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Terror attacks put security on voters’ minds ahead of U.K. election

June 7, 2017 at 6:30 PM EDT
Campaigning has ended in the fiercely contested general election in the United Kingdom, a political battle overshadowed by two recent terrorist attacks. Polls suggest Prime Minister Theresa May will win against her opponent Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and increase her majority going into Brexit negotiations. Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports on what voters are thinking.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Campaigning has ended in the fiercely contested British general election. Prime Minister Theresa May of the Conservative Party called the vote in order to boost her authority as Britain negotiates its withdrawal from the European Union. Her main challenge comes from Labor Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

But the campaign has been overshadowed by two recent terrorist attacks.

Special correspondent Malcolm Brabant reports from London.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Along with many young Britons, Steve and Keeley Whitton dream of raising their children in a home of their own. London’s expensive real estate is beyond their reach, and so they live with Steve’s parents. But affordable housing isn’t top of their election agenda. Saturday’s terrorist attack, two miles from where they live, is.

KEELEY WHITTON, Voter: A couple of times, actually, whenever we have gone out, really, we have had the conversation, what are we going to do if something happens?

STEVE WHITTON, School Chaplain: If something did happen, just having a plan, basically having — so I will grab one kid, she will grab the other. For the past couple of weeks, after the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, security has gone up in my own agenda, as far as who I’m going to vote for. And I think a lot of people are now looking, all right, who’s best going to deliver security?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Vigilance, tolerance and remembrance unite these people. They’re from Borough Market, where the three Islamist terrorists lashed out with knives before being shot dead.

The traders have been kept away from their businesses, while forensics experts gathered evidence.

VERY REV. ANDREW NUNN, Dean, Southwark Cathedral: So, we’re going to keep a moment of silence. They’re keeping it at the other end of the bridge in St. Paul’s cathedral. They know we’re here. We know they’re there. We’re standing in solidarity, the two cathedrals and our communities together.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Sir Simon Hughes was the area’s member of Parliament for 32 years from the Liberal Democrats, the third largest party. He lost his seat to the Labor candidate in 2015. Winning it back would hurt Labor and help Theresa May.

SIR SIMON HUGHES, Former Justice Minister: Actually, the public services are at the top of people’s agenda. People want us to have the police we need, the nurses we need, the doctors we need. It is now an issue. The security of the country, dealing with the very few people who want to disrupt us is a major political issue now in this country, and it will be the biggest issue on the desk of the incoming prime minister and the incoming government.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The belief that radicalization and terrorism are fuelled by deprivation, social isolation, and Britain’s military campaigns abroad will guide Jill Rose.

JILL ROSE, Retired Housing Association Manager: There are two issues. There are the immediate, about how we stop or try and stop more terrorist attacks, and then the bigger picture that is equally important. And, for me, that means voting Labor in terms of the approach, changing this world that really goes back to the cuts and the approach of the current government.

MAN: Now would you please welcome the leader of the Labor Party, Jeremy Corbyn?

MALCOLM BRABANT: Jeremy Corbyn’s Achilles’ heel is security, say his critics. They fear Britain’s defense would be weakened by a lifelong self-professed pacifist taking control of Britain’s Trident nuclear missile system.

JEREMY CORBYN, Leader, Labour Party: We have to obviously try to protect ourselves. We wouldn’t use it as first use. And if we did use it, millions are going to die. You have to think these things through.

MAN: Close down NATO.

MALCOLM BRABANT: This conservative ad uses Corbyn’s past and words to attack him.

JEREMY CORBYN: Fight all the cuts, except those in the armed forces. Our friends from Hezbollah, friends from Hamas.

KATE HOEY, Labour Candidate, Vauxhall: I don’t think people need fear because he said something 30 years ago or appeared with somebody. You know, we have all had our past and our histories.

MALCOLM BRABANT: Kate Hoey has been a Labor M.P. for 28 years, and her seat is under threat because she supported Brexit.

KATE HOEY: I think Jeremy would know that, being prime minister, the first duty is to protect the British public. And I think, even though he has said things in the past, people grow into a job. And I think I have seen changes in Jeremy. I have known him for a very long time, and even over the last year, I have seen how he’s changed, in terms of the way he puts his views.

MAN: Please welcome the leader of the Conservative Party, the prime minister, Theresa May.

MALCOLM BRABANT: When Theresa May called the snap election in April, the Conservatives were 17 percent ahead of Labor. Her refusal to debate Corbyn helped erode the advantage.

MAN: You have called a general election for the good of the Conservative Party, and it’s going to backfire on you.

THERESA MAY, Prime Minister, United Kingdom: No, I called …

(APPLAUSE)

THERESA MAY: I called a general election because I believe that the British people have a right to vote and to say who they want to see leading them through the Brexit negotiations.

MATTHEW PARRIS, Columnist, The Times: She has personally been winged like a bird’s been winged. She has appeared inadequate and indecisive. She has changed her mind, and pretended that she hasn’t changed her mind, and I don’t think people will ever see her in quite the same way again.

MALCOLM BRABANT: From his Thames-side warehouse loft, former conservative M.P. Matthew Parris, now a respected columnist, has written some damning commentaries about the prime minister.

MATTHEW PARRIS: She doesn’t have those quicksilver qualities that are perhaps needed in a statesman and needed in negotiation. She’s rigid.

THERESA MAY: The conservative party can build a better Britain.

MALCOLM BRABANT: This song, banned from the air by the BBC, has hit the top of the British charts.

WOMAN (singing): She’s a liar, liar. Oh, she’s a liar, liar. Oh, you can’t trust her, no, no, no.

MALCOLM BRABANT: But above this betting shop in East London, there’s optimism in the campaign office of Conservative candidate Lee Scott. He’s trying to reclaim a seat lost to Labor in 2015, and says he’s reaping the benefit of May’s promise to crack down on extremists.

LEE SCOTT, Conservative Candidate, Illford North: They are totally committed to going out and voting for me.

SASHA JOHNSTON, Magician: Anyone slightly to the right is being made to feel almost guilty to have to be center-right.

LEE SCOTT: You know, they want to try and make people feel guilty to love their country, guilty to want to stand up for what’s right, guilty for wanting to try to have a firm law and order policy. They’re not going to work. And on the doorsteps, people are saying to me that it’s about strong leadership. And that strong leadership is coming from Theresa May, certainly not from Mr. Corbyn.

MALCOLM BRABANT: The latest opinion polls suggest that Theresa May’s gamble will pay off, and that she will be returned to office with an increased majority. But many pollsters have been wrong in the recent past, most notably failing to correctly predict the Brexit vote during last year’s E.U. referendum.

For the PBS NewsHour, I’m Malcolm Brabant in London.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Thank you, Malcolm.

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