Theresa May is under pressure even in her supposed area of expertise. The attacks on her for “police cuts” are election chaff. Her real defence that cuts that seemed sensible in 2010 are less so in the light of recent events doesn’t work in the climax of an election campaign, and Jeremy Corbyn’s call on her to resign is almost laughably hypocritical.
Even so she has only herself to blame for misfiring in her reaction to London bridge outside No 10 yesterday morning. For a start,saying “enough for was enough” implies that there was “an acceptable level evidence of violence” previously as in Reggie Maudling’s notorious phrase from 1971.
Matt Chorley of the Times’ Red Box (£) has some sensible things to say about her raising hares without being more specific.
The person who has been in charge of national security for seven years announced a pause in election campaigning, and then used a speech outside No 10 to make what appeared to be a series of highly political pledges on dealing with extremism.
It could include more powers for the police and security services. It could include breaking up segregated communities which foster extremism. It could include locking up suspected terrorists for longer, despite prisons being blamed for radicalising some inmates.
And it could include a crackdown on the internet used to plot atrocities, as if there might be a similar crackdown on notepads and hire vans.
It is notable that the warning that “we cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are” was not just aimed at tackling tolerance of extremism but also at the intelligence agency’s handling of potential jihadists.
In her speech, Mrs May said it was time for some unspecified “embarrassing conversations”. Mr Corbyn had a suggestion of where to start: “Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states that have funded and fuelled extremist ideology.”
Chorley calls on the politicians to stop squabbling – fat chance as we’ve seen since, four days before the general election. But May should have risen above the contest to make a wholly appropriate appeal to bipartisanship- and by doing so could have strengthened her electoral credibility.
Clare Foges in the Times (£) slays an old dragon.
In recent weeks, since the Manchester attack — and with increasing urgency since Saturday — an old word has been exhumed: internment.
Last week Tarique Ghaffur, assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard at the time of 7/7, called for internment camps where “extremists would be made to go through a deradicalisation programme”. Ukip leader Paul Nuttall has said, regarding internment, that “nothing should be off the table”. Farage said yesterday that “the calls for internment will grow”. Social media is alive with calls to lock people up without trial.
Ask more questions of the idea of internment and it falls apart. Who would we actually intern? MI5 has revealed that as well as the 3,000 suspected jihadis who are currently on the radar, a further 20,000 individuals have been “subjects of interest” in recent years. Leaving aside the logistics and eye-watering expense, what is the threshold for interning one of these people? A social media post railing against western foreign policy? Mumblings in favour of “freedom fighters” in the Arab world? Other than the evidence necessary to bring someone to trial, what form of words means we can lock someone up?
Once we have determined this threshold and rounded up hundreds or thousands of these men, is it a wise idea to put them together in a confined space, to concentrate and inflame their toxic beliefs, given that we know radical ideas in prison are as infectious as MRSA in hospitals? Would they come out with new networks and grievances — or would we keep them in there indefinitely?
Most importantly, what impact would internment have on recruitment to the cause? Here we would be wise to learn the lessons of history — specifically our history in Northern Ireland. Operation Demetrius began on the morning of August 9, 1971, with dawn raids and doors battered down to round up and intern 342 people with suspected links to the IRA. There followed an eruption of protests and riots. Violence increased dramatically, from 34 conflict-related deaths in the first seven months of the year, to 22 in the three days after. Internment failed to quell the terrorists, instead rallying foot soldiers and donations to the IRA’s cause. One officer in the Royal Marines reflected that Operation Demetrius “increased terrorist activity, perhaps boosted IRA recruitment, polarised further the Catholic and Protestant communities and reduced the ranks of the much-needed Catholic moderates”. Do we need any further grievances to fuel the fire?
Of course, we shouldn’t avoid anything that would be effective merely because our enemies might call it a “provocation”. But the main argument against internment is that there are more effective and less inflammatory tools we could use.
For instance, we could reintroduce control orders, which were foolishly repealed in 2011 and replaced by TPIMs (terrorism prevention and investigation measures). Control orders were far more restrictive than TPIMs in several respects. Suspects could be placed under curfew for 16 hours a day. Their access to mobile phones could be limited and internet access banned. They could be barred from associating with certain people.
In the wake of barbarity we can all sympathise with the urge to take tough action, but that action should aim to take the heat out of the situation, not turn it up. It should aim to identify, constrain and where possible deradicalise these people long term, not recruit more people to the cause. We are clearly in for a long, wearying and brutal fight — but internment will never help us win it.
It is always necessary to cut through the crazed fanaticism of the suicide bomber – or the hoax suicide bomber – to the more rational motivation and try to address it. Richard Barrett, a former director of global counter- terrorism for MI6 writes in the Guardian.
It is not yet clear what May) intends to do to translate sentiment into effective action, and she could just as easily make things worse. The greater the securitisation of our society, the longer the fear and impact of terrorism will last.
(Officials in Muslim counties) complain that western counter-terrorist policies in conflict zones are often counterproductive, especially when bombs and drones kill civilians. This is also true, but is far less defensible. Military action is not an appropriate response to the terror threat unless it forms part of a far wider strategy that takes into account the various drivers of extremism. The strategic counter-terrorist objectives of our military involvement in Syria are as obscure as they were in Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan.
Security services and police forces are not clamouring for new laws, and they already have promises of more resources. Most professionals, however, agree on the need for more intelligence, both on who may be contemplating an attack and on why.
Perhaps there’s some reassurance in Met commissioner Cressida Dick’s statement this morning that
All of the recent attacks had a “primarily domestic centre of gravity.
“We will always be looking to see if anything has been directed from overseas, but I would say the majority of the threat that we are facing at the moment does not appear to be directed from overseas”
But it also puts greater pressure in the authorities for what they are supposed to be able to control at home.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London