Labour leadership candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey has vowed to scrap the UK government’s controversial counter-extremism programme Prevent if she is elected as party leader.
The shadow business secretary said she wants to ban the policy and then conduct an independent review aimed at creating a new government-funded programme that involves Muslim leaders, in an effort to stop the isolation of Muslim communities across the UK.
Her promise goes significantly further than Labour’s 2019 manifesto, which stated the party only wanted an independent review of Prevent.
Long-Bailey held a consultation event with Muslim faith leaders at al-Manaar mosque in London last Tuesday.
She told attendees: “The government’s counter-terror strategy is clearly failing.
“The Prevent programme has alienated the Muslim community, set back our freedoms and not made us safer. The evidence is clear: it’s got to go.”
She stated that the new system would involve the Muslim Council of Britain, the police, youth service providers and social services.
Long-Bailey added: “We would be better served by a new cross-service approach, working in partnership with affected communities. This new approach would build trust [and] protect those vulnerable to recruitment propaganda, alongside proper funding for local services like youth clubs.”
Evolution of Prevent
The Prevent strategy was founded by the Labour government in 2003 under Tony Blair, and had its powers significantly expanded in 2011 under the coalition government.
In 2015, the Conservative government led by David Cameron made Prevent a mandatory duty under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act – legally obliging public sector workers like teachers, doctors and childminders to inform authorities of people who showed “signs of radicalisation”.
Since its inception and especially in recent years, Muslim communities in Britain have felt that Prevent is inherently an Islamophobic and racist policy which is aimed at policing thoughts, censoring dissenting views and criminalising normative Islamic beliefs, as opposed to preventing acts of terrorism.
The strategy has also received widespread criticism from mainstream civil society groups, academics, former police chiefs and trade unions.
Chronology of mainstream opposition to Prevent
- December 2014: Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer at the time, Sir Peter Fahy, stated that Prevent was hampered from the onset due to the Iraq war, and he argued that defining “extremism” was not the responsibility of the police.
- March 2015: More than 240 leading Muslim organisations, scholars, imams, activists, teachers, doctors and journalists issued a joint statement against the CTS Bill, specifically the statutory standing of Prevent.
- March 2015: The former Metropolitan chief superintendent Dal Babu described Prevent as a “toxic brand”.
- July 2015: More than 280 academics and NUS membersissued a public statement against Prevent, stating that it would have a “chilling effect on free and open debate and political dissent,” adding that “it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence”. The public statement concluded by calling for Prevent’s total abolition.
- September 2015: the then Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, criticised the then Home Secretary Theresa May for her policies under the Prevent strategy, as he believed they risked extending the “surveillance state” too far.
- October 2015: The “Keep Mosques Independent” initiative, which is being led by the largest council of mosques from the north of the country, representing hundreds of thousands of British Muslims, issued a statement against state interference in madrassas under the Prevent strategy.
- November 2015: Labour MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, who was formerly a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee for countering extremism, said in a statement that Prevent is perceived by many ordinary Muslims as “toxic”.
- December 2015: Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, which represents more than 70,000 Muslims, vowed to boycott Prevent, and also described it as a “racist policy” which targets Islam and Muslims.
- December 2015: Imams in east London backed by non-Muslim teachers, community organisations and student unions, claimed that Prevent was spying on Muslim students, which has led to “increasing division and to a breakdown of trust in schools and colleges”.
- January 2016: The former chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, Muhammad Afzal, described Prevent as “racist” and called for its boycott for indiscriminately targeting Muslims.
- January 2016: The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, argued that “extremists” should be allowed to speak at universities, and banning them from doing so would be a fundamental impingement of free speech.
- September 2016: 140 psychologists issued an open letterstating that the ‘ERG22+’ science which underpins the Prevent strategy lacked evidence.
- June 2017: United Nations rapporteurcriticised prevent as being “inherently flawed”.
- November 2018: An open lettersigned by eight prominent civil liberties and human rights groups including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Liberty and others called for an independent review of Prevent, describing it as “discriminatory” against Muslims.
Between 2017 and 2018, 7,318 people were referred to Prevent, of which 394 of were escalated to the Channel de-radicalisation programme.
The UK government was recently forced to clarify that the Extinction Rebellion group was not considered as an “extremist group”. Counter-terrorism police in south-east England had listed the group among other liberal and left-leaning civil society groups as having an “extreme ideology”. The document has since been recalled.
The Prevent strategy is due to be reviewed but the government has so far failed to appoint an independent reviewer after Lord Carlile QC stood down in December. There were questions surrounding Lord Carlile’s impartiality due to his previous support for the programme.