In the new series of the US political drama House of Cards, a running theme is the threat posed by a terrorist organisation known as “ICO”.

Clearly intended as a proxy for Islamic State (IS), when the 2016 presidential elections look to be going badly for President Underwood, he contrives an attack on polling stations and buys himself a reprieve.

In London on Saturday night, life ended up imitating art for the second time during this general election campaign. And while only the most dedicated conspiracy theorist will believe that the UK Government is capable of emulating Frank Underwood, the response to such an attack cannot avoid becoming political.

Is it too much, before we come on to that, to suggest a link between these attacks and British democracy? It’s often said that terrorism is an attack on “our way of life”, and that would surely include a parliamentary system of government. The first, back in March, targeted Westminster, while the second and third have taken place in the midst of elections to that Parliament.

Even for a country accustomed to home-grown terrorism, the frequency and scale of these attacks are unprecedented in an electoral context. All that comes close was the INLA’s assassination of the Conservative MP Airey Neave as he drove out of the Palace of Westminster car park just weeks before the general election of 1979.

Yesterday national campaigning was, once again, suspended, prompting a re-run of the (legitimate) debate following the Manchester attacks as to whether this was an appropriate response to something most likely intended to disrupt the democratic process. But then surely the suspension has more to do with a statement of respect than capitulation, an acknowledgement that some things are more important than photo-calls and door knocking.

In her response to the London Bridge incident, the Prime Minister said that in terms of “planning and execution” the recent attacks weren’t connected, but that it constituted a “new trend” in the potential threat, terrorism breeding terrorism and copycat attacks deploying the “crudest” possible means, chiefly vehicles, knives and a murderous intent.

But what are we to make of Theresa May’s more substantive response, that we “cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are”? “Things need to change,” added the Prime Minister, and do so in four “important” ways: defeating the “evil ideology” of Islamist extremism, regulating cyberspace to prevent its spread, taking more action abroad and “at home” and, finally, a review of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.

The sentence that leapt out from Mrs May’s statement, however, was her “frank” assertion that, hitherto, there had been what she called “far too much tolerance” of extremism on the domestic front. Although that could be taken as a swipe at the leader of the Opposition and his past support for the IRA, it also implied someone else had been prime minister and home secretary for the past seven years.

Nevertheless, concluded May with yet another soundbite, it was time to say “enough is enough”. Yes, everybody needed to go about their lives as “normally” as possible with society continuing to function in accordance with “our values”, but when it came to tackling extremism and terrorism, things needed “to change”.

But it’s the nature of that “change” which raises questions about the Prime Minister’s approach. Yesterday she spoke of increasing the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently less-serious ones, which at least sits comfortably with an orthodox Tory approach to law and order. But Mrs May also took aim at the bigger, more amorphous, target of the internet, alleging that “big companies” provided internet-based “safe spaces” in which the ideology of IS could “breed”.

Last month’s Conservative manifesto, now regretted and disowned, provides some clues as to what that might mean in practice, and much of it is unpalatable, not to mention tricky territory for a party which claims to value privacy. This spoke of the UK becoming a “global leader” in the regulation of personal data and the internet, but that seems both quixotic and a potential impingement on broader civil liberties. The current Home Secretary Amber Rudd, for example, alluded to WhatsApp, a widely-used (and encrypted) messaging app.

Some of what is proposed, however, is difficult to object to. Freedom of speech and expression has always been qualified, and it’s hard to question the swift removal (or reporting) of online material intended to plan or spread further terrorist attacks. The Prime Minister spoke of reaching “international agreements” to this end, and doubtless she’ll find an enthusiastic supporter in President Trump, but that doesn’t mean the next UK Government shouldn’t proceed with caution.

Earlier I mentioned the IRA, and anyone familiar with the UK’s response to that organisation over the course of several decades will be aware of the danger of counter-productive responses like internment and pre-emptive attacks on unarmed suspects. Longer custodial sentences, mentioned by the Prime Minister, are all well and good, but the due process of law – an important part, after all, of “our way of life” – mustn’t be compromised.

Hopefully the leader of the Conservative Party realises this, and if she doesn’t emerge well from this campaign or its response to two terrorist attacks, then nor does her principal opponent, Jeremy Corbyn. Although his response yesterday was pitch perfect, he’ll be aware of a large question mark hovering above his handling of this unpleasant situation given his own historical baggage. Although neither as pure nor wicked as his friends and enemies would have voters believe, it’s nevertheless problematic.

The Labour leader is also on record as believing attacks such as that on Saturday evening flow from past Western (i.e. US and UK) military adventurism in the Middle East, and that’s a legitimate point of view, if not an adequate articulation of what he’d do to combat it were his party to have a surprise victory this Thursday.

And that’s the real challenge facing the next UK Government, whether red or blue. The machinations and conspiracies of House of Cards make for compelling television, but these attacks – which seem unlikely to cease after polling day – are real and immediate, and that requires a measured and coherent response, not tribal posturing.