With ten days to go until polling day, the election campaign has turned to national security. Following the London Bridge knife attack on Friday by a convicted terrorist which left two members of the public dead, the Conservatives have made a concerted effort to get on the front foot on the issue. Over the weekend, Boris Johnson announced plans for tougher sentencing for terrorists – including a minimum sentence of 14 years. There’s more to come – with Johnson to announce a five-point plan to prevent serious criminals and terrorists from entering the country after Brexit. Given that this is the week the NATO summit comes to town, the Tories were always planning a security focus. However, the events of Friday mean that this has been amplified. It has become an election issue for both main parties – with Jeremy Corbyn using a speech on Sunday to warn that the ‘war on terror has manifestly failed’.
Johnson’s decision to respond to the London Bridge attack with political measures has drawn criticism in some quarters. The father of one of the victims – Jack Merritt – has said that his son would not ‘wish his death to be used as the pretext for more draconian sentences or for detaining people unnecessarily’. However, part of the reason the Conservatives have been so quick to respond is the events of the 2017 snap election. During that campaign, there were two terror attacks and they quickly became politicised with Labour blaming Tory austerity – in the form of cuts to police numbers. This went on to dent the Tory campaign – something that took many CCHQ staffers at the time by surprise. The Conservatives do not want a repeat.
It’s also the case that Johnson has been making a push for a tougher strategy on law and order – including tougher sentences and more prison places – since entering 10 Downing Street. As I reported previously, the one area where Johnson allies will happily say the Prime Minister is moving to the right is on tackling crime. The view in Downing Street is that in an election it’s hard to be too tough on crime. There’s a sense that Westminster is out of touch with the public mood on tackling law and order. They believe people with personal experience of crime have an appetite for a tough stance – rather than one favoured by liberals who push for rehabilitation over punishment. With signs over the weekend the the polls are tightening with Labour making up ground, the Tories will hope this calculation proves correct as they enter the final furlong of the campaign.