Hazel Blears must go

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The Department for Communities & Local Government (CLG) “sets policy on local government, housing, urban regeneration, planning and fire and rescue. We have responsibility for all race equality and community cohesion….”.

However the recent actions of its minister, Hazel Blears MP, suggest that the word ‘cohesion’ should be replaced with ‘disempowerment’.

Since around 22nd March, Secretary of State Blears had been leaning heavily on the MCB to force the resignation of Daud Abdullah as its office bearer, because he participated in a conference in Istanbul on Gaza and signed a Declaration of support for Hamas.

Her campaign reached a crescendo with a letter to the Guardian on 25th March stating that his name on the Declaration was tantamount to his personally endorsing ” violence against foreign forces – which could include British naval personnel – as the prime minister has offered British naval support to stop the smuggling of weapons to Gaza; and advocating attacks on Jewish communities all around the world.”

It was appalling that a minister sought to interfere in a civil society organisation – and that too of a community beset with socio-economic challenges and lack of institutional capacity. However it was not entirely inconsistent – the CLG has for years been committed to a policy of fragmenting Muslim civil society and creating compliant and pliable client bodies.

What was even more shocking was a cabinet-level minister making a linkage between advocacy for Palestinian sovereignty and antisemitism. This is the line parroted by malevolent lobbyists, not a responsible Secretary of State.

No wonder that well informed analysts such as Bob Lambert have used the term “ill-judged” to describe the Hazel Blears “assault on Dr Daud Abdullah and the MCB“.

There is no doubt that the Minister cast an unacceptable slur on Daud’s reputation as an academic and researcher.

He subsequently sought legal advice and has asked for a retraction and an apology by 15th April. A legal defamation suit may follow if this is not forthcoming.

The case will be an important and symbolic challenge to the simplistic notion that anti-Zionism equates to anti-Semitism. If this link is not broken now, it would mean that Israeli policies where these contravene International law, or are expansionist and racist, could never be challenged in the United Kingdom.

If good sense prevails then the Minister would retract and apologise. However this may be difficult because there is a broader agenda at stake, recently alluded to in The Economist: “Labour women, intolerant of Islamist views on gender, make up a disproportionate chunk of those demanding change [blogger’s note – reference is to Government policy towards Muslims and the urge to engineer a ‘moderate’, apolitical Islam]. Ms Smith and Ms Blears have backbench allies such as Kate Hoey, Ann Cryer and Ruth Kelly (Ms Blears’s predecessor and author of the foreword to the Policy Exchange report, a glimpse of the growing co-operation, often covert, between the reformers on each side of the party-political divide). ” (The Economist, 26th March 2009)

Hazel Blears has herself spoken at Policy Exchange seminars – on 17th July 2008 where she stated: “…We must have a system which delivers on our objectives of tackling violent extremism, without creating a fixed constellation of self-appointed groups reliant on the state for funding. The fact remains that most British Muslims, like the wider community, are not politically active, do not sit on committees, and do not attend seminars and meetings. They are working hard, bringing up families, planning their holidays, and going about their business. So we need an engagement strategy which gets past the gate-keepers and connects with the business leader, bus driver, shop keeper, stay-at-home Mum, or student…”

In effect the best Muslims are those who carried on with their daily lives and kept out of politics’! Engagement in the political process is to be a selective affair decided by ministerial fiat.

With the Daud Abdullah challenge, there is a cause celebre in the making and whatever the outcome, Blears can no longer be a minister for ‘cohesion’ or ‘equality’.