Former Labour minister Hazel Blears is among six candidates shortlisted to head up the Government’s Commission for Countering Extremism.
The Times reports that Blears, who served as Police and Counter Terrorism Minister under Tony Blair, is seen as the front runner to head the new body.
Also in the running for Lead Commissioner is Amjad Hussein, who was Britain’s most senior Muslim naval officer. There are four other candidates who have not yet been disclosed.
The Commission for Countering Extremism was announced in the Queen’s Speech earlier this year, raising concerns from campaign group Defend Free Speech (DFS).
DFS, which is supported by The Christian Institute, fears that the Commission will mimic the Government’s past approach to extremism, which threatens to tar Christians and others with unpopular views as ‘non-violent extremists’.
Since first announcing its counter extremism plans in 2015, the Government has been unable to provide a legally sound definition of extremism.
In June, the Government announced that: “A commission for countering extremism will be established to support the government in stamping out extremist ideology in all its forms, both across society and on the internet, so it is denied a safe space to spread.”
Responding, DFS said: “We are disappointed that the Government has yet again said it will bring forward unnecessary and intrusive legislation to counter so-called ‘non-violent extremism’.
“Government lawyers have been bogged down for years trying to come up with a watertight legal definition of who is and is not an extremist.
“The chances of coming up with a definition that does not criminalise those with traditional or challenging views, such as people of faith, outspoken academics or anti-fracking campaigners seems highly remote.”
The Government now appears to have shelved plans for Ofsted to inspect Sunday schools under its counter-extremism strategy.
Plans for extremism disruption orders (EDOs) and an ‘equality oath’ also appear to have been scrapped.
The Institute will continue to monitor the Government’s plans in the coming months.