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Extremism Bill in Queen’s Speech, again

Extremism Bill in Queen’s Speech, again

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday May 03 2016

One would think dedicating front page coverage to a policy announcement would carry something of substance but The Times front page today declaring the Government’s plan to introduce “New laws to stop extremists” is a dud.

The article speculates about what is to be the PM’s second bash at putting theExtremism Bill at the forefront of his legislative agenda.

Indeed, so committed is the Government to pursuing policy actions to “ban organisations, gag individuals and close down premises used to promote hatred” that in the 12 months since the last Queen’s speech when these proposals were first announced, and the October launch of the Counter Extremism strategy, the Government has talked a lot about its intent to tackle “non-violent extremism” without addressing the two major questions these announcements raise: is there a causal link between violent and “non-violent extremism” and what would an Extremism Bill that purports to impose huge restrictions on free speech look like?

The Times has no answers to either of these questions preferring only to quote a Home Office source who told the paper: “Getting agreement about the thresholds for what constitutes extremism and what needs to be protected as free speech is not going to be easy or straightforward.”

Well, it certainly hasn’t been easy if the sequence of announcements to date is anything to go by.

The Conservative party offered a list of proposals in its 2015 manifesto including: “We will outlaw groups that foment hate with the introduction of new Banning Orders for extremist organisations; restrict the harmful activities of extremist individuals; create new Extremism Disruption Orders; develop a strategy to tackle the infiltration of extremists into our schools and public services; strengthen Ofcom’s role so that tough measures can be taken against channels that broadcast extremist content; enable employers to check whether an individual is an extremist and bar them from working with children and take further measures to ensure colleges and universities do not give a platform to extremist speakers.”

Subsequent to the Queen’s speech in May 2015 when the Extremism Bill was first announced and prefaced by the announcement of the Counter-Extremism strategy in March 2015, the Government reiterated its commitment to measure on tackling “non-violent extremism” at the launch of the Counter-Extremism strategy in October 2015.

So far, it would seem we have heard quite a bit about the Extremism Bill but seen nothing of it.

We have also heard warnings sounded by Vince Cable on the proposed new Bill, with the former Cabinet Minister stating: “A good test of whether legislation is necessary is the demonstration of evidence. There is little credible evidence to suggest an inevitable causal link between holding ‘extreme’ views and terrorism”.”

And we have heard about the Cabinet fallout over the “authoritarian” proposals to expand Ofcom’s powers to “suspend broadcasts deemed to include “unacceptable extremist material”,” but The Times report today would suggest the Government has little interest in heeding this advice on the illiberal nature of its approach preferring to steamroll ahead.

Clues as to why are aplenty in The Times report with numerous mentions of the “political” games at play. The article refers to Cameron “seek[ing] to fend off claims that he is becoming a lame-duck prime minister.”

It also mentions Cameron’s “decision to make counter-extremism a centrepiece of the Queen’s speech reflect[ing] concerns that his “legacy programme” planned for the aftermath of the EU referendum was not ambitious enough”.

If being used as a political football to embellish the PM’s “legacy” in office, the newspaper further notes the PM’s attempt to cushion the illiberal blow by connecting the Bill to recommendations from the integration inquiry led by Louise Casey and pronouncements about “extra help to bring isolated British Muslims into the mainstream”.

It may interest the Government to know that its imprimatur of the “racist” campaignrun by Zac Goldsmith in the London mayoral election and the constant carping on about the problem of “non-violent extremism” is itself contributing to the problem of “isolated British Muslims”.

As for the Extremism Bill, in the words of political blogger Ian Dunt, “It’s time to put up or shut up and tell us exactly what the government proposals are.”


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