Author: Anna Turley
Publisher: New Local Government Network
Release Date: 10 August 2009
One month after 7/7, the Prime Minister of the day Tony Blair declared at his No.10 press conference , “Over the past two weeks there have been intensive meetings and discussions across government to set a comprehensive framework for action in dealing with the terrorist threat in Britain, and today I want to give our preliminary assessment of the measures we need urgently to examine”. He then went on to outline a twelve point programme, ranging from new rules for deportation to extended detention periods without charge, the proscription of Hizb Tahrir, as well as the proposal to consult “on a new power to order closure of a place of worship which is used as a centre for fomenting extremism”. He famously added, “What I’m trying to do here is, and this will be followed up with the action in the next few weeks as I think you will see, is to send a clear signal out that the rules of the game have changed”. The autocratic Blair had not consulted widely – even colleagues in the Prime Minister’s own party were left unawares. The Home Secretary was abroad on holiday at the time, while the respected John Denham, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, was to describe the proposals as ‘half-baked’ [see page 10, Peter Oborne, ‘The use and abuse of terror – the construction of a false narrative on the domestic terror threat’, Centre for Policy Studies, 2006].
Blair’s new world order for Britain spawned ‘Prevent’, a programme that conflated intelligence gathering and anti-terrorism with community services delivery. ‘Prevent’ had tremendous ambitions, seeking to rope in local authorites, spiritual chaplaincy in hospitals, and university authorities. Blair’s loyalist Home Secretary John Reid even sought to induct parents : “I appeal to you to look for changes in your teenage sons – odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends” . The Muslim community found itself cast as the suspect community, under psychological pressure to take on collective responsibility for the loss of life on 7/7 and the planned atrocities of 21/7.
Anna Turley’s report is politely phrased, but it stands as a devastating critique of the Prevent programme. It is now not enough to merely re-label ‘Prevent’ and carry on as business as usual. Her report should be the incentive for a root-and-branch review of policy pursued at Communities & Local Government (CLG). It is a timely intervention, given that policy is now in the hands of John Denham, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, known as a ‘thinking minister’. His predecessor, Hazel Blears, often seemed to parrot out a message in machine-like fashion.
Anna Turley notes that the Prevent approach “alienates many within the community who feel they are being stigmatised by association with violent extremism and that this undermines the relationship with the very community on whose support delivery of this agenda depends… in several local authorities some Muslim communities have refused to engage with programmes or seek funding under the Prevent banner. In one area, the money has even been described as ‘blood money’…..the perception around ‘mainstreaming Prevent’ is seen more as extending the security and surveillance aspects into wider civil roles”. The author calls for a new community cohesion approach, noting “the LGA [Local Government Assocation] have voiced similar concerns, saying that they are keen to ensure there is a distinction between the efforts focused on dealing with terrorist threats and broader approaches to community cohesion”.
Her report a vindicates the stand taken up by authentic representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain, which as early as January 2007 had called for a delinking of terrorism from the integration and diversity agenda .
The author also politely debunks NI-35, a performance indicator that assesses how well local authorities were tackling extremism. She observes, “we would query the need for a central target for this issue at all”. She might have added that two-thirds of local authorities have been voting with their feet on this measure of performance.
Anna Turley documents how ‘Prevent’ has been controversial for local authorities. However there is also need for a separate study on its other aspects – the funding of bizarre organisations such as the Quilliam Foundation – believed to be a recipient of £1 million of funding! Government officials had sought to place such overnight creations at par with well-established broad-based representative bodies such as the MCB.
As the new Secretary of State takes stock of this critique, he might do well to reflect on his earlier observations on Blair’s ‘new rules of the game’. According to Anna Turley, Prevent has truly done “more harm than good”.
This is an understatement for four years of wasted public monies and the deliberate and mischievous fragmentation of Muslim civil society. ! It is time to turn the page on the era of cohesion policies tainted by Prevent. Prevent – Rest In Peace.