CommonSpace looks at the policy issue now overwhelming this year’s General Election campaign: security
SECURITY AND COUNTER TERRORISM have come to dominate the UK General Election following the attacks in Manchester a fortnight ago and London Bridge on Saturday (4 June,) which took 29 lives combined and left many injured.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the UK Labour party, and Prime Minister Theresa May, leader of the Conservatives, have traded barbs over what new security measures are needed and who is to blame for the attacks that hit both UK cities. The two terror attacks followed an earlier attack in March at Westminster, in which five people died.
We look at how the two square up on security policy in the midst of a campaign overtaken by discussions on terror, cuts and accusations of incompetence.
How did they vote?
- Terrorism Act 2000
The first counter terror act of the Blair government and of the so-called “war on terror”, this piece of legislation gave the police the power to detain terrorist suspects for up to seven days and created a list of banned terrorist organisations. Corbyn: “I am not in favour of violence or terrorism but one does not solve those problems by imprisoning the innocent.”
- Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001
The law was passed after the 11 September attacks in New York allowing foreign terrorist suspects to be detained indefinitely. It was passed with the support of both the Tories and Labour government with few rebels.
- 14-day detention in Criminal Justice Act 2003
Contained within the Criminal Justice Act 2003, it allows police to question terrorist suspects for up to 14 days. Both Corbyn and May rejected the law at the time citing civil liberty concerns and the Tories opposed the act, saying it gave too much power to the then UK Labour Home Secretary David Blunkett.
- Control orders in 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act
A kind of house arrest, these ‘control orders’ were contained within the 2005 Prevention of Terrorism Act. Corbyn described them as “damaging to community relations” and added that: “They make people less, rather than more, co-operative with the police and everyone else.”
- ID cards
The law was touted by the Labour government in 2006 but scrapped by the 2010 coalition government with May as Home Secretary for reasons fo inefficiency, civil rights and cost. Corbyn also opposed ID cards saying that they would “not solve crime, fraud or terrorism”.
- 90-day detention in 2006 Terrorism Act
This turned into one of the biggest political fights of the New Labour years with big rebellions on the side of the government and forced through with the help of Tory MP votes. Created following the London 7/7 bombings in 2005, the 2006 Terrorism Act extended detention without charge from 14 to 28 days.
The 28-day number was a fall back when it looked as it Labour would lose the vote in the Commons. Corbyn was one of 49 Labour MPs who rebelled against his party over the issue on both figures.
- Justice and Security Act 2013
The law was introduced by May as home secretary and despite missing the vote at the third reading she supported it all the way through the process. Deeply controversial, it granted new powers to the UK Government to have closed court hearings on the grounds of national security. Corbyn opposed secrecy in courts as a violation of traditional rights and Magna Carta liberties voting against it.
- The Investigatory Powers Act 2016
May as home secretary argued that accessing telecommunications data would allow police to investigate criminal activity and protect the public. But Corbyn and others have deemed the law a “snooper’s charter” and a threat to freedoms and a sign of an “overbearing state”. Corbyn was absent as the vote took place during his election as Labour party leader.
On Saudis, the IRA and terror connections
The PM has stated that the Saudi Kingdom and its royal family are “key allies” in the fight against extremism despite the kingdom’s history of human rights abuses and the exporting of extremist ideology.
Last December a leaked report from Germany’s federal intelligence service accused several Gulf groups of funding religious schools and radical Salafist preachers in mosques, calling it “a long-term strategy of influence”.
This week it was also confirmed by the UK Home Office that a similar report into Saudi and the Gulf monarchies on their support to terror and the UK’s complicity in such support was held back from release under May’s tenure as home secretary. It has raised serious issues about the sources of terror and politicians’ ability to tackle the problem of extremism seriously, particularly given May’s remarks after the London Bridge attacks that “extremism is tolerated too much in our society”.
May also came under pressure for the continued sales of weapons to Gulf monarchy states including Saudi Arabia which have reached the sum of £3.3bn since 2010.
The Labour leader demanded on Monday (5 June) that the UK re-evaluate its current alliances and be tougher on the royal family regarding its clergy’s extreme ideologies and its war in Yemen.
He challenged May over a long-delayed inquiry into foreign funding and support of jihadi groups in the UK, after the Home Office suggested the investigation may not be published. The investigation by the Home Office into the foreign funding and support of jihadi groups, authorised by David Cameron, may never be published.
The Labour leader has said the “difficult conversations” May wants to have about Islamist extremism should start with “Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, which have funded extremist ideology”. These states fund groups and clerics connected to the ideologies of Salafism and Wahhabism, which are extreme and conservative distortions of Islam.
During the campaign, he has also been under attack for claims by the Tories that he had connections with registered Sunni Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, and the IRA during the Troubles. Corbyn opposed putting Hamas on the terror list of the UK but his reasoning was that as the organisation was an elected body representing a people, the Palestinians, it would be short-sighted for the progress of the Israel-Palestine peace process.
Corbyn has also been tainted by association for speaking to alleged members of the IRA during the high point of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. However, several successive Tory governments set up their own meetings with actual military commanders of the IRA to hash out various agreements, whereas Corbyn never had any connection with active military personnel.
On policing and intelligence
It has already been pointed out by friends and foes of the PM that she had a six-year stint as UK home secretary from 2010 to 2016. It was for a long time considered an electoral asset, but her record in presiding over a 20,000 cut in the number of police officers has now been questioned in the wake of the two terror attacks.
Since the London Bridge attack, which saw individuals and passersby stabbed by the assailants, May has said she fully backs “shoot to kill” policies in cases of terror attacks. This was amid counter arguments that combatants without explosives could be taken down and kept alive for future questioning and assistance in running investigations into terror networks.
David Cameron’s former director of strategy, now a Fox News commentator, Peter Hilton, called for May to resign over her record on security following Saturday’s attack in London, saying that the prime minister was “responsible for security failures” that led to the terror attacks in Westminster, Manchester and London Bridge.
He has been backed by the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, in the assertion that cuts have debilitated the capacity of the UK to fight terrorism. They state that £600m had been cut from the London police budget over the past seven years and that £400m extra cuts were due over the next four years. The Police Federation has condemned cuts amounting to a total cut of £1.7bn.
Mark Serwotka, general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCSU), added that the number of police community support officers in London had fallen from 4,607 to 1,487 since the 2010 coalition government. Figures from Unison and the Fire Brigades Union show a 20,000 cut in the number of police officers and 10,000 in the number of fire officers since 2010.
Corbyn came out against the policy of “shoot to kill” which was jumped on by the Tories as a sign the Labour leader is “weak on security” given that the suspects in the London attacks were killed by armed police in eight minutes, but Corbyn clarified that mass deployment of arms to ordinary policemen was the specific objection he had.
Pictures courtesy of David Reckless
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