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by Liam Kirkaldy
15 May 2015
David Cameron’s new fight against extremism

David Cameron’s new fight against extremism

David Cameron has won his majority and started handing out ministerial appointments, with the left treating the traditional Downing Street photo-op like it was the Red Carpet at a Black Tie dinner for monsters.

Theresa May remained in her post – making her the longest serving Home Secretary in 50 years.

Meanwhile Michael Gove, the man who removed To Kill a Mockingbird from the school curriculum during his time as education secretary, was given the justice post, where he will continue the Tories’ efforts to repeal the Human Rights Act.

And it is a tricky area for the Government, leaving the Tories open to the accusation they want to weaken human rights protection. Which of course they might.

But then there may be some logic to the strategy. After all, Conservatives get accused of being nasty all the time, which must be wearing.

So instead the party has engaged in a new approach. Threaten a few terrifying things – like scrapping human rights protection – and everyone will be too by distracted by a mix of rage and fear to notice all the day-to-day sneakiness.

It’s like setting fire to your car to get out of a parking fine. Or holding an EU referendum so no one notices you want to start hunting foxes again.

And Theresa May’s plan to ‘clamp down on extremists’ seems to fit a similar mould.

The counter-terrorism bill, to be included in the Queen’s speech, would give police power a raft of new powers to clamp down on dangerous broadcasting, as well as print and online publications.

The bill also allows banning orders for extremist organisations which seek to “undermine democracy”, or use hate speech in public places, along with new powers to close premises where extremists operate. That could include mosques.

In a trailed speech, Cameron said: “For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone.”

Which is a weird thing to say. What is ‘passive tolerance’? What other sort of tolerance is there? Aggressive tolerance?

After all, bursting into someone’s house in the middle of the night to tell them you plan to leave them alone is much less convincing.

Emma Carr, director of Big Brother Watch, responded to question what the government meant by ‘extremist’ – which is a fair point given that, speaking in terms of economic policy, it could well refer to George Osborne.

But Cameron continued, saying the UK’s ‘passively tolerant’ approach has, “often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance.”

It is hard to see how neutrality has fostered grievance. If anything, a cynic might suggest that closing a mosque is a better means of fostering grievance.

But look behind the statement and the plan does not become any more reassuring.

The idea is to limit the ‘harmful activities’ of an individual. But the definition of harmful activities includes, “the risk of alarm or distress” – which is a net cast so broadly it could refer to anything from shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded room to being arrested for leaving One Direction.

The plan is to stop anyone who creates a risk to the functioning of democracy – big talk for a government elected on votes from 23 per cent of the electorate and which opposes electoral reform.

Still, at least no one is talking about where planned welfare cuts will fall. Iain Duncan Smith, who stayed at the Department of Work and Pensions, must be delighted.

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