Yesterday the Home Secretary Theresa May announced the conclusions of the review of the Government’s counter-radicalisation strategy designed to tackle home grown terrorism and violent extremism, known as Prevent, by the independent reviewer of anti-terrorist laws Lord Carlile of Berriew.
Prevent was set up in 2007 and proved to be controversial. Both from many members of Britain’s Muslim community who felt it unfairly targeted them and from others who saw the policy as being confused and badly managed. The coalition government has accepted much of this criticism blaming the previous Labour government for mishandling the policy, and much of yesterday’s announcement reflected that. It seemed to me that the Home Secretary was arguing that future policy in this area would be based on a new and improved Prevent strategy. A sort of Prevent version 2.0 with better management and the bad bits cut out.
The news of relevance for Luton is that it has been identified as one of the 25 priority areas to which funding will be targeted. This means that the Government will provide funding for projects within the town that form part of the Prevent strategy.
There is no doubt that there were problems with Prevent as it had developed so a new approach is needed and there is a lot here to be welcomed.
For example, for a policy that, by some and seemed to be about targeting Muslims, it was very welcome that the Home Secretary made clear that Prevent “should address all forms of terrorism including the extreme right wing”. This opens up the possibility that some of the activities of groups like the English Defence League could come into its remit. Which is a good thing. However, she did make clear that our greatest threat remains that provided by Al Qa’ida and allied groups and that this is were the focus of its work will have to continue to be.
The objectives of the Prevent strategy, which strike me as being about right, will be measures to:
- Deal with the ideological challenge
- Intervene to stop individuals being radicalised and involved in terrorism
- Work with institutions and organisations to prevent radicalisation from within
However, the Home Secretary felt it necessary to name check both the speeches on this issue that were made by David Cameron in Munich and Nick Clegg here in Luton. Yet these two speeches held out deeply contrasting visions and this is where things get tricky.
She criticised the previous Labour government for confusing policies on community integration and policies on tackling terrorism. Both were needed to deal with the issues of radicalisation and extremism, both non-violent and violent extremism, but they needed to be run in parallel and not be confused. Prevent would solely be about tackling terrorism and violent extremism. What the government would do would be to bring in a new additional emphasis on policies towards integration.
I agree with the need not to confuse the measures to tackle terrorism and violent extremism with the wider agenda of community cohesion. This was something that I criticised Cameron for doing in his speech and praised Clegg for getting right in his! So it is good that the government is being clearer about the difference. However, by talking about integration in the way she did the Home Secretary was framing the debate within the terms of the Tory political rhetoric of “multiculturalism has failed”. We are back to that dreadful phrase “muscular liberalism” again and trying to work out what it means.
I have written before about how the debate over multiculturalism has in recent years become something of a dialogue of the deaf because critics and defenders of multiculturalism are mostly talking about starkly different ideas. The Home Secretary seems to be trying to navigate between the Tory rhetoric and workable policies that exist within the mainstream of current thinking about community cohesion. In an editorial today the Guardian describes this as a fudge. It says;
“For the last election, the Conservatives built a detailed counter-terror agenda around the idea – made explicit for the first time by David Cameron in his Munich speech in February – that multiculturalism had failed. Instead of mutual respect for difference, integration should be at the forefront of the strategy…….After the election Lib Dem negotiators, reassured by a common resistance to Labour’s control orders and detention without trial, signed up to most of the Tory programme. But then came Mr Cameron’s Munich speech and the differences were launched into the public space. Nick Clegg went to Luton to argue for engagement rather than exclusion. The result of the trimming that followed is a convenient fudge over the precise definition of extremism that will leave some flexibility of implementation for Lib Dem ministers….”
I think I am more optimistic that on the ground those actually working in this field will be more able to work positively within this “fudged” framework. But the talk of fudge and negotiation does highlight in this area the difference the Liberal Democrats are making in government. What would the policy look like if the Conservatives were governing alone? What kind of mess would we be in then? What more do Lib Dems need to do to make sure that we can get this to work?
You can see the Home Secretary’s announcement below:
This content was originally posted on my old Strange Thoughts blog.