What the Manchester terror attack means for the general election campaign

  • Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn phoned Prime Minister Theresa May in the early hours of Tuesday to ask for the election campaign to be suspended.
  • Labour supporters fear past 24 hours have boosted the Tory campaign.
  • Conservatives have focused their campaign on Corbyn’s links to the IRA.
  • Labour expects campaign to start again as early as tomorrow.

LONDON — In the early hours of Tuesday morning, when the full picture of what had happened in Manchester became clear, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made a call to the prime minister.

“[The PM] spoke to the leader of the opposition around 4 a.m.,” a Downing Street source said yesterday.

“The issue that everybody wanted to resolve was that as a mark of respect the general election would be suspended.”

The decision to stop the campaign was by no means a given. If the aim of terrorism is to disrupt our way of life, then the decision to suspend our democratic processes, even just for a day or two, is not one that should be taken lightly.

However, both May and Corbyn agreed that the scale and horror of what had happened in Manchester Arena meant that all national campaigning should be put on hold.

The decision has caused unease among some Labour supporters, however. As the New Statesman’s Stephen Bush has pointed out, while Corbyn may no longer be on the stump, the prime minister’s campaign continues simply through the process of her doing her job.

“[The thing about stopping until Sunday is the sitting PM has to keep doing their job and that, inevitably, is a form of campaigning,” Bush tweeted last night.

“I look at photos and end result is that it’s only the opposition parties that have stopped campaigning.”

If the Conservative’s campaign is centred around the strength and stability of Theresa May’s leadership, and it is, then the past 24 hours have been the most effective 24 hours of her entire campaign.

Images of the PM speaking on the steps of Downing Street, meeting with the emergency services in Manchester and signing a book of condolences, have beamed not just around the country but around the entire world. At a time when the entire nation is in grief, the PM has offered herself as a reassuring presence for millions.

Of course Corbyn has not been entirely absent from the nation’s TV screens. But while he has handled himself well in the past 24 hours there is a limit to what the leader of the opposition can say or do at times like these.

Restarting the campaign

The events in Manchester are not without their difficulties for the Conservatives as well. In recent weeks the party, under the guidance of campaign guru Lynton Crosby, have constructed a campaign based on raising fears about Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and his past links to the IRA. Indeed on the morning after the attack in Manchester, Britain’s biggest selling newspaper, which went to print shortly before the attack, ran with a front page splash accusing Corbyn of having “BLOOD ON HIS HANDS.”

The timing will not have been lost on either campaign. Yet continuing to pursue such a campaign against Corbyn in the wake of the deadliest terror attack in over a decade would be risky for the Tories. As one reporter remarked at a Downing Street briefing yesterday: “If they carry on with this it will just look like they’re exploiting the deaths of teenage girls.”

Crosby is not known for his squeamishness however and if last year’s London mayoral election is anything to go by then the Tory campaign will continue to press the button on Corbyn’s background, even if it does provoke a backlash.

But even if the Conservative campaign does step back, the point has already have been made in voters’ minds. Moments of national grief like this tend to benefit the incumbent, whatever their campaign chooses to say or do.

It is for this reason that Labour are keen to get the campaign started again. One senior Labour source told Business Insider today that they expected official campaigning to get underway on Thursday or Friday at the latest.

Britain is not new to terrorism and the experience of past attacks is that public life gets back to normal pretty quickly. It is in Labour’s interest that it does so as soon as possible.

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