State of Emergency
Two weeks out from the election, and soldiers are patrolling Britain's streets. The securitisation response, with the usual bovine complicity across the media, has sidelined politics. Spooks who advised May in the Cobra meeting after Monday's atrocity in Manchester will have presented their best guess about national security, as well as what their political masters want to hear, in cranking the 'threat level' up to 'critical'. Now the election campaign is overshadowed by what is in effect a state of emergency.
The bombing gave Theresa May a windfall, as such incidents usually do for incumbents campaigning for re-election. On Monday, the prime minister had looked weak and wobbly when deferentially grilled by Andrew Neil and at the ‘dementia tax’ press conference. Her glower under hostile questioning, as when Yvette Cooper shredded her case for an early election in Parliament last month, or on Monday after the dementia tax farce, is becoming familiar: she stares sullenly at the questioner, as if they've passed her a sausage roll and, once she's eaten it, told her it was made of rat. On Tuesday, she could appear in black, prime ministerial behind a lectern outside Number 10, reprising the nanny-of-the-nation schtick that Thatcher used to trot out at such moments.
As happened after Jo Cox’s murder last year during the EU referendum campaign, parties have suspended their campaigning since the bombing – a bonanza for the Conservatives' boredom-attrition strategy. Meanwhile, the Tory long-suit of 'law and order' remains centre-stage. Few dare to suggest that May's chocks-away voting record on the crusades in Iraq and Libya makes her in any way responsible for blowback. She voted five times out of five in favour of the Iraq invasion, and, as home secretary, backed David Cameron's policy of ousting Gaddafi without, as in Iraq, any coherent notion of what would happen after the dictator was gone.
Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was of Libyan origin and apparently visited the country a few weeks ago. Last year, the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee chaired by the Tory MP Crispin Blunt issued a highly critical report on the British intervention in Libya. 'The UK's actions in Libya were part of an ill-conceived intervention, the results of which are still playing out today,’ Blunt said. There was no 'defined strategic objective', and Franco-British policy 'drifted into a policy of regime change by military means'. Libya remains riven by civil war, with opposing regimes in Tripoli and Benghazi, a draw for foreign jihadis and nursery for domestic ones, as well as being the site of mass rape, human trafficking and other gross human rights violations. Last Thursday, at least 141 people died at the Brak al-Shati airbase, where civilians as well as militia were extrajudicially executed in an attack carried out by militia loyal to the government in Tripoli.
Western foreign policy creates a power vacuum, this time in Libya, leading to a growth of jihadism and a refugee crisis – problems which, unlike mass death in Libya's civil war, we can't ignore. Scares about migrants and 'home-grown terrorism' provoke a securitising response. But Troy can't be secured because the wooden horse is already inside. This strengthens the hand of powerful domestic lobbies with a stake in maintaining permanent alarm (France's state of emergency from 2015 is still in force). 'Normal' politics is pushed aside, including security in respect of such goods as employment, housing, healthcare and environmental protection.