With party conference season firmly behind us most politicos are still focused on the clear differences, in both content and mood, between the two party leaders’ speeches. Not a day goes by without a Conservative party aficionado reminding us that “Ed forgot to mention the deficit”. Many have not, however, made the obvious comparison between the speeches of the two Home Secretaries, both of whom have been touted as potential future party leaders. But the differences between their two speeches are as stark as those between Dave and Ed and are disappointing for Labour supporters, such as myself, who feel that the party have missed an open goal in not taking the lead against the Tories on the fight to prevent radicalisation within our communities.
For starters, let’s take a look at the amount of space both Theresa May and Yvette Cooper afforded to counter-extremism/counter-terrorism measures in their respective speeches. Whilst a large part of the Home Secretary’s speech was a rallying cry against the dangers of radicalisation and extremism, Cooper’s speech only dedicated a small section on the topic, even though she made an important pledge within this section to “revive the community Prevent work” that the current government has cancelled. This is all the more surprising, considering the fact that over the summer the Shadow Home Secretary committed the party to strong counter-extremism policies.
In the absence of further details in her speech, what should we expect (based on previous press releases) from a potential Labour Government when it comes to tackling the threats of Islamist extremism:
1) Increased funding for Prevent related programmes – Over the last two years, funding for local projects to tackle extremism have fallen from £17m to around £3.5m. Whilst the Labour party has been quiet on how much they would dedicate to the Prevent strategy, partly due to Ed Balls’ insistence on not making any unfunded spending commitments, it is clear that a Home Secretary Cooper would fight to increase funding for local community Prevent programmes to ensure that Prevent work is co-ordinated across communities and spent in the correct places which need the funding most. This will require an overhaul of the current Prevent strategy and an agreement with the Tories that the bulk of Prevent work should reside in the Home Office, and not mixed in with the integration work of the Communities and Local Government Department, which has only caused confusion and not lived up to its duties in delivering on Prevent.
2) A more robust Channel Project – Although derided in some quarters, the Government’s Channel Project, started under Labour, is a key element of the Prevent Strategy – creating crucial partnerships between local authorities, statutory partners (particularly those in contact with young people), the police and the local community. Such close co-ordination is needed to help identify those individuals at most risk of radicalisation. This is even more important today with the risk of young Muslims travelling to and from Syria and Iraq. For those considering travelling to Syria and Iraq, and those that have come back from fighting there, mandatory enrolment in the Channel Project is a must.
3) Tackling radicalisation online – Gone are the days when most radicalisation takes place in community centres, mosques, gyms and youth centres and the Labour Party must ensure that all counter-extremism measures take place both on the streets and online. More resources need to be dedicated towards confronting Islamist propaganda pieces and videos on social media sites and, with this, discrediting the vast amounts of conspiracy theories that do the rounds that have a major effect in turning British citizens against the State. Looking at some of the work that the State Department has introduced in America would be a good start.
4) TPIMS and Control Orders – Probably the most contentious aspect of Labour’s counter-extremism proposals are the re-introduction of Control Orders, particularly in light of some high-profile disappearances under the current Government’s TPIMs programme. TPIMs have been criticised by some as being far too weak and Cooper has consistently criticised May for their introduction. Control Orders were, however, also heavily criticised and if they are to succeed they must be supported by communities. This means that they should be consistent with our values to human rights, ensuring that we always maintain the moral high ground and do not infringe on the very human rights that extremists would like to abolish.
Although there are no easy solutions to countering extremism , it is a shame that Cooper’s speech did not elaborate further on what exactly a future Labour would do to tackle the issue. Theresa May obviously feels that the Conservatives have the upper hand in this arena, even though there are clearly flaws in the current Government’s approach. Let’s hope that over the next 7 months, the party uses its past experiences to create a consistent approach to tackling the threat of radicalisation, both on the streets and online.