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Theresa May, the OSCT, extremism - and attacks on British troops

By Paul Goodman
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Stephen Pollard is very hard on Theresa May in his Daily Telegraph piece today.  I wasn't especially soft on her in the same paper yesterday, and agree with him that Bill Bratton should have been allowed to apply to run the Met, and that the Equality Act should be overhauled.  However, one point in his piece needs deeper probing - namely, his report that "Theresa May apparently backed the OSCT [Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism] in opposing the idea that the definition of “extremism” should include supporting attacks on British troops.

As Pollard indicates, the definition of extremism used by the Government in its Prevent Strategy includes "calls for the death of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas".  I have been far more critical of the OSCT and Charles Farr, the man in charge of it, than I've ever been about the Home Secretary, but it must be added that the tale which Pollard reports is strongly denied by senior sources in the OSCT.

Its version of events - which I believe - is that there was "no disagreement whatsoever" between Downing Street, the Home Office and the OSCT over whether the definition of extremism should include supporting attacks on British troops.  There was, however, a discussion between Lord Carlile (the Liberal Democrat peer who had oversight of the review, and whose role Pollard rightly applauds) about whether the definition should be widened to include supporting attacks on the troops of our allies.

The case for doing so would seem to be be clear: aren't people who support killing, say, the American troops serving alongside ours in Afghanistan (as opposed to arguing that neither should be there at all) extremists on any reasonable count?  However, the OSCT claimed that such a definition would go very wide - catching, for example, those who applaud protestors in Bahrain who fight back against state brutality.

I think that it wouldn't be mission impossible either to frame a definition which distinguishes support for terrorist violence from support for peaceful protest, or to intepret a wide definition with common sense.  However, this is beside the point, which is that the OSCT says that it didn't oppose including support for attacks on British troops in its definition of extremism - and that, even if it had done, the Home Secretary wouldn't have shared such view.  She said in her speech to last year's party conference:

"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 [my emphasis], or who supports attacks on civilians anywhere in the world."


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