An Open Letter to CLG Minister John Denham MP

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We wish Mr John Denham well at Communities & Local Government – however here is a briefing for the Secretary of State.

Dear Secretary of State

I hear that your department has published the following job vacancies:

The Department for Communities and Local Government (CLG) has advertised a number of posts relating to its work on faith issues. They include a post of Policy Adviser to the Secretary of State; up to three Departmental Advisers to provide advice on extremism in communities, particularly but not exclusively, in relation to Muslim communities…. Full details are available on the CLG website.

As one of your well-wishers who has watched your career since the ‘War on Want’ days, may I take this opportunity to commend you for sweeping out your predecessors’ special advisors. However in making new appointments, please reflect on recent experiences.

The view from within the Muslim community is that since the Ruth Kelly and Hazel Blears’  tenures, the CLG SPADs have been excessively influential in shaping policy based on their own ideological commitments. It has not been good politics ñ if politics is understood not as ideological advocacy but a framework within which disagreements can be expressed.

Take two of the recent SPADs – Paul Richards and the gentleman from Pendle.

Mr Richards has revealed his true colours recently in the Jewish Chronicle where he wrote, ‘One of the bravest things I have witnessed is the stand taken by ex-Cabinet Minister Hazel Blears against political Islam. As her adviser, I saw first-hand the pressures on her to sit round the table with groups whose political outlook was the diametric opposite of her beliefs in pluralist democracy, rights for minorities and equality for women’ (JC, 11th June 2009).

Similarly the gentleman from Pendle is believed to have led Ruth Kelly to launch the Sufi Muslim Council – as a government-conceived initiative to counter the grass-roots based Muslim Council of Britain. Ms Kelly, launching the SMC on 19th July 2006 effused:

“I welcome the creation of this Council to represent the Sufi community in particular. I look forward to working with you as one of a number of organisations who have an interest in developing strong and thriving Muslim communities”.

The move was a cynical attempt to fragment Muslim civil society ñ the individuals at the helm of the SMC have been quite unknown for their contribution to community development in the last four decades. The SMC was launched because, it is alleged, the gentleman from Pendle wished to oblige one section of North West England’s Barelwi circles.

However the problem with the CLG goes beyond that of ideological SPADs – senior civil servants have been at liberty to pursue their agendas, or in some cases, keep their Secretary of State in the dark.

I am sure, Mr Denham, that you have been uncovering such cases in recent weeks, and we hope that you have been giving the guilty a tough time. Take one CLG supremo, Mr Mark Carroll, who, it is alleged, master-minded the disastrous Commission on Integration & Cohesion in 2006. Perhaps it might be worth asking a few questions on the cost-benefits of this Commission and the responses from local government when its report was released. The Commission was chaired by Mr Dara Singh and lacked any effective Muslim representation – even distinguished sociologists like Professor Tariq Modood and Muhammad Anwar were not involved!

A further question must also be addressed, Mr Denham, if you are to clear the air –  to do with the Holocaust Memorial Day. It was Ruth Kelly who blundered, by linking funding to compliance with Government wishes:

‘Our strategy of funding and engagement must shift significantly towards those organisations that are taking a proactive leadership role in tackling extremism and defending our shared values and that is why I want a fundamental rebalancing of our relationship with Muslim organisations from now on.’ (11th October 2006).

It was controversial in the way the HMD issue was rammed home and aggressively used as a litmus test for British values. Is it a surprise that Mr Carroll is also believed to have been the civil servant responsible in 2005 for organising the national commemorations to mark 60th Anniversary of the Holocaust?

Shared values should not be imposed, but rather emerge from a process of dialogue and inclusive deliberations. Moreover, it should be accepted that HMD is controversial – just see what Norman Finkelstein has to say.

You may also wish to ask tough questions on the CLG project Contextualising Islam in Britain . Of course it has some prestige because of its association with the University of Cambridge, but is it really going to be value for money? Do you really think the Muslim community will accept theological guidance from external sources? It sounds a bit like a good number for the boys, wink, wink!

As you clear the stables, there is no doubt that you will be provided with briefings on what to do about CLG’s instructions to Government departments that the Muslim Council of Britain should be ‘disinvited’  from official meetings because of the action of its Deputy Secretary General, Dr Daud Abdullah, to sign the Gaza Istanbul Declaration in a personal capacity.

The absence of the Muslim community’s most inclusive and broadly based representative body from HMG consultations is a nonsense -cutting one’s nose to spite one’s face. Without MCB support, key government initiatives will run into difficulty – because the community has trust in the information it disseminates. This will apply from health related notices to take up of the 2011 Census.

It was an affront for Muslim civil society that a Government should demand the MCB to seek the resignation of a democratically elected office bearer ñ Dr Daud Abdullah – for signing the Istanbul Gaza Declaration in January 2009 in a personal capacity. If any of your civil servants tell you that the CLG has not demanded his resignation there are two things you should do: (i) ask for a copy of the letter dated 6th March 2009 from Ms Blears to the MCB which states, ‘we would expect the MCB to ask the individual concerned to resign his post…’ and (ii) invite the civil servant to what we call in the army ‘a meeting without coffee’.

This is not to say that there are not some accomplishments at the CLG which now need to be re-enforced. Among these is the MINAB initiative. This has proceeded well and given Muslim civil society confidence in its own abilities at self-management.

We wish you well in your tenure at the CLG –

Salaam blogger will be following your work with keen interest.