Chaos over government counter-terrorism plans

By Marcus Dysch, August 5, 2010
David Cameron has promised a crackdown on extreme groups

David Cameron has promised a crackdown on extreme groups

The government is working to allay fears that its counter-extremism policy is floundering, three months after the coalition came to power.

Jewish leaders have expressed concern that not enough is being done to tackle the threat posed by extremists in Britain.

The Tories are thought to be ideologically split on the issue, with ministers also facing a backlash from civil servants opposed to Conservative policy.

Mark Gardner, Community Security Trust spokesman, said: "The CST is concerned by the rumours in recent weeks regarding civil service disputes over the future direction of government anti-extremism policies.

"We respect differences of opinion over such an important and challenging matter, but stand by our repeated assertion that extremist ideology should be exposed and confronted, rather than denied and accommodated."

As Opposition leader, David Cameron frequently promised a crackdown on extreme groups and chastised Tony Blair and Gordon Brown for failing to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir.

In March, Mr Cameron again pledged to ban the organisation - whose Bangladesh branch recently encouraged supporters to "march forth to fight the Jews, eradicate Israel and purify the earth of Jewish filth" - if he became Prime Minister.

Jon Benjamin, Board of Deputies' chief executive, said: "We expect the government to honour the undertakings it gave before the election to challenge extremist ideologies. We expect it to continue to support counter radicalisation programmes that recognise that violent extremism is a product of political extremism."

The concerns were aired ahead of this weekend's first major Muslim grassroots event in Britain aimed specifically at tackling Islamist extremism and terrorism.

The moderate Minhaj-ul-Quran UK group will train more than 1,000 young British Muslims to recognise extremism in their own communities.

Tory ministers are said to be divided into two camps: those such as Baroness Neville-Jones, Minister for Security working out of the Home Office, who believe a tough line must be taken with all extremists, and on the other side Attorney-General Dominic Grieve and others who hope to develop a new approach, engaging with those who hold extreme views but have not progressed to violence.

Mr Cameron himself is thought to be stuck somewhere between the two groups; he is resolute on the need to ban hate preachers, but believes that the confusion left by the Labour government is blocking the route forward.

The role of senior civil servants undermining new ministers is having a further disruptive influence on the Tories and leading to deeper confusion.

The resistance of mandarins to the new government's planned policies was clear even before the suspension this week of Sabin Khan, a senior adviser to Home Secretary Theresa May.

Ms Khan openly criticised the Home Secretary's decision to ban two controversial Muslim preachers, Zakir Naik and Abu Ameena Bilal Philips, from the UK. Ms May said: "I am not willing to allow those who might not be conducive to the public good to enter the UK."

Ms Khan now faces disciplinary proceedings after it was revealed
that she and her boss Charles Farr, Whitehall's top security mandarin, were "gutted and mortified" by Ms May's decision.

Communities Secretary Eric Pickles is said to believe that the problem of counter-extremism is best left to his colleagues in the Home Office and intelligence services.

It is thought he is deterred from tackling the problem due to his concern he could suffer the same undermining tactics employed during the last government's administration by the Communities Department's civil servants against his Labour predecessors, Hazel Blears and Ruth Kelly.

    Last updated: 11:20am, September 21 2010