Wednesday 11 December 2019

Mary Kenny: 'Parties facing new questions in the shadow of terror attack'

The incident occurred in a busy shopping area, which was packed with people on Black Friday (Phil Nijhuis/AP)
The incident occurred in a busy shopping area, which was packed with people on Black Friday (Phil Nijhuis/AP)
Mary Kenny

Mary Kenny

After the atrocity at London Bridge last Friday evening, much electioneering was - rightly - suspended for a day. But the disclosure that 28-year-old knifeman Usman Khan had served a jail sentence for terrorist offences will very likely favour the Conservatives, at least in the immediate term.

Labour's security credentials are portrayed as weak, while Tories are seen as tougher on law-and-order. Priti Patel, who has been Boris Johnson's Home Secretary, has a particularly right-wing reputation: she stated in the past that she favoured the death penalty, although subsequently claimed she had moderated that view.

Yet Usman Khan - though known to be a danger - was released from prison under a Conservative regime, so there will be questions asked about just how mindful of security the authorities have been.

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There have been battles all week about religious identity in Britain as the Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis virtually instructed British Jews not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, because of the anti-Semitism apparently embedded in Corbyn's Labour party. Other religious leaders - Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Christians - all weighed in with their opinions about discrimination against faith communities.

Sigmund Freud once predicted that religion would have died out in the western world by about 1978: how wrong he was. Religious identity remains a central issue.

And a man like Usman Khan was evidently ready to kill in the cause of that identity.


If Boris Johnson ever prays these days (he was baptised a Catholic by his artist mother Charlotte, but he chose to be confirmed as an Anglican at Eton), we know what requests he'll be making to the Almighty this weekend: Please, God, please, please don't let Donald Trump say anything in my favour when he comes to London for the NATO summit this coming week!

If President Trump refers to "My good friend Boris", it's the kiss of electoral death. And heaven forbid that The Donald should utter those three letters "NHS". Labour has been hammering home the message that Boris plans to "sell" the National Health Service to Trump's America - oh, Lord, don't let him mention that!

It's suggested Queen Elizabeth could help out, since Trump is more interested in visiting Buckingham Palace than in tangling with politicians. If Elizabeth would just send a fancy gold carriage to fetch the president, he'd be so distracted by the pomp and ceremony that he'd forget about the politics. Surely the answer to Boris's prayer!


Whitstable, on the coast of Kent, has two claims to historic fame: it's the birthplace of Peter Cushing, the Dracula actor; and it was the model for the village of Blackstable in Somerset Maugham's classic novel Cakes and Ale.

Maugham described Whitstable as a "grim fishing village", but it is now a dinky English seaside town, with white clapboard houses, pretty shops, art galleries, organic restaurants, and a fine reputation for oysters. And, as part of the Canterbury constituency, it's a key marginal in the election.

The Labour MP, Rosie Duffield, took it in 2017 by just 187 votes. In Whitstable, you'd be persuaded that Rosie - who won plaudits in Westminster by speaking about her experience of domestic abuse - will keep her seat. So many houses are plastered with 'Vote Labour' posters, and not a single Tory sign to be seen. And yet, down by the harbour, the fishermen will surely vote Tory, since they are mostly Brexiteers.

"There's very little fishing here now - it's the quotas," says the veteran mariner in the RNLI shop. "Quotas are so small, you can't rightly fish. Friend of mine with a small boat was given a quota of one and a half cod!"

There's only "whelking" at Whitstable, and harvesting the oyster beds in the bay (although I was also told that some of Whitstable's oysters now come from Ireland).

"Hopefully fishing will change when we get our own waters back," said the mariner. But whether the fisheries policy will be all the seamen hope for is a moot question - to be mulled over in robust trade talks with Phil Hogan, presumably.

Despite the absence of Tory posters, one poll is predicting that the constituency could go to the Conservative Anna Firth, a barrister and "Leaver".

"I'd say it's 50-50," said a woman browser at Harbour Books, Whitstable's delightful bookshop.

"I think Rosie will win," said the bookseller. "She's so nice. And she's a woman."

So, as it happens, are all her opponents. But Rosie seems to be the kind of woman favoured by that tribe of voters known as "Kind Yuppies".


According to finance ace Dame Helena Morrissey - a possible future governor of the Bank of England - Labour's economic policy is "robbing Peter to pay Paul".

But perhaps it's useful to remember George Bernard Shaw's observation on this theme: "The politician who promises to rob Peter to pay Paul will always have the vote of Paul."

Quite so! Those who may benefit from politicians' economic policies may well choose to vote for them. Isn't that the whole point of bribing voters?

The WASPI women (Women Against State Pension Inequality) are one such group. They're the old gals who feel cheated out of pension rights when the pension age was increased from 60 to 66. It would cost a Labour government £58bn to fill that gap (which, ironically, was about equality - equalising men and women's pensions.)

Personally, I could be attracted by Labour's offer of free dental care. I must have spent a thousand quid on my gnashers last year. A friend of mine has spent £30,000 on London dentists over the past five years. Free dental care, which is at present as rare as hens' teeth on the NHS, sure could be a vote-winner for those with toothache.

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