Recent Terror Attacks Weigh On Voters' Minds Ahead Of U.K. Election

Jun 7, 2017
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

Three months ago, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for snap elections. She had a majority in Parliament but was hoping for an even bigger one. She said she needed it to negotiate a strong Brexit deal with the European Union. And tomorrow the British will vote. But things haven't gone quite according to plan. Theresa May's opponent, Jeremy Corbyn, has run a much better campaign than expected. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from the town of Watford.

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JEREMY CORBYN: A Labour majority in Parliament elected tomorrow will do things very, very differently indeed.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: On the last day of campaigning, Labour Party opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn was in the working-class town of Watford about 20 miles north of London. The town has voted for the Conservative Party in the last two elections, but today there was a big crowd to support Corbyn with a lot of young people, like Cameron Longer.

CAMERON LONGER: Jeremy Corbyn is a vote for basic human values and decency. And he's here to change the lives of the ordinary working British person, not just the privileged few.

BEARDSLEY: Andy Hopping, a lifelong Labour supporter, is having a pint in a nearby pub. He says the Conservatives, or the Tories, have taken the country too far to the right, doing things like privatizing the postal service. He says Corbyn has woken up young voters who realize the issues he talks about are important to their lives.

ANDY HOPPING: He's talking about housing and education and hospitals. And all the youngsters are saying, yeah, we need to get involved in this.

BEARDSLEY: Andy O'Brien doesn't think Corbyn will beat May tomorrow, but he says it's going to be a lot closer than when she called the election three months ago.

ANDY O'BRIEN: Theresa May, you know, she's been pretty awful in the - you know, in the interviews here, and Jeremy's gotten better. There's been a lot of criticisms of Jeremy in the run-up there, and people have likened him to some kind of, like, fusty old teacher. And he seems to have sharpened up.

BEARDSLEY: In the last three months, Britain has suffered three terrorist attacks - two in London and one in Manchester - that killed more than 30 people. Traditionally, the Tories are seen as tougher on national security. But given that the attacks took place on May's watch, political science professor Peter Catterall says that has upended their claim of providing stability.

PETER CATTERALL: So the notion that if you return a conservative government it's going to be - the situation's normal has started to be undermined.

BEARDSLEY: May has been under attack because as home minister, she cut 20,000 police jobs to save money. Corbyn says he will add back 10,000 police immediately and accused May of protecting the British people on the cheap. May has tried to get tougher. Yesterday, she said if elected she'll push for longer prison sentences and deport foreigners suspected of radical leanings.

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PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: If our human rights laws stop us from doing it, we'll change the laws so we can do it.

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BEARDSLEY: Critics charge that not only is May ready to compromise core British values, but she's doing exactly what the terrorists want. This campaign may have started about Brexit, but since Saturday's attack on London Bridge, it's largely about which party can better protect the British people. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Watford.

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