British election campaign resumes after London attack with Prime Minister Theresa May under fire over police cutbacks
Her main opponent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, backed calls for her resignation over the police cuts
Britain’s election campaign resumed in earnest on Monday with Prime Minister Theresa May’s opinion poll lead narrowing and the focus firmly on her security record after an attack by marauding jihadists killed seven people in the heart of London.
In Britain’s third Islamist attack in as many months, three men rammed a van into pedestrians on London Bridge on Saturday night before running into the bustling Borough Market area, where they slit throats and stabbed people indiscriminately.
With the attack dominating attention, a reduction in the number of police officers in England and Wales by almost 20,000 during May’s six years as interior minister from 2010 to 2016 shot to the top of the election agenda.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan, of the opposition Labour Party, was among those who raised the issue.
“It’s just a fact that, over the last seven years, we as a city have lost £600 million from our budgets. We have had to close police stations, sell police buildings, and we’ve lost thousands of police staff,” he said.
Khan, the first Muslim to be elected mayor of a major Western European city, was among those who denounced the ideology behind the recent attacks.
“I am angry and furious that these three men are seeking to justify their actions by using the faith that I belong to,” Khan said. “I condemn this terrorist act but also the poisonous ideology these men and others follow.”
May did not answer repeated questions on the cutbacks but said counterterrorism budgets had been protected and police had the powers they needed.
Her main opponent, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, backed calls for her resignation over the police cuts.
He said many people were “very worried that she was at the Home Office for all this time, presided over these cuts in police numbers, and now is saying that we have a problem”.
May’s Conservative Party’s lead over Labour has narrowed markedly from 20 points or more when she called the election in April to a range between one and 12 points now, although the Conservatives are still widely expected to win a majority.
With the issue of security now dominating the election agenda, May responded to the latest violence by saying Britain should be tougher in stamping out Islamist extremism.
The police response to the rampage, which saw officers shoot dead the attackers within eight minutes of police receiving the first call, has been widely praised. But that did not stop the questions to May about police numbers during her time as home secretary.
According to official data, officer numbers decreased every year that she was in the post, from 2010 to 2016. The number of authorised firearms officers in England and Wales fell to just under 5,700 in 2016 from nearly 7,000 in 2010.
Asked whether she regretted presiding over the cuts, May did not answer the question, saying London’s Metropolitan Police was well resourced and had powerful counterterrorism capabilities.
“We have protected counterterrorism policing budgets, we have also provided funding for an increase in the number of armed police officers,” she said.
May tried to deflect the pressure onto Corbyn, a pacifist who has opposed some security legislation in parliament and expressed reservations in the past about police responding to armed attackers with “shoot-to-kill” tactics.