Are the Non-Murdoch media now threatening a select committee member?

Some concerning tweets about Louise Mensch MP.

I know Louise Mensch MP slightly. I was at university at the same time and we have some mutual friends. At Freshers' Fayre she tried to sign me up for the "Rock Society" (I manfully resisted, being a Stranglers and Damned fan).

I am certainly not a political supporter of hers, but she is not someone to be under-estimated and she is rightly regarded as being among the more able of the new intake of MPs. And so, against this background, I was rather concerned to see certain tweets last night.

Martin Bright, formerly of this magazine, asked publicly:

Are the media trying to intimidate @LouiseMensch?

Now, why would they do that? Well, as is well known, Mensch asked Rupert Murdoch directly if he had considered resigning at this week's select committee hearing. But I suspect that Martin did not mean anyone at News International.

There has rightly been attention paid to Mensch's incorrect claim that Piers Morgan had openly boasted in some book about phone hacking. I understand she will now retract that statement when Parliament reconvenes. All the same, the fact does remain that Piers Morgan was editor of the Daily Mirror during part of the time covered by the ICO report, "What Price Privacy".

Her substantive point is that hacking and blagging was prevalent throughout the British tabloid press. It is widely believed that the tabloid press is apprehensive that the phone hacking and blagging scandal would spread beyond News International.

Two days after the Select Committee, it was reported that the police had asked for the evidence in the so-called "Motorman" files. If this is correct, then this means newspaper groups other than News International are now in the frame for certain offences.

Mensch tells me that this week she suddenly started to receive a lot of attention from the non-Murdoch tabloid groups. I am told that her office even received a strange call from a newspaper, immediately after the Select Committee hearings ended: the ominous question posed was "Can you confirm you are pregnant?". There have been a range of other press contacts.

Guido Fawkes has now tweeted there are orders to "get Mensch" from the "very top" and there would be a damaging story about her private life this coming Sunday. I do not know if that is correct; but it certainly is not a pleasant prospect for anyone.

In fact this all becoming very odd, and it is also worrying. To her credit, Mensch has decided not to be intimidated by this sudden tabloid interest in her private life, and has chosen to reveal the apparent intimidation to the New Statesman. If this is an intended intimidation exercise, then it would raise the troubling concern that may be some attempt to pressure or discredit a member of a parliamentary select committee.

It will be interesting to see what Sunday brings, and - indeed - what Mensch and the select committee have to do in response.

 

David Allen Green is legal correspondent for the New Statesman.

David Allen Green is legal correspondent of the New Statesman and author of the Jack of Kent blog.

His legal journalism has included popularising the Simon Singh libel case and discrediting the Julian Assange myths about his extradition case.  His uncovering of the Nightjack email hack by the Times was described as "masterly analysis" by Lord Justice Leveson.

David is also a solicitor and was successful in the "Twitterjoketrial" appeal at the High Court.

(Nothing on this blog constitutes legal advice.)

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Who will take responsibility for the rise in far-right terrorism?

Muslims are asked to condemn Islamist terrorism – should the mainstream right do the same when the attackers are white?

Following the attack on a Finsbury Park mosque, both Theresa May and Amber Rudd have issued statements and delivered speeches adopting hard lines against Islamophobia and right-wing extremism. May has gone so far as stating that Islamophobia itself is a form of extremism.

These pronouncements have drawn positive responses from prominent members of the Muslim community such as Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain. But it is important to question whether or not this change in rhetoric signifies a genuine change in government policy.

On the face of it, there are reasons for tentative optimism. The seriousness with which politicians took the Finsbury Park attack is a significant change. On this, the government is ahead of the media. While other terrorism attacks have been condemned as unjustifiable violence, some newspapers framed the Finsbury Park attack as a "revenge".

In fact, radicalisation is not a one-off event, but takes place in a web of institutional, social and ideological conditions. Furthermore this ignores a much longer story about the drip, drip, drip of Islamophobic or anti-Muslim discourse which permeates British society. 

The government has played a part in legitimising this anti-Muslim sentiment. Let’s not forget that Prevent has, since its inception, disproportionately targeted Muslims. The impression of an "us and them" mentality is only underlined by its secrecy. Moreover, the Prevent agenda has conflated a variety of other social policy concerns relating to gender equality, sexual violence, and unemployment as "extremism" issues. For example, Amber Rudd herself suggested that Islamophobia would decline if grooming stopped, which can not only be seen as victim-blaming, but further contributes to stereotyping Muslims as the enemy within.

So are promises to get serious about Islamophobia more empty words from the Prime Minister?

Think about timing. Far-right extremism has been deadly. Mohammad Saleem was brutally murdered in 2013 in Birmingham by a far right extremist. Mushin Ahmed was killed in 2015 (and was notably called a "groomer" by his attacker as his head was stamped on).

Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist this time last year. This is not even mentioning individuals such as Ryan McGee, who made a nail bomb and was intent on murdering immigrants.

Just twelve days ago, the Prime Minister claimed that Britain was too tolerant of extremism, and she was right. Just not in the way she meant it.

Britain has indeed been too tolerant of extremism of the far right kind. This is a rising problem, not just in the UK, but also in Europe.

According to the defence and security think-tank RUSI, far right extremists make up 33 per cent of the threat, with Islamic extremism slightly more at 38 per cent. Furthermore, one in four referrals to Channel, the UK deradicalisation programme, are from the far right.

We cannot forget the government itself peddles the tropes of far right hate. Think of David Cameron referring to migrants as "swarms", May’s hostile environment policy, complete with "go home vans" driving around in multicultural areas, and the uncritical embrace of Donald Trump’s presidency by the Prime Minister. 

The Muslim community has been told many times to fight terrorism from within, but will there be a similar response to far right extremism? The ongoing rhetorical attacks on multiculturalism, and the longstanding association of Islamist radicalisation with a lack of integration, rather than religiously inspired political violence, make it difficult to see how real change will happen.

This would require deep soul-searching, followed by serious changes in public debates about policies relating to both immigration and extremism. Until that happens, May’s words on Islamophobia will be nothing more than political PR.

But this PR also has a more sinister element. Although no specific new counter-terrorism legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech, there was a promise that the government would review existing counter-terrorism laws, with a spokesman stressing that new legislation would be brought forward if needed.

May continues to lobby for increased executive powers to fight terrorism, which she has done since her time as home secretary. The policy on right-wing extremism is likely to follow that of Islamic extremism: it will focus only on ideology and it will ignore the wider context of structural racism and white privilege.

Ask yourselves, will white men ever be stopped and searched to the same extent as brown men? Will white women be seen as easy targets for violent attacks as Muslim women disproportionately are? Will far right extremists fear for their citizenship status?

And does the solution to extremism, in any form, truly lie in further oppressive legislation and more government power? We also need to be aware that powers extended to address extremism are likely to continue to have a disproportionate effect on minorities.

As long as there is no change in government policy, the status quo will continue to reinforce the same divisive narrative which is the bread and butter of every extremist group. After the Queen’s Speech, we continue to see no evidence of any serious attempt to reform policy and seriously address far right extremism. May’s empty words after the Finsbury Park attack represent nothing more than an opportunistic political move from a weakened Prime Minister who is desperate for approval – and for power.

Dr Maria Norris is a political scientist researching terrorism and national security. She is a Fellow at the  London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.

Dr Naaz Rashid is a Research Fellow at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex and is author of Veiled Threats: Representing the Muslim Woman in Public Policy Discourse (Policy Press 2016) about the UK government's engagement with Muslim women as part of its Prevent agenda. She can be followed on Twitter @naazrashid.

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