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Patrick Mercer MP: Securing the homeland

Mercer_patrick Patrick Mercer OBE MP is Shadow Minister for Homeland Security.

If I say “Project CONTEST” I’ll bet that no one who is reading this has a clue what it is!  Actually, it is the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, it has been around for nearly five years now and follows four very sensible disciplines.  It concentrates on Prevention, Protection, Preparation and Pursuit – the “4 Ps” – and is intellectually unassailable.  Whoever designed it needs to be congratulated on its intentions and designs. 

Sadly, it has completely failed to deliver on its excellent aspirations.  Harsh judgement you might say but it doesn’t come from me - it actually comes from the Prime Minister’s Delivery Unit that was asked to audit the strategy after 7/7. 

The PMDU’s comments must have been a very bitter pill to swallow for the Home Office.  In its conclusion the eleven page review said that, “the strategy is immature; forward planning is disjointed or has yet to occur; accountability for delivery is weak; real world impact is seldom measured” and the plan’s objectives were dismissed as vague.  Most damagingly it continues, “activity is not connected or coherent; who is in charge?” and “we measure meetings and reports, not real world impact.”  The only thing that was missing was, “nought out of ten, see me!”

Now this is worrying stuff but worse still when the Government published its so-called “narrative” on the 7/7 and 21/7 incidents this spring they trumpeted the success of Project CONTEST.  Hadn’t they noticed that the strategy had been damned by their own people? 

Clearly, our Security Services and Police have produced some stunning successes and, with one exception, kept us safe from the horrors of terrorism.  Nothing can detract from the excellence of the work that avoided the August plot to destroy as many as eight airliners and which would have been quite simply a cataclysm.  But, the Government’s strategy stands condemned out of its own mouth. 

That report was published last September and appeared in a newspaper in October; since then nothing has been done to rectify the situation.  The Government must act and here are some simple ideas of what they can do.

  • First, they need a single Minister of Cabinet rank who will oversee security in the round.
  • Next, our intelligence machinery must be streamlined along with the way that our police are organised to deal with counter-terrorism.
  • We need an effective force to secure our borders and to protect our energy sources and other parts of our critical national infrastructure.
  • Lastly, we have got to use our most precious anti-terrorist resource better. Every citizen can be trained to become a pair of eyes and ears that will frustrate the terrorist. 

There will be voices raised up all over the place saying “it can’t be done” and that these measures imperil civil liberties.  Politicians will bolt towards the safety blanket of useless legislation and the whole effort is likely to be consigned to the “too difficult” bin.  Well it mustn’t be, we’ve managed to counter threats to this nation both externally and internally in the past and we can do it again.  All we need is a bit of coherent, hard-nosed and effective political leadership – sadly many people are going to have to die before we get it.

Related links: Tories must be party of homeland security and Homeland security definition.


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