23 April 2019
Theresa May's tough talk and pledges to beef up security measures against terrorism have proven to be of little help in allaying public fears in Britain. Photo: Reuters
Theresa May's tough talk and pledges to beef up security measures against terrorism have proven to be of little help in allaying public fears in Britain. Photo: Reuters

Terror attacks might prove the last straw for British

When British Prime Minister Theresa May announced in mid-April a snap general election for June 8, which is tomorrow, she must have felt very confident that a Tory landslide would be a slam dunk, given her party’s unrivalled popularity at that time.

However, just within less than two months after her announcement, things have taken a sudden and nasty turn, eroding a substantial chunk of the Conservative Party’s advantage over Labor. There are growing concerns now that the Tories might not be able to win an absolute majority of seats in the Westminster in the upcoming election, contrary to initial expectations, giving rise to a hung parliament.

When May announced her decision on April 18, the Tory Party was almost unstoppable, having an average 20-point lead in basically every major opinion poll over the Labor.

And then in the local elections that took place in early May, the Tory Party once again proved that it was invincible as it managed to snap up some 1,900 seats across the country, up 600 compared to the last elections, turning it the largest political party in local legislatures. In contrast, the Labor suffered heavy losses, losing almost 400 seats.

Apart from its catastrophic defeat in the local elections, the Labor Party has also been engulfed by its own problems. On one hand, chairman Jeremy Corbyn lacks both charisma and leadership, and has generated a lot of discontent among his party mates and party volunteers, particularly on local levels.

On the other, the party leadership is split over various issues. As the Labor is seeing eye-to-eye with the Tories over Brexit and can’t come up with any refreshing policy initiatives on its own, it has alienated a lot of traditional Labor supporters and left-wing liberals.

At one point, many political analysts believed it was almost for certain that Labor would be again slaughtered by the Tories in the June election.

However, rather miraculously, subsequent chain of events has gradually tilted the political balance and Labor is no longer in such a bad position. There are several factors which may explain why the Labor was able to recover and make a comeback.

May, for one, has come under fire for being complacent and condescending by refusing to debate with Corbyn on national TV.

Worse still, the British PM has backpedalled on her earlier promise not to raise income tax by recently saying that she can’t entirely rule out the possibility of tax rises on the rich in the coming days. The comments angered a lot of upper-class voters and took a serious toll on the approval ratings of the May administration.

As a result, the popularity gap between the Tories and the Labor has continued to narrow over the past month. According to a poll conducted by civilian institution YouGov at the end of May, the Tories only had a fragile 4 to 6-point lead over the Labor.

And things just kept going downhill for the Conservative Party. On May 22, a suicide bomb attack mounted by an Islamic fundamentalist in Manchester killed 22 people and injured more than a hundred. Then on June 3, a terror attack at the London Bridge killed seven and wounded 48.

As Britain was struck by two serious terrorist attacks within a month, it has had a catastrophic effect on the election prospects of the Tories.

The two attacks have not only dealt a heavy blow to the leadership and credibility of the incumbent administration, they also raised widespread doubts among the British public as to whether May and her government really have what it takes to guard the country against terrorism and guarantee people’s safety as they had promised.

May’s tough talk and pledges to beef up security measures have proven to be of little help in allaying fear and apprehension among British voters and convincing them that the Tory Party is still their best bet when it comes to fighting terrorism.

The two terror attacks may, in fact, turn out to be the last straw that could prompt British voters to change their mind on June 8.

With political and economic uncertainty hanging over Britain, the pound currency might once again take the brunt in case of any election upset. This is something that investors across the world must stay alert to.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 6

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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