with their religion. He suggests that communities feel somewhat under siege in their perceived ‘homeland’ and the aim of their bombings is to force those they see as military occupiers to withdraw.
With this in mind, the possible link between some British foreign policy and the rise of Islamic extremism starts to become apparent. Pape’s argument does not justify those that claim that Western foreign policy is entirely to blame for the rise of Islamic terrorism, but it does show how failures of our foreign policy, particularly not planning for withdrawal in Iraq and Libya, have allowed extremism to grow. Looking at this, there is no doubt that we must have a serious debate about why Western powers have failed to halt rise of Islamic terrorism.
By failing to engage with Corbyn’s argument the Tories are playing politics with the safety and security of the British people. If even a small element of the solution to Islamic terrorism lies in changing our approach to foreign policy and they disregard it because it’s politically difficult then they do not stand with the British people or the victims of suicide terrorism.
Corbyn was once again asked a number of uncomfortable questions about his past in his interview with Andrew Neil. Indeed, security issues were what Neil based much of his questioning around, asking Corbyn about his links (or lack of as it may be) with the IRA and whether he supports the Labour policy on the Trident nuclear defence system. On the whole Corbyn dealt well with these questions, one may have expected him to do so given he has faced them regularly over the past two years, and in comparison to May he was a lot calmer and less riled by Neil’s provocative style.
At the beginning of this election campaign one would think the Labour leader would be well advised to avoid the subject of national security. However, he has grasped the issue with both hands, and has done so with some success. The low expectations placed on Corbyn have allowed him to explore ambitious solutions to some of the issues which define our age, as opposed to the Tories who could lead us into the dangerous world towards which they claim a Corbyn government would head. There is a clear choice at this election between a party which is being frank about the world we live in and offering bold solutions; and one that is willing to superficially address these complex and multifaceted problems in favor of short term electoral success.
Mostyn Taylor Crockett is a soon to be Philosophy and Politics undergraduate based in London, UK, with an interest in social philosophy. He is also a Labour Party activist.
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