My addition to the ongoing debate in the UK about the elections over at Free Rad!cals, this time to highlight the fact that counter-terrorism strategy appears to have fallen right off the table. It occurs to me that in fact, a similar point can be made about foreign policy in the debate. None of this is very inspiring for the future.
– ban Hizb-ut-Tahrir and “close down organizations which attempt to fund terrorism from the UK”
– create a new National Resilience Team for Homeland Security
– (I have to confess that I could not find this in their manifesto, but the BBC seem to think it is) review “the controversial control orders system”
– “we will develop our PREVENT strategy to combat extremism.”
– scrap control orders
– reduce pre-charge detention to 14 days
– allow intercepts in court, make greater use of post-charge questioning.
All three seem to suggest that the police should take the lead in counter-terrorism, and all condemn torture (the Libdems want to launch a “full judicial inquiry into allegations of British complicity in torture and state kidnapping”). Afghanistan features in all three as linking a foreign threat to a domestic threat, while Pakistan is of greatest apparent concern to Labour – though all are concerned with unstable states as a threat to domestic security. Al Qaeda is only mentioned specifically by Labour. Aside from Labour, none of the parties discuss the allegedly all-important Preventing Violent Extremism strategy (and even Labour merely refers to it as listed above, without giving any more detail). In the debates, the topic has come up even less, with it merely being referred to within the context of Afghanistan.
Now on the one hand, it is worth remembering that for the two parties not in power, they do not have access to all of the intel that the government does and thus are potentially preparing blind. But at the same time, it is surprising that in essence all of the main parties have failed to present in their party manifesto’s anything substantial to address the threat of terrorism.
There are, in my mind, two answers to this: they either think that it is not a problem (or agree with the current strategy approach aside from the small tweaks they offer) and have thus omitted it consciously, or they have no idea what to do. Either option, however, offers the conclusion that they have no fresh ideas about what can be done to address a problem that senior police officers, politicians and security agents believe will remain with us “for a generation” and for which the budget has trebled since Labour have been in power (according to their own figures cited in the manifesto).
Of course, there is the possible conclusion that it is my personal fixation on the topic which is exaggerating the importance of its absence. Maybe in fact this is all a conscious effort to tone down the centrality or importance of counter-terrorism within the government’s duties, and thus maybe defuse some of the mythology around it. Still, if this is the really the case, then you would expect some greater acknowledgement of the choice given the fact that the government has been moving in the opposite direction, spreading counter-terrorism across an ever expanding number of agencies and departments.
To look at the specific proposals, the Liberal Democrat proposals seem most progressive, but at the same time, I wonder if they will not find themselves of a different view when they are in power and can see what I imagine is the intelligence that is bringing around the control order regime. Still, there is some substantial logic behind the premise that the government should prosecute or lift control orders and that the ongoing situation is not sustainable in the extended long term. If they are able to force the discussion about how to conclude this situation, then this is excellent news. In contrast, I remain unsure about the proposal to proscribe Hizb ut Tahrir. If it is implemented, I have a feeling it will merely increase the power and mystique of the organization with little substantial counter-terror benefit.