The Government should pay attention to the failings of previous administrations in tackling extremism, a BBC Home Affairs Correspondent has said.
Danny Shaw drew parallels between the Government’s proposed counter-extremism strategy and Tony Blair’s ’12 point plan’ which “ignited a furious row over civil liberties”.
Home Secretary Theresa May is expected to reaffirm her commitment to the strategy, including controversial Extremism Disruption Orders (EDOs), at the Conservative Party conference tomorrow.
Shaw noted some striking similarities between Blair’s attempts to tackle extremism and May’s existing proposals.
He said the former Prime Minister “advocated wider grounds for the ‘proscription’, or banning, of extremist organisations”, a move “not too dissimilar to the current home secretary’s call for ‘banning orders’ for such groups”.
The correspondent also pointed out that “both Tony Blair in 2005 and Theresa May in 2015 emphasised the importance of the ‘values’ that sustain the British way of life, ‘tolerance’ in particular”.
The Christian Institute has previously drawn attention to the similarities between Mrs May’s plans and Blair’s notorious Racial and Religious Hatred Bill, which was defeated in the House of Commons in 2006.
The Bill attempted to introduce an offence of ‘incitement to religious hatred’ but in two successive votes MPs backed House of Lords amendments that dramatically narrowed the scope of the law and introduced a broad protection for free speech.
Shaw argued that: “The home secretary, together with David Cameron, is fighting a battle of ideas in which anyone who actively opposes democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths is considered to be an extremist.”
He said that another BBC correspondent has previously set out the “difficulties” with such a definition, and highlighted that since then, David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has raised a series of concerns about the Government’s plans.
Last month, Anderson warned that the current broad definition of extremism could lead to state investigation of the “exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers of law-abiding people”.
Shaw continued: “As ministers put the finishing touches to the Counter-extremism Bill”, they “might also want to consult the history books”.
He said: “Control orders, whose use Mr Blair promised to expand, have since been scrapped, while 90-day detention without charge for terrorism suspects never made it on to the statute books but instead ignited a furious row over civil liberties that smouldered for five years. The government can ill afford that.”
On Saturday, The Christian Institute announced that the Government has rowed back on a proposal for a national ‘watchlist’ of faith leaders, which was part of the Home Secretary’s wider counter-extremism strategy.
Under the proposal, Christian ministers would have been forced to undergo Government training or risk being excluded from working with the public sector.
Amidst widespread criticism of the proposed counter-extremism Bill, a new campaign has been launched by The Christian Institute and the National Secular Society to oppose controversial EDOs.
The website defendfreespeech.org.uk gives up-to-date information about the campaign, and helps people to contact their MP about the proposals.