Showing that its Boris Johnson-bashing tradition will be upheld through the British elections December 12 (in which he is currently favored to prevail), Tuesday’s New York Times found a way to use the latest London Bridge terror attack to put Conservative Party Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the defensive in “For Johnson, a Week of Courting Allies and Hosting Sometimes Rivals.”
Reporters Mark Landler and Benjamin Mueller checked attacks by Boris Johnson against his left-wing opponents in the Labour Party, especially leader Jeremy Corbyn, under fire for both his own acts of anti-Semitism and those of his party:
The last time a terrorist attack erupted on London Bridge in the final weeks of an election campaign, in 2017, the backlash stung the Conservative prime minister, Theresa May, exposing her to a damaging critique by the Labour Party that she had cut funding for the police and left the British people unprotected.
This time, after a lone extremist fatally stabbed two people on Friday before being killed by the police on the bridge, the fallout seemed less likely to alter the course of the election, which is set for Dec. 12. Neither the Conservative Party nor Labour has an especially strong cudgel to wield against the other as the circumstances that put the assailant, a convicted terrorist, back on the streets are complex and involve both parties.
At every turn, The Times tried to neutralize the force of any criticisms Johnson made of the left-wing Labour Party being soft on terror (click “expand”):
Mr. Johnson pointed out that the attacker, Usman Khan, had been released early from prison under a law passed, as he put it, by the “leftie government” that preceded a decade of Conservative-led governments.
The truth was far more complicated. Even Mr. Johnson’s senior aides acknowledged that his government would struggle to fulfill the prime minister’s promise, in a column he wrote for the Daily Mail on Saturday, that “these criminals must serve every day of their sentence, with no exceptions.”
Mr. Johnson’s lock-’em-up sloganeering was undermined not only by the two victims of the attack, who were both devoted to prisoner rehabilitation, but also by some of those who disarmed Mr. Khan, themselves ex-convicts or prisoners on day release attending the same conference as he was.
It happened again (click “expand”):
Mr. Johnson has cast himself as the perfect candidate to crack down on ex-convicts, saying he has been pushing for months to end a policy of automatically granting early release to some prisoners, like Mr. Khan.
But the prime minister has struggled to make his case. For one thing, legal experts noted that no proposals of the sort had been in the Conservatives’ manifesto or in recent counterterrorism legislation.
For another, former prison officials and critics said the Conservatives’ own decade-long policy of austerity, including deep cuts to prison and probation service staffing, had sown the seeds of broader threats to public safety.
Some legal experts also feared that Mr. Johnson would perpetuate a cycle of toughening sentencing laws, only for the government soon to be overwhelmed by a swelling prison population.
Landler and Mueller threw several extraneous cheap shots:
Questions about sentencing policy -- let alone the rehabilitation and recidivism of people, like Mr. Khan, who have been radicalized -- are extremely complex. That does not play to Mr. Johnson’s advantage, given his inattention to detail and reputation for playing loose with the facts.
Even when the Labour Party had to be shown in an unflattering light, The Times made sure to quickly neutralize any conservative sniping:
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, faces his own challenges with this issue. He acknowledged on Sunday that he does not believe all people convicted of terrorism should “necessarily” serve their entire sentence.
“I think it depends on the circumstances and it depends on the sentence but crucially depends on what they’ve done in prison,” Mr. Corbyn said to Sophy Ridge of Sky News.
Conservatives seemed likely to seize on his remarks to confirm the suspicion that Labour is soft on crime. As a practical matter, though, their proposals for sentencing in terrorism cases may not be all that different.