Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Preventing harm to Prevent

I can understand David Cameron’s frustration this week. A win at Newark (albeit in the 40th safest Tory seat) and the Queen’s speech (even a thin, feeble one) have been overshadowed by the egos and leadership ambitions of two of his cabinet.

The Gove-May spat is pretty breathtaking even for those of us who have been in government when people did not always see eye to eye. Neither comes out well. Briefing your former workmates at the Times against a fellow minister and a senior official is bad government. Equally, while I have seen plenty of intra-cabinet letters written with the intent to leak if necessary, I have never seen one so brazenly trumpeted and even placed on the departmental website.

But while these shenanigans are interesting, even entertaining, the real damage done by this row is to the Prevent policy which needs to be a central part of an effective counter-terror strategy. As home secretary I published the first public counter-terror strategy. It built on the four ‘Ps’ developed by John Reid: Pursue, Prepare, Protect and Prevent. To deal with the terror threat, which is still very real, we need to be able to pursue and catch those plotting and executing terror attacks; we need to prepare for attacks; we need to protect our borders, our public spaces and other potential terror targets.

However, when much of the terror threat is fuelled by an extreme Islamist ideology, it is also necessary to prevent people becoming radicalised and potentially violent in the first place. This is the principle at the heart of the Prevent strategy which we worked hard on and, incidentally, argued passionately about when we were in government. I led the major development of the strategy with Hazel Blears. There was a lot of discussion across government about the extent to which we should challenge the extremism which created the ‘oxygen’ for violence and radicalisation even before it became explicitly violent; there was concern about the partners we worked with; there were arguments about how the money should be allocated and accounted for. On the whole, those arguments were carried out within government and in a comradely manner.

The result of the work was a comprehensive and well-funded programme. It had breadth, recognising the need to work in communities, in mosques, in schools and universities, in prisons, with international partners and for the police to engage in neighbourhoods as well as in the specialist counter-terror units. It supported mainstream Muslim voices, community groups, local partners and initiatives; it recognised the need to identify the spaces where radicalisation could occur; where necessary, it allowed grievances to be debated and addressed.

But it was also at the most difficult and controversial end of public policy. There were some risks taken and some difficult judgements made. Some important partners remained sceptical. It was a work in progress, but instead of building on it and improving where necessary, the new coalition government trashed the existing programme and cut its funding.

This was a far greater setback than any bickering between ministers. The Trojan Horse issue playing out in Birmingham schools demonstrates just how difficult, sensitive and current the issue is. The response has been piecemeal and partisan when it needs to be cross-party and inclusive. This is a lesson we will need to reflect on carefully if we get the opportunity to pick up the pieces of this crucial policy next May.

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Jacqui Smith is a former home secretary, writes the Monday Politics column for Progress, and tweets @smithjj62

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Jacqui Smith

is a former home secretary and writes the Monday Politics column for Progress

3 comments

  • I think something needs to sated clearly here which has not yet been stated, we need a clear separation between mainstream state education and religion.

    As a Labour member it is with some level of pain I have to stated this, but it was under Tony Blair’s rain were he called for more faith based groups to play a greater role in mainstream education. This has now been added to by the present government support of the development of free schools. From these 2 ideas, space has been created which has given groups and individuals the idea that its OK to develop or transform state owned educational facilities to a model which suits their own particular brand of education. A can of worms has opened by both the Labour and the Conservatives which has allowed the likes of Birmingham to develop. In this case the can of worms is the Trojan House, created by the last Labour and current Conservative governments.

    So how to we move forward? A clear separation between mainstream state education and religion.

  • I watched Ms Cooper challenge MS May and Ms May’s replies of things achieved, compared to Labour failures, resulted in Ms Cooper looking rather stupid.

    It wasn’t rocket science to work out that if you were to challenge the Government on things done that it would in turn mention its record, especially things like the removal of Hamza, and in the current climate Ms Cooper may well have added to the thoughts of Ms Reeves on the problems Labour may have in the places it, perhaps naively, believes it still has unquestioned loyalty and support.

  • Whichever taem or side prevails in this ‘Trojan horse’ spat between the hon’ May & Gove there can be no disputing the fact that our kid’s. left to their own devices at school, would prefer playing a game of footie or hockey rather than discussing some hoax story being argued out [debated] by two eminent Tory politicos. Ask the kids themselves what they think about two top, soon-to-be-forgotten, Tory Ministers banging their heads together in public view on an non-issue which is best left to churches and theologians to sort out. Also ask the kids what they know about their *Greek history, vis, Trojan horses and Troy etc…. maybe not as they aint being taught that in the current curriculae – or is that curricul-ums? Teachers should stick to teaching and Church and God’s own people should stick to to praying for our souls – any decent soul is not too bothered.
    (* I forgot, reading History at school is now not as important as knowing your banking protocols).

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