It was refreshing to see David Miliband is today shifting the Government’s line on the “War on Terror”. Most UK officials stopped using the phrase some time ago on the grounds that it helped provide a justification for those who use terrorism as a tactic in pursuing their objectives by glamorising them as enemy combatants in the “war”, and unhelpfully lumped together all sorts of groups whose only common feature was a willingness to use terrorism. Now, however, David Miliband has confronted the issue head-on, sparking the debate at an international level, about the extent to which the measures taken to combat and pursue terrorists run the risk of alienating communities (indeed whole nations) and make individuals more likely to fall prey to those who want to recruit them to the cause of violent extremism.
This is not to say that any of the authorities should go soft on pursuing those who are terrorists, or who are planning terrorist acts or who are recruiting terrorists. It is clear that in the UK alone there are many hundreds (2,000-plus, according to successive Director-Generals of MI5) who are engaged in terrorism in one way or another. They have to be identified, their activities disrupted and the individuals brought in to the criminal justice system. However, in the planning of every police operation an assessment has to be made of the appropriateness of the tactics used and the risks that are being confronted – not only of the potential terrorist acts themselves but also what effect individual responses will have on the future flow of those tempted to go down the road of violent extremism.
This is already – I believe – very much part of policing practice in the UK: senior officers planning operations routinely assess the PREVENT implications of individual PURSUE operations (to use the jargon of the CONTEST counter-terrorist strategy). Thus, the impact of the use of Section 44 stops and searches (the random power that the police can deploy under the Terrorism Act 2000 to stop people to deter would-be terrorists) is being reviewed, so as to minimise the sense of alienation felt by many young people when it is used in a widespread fashion – as recommended by the Metropolitan Police Authority in its “Counter-Terrorism: The London Debate” report.
The issue raised by David Miliband, of course, raises wider issues and is timely – just days before President Obama’s inauguration – in that US foreign policy needs to be tested against the same template. Drone bombing raids in the FATA areas of Pakistan may have been effective in removing senior people in the leadership of al-Qaeda but what effect are they having on young men in Pakistan (or for that matter on the future direction of Pakistani politics)? To say nothing of the impact of abstaining on the UN resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.
Advice from The Sunday Times is never dispassionate – particularly for a Labour Prime Minister.
So when it asks ‘Will Gordon Brown find the nerve to strike early?’ and call a General Election next Summer, the Prime Minister’s reaction should be to put a tentative circle round 6th May 2010 on his calendar.
Worryingly Charlie Whelan, who in his spare time is the political officer of my union, UNITE, has told the Strathspey and Badenoch Herald (sic) that an election in June 2009 would be ideal. He was, of course, Gordon Brown’s press secretary in the 1990s and his contribution to this debate is rewarded in the Sunday Times by a page two picture of him brandishing a large fish (still I suppose that’s better than a Miliband-esque banana).
Despite Whelan’s support, an election next year would be a mistake.
The Labour Party and the Government have clawed their way back in the polls on the basis of their sound and decisive response to the world economic crisis. (However, the Tories remain ahead despite their confused and inconsistent response to the financial situation.) An early election would be portrayed as an opportunistic distraction from the task of tackling the problems facing the country.
I have just hosted a meeting of Vauxhall Labour Party members in a House of Lords Committee Room. This followed a request months ago from the Party Secretary, saying that it would be good to have a members’ meeting to discuss the work of the House of Lords and the proposals for Lords’ reform. Despite the time of year and the flu/cough that seems to be afflicting a high proportion of Londoners at the moment, the meeting was reasonably attended with more than twenty making the pilgrimage across the river. The discussion was enlivened by the presence of not only the current MP, Kate Hoey, but also of two former MPs (for other constituencies). As a result, my remarks about the House of Lords being the end of the Palace of Westminster where most of the work is done, in terms of Parliamentary scrutiny of legislation, did not go unchallenged!
Interestingly, the members present were not convinced by the current proposals for House of Lords reform ….
Those Labour MPs who are briefing the media – usually anonymously – that there should be a General Election next year to coincide with the local and European elections in June are – if they believe it – living on the Planet Zog. If they don’t, they are playing a very silly and dangerous game.
The Labour Party has seen a substantial improvement in its poll ratings compared with the Conservatives in the last six weeks or so. Indeed, the collapse in the Conservative lead has been as precipitous as was the collapse in the standing of the Prime Minister a year ago, following the “election-that-never-was”.
The reason for this improvement has been the decisive and magisterial response to the world economic crisis that has been displayed by Gordon Brown and the Cabinet since the beginning of October. That improvement has taken place because the Government has been seen as acting unequivocally in the national interest and not for partisan advantage. By contrast, the Conservatives have appeared shallow, unimpressive and self-serving.
Talking up an Election next June – apart from it being ludicrously premature – immediately starts to make the Labour Party look as preoccupied with short-term electoral calculations as the Tories. What is more with a crisis as serious as this, politicians should be concentrating on the national interest not being diverted by electoral campaigning.
So why have they been briefing? Don’t ask me – I can’t think of a single rational reason for doing it.
Nominations have just closed for the elections of officers of the Labour Peers’ Group. All the elections have been unopposed. Robin Corbett has been re-elected as Chair of the Group. I have been newly elected as Vice Chair in succession to Doreen Massey, and Meta Ramsay has been re-elected as Labour Peers’ back-bench representative on the PLP Parliamentary Committee.