State of Emergency

Glen Newey

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.


  • 25 May 2017 at 7:16pm
    tenyards says:
    In 1982 the Tories were doomed, then came the avoidable Falklands war.
    In 2001 the Tories looked liked they were about to be wiped out like the Canadian conservatives and along came foot and mouth.
    In 2005 Labour won a difficult election with a large majority and achieved huge popularity with a wining Olympics bid. Gordon Brown was negotiating to end third world debt and the Tories looked in existential trouble. Next day came the London bombings.
    In 2017 by last weekend, the Tory campaign was in meltdown.

  • 26 May 2017 at 9:55am
    Simon Wood says:
    And all the time is the sound of the gurgling of water as the plug is pulled on the nation's future. Even if the rush of youth bearing Corbyn on their shoulders brings in a dizzying age of total teetotal equity and purity, the hole question will remain unanswered.

    What have we done? We don't know that, either. We don't know anything any more.

    • 26 May 2017 at 3:42pm
      Pageturner says: @ Simon Wood
      Nice theory! So, where do the Illuminati fit in to it then?

    • 26 May 2017 at 5:18pm
      Simon Wood says: @ Pageturner
      We're out of Europe. The nation has decided to take back control. We must obey. This is to which I refer.

      I saw Ken Campbell's "Illuminatus!" at the Cottesloe in 1977, crazy days, but not as crazy as this.

  • 27 May 2017 at 8:32am
    IPFreely says:
    At times like these I usually pull out a well-worn cliché about the stability of democratic systems and try to believe that electoral victories and defeats always leave one party facing doom and gloom, the other fit and ready to go on doing what it has always done. So maybe May wins a majority smaller than the polls predict... the tories will still follow the route to capitalist anarchy. At the next election, they'll lose a hundred seats and then it will be the smart Alecs' turn in the Labour Party to come up with a sreamlined version of Blairite liberalism... and so on and so on...
    Corbyn would make an excellent prime minister but he'll never have the backing of those cupboard tories who yearn for the return of Balir.

    • 28 May 2017 at 6:07am
      semitone says: @ IPFreely
      It's possible to not be a cupboard Tory - indeed, to despise nearly everything that the Conservative Party has become - yet still believe that Corbyn would make a dreadful Prime Minister and that his Government, filled as it is with Abbott, McDonnell and other incompetents, would be a disaster.

      I don't yearn for the return of Blair - though the current shower makes him look pretty good - but I hope the next Labour leader is genuinely electable. You probably think I'm a deluded sell-out. I mean fancy actually wanting Labour to win elections!

    • 30 May 2017 at 4:03am
      Joe Morison says: @ semitone
      I think Corbyn would be a dreadful Prime Minister and his government a disaster, but I don't think they would be as catastrophic as the hideous bunch we have now. If the British people have any sense, they will elect a hung parliament.

  • 28 May 2017 at 10:07am
    manchegauche says:
    ..."I believe that Corbyn would make a dreadful Prime Minister".

    What is this belief based on? His policies? If so, you'd be against anyone however 'not-dreadful' who supported similar ones.

    Is your belief based on his personality? But how have you constructed this 'dreadfulness' you know him personally? Have you conducted a spcial Prime Minister 'Psychological Test' on him?'ve picked up on - yes - what the BBC, ITV Sky The Guardian and even the LRB have insisted that you think.

    Perhaps it's based on him being an unelectable twice elected leader. Perhaps you can cook up some reason or other for his 'dreadfulness' but - I'm guessing - people who trot out this meme this cult of anti-Corbyn personality meme, usually have tax reasons for so doing.

    • 31 May 2017 at 4:10am
      Joe Morison says: @ manchegauche
      I'm not sure if there's a name for an argument like yours. It's not exactly ad hominem: you're not attacking the person in order to attack their argument, you're assuming something bad about them because of their belief, and then using that assumption as a reason to discredit their belief. Weird.

  • 28 May 2017 at 12:26pm
    semitone says:
    For someone criticizing those who make judgments about the abilities of the Leader of the Opposition, who has been in public life for more than three decades, you certainly seem to know a lot about me!

  • 31 May 2017 at 8:05am
    Roy says:
    Amazing how quickly everyone manages to forget the chorus of cheer-leaders for the "Arab Spring" - a phrase we don't hear too much these days.

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