Prevent – Time for a major review and fundamental rethink

12 Dec 2016
Increasingly, the evidence is suggesting that the Government’s Prevent Strategy – aimed at countering radicalisation and making us safer – doesn’t work on either count. In recent weeks it has become clear that this is also the case when it comes to tackling the worrying rise in far-right extremism.

Commenting on the recently released figures, Security Minister Ben Wallace MP recently told the House of Commons that not only is “the Prevent strategy is seeing a growth in far-right referrals,” but that “in some areas of the country, these Prevent referrals outnumber those about the other parts we are worried about.”

Data released by the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) under a freedom of information request from the Sunday Times showed that the number of far-right referrals in England and Wales has increased by 74%, from 323 cases in 2014-15 to 561 in 2015-16. About 292 cases, or 52%, involved under-18s.

Simon Cole, the chief constable of Leicestershire police, said earlier this year that far-right extremists made up half of all cases in Yorkshire and 30% of the caseload in the east Midlands.

These figures undoubtedly reflect and importantly draw attention to an alarming rise of far-right activity and an increasing confidence of such groups to air their views publicly.

Discussion on this topic is all the more important at a time when we are seeing a rise in hate crime following the EU Referendum campaign, and when Yvette Cooper, the chair of the home affairs select committee, has said the fallout from the EU Referendum campaign and Donald Trump’s victory should serve as a warning about the dangers of whipping up hatred and prejudice in political campaigns.

Yet, with this form of extremism on the rise, there is little evidence that the Prevent programme has – or can – change the attitudes of those on the far right.

Now, we urgently need an anti-extremism strategy that includes addressing the subversive and veiled far-right activity that is allowed to fester in private.

The release of these latest figures, followed the release of a report from the Open Society Justice Initiative that analysed the effect of the prevent strategy on the education system as counter-productive. Furthermore, the parliamentary joint committee on human rights has called for a review of Prevent, arguing that it has the potential to drive a wedge between the authorities and whole communities.

Stakeholders have criticised Prevent from a number of other angles for years. The National Union of Teachers, NASUWT and UCU trade unions have been joined by the National Union of Students, NGOs, campaigners, community groups and civil liberties organisations in calling either for the schemes’ reform or abolition.

Within the Muslim community, at which Prevent is primarily aimed, this is of great concern with numerous respected organisations and commentators arguing that Prevent has had an alienating effect of a community already experiencing discrimination and rising hate crime.

To be clear, none of these organisations or groups have any sympathies whatsoever with terrorism or act as apologists for it. Their members and supporters are the victim or potential victims of any terrorist incidents that are committed here. Their critique is widely shared.

Rather, they are amongst a number of voices that understand the Prevent strategy can be counter-productive because it limits legitimate safe spaces for discourse, places like classrooms and lecture theatres.

Figures show that almost 300 under-18s were referred to officials under the Prevent strategy last year. Of these, at least 16 involved children under the age of 10.

Within this context, my primary concern with Prevent – especially after these latest developments – is that it fails in its stated objective to make us safer.

It is therefore of great concern that it was recently reported that a secret Whitehall internal review of Prevent, ordered earlier this year by Theresa May when she was home secretary, has concluded that the programme “should be strengthened, not undermined” and put forward 12 suggestions on how to reinforce it.

Now is the time for a major review of the Prevent strategy and a fundamental rethink by Government.

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