Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

A future free from intimidation and fear

As the horrific events in Paris erupted across our screens on Friday 13 November many of us will have relived the shock, pain and confusion that engulfed us here in the United Kingdom on 7 July 10 years ago.

Fifty-two innocent men and women lost their lives on that day and hundreds more were injured. We could not understand why young men born and raised in our country could hate us so much that they were prepared not just to kill others but also prepared to die themselves in the process.

The whole country was traumatised and naturally our first instinct was to try to protect ordinary citizens from further harm by increasing security, putting more police and soldiers on the streets and increasing security around public spaces.

Unfortunately that did not prevent the copycat attempt to cause further mass casualties on 21st July which thankfully failed largely due to the bombers’ incompetence and the bravery of the police in confronting and capturing them.

It was clearly necessary to develop a more complex and integrated response to this new and growing threat to the safety of the public, one which would involve many government departments, local authorities and of course communities themselves.

We had to review our laws to ensure that the police and intelligence agencies had the powers they needed to protect us and to identify and counter those who were plotting to do us harm.

But we had to do much more than that. We needed to find out why the bombers, educated in our schools and living in our midst, had chosen the path of violence and terror. We had to find a way of preventing more young people being drawn into an extremist narrative which could only result in more innocent lives being lost.

Since 7/7 the ideology that underpins this violence has grown stronger. The growth of the internet has allowed hatred, division and the ideas of a worldwide caliphate, the imposition of medieval sharia law, the subjugation of women and brutal violence to those who do not conform, to reach out across the world.

Events in Syria and the emergence of Islamic State have provided an opportunity to train and to fight. This ideology is no longer theoretical but is now manifest and has drawn thousands of young people from across the world into its clutches.

All of us who believe in freedom and equality must now redouble our efforts to expose this ideology for what it is – to counter it with the truth about Islam, to empower and amplify the voices of moderate Muslims especially women and young people.

We have to work much harder at a local level to build resilience in our communities, including helping teachers, police officers, youth workers and those working in our prison system with the tools to take on the ideology and to encourage critical thinking and debate.

The Prevent programme was part of Labour’s response to 7/7 and it certainly was not perfect but it was the first programme of its kind anywhere in the world. Whatever we call it in future the essential work of supporting communities and empowering people to reject and counter this ideology has to continue. The government’s recently published Counter Extremism Strategy is a welcome further step forward and should command widespread support.

The European Union has recognised the need for long-term action in this area and has funded work to share best practice and to develop practical tools to help those working on these issues in local communities, and I am proud to be part of that programme.

The most important thing for us to do is to maintain our focus on this challenge which will unfortunately be with us for a long time to come. Prevention work is by its nature difficult to measure and takes time to bear results. It is no good taking our eye off the ball as we did in recent years only to react to events such as the dreadful murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby.

Labour should now support the investigatory powers bill through parliament to give intelligence agencies the powers they need subject to proper legal safeguards. In difficult times in our history, when the safety of our nation is threatened, Labour has always been prepared to act to protect our people. This time is no different; Jeremy Corbyn must step up to the role of leader and support measures to keep us safe.

In Britain, in France, across Europe and the world, we have to be steadfast in our determination to combat this ideology that seeks to destroy our way of life. As the prime minister says, this is a generational struggle and it is our responsibility to help future generations grow up free from intimidation and fear.

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Hazel Blears was counter-terrorism minister during the 7/7 attacks and was a member of the intelligence and security committee until 2015

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Hazel Blears

is former secretary of state for communities and local government

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