Why the Tories should be trying to get voters to “look over there”, at who Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn might have met as part of his desire for peaceful resolution of conflicts like that in Northern Ireland, is becoming clearer by the day in the wake of the Manchester bombing. That is because Salman Abedi, who carried out the attack, had been the subject of a series of warnings - none of which were acted upon.
This puts Theresa May and her team in what Spike Milligan might have called A Very Difficult Position. It is just not credible to point the finger at Jezza and shout “soft on terror” while being, er, apparently soft on terror. Cuts to policing, especially community policing, which the Tories were warned could have the consequences we saw all too clearly last week, have left dangerous gaps in law enforcement intelligence.
And there wasn’t just one warning: Home Secretary Amber Rudd was reminded yesterday morning on The Andy Marr Show (tm) that Abedi’s behaviour had been the subject of warnings to the authorities. As the Guardian reported, “He was still a teenager when friends rang a police counter-terrorism hotline five years ago to express concerns about his behaviour. On at least four other occasions, community leaders and members of his family were reported to have warned of his dangerous tendencies”.
The Mirror went further. “Abedi had allegedly been reported to authorities at least five times … It has been claimed that he was previously banned from a Manchester mosque after criticising the Imam during a sermon against the Islamic State. The terrorist, whose parents are of Libyan origin, stood up before declaring: ‘You are talking b*****ks’”.
It gets worse: as the Independent has reported, “FBI agents are said to have informed British officials that the 22-year-old was part of a North African Islamic State cell based in the north west of England that was plotting an attack in the UK … Abedi was reportedly placed on a US terrorist watch list in 2016 after he came to the attention of intelligence agencies during an investigation into terrorist groups operating in Libya”.
Even the Murdoch Sun has admitted “FBI tipped off MI5 that sick Salman Abedi was part of ISIS cell in North Africa and planning to strike Britain, it has been claimed”, with the Mail agreeing that “The FBI told MI5 that Abedi was planning an attack in Britain in January this year … it will pile more pressure on MI5 to reveal when and how they knew of Abedi”. These august Tory cheerleaders are stressing that it is MI5 they are implicitly accusing of failure, not wanting to halt the imperial progress of the Empress Theresa.
But the reality is that both security services and policing have been subjected to years of cutbacks. And while Labour is committing to recruit another 1,000 to the security services, and another 10,000 Police officers, all that the Tories are promising is that law enforcement agencies have the tools for the job, and perhaps they will set up some kind of review. But that review will not plug the gaps in intelligence and community policing.
Theresa May and her team are standing in an awfully draughty glasshouse. They keep calling “terrorist sympathiser” on Corbyn, but the reality is that their régime of cuts has forced security services and Police to effectively drop their guard. monitor fewer individuals, operate with blind spots in their vision. And that’s not good enough.