Anx­i­ety looms as Bri­tish gird for Thurs­day vote

Polls tighten af­ter ter­ror at­tacks and May stum­bles

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY JILL LAW­LESS

LON­DON | Af­ter a seven-week elec­tion cam­paign that veered from the bore­dom of staged sound bites to the trauma of two deadly at­tacks, Bri­tain’s po­lit­i­cal lead­ers asked vot­ers Wed­nes­day to choose: Who is best to keep the U.K. safe and lead it out of the Euro­pean Union?

Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and op­po­si­tion Labor Party leader Jeremy Cor­byn criss­crossed the coun­try on the fi­nal day of cam­paign­ing, try­ing to woo vot­ers with ri­val plans for Brexit, build­ing a fairer so­ci­ety and com­bat­ing a ter­ror­ist threat made all too im­me­di­ate by at­tacks in Manch­ester and Lon­don.

Mrs. May, whose hopes of a big vic­tory in the snap elec­tion she called seven week ago have largely evap­o­rated, ac­cord­ing to polls, promised to crack down on ex­trem­ism if she wins Thurs­day’s vote — even if that means wa­ter­ing down hu­man rights leg­is­la­tion.

“We are see­ing the ter­ror­ist threat chang­ing, we are see­ing it evolve, and we need to re­spond to that,” Mrs. May said.

Mr. Cor­byn, the prime ben­e­fi­ciary of Mrs. May’s unin­spired cam­paign, ar­gued that the real dan­ger comes from Con­ser­va­tive cuts to po­lice bud­gets.

“We won’t de­feat ter­ror­ists by rip­ping up our ba­sic rights and our democ­racy,” he said.

All 650 seats in the House of Com­mons are up for grabs. A party needs to win 326 seats to form a ma­jor­ity gov­ern­ment, and Mrs. May’s Con­ser­va­tives en­joyed a 17-seat ma­jor­ity in the out­go­ing Par­lia­ment.

Mrs. May called the snap elec­tion — three years early — in a bid to boost the Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity in Par­lia­ment, which she says will strengthen Bri­tain’s hand in di­vorce talks with the Euro­pean Union. But the Brexit is­sue has taken a back­seat in the elec­tion — ini­tially to de­bates about how to nar­row the gap be­tween rich and poor, then by the at­tacks in Manch­ester and Lon­don.

A Con­ser­va­tive vic­tory would mean con­tin­ued cuts to pub­lic spend­ing in a bid to re­duce the na­tion’s deficit. Labor of­fi­cials prom­ise to pump mil­lions of dol­lars more into ed­u­ca­tion and health care and raise in­come tax on the high­est earn­ers.

Mr. Cor­byn said Thurs­day’s vote of­fered a clear choice be­tween “an­other five years of a Tory gov­ern­ment, un­der­fund­ing of ser­vices all across the U.K. … or a Labor gov­ern­ment that in­vests for all, all across Bri­tain.”

The deadly at­tacks in Manch­ester on May 22 and Lon­don on Satur­day twice brought the cam­paign to a tem­po­rary halt — and put the threat from in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism front and cen­ter. As Mrs. May vowed to bring in new anti-ter­ror mea­sures, Mr. Cor­byn crit­i­cized cuts to the po­lice un­der the Con­ser­va­tives, which saw the num­ber of of­fi­cers plum­met by al­most 20,000 be­tween 2010 and 2016.

Mrs. May re­sponded by as­sail­ing Mr. Cor­byn’s se­cu­rity record. He op­posed Bri­tish mil­i­tary in­ter­ven­tions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, wants to scrap Bri­tain’s nu­clear ar­se­nal and shared plat­forms with Irish repub­li­cans in the years when the IRA was set­ting off bombs in Bri­tain.

Con­ser­va­tive-sup­port­ing news­pa­pers went on the at­tack against Mr. Cor­byn on Wed­nes­day. The Daily Mail branded him and se­nior col­leagues “apol­o­gists for ter­ror,” while the Daily Ex­press ex­horted: “Vote May or we face dis­as­ter.”

But Labor has had a bet­ter cam­paign than many ex­pected, with opin­ion polls show­ing a nar­row­ing of the gap be­tween it and the Con­ser­va­tives. Mr. Cor­byn, an old-school left-winger widely writ­ten off at the start of the cam­paign, has drawn thou­sands of peo­ple to up­beat ral­lies and en­er­gized young vot­ers with his plans to boost pub­lic spend­ing af­ter years of Con­ser­va­tive aus­ter­ity.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Lib­eral Democrats party leader Tim Far­ron, along with other can­di­dates, made as much use as pos­si­ble of the fi­nal day of cam­paign­ing be­fore Thurs­day’s snap elec­tion, which now hinges on is­sues of se­cu­rity and ter­ror­ism.

Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has seen her lead erode in the wake of two ter­ror at­tacks. Labor leader Jeremy Cor­byn hopes to cap­i­tal­ize on her re­cent mis­takes.

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