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No Government Minister should go to this weekend's Global Peace and Unity event

By Paul Goodman

Screen shot 2010-10-22 at 08.28.42Only a fortnight or so ago, Theresa May said the following to the Conservative Party Conference -

"...Let the message also go out that we will not tolerate anybody who seeks to abuse those liberties. 
Foreign hate preachers will no longer be welcome here.  Those who step outside the law to incite hatred and violence will be prosecuted and punished.  And we will stand up to anybody who incites hatred and violence, who supports attacks on British troops, or who supports attacks on civilians anywhere in the world.
We will tackle extremism by challenging its bigoted ideology head-on. 
We will promote our shared values.  We will work only with those with moderate voices.  And we will make sure that everybody integrates and participates in our national life.

The credibility of those words, and of the Government's anti-extremism policy as a whole, will be tested this weekend.

I've written previously here and here about the coming Global Peace and Unity (GPU) event, which takes place this weekend - the Royal Ascot of the British Islamist calendar, organised by the Islam Channel, a TV station which has a number of fundamentalist and extremist presenters (see Quilliam's report on the broadcaster).

In doing so, I linked to Dominic Grieve's speech to the last GPU, in which he read the organisers the riot act (politely, but firmly).  As you'll see from clicking on the link, the video of his remarks has been removed by the organisers from YouTube.

However, the copy of his text that I have in front of me confirms that he referred to two extremist speakers, made clear his concerns - "such people have nothing to contribute and I don't want to share any platform with them anywhere" - and concluded: "The future participation of mainstream politicians including myself who wish to support the stated aims of this event will be impossible if this issue is not addressed."

So has it been addressed, two years on?  According to the event's website, speakers at the event include -

  • And...Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, one of the two speakers to whom Grieve objected two years ago.

Some very mainstream and reputable speakers are apparently also lined up for the event, such as Sheikh Abdul Hakim Murad, one of Britain's leading Muslim scholars, and Sheikh Muhammad Tahir ul-Qadri, who has issued a fatwa against suicide bombings.  Tahir Ul-Qadri apparently believes that he should get over his message to any Muslim audience if he has the opportunity, and this position is understandable.

What's right for individuals, however, can be wrong for Governments and the Ministers of which they consist.  As I've written before, aim of GPU's organisers is to gain credibility, patronage, and muscle among British Muslims by manoevering politicians to speak from the event's podium.  (I suspect they've tried to broaden their speaker base this year in order to further this effort.)  The aims of the latter are more complex - a mix of eagerness to win Muslim votes, anxiety about losing other votes, nervousness about what the media will write, and a desire to do the right thing.

The organisers usually list politicians prominently on the section of the GPU website marked "Speakers", partly in order to push for the muscle and credibility that I describe.  The details are not always accurate.  This year, after the previous controversies, they are mostly smuggled away in a separate section of the website marked "Events".  Again, the details may not be right but, with less than a day to go until the conference opens, I've an eye open for attempts to smuggle senior politicians in to the event before the media can pick their presence up.

The Events section lists two Ministers - Andy Stunell, the Communities Minister whose photograph illustrates this article, and the far more senior - and Conservative - Sayeeda Warsi.  The latter's appearance would of course be read as a signal from the Party in particular as well as the Government in general, and a very serious error.  I'm assuming that there'll be no welcome message from the Mayor of London.

I'm told by one source that Warsi isn't going, though I'm awaiting final confirmation, and that Home Office and DCLG Ministers were strongly opposed to any Ministerial presence at the event.  Nick Clegg, however, apparently argued the opposite case, and the compromise is...that Stunell will attend.  (Clegg being unwilling to do so himself.  Stunell's apparently not keen to visit either.)

Simon Hughes is also listed as speaking at the conference, as is Labour's Sadiq Khan - who's not only a fully-fledged Shadow Cabinet Minister, but Labour's spokesman on Justice.  It's a signal that Labour's trying to rebuild its bridges with the Islamists (with whom the Liberal Democrats have a record of collaborating).  Jonathan's written this morning about Ken Livingstone's support for the non-Labour, Islamist-linked Mayoral candidate in Tower Hamlets, who was elected yesterday. (Read Harry Phibbs's account here.)

Stunell certainly shouldn't go to GPU - especially if he reads out the platitudes which Ministers sometimes deliver on such occasions.  His presence will be inconsistent with May's clear Conference statements on hate preachers, the incitement of hatred and violence and working only with those with moderate voices. 

I'm not oblivious to the fact that Stunell's a Liberal Democrat, but the Home Secretary was speaking for the Government as a whole.

A final note.  I gather that Stunell has been -

1) Given a minder.

2) Told to get on and off stage as quickly as possible.

3) Instructed not to visit any stalls.

4) Handed a list of 15 people he's not to speak to on any account.

If it's that bad, why's he going?.


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