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Coffee House General Election 2017

In the wake of the police numbers row, attack is the best form of defence for the Tories

Boris’s last appearance on the airwaves during the election campaign left many scratching their heads. Just what did the word ‘mugwump’ actually mean? This time, the Foreign Secretary’s attack against Jeremy Corbyn was much more straightforward: the Labour leader’s opposition to the ‘shoot to kill’ policy. Here, Corbyn has undoubtedly changed his tune: in 2015, he said he wasn’t happy with the idea; and last year, he said that he hadn’t changed his mind. In the wake of the London attack though, Corbyn backed officers being able to use lethal force in certain situations. This wishy-washy position is dangerous ground for Labour, and the Tories are doing their best to talk it up by referring to Corbyn’s confusing statements on the subject at every possible opportunity. A clip of Corbyn’s BBC interview in which he said ‘I am not happy with the shoot to kill policy in general’, is going viral – no doubt helped by the Tories’ eagerness to push the clip online. And if you Google ‘Jeremy Corbyn shoot to kill’, what pops up? An advert for the Conservatives:

This is no accident; nor was Boris’s focus on this topic during his Today interview. Here’s what Boris had to say:

‘It is weird that we should now be facing attacks from…Jeremy Corbyn, a guy who has consecrated his parliamentary career on opposing counter-terrorism measures’

For the Tories, attack is the best form of defence here. Labour is still going after the government on cuts to police numbers; given that police numbers did fall by nearly 20,000 on Theresa May’s watch, this is undoubtedly a weak spot for the Conservatives and explains why the party has struggled to change the subject here (in yesterday’s Q and A with journalists, for example, Theresa May had to fend of at least six questions on police numbers).

So instead the Tories are trying their best to continue to do what they have done for much of the campaign: talk about Corbyn rather than themselves. Boris made a good shot at trying to shoehorn Corbyn – and Diane Abbott – into most of his answers this morning. But his argument was undone somewhat when Mishal Husain pointed out that Boris had himself voted against the Blair government’s plans to incarcerate terror suspects for 90 days (here’s Boris own take on why he voted against the plans).

‘Well of course there are measures I have not supported myself’, admitted Boris this morning. Of course, Boris’s opposition to this particular piece of anti-terror legislation does not mean the Foreign Secretary is soft on terror, and many MPs had perfectly legitimate grievances against this law. Yet it also shows that the Tories must be careful that their willingness to go on the attack doesn’t come back to bite them.

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