The government’s strategy on terrorism following the 7/7 attacks was fundamentally flawed, admits the Cabinet minister now responsible for community cohesion.
Speaking to the JC on the eve of the Labour Party conference, Communities and Local Government Secretary John Denham said the strategy to tackle extremism in the wake of the suicide bombings of 2005 was too centralised, with solutions being sought from Whitehall without reference to the reality on the ground.
He said of the anti-terror policy: “I think you could draw some analogies with the broader history of Labour in power. When we came in, you had to make things change by getting a grip on them centrally.
“I think the same is true in community policy and the response to terrorism. You had to move quickly, you had to make changes, you had to put things in place. But you also had to learn from what works and what doesn’t work.” He said that most of the good work was now being done on the “front line” of local communities.
He denied taking a softer line than his predecessor Hazel Blears on the anti-extremist Prevent strategy. “That’s not a sharp change from one secretary of state to another. I think it’s another year of experience of the programme.”
He also clarified his department’s position on dialogue with the Muslim Council of Britain. Hazel Blears broke off relations with the organisation in March after its deputy secretary Daud Abdullah signed the “Istanbul Declaration” calling for military action against Israel and supporters of the “Zionist entity” following the war in Gaza.
Mr Denham said there was not “too much room for doubt about its interpretation in terms of support for violence, including British troops.” However, the door was open for dialogue if the Abdullah issue could be resolved.
He recognised his unpopularity in some sections of the Jewish community because of his backing for Palestinian causes, but asked British Jews to look at his record on anti-racism and his consistent stance on antisemitism.
Also this week, the Board of Deputies has called on the government to impose strict conditions on Muslim groups wishing to engage with Whitehall. But Mr Denham was resistant to taking a hardline view on groups advocating violence outside UK territory.
He confirmed he would be setting up a panel from the religious communities to advise on interfaith issues.
David Davis MP, who was shadow Home Secretary at the time of the 7/7 bombings said: “Mr Denham is being refreshingly honest about the failings of the government during this period. The truth is that the flawed response has created more recruits to terrorism than anything else.”