A soldier and an armed police officer patrol near the Elizabeth Tower, also known as Big Ben, in London, U.K. (Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg)

U.K. Parties Seek Boost by Focus on Terror and Elderly Care

(Bloomberg) -- The opposition Labour Party sought to turn the U.K. election campaign back to Prime Minister Theresa May’s social policies after three days of trading barbs over security in the wake of the deadly Manchester suicide bombing.

While May’s Conservatives maintained their focus on terrorism after the attack on a pop concert on May 22, Labour said the prime minister’s U-turn on care for the elderly on the same day left many questions unanswered.

“Having broken her flagship pledge on social care just days after she launched her manifesto, Theresa May needs to give clear answers” about her plans, Andrew Gwynne, Labour’s election coordinator, said in an email. “The Tory manifesto has plunged pensioners and working people into insecurity and left our public services facing the risk of further crisis.”

As the June 8 election looms, May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are attempting to highlight the issues where they believe their parties are strongest. The Conservatives’ lead has shrunk in some surveys to single digits over Labour, from as many as 24 points earlier in the month. May is attempting to drive home the message that she’ll provide “strong and stable” leadership while Labour can’t be trusted to defend the country. 

Tackling Terrorism

Corbyn and May will be interviewed separately on Sky News on Monday evening, as close as voters will come to seeing them in a head-to-head television debate. An Opinium poll for the Observer newspaper published on Sunday found 46 percent of voters trust the Conservatives to tackle terrorism, compared with just 11 percent for Labour. Some 42 percent of respondents said May is able to keep Britain safe, compared with 24 percent for Corbyn.

Labour saw a bump in support after May 18, when the prime minister released a plan to make elderly people pay for the costs of their own care until their total assets dwindled to 100,000 pounds ($130,000). She altered the policy, which opponents derided as a “dementia tax,” four days later to add a cap on payments, after Tory activists reported negative responses from voters.

Returning to the issue on Monday, Labour accused May of “ducking” questions over the proposals and highlighted uncertainty over her plans for heating subsidies for retirees, free school meals, tax for the self-employed, and funding for the National Health Service.

The suicide bombing in Manchester, Britain’s worst terrorist attack in more than a decade, led to a three-day pause in campaigning. When electoral politics resumed on Friday, May told reporters at the Group of Seven meeting in Sicily that Corbyn “frankly isn’t up to the job,” after he suggested Britain’s foreign policy had made the country less safe.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd told ITV on Monday said it was “a good first step” for Britain’s intelligence service, MI5, to investigate why they didn’t spot the danger posed by the suicide bomber Salman Abedi. Rudd also said that access to the European police database would form part of Brexit negotiations.

“There’s a lot of info coming out about what about how this occurred,” she said. “It’s right that MI5 takes a look to find out what the facts are.”

‘Cannot Be Trusted’

Rudd wrote to Conservative supporters on Sunday evening saying Corbyn and his home affairs spokeswoman Diane Abbott “simply cannot be trusted to keep our country safe,” citing their record of voting against anti-terror laws and opposing the work of the security services.

“Look at the evidence,” Rudd said earlier when asked on BBC TV’s Andrew Marr show if a Labour victory would make terror attacks more likely. “Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott and John McDonnell all have a history of not supporting terrorist legislation,” she said. “It does worry me.” McConnell is the U.K.’s Shadow Chancellor.

Appearing on the same program, Abbott was questioned about past remarks she made that a defeat for Britain in Northern Ireland would be a liberation, suggesting support for the terrorist Irish Republican Army’s goals.

“It was 34 years ago. I had a rather splendid afro at the time,” said Abbott, who in 1987 became the first black British woman to win a seat in Parliament. “I don’t have the same hairstyle and I don’t have the same views.”

Abbott added that May herself and Brexit Secretary David Davis had both opposed certain anti-terror measures in Parliament. Corbyn made the same point in an ITV interview later in the day.

Austerity’s Hangover

“I have been assiduous in my scrutiny of anti-terror laws whilst in parliament, and voting against in common with David Davis, on occasions Theresa May and others,” Corbyn said. “Anti-terror laws are important but they must be subject to judicial oversight.”

Corbyn sought to turn the tables on the Conservatives by suggesting their austerity measures have led to cuts in police numbers that endangered the public. On May’s watch -- she was Home Secretary for six years before becoming prime minister a year ago -- the number of police officers in England and Wales fell about 15 percent.

“There is no point having lots of police with no powers,” Ben Wallace, security minister in May’s government, told BBC radio on Sunday. “Jeremy Corbyn would produce James Bonds who would be licensed to do absolutely nothing and police officers with one arm tied behind their back. We have given them powers.”