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What is Eric Pickles's plan to counter extremism? Thirty questions arising from the Prevent Review

By Paul Goodman
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Eric Pickles cheerful Reports come, reports go - and at much the same time.  After the first happens, they're reported instantaneously by the lobby and the specialists.  After the second, they're never heard of again.

This month's Prevent Review is no more or less an exception to this rule than any other Government.  Some questions arise from the whole report, which I've now read, as follows:

Overview

  • Theresa May's foreword says that "funding sometimes even reached the very extremist organisations that Prevent should have been confronting" (p1).  Which ones, how much and and when?
  • The foreword also says that "we will do more than any Government before us to promote integration" (p2).  What about cohesion?  Is the Government's view, unlike that of The Commission for Integration and Cohesion (and the previous Government), that the two are the same?
  • The report says that "policy and programmes to deal with extremism and with extremist programmes more widely are not part of Prevent and will be co-ordinated from the Department of Communities and Local Government" (p6).  What are Eric Pickles's policy and programmes in this regard?
  • In her Commons statement, the Home Secretary referred to "a new approach to integrating our divided communities, led by [Pickles]".  What is it?
  • It refers to Prevent funding "local authority work in assocation with communities" and says that "the funding...will be provided by the Home Office" (p95).  What will this work be, and on what basis will the Home Office decide what work to fund where?
  • It says that "we intend to establish a non-executive Prevent Board to oversee the Prevent strategy and its local implementation...The board will be permanent...but not statutory." (p96)  When will a decision be made about membership?
  • It says that Islamism is "a philosophy which, in the broadest sense, promotes the application of Islamic values to modern government" (p108).  But every devout Muslim would surely want to promote the application of Islamic values in this way, just as every devout Christian would want to promote the application of Christian values  ("values" being a notoriously vague word.)  Isn't Islamism, rather, the writing of a certain reading of Islamic law into state law - and, if so, why use an inaccurate definition which taints every practising Muslim in Britain, rather than an accurate one which describes a minority?
  • It says that "we will not work with extremist organisations that oppose our values of human rights, equality before the law, democracy and full participation in our society" (p1); that "mainstream British values" are: "democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and the rights of men and women to live free from persecution of any kind (p34 - and a formula repeated on p44); that extremism is opposition to "fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs (p107).  These definitions are broadly similar, but not identical: for example, only one identifies "human rights".  Shouldn't there be a single, definitive formula?

Exclusion

  • It says that "where people seek to enter this country from overseas to engage in activity in support of extremist and terrorist groups, we will also use the Home Secretary's power to exclude them" (p8).  Does this form of words really cover some "hate preachers", who have a track record of inciting hatred of or violence against, say, Jews, gay people and Shi'ite Muslims  - and if not, was it intended not to?

Funding

  • It says that "we intend to provide precisely targeted and dedicated funding for Prevent for the foreseeable future" (p34).  Does this mean that these funds will be ring-fenced?

Engagement

  • It says: "There may be cases where the Government judge that there is a need to engage with groups of individuals whom it would never choose to fund (p35)."  What criteria will be used to make a decision?
  • It says: "It will not be part of this strategy to use extremists to deal with the risk of radicalisation." (p39)  This is a curious form of words.  Why not simply: "Extremists will not be used to deal with the risk of radicalisation" - or is the door being left open to an ad hoc use of extremists for such a purpose in some circumstances?

Theology

  • What was the "networking and collaboration" (p49) between academics that the last Government facilitated?
  • It says that "dealing with the theology of Al Qa'ida is only a role for Government in certain well-defined and exceptional circumstances" (p47).  Such as?

Police

Research Information and Communication Unit (RICU)

  • It says that "the last Prevent strategy made available professional communications skills to community groups...This work was co-ordinated by RICU" (p48).  Who made these skills available?
  • If RICU's track record has been "mixed" and its impact "variable", and the Government will therefore "expect much sharper and more professional counter-narrative products" in future (pages 50-52), will who will be put in place in RICU to help provide these?

Venues

  • The report says: "Propagandists for terrorism and for ideologies taken up by terrorists should not be permitted to make use of publicly owned venues.  Local authorites and others must be ready to take appropriate action." (p53)  What action will the Government take, if any, if local authorities and others are not so ready?

Training

  • Who delivered WRAP - the "Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent...an interactive and facilitated workshop developed by OSCT" received by "about 15,000 frontline staff"? (pages 57-58)
  • Who are the "OSCT-funded intervention providers" (p88) with which NOMS works?

Language

  • It says: "We note that previous Prevent documents used the phrase "violent extremism".  The review found that the term is ambiguous and has caused some confusion in the past...We avoid using the phrase here" (p25).  But it also says that referral to the Channel Project could be sparked by "possession of violent extremist literature" and "attempts to access or contribute to violent extremist websites" (p57).  Do some of the Channel criteria need rewriting?

Schools

  • It says: "The Government is currently considering ways to stop children coming into contact with material of this kind [textbooks with anti-semitic and homophobic messages] in and out of school provision." (p68)  When will Ministers reach conclusions?
  • It says: "There is further evidence that some schools - and some supplementary schools - have used teaching materials which may encourage intolerance." (p69)  What evidence?
  • It says: "DfE is working to establish a new set of standards for teachers and an independent review has been set up to look at how these can include standards of ethics and behaviour." (p70)  When will it report?

Universities and Colleges

  • It says: "We judge that FOSIS has not always fully challenged terrorist and extremist ideology within the higher and further education sectors". (p74) What level of engagement do BIS and other departments now plan to have with FOSIS, if any?
  • It says: "We are concerned that some universities and colleges have failed to engage in Prevent." (p75) Which ones?
  • It says: "This lack of engagement must be addressed." (p76)  What will Ministers do if some universities and colleges fail to do so?

Internet

  • Since "we do not yet have a filtering project which has been rolled out comprehensively across Government Departments, agencies and statutory organisations and we are unable to determine the extent to which effective filtering is in place in schools and public libraries" and "the number of referrals to the CTIRU is still not yet sufficient" (p77), is there a timetable for the Government's internet strategy?

Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board

  • As the report says, "in 2007, DCLG facilitated the creation of a Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board". (p81)  Does the Government believe that the Muslim Council of Britain and the Muslim Association of Britain, two of the four "national Muslim organisations" to which it refers, meet its values critera (see pages 1, 34, 44 and 107)?

Charities

  • What were the outcomes of the 11 Charity Commission investigations in 2009-10 into terrorist-related activities, and how to the figures compare with other recent years?

By writing this long list of questions, I'm not suggesting that the Prevent review is a bad one.  Far from it: on the whole, I think it's a good one.  But it leaves some big questions trailing in its wake - above all, about the role of Eric Pickles and DCLG.  I will return to this matter soon.

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