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Theresa May’s new stance on terror has irritated other Conservatives

The Prime Minister was the biggest opponent of Michael Gove when he warned that Islamist extremism was being tolerated.

By Stephen Bush

For the third time this year and for the second time in the course of this campaign, jihadist terror has disrupted the election campaign.

I must admit, I’m deeply uneasy that the national campaigns were paused yesterday. I don’t intend to make a habit of agreeing with Paul Nuttall, but the Ukip leader had a point when he said that these attacks are intended to disrupt our way of life and that election campaigns, even those including Paul Nuttall, are an essential part of our way of life.

The good news (sort of) is that while the other parties notionally agreed a pause, neither side found themselves able to keep to it. Jeremy Corbyn ended his statement pausing the Labour campaign by calling for “reflection” on the cuts to police numbers. Theresa May went one better, delivering a speech that went far beyond the brief of a non-partisan leader offering facts and reassurance to a worried country and was, pretty clearly, a stump speech for Conservative proposals on terror. Labour then jumped back into the fray with a speech from Corbyn blaming the Conservatives for their cuts to the security services and singling out Theresa May’s suppression of a report into foreign funding for extremism entirely.

It feels like an unedifying and acrimonious way to get to where we should be: both party leaders offering their analyses of what we should do about the threat of extremism.

The bigger problem is this: do either of them believe a word that they’re saying? The Labour leader now says he backs shoot-to-kill and is opposed to cuts to the police and security services, when not so long ago he was telling crowds that those were the only cuts he didn’t oppose and backtracking on tears of scepticism about an overmighty police force.

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As for Theresa May, well, she’s matching Corbyn conversion-for-conversion. “Enough is enough” is her message, once again sounding more like a box-fresh opposition leader than the sitting Prime Minister and Home Secretary of six years’ standing. Her suggestion that jihadism has been quietly tolerated in public life has particularly irritated other veterans of the Cameron government, not least because she was the biggest opponent of Michael Gove when he made exactly this argument. One of their number, David Cameron’s former guru Steve Hilton, has broken his silence on Twitter, saying “I am so sick of Theresa May blaming others for terror when the system she presided over has obviously failed so lamentably”.

It’s true that both May and Corbyn are triangulating on terror. But while Corbyn is triangulating towards his party, May risks a fight with hers.