There is little doubt that the two terrorist incidents in London tonight are the work of Jihadi terrorists acting on behalf of ISIS and that their intention is to intrude in their usual murderous way into the British general election.
This begs the question of whether ISIS will succeed in this objective. The short answer, which can be given with confidence in the light of previous experience, is that if ‘intruding into the British general election’ equates to changing its outcome, then ISIS will fail.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS have carried out several terrorist attacks whilst elections in Europe are underway. Most recently on 20th April 2017 a Jihadi terrorist acting on behalf of ISIS killed one police officer and wounded two others and a tourist on the Champs-Élysées in Paris three days before voting in the first round of the French Presidential election was due to take place.
There were some claims following that attack that it would work to the advantage of the right wing anti immigrant candidate Marine Le Pen. There is no evidence that it did, and in the event Marine Le Pen polled less well in the voting in the election’s first round than many had expected. In the second round she of course lost.
There is no evidence that the Champs-Élysées attack changed a single vote, and I firmly predict the same will be true of tonight’s attacks in London, just as they were true of the previous attack in Manchester.
As it happens there were widespread claims after the Manchester attack that it would work to the advantage of Prime Minister Theresa May. There is no evidence that it did, and following the attack Theresa May’s lead in the opinion polls continued to shrink.
I would add that Western electorates act with similar sangfroid in response to violence during elections which does not involve Jihadi terrorists. During the British Brexit referendum the murder of Jo Cox, a Labour MP who supported Remain, was widely expected to help Remain win. Instead Remain lost, and it was Leave which won.
In modern Western societies elections are decided overwhelmingly on economic issues, with Western voters voting in the way which they believe will either protect or improve their living standards. Security issues barely impact on them unless the threat is so overwhelming as to disrupt immediately the normal flow of life. Sporadic terrorist incidents like those which have just happened in London do not do that, which is why their effect on elections is so minimal.
The only possible circumstance in which a terrorist incident might affect the outcome of an election is if one of the politicians who is standing for election visibly mishandles it.
This happened during the Spanish general election of 2004, when the outgoing right wing government of Prime Minister José María Aznar falsely claimed that bomb attacks targeting Madrid’s commuter train system, which happened shortly before the election and which left hundreds of people dead, were the work of Basque separatists rather than Al-Qaeda. The claim was widely and correctly disbelieved, resulting in widespread protests and a popular backlash against the government, which caused it to lose an election it had been universally expected to win.
There is no possibility of anything like that happening on this occasion. Not only is there little doubt as to the identity of the organisation which has perpetrated the London terrorist attacks, but both Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn are well experienced in responding properly to these sort of attacks. Neither of them is going to make the sort of mistake which was made by Aznar and his colleagues in Spain 13 years ago and which could lose them votes.
The terrorist attacks on London will result in a reduction in campaigning in the last days of the election. Contrary to some claims, I doubt this will affect the outcome of the election to any degree, or cause the Labour campaign, which has been visibly gaining momentum, to stall.
By now most people in Britain have already made up their minds about Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, and have decided how they are going to vote. Those who are still undecided almost certainly will not make their decision because of anything that happens in the last few days of the campaign. Polling studies show that last minute decisions by voters hardly depend on that.
The universal consensus about this British election is anyway that its outcome will be decided by the extent of Labour’s success in getting young people – who are leaning strongly towards the party – to come out and vote. That points to the importance of canvassing on the eve of the election rather than campaigning, and that will be unaffected by any reduction in campaigning in the election’s last few days.
If ISIS actually believes that terrorist incidents of the sort which its followers have just carried out in London are going to influence or change the outcome of the British election, then it is deluding itself.
As it happens I doubt ISIS believes this. Its primary purpose in carrying out attacks like these is not in my opinion to intimidate Western voters or to panic them into voting differently from how they would otherwise vote. It is to impress on young Muslims ISIS’s strength, and its ability to intrude itself onto the British political process by carrying out attacks on the British mainland during a British election.
In that unfortunately ISIS has been only too successful, which is why it remains the supremely dangerous organisation that it is.