Cameron and Blair: the real counter-terrorism coalition

Cameron is completing the policy Blair had begun to implement.

According to Mark Townsend and Hannah Olivennes writing in the Observer, David Cameron is set to emerge this week as the victor in a long and "bitter cabinet battle" with Nick Clegg by unveiling a "hardline approach to tackling Islamist extremism". Home Office sources say that Cameron has "quashed Nick Clegg's argument for a more tolerant attitude to Muslim groups" by confirming the analysis he made in his Munich speech in February.

Writing in the Guardian, Allegra Stratton also predicts that "the government will make good Cameron's pledge to ban foreign hate preachers and will bring in a new link between extremism and violent extremism". Then, her Westminster sources suggest, there will be proper scrutiny of groups "to make sure they are effective, not extremist, and reflect mainstream British values".

Clegg's calculation seems to be that he will lose the argument but at least win credit amongst his party for articulating an alternative analysis and standing up to Cameron. Understandably and regrettably, Clegg has been overly cautious, merely objecting to Cameron's posturing against multiculturalism while declining a perfect opportunity to defend specific Muslim organisations and individuals that have been unfairly labeled extremist by Cameron.

To illustrate, if the Observer is right that the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board has had its annual public funding withdrawn because it "has links to the hard-line Muslim Association of Britain" then Clegg has missed a golden opportunity to challenge a fundamentally flawed policy. In fact the MAB has an outstanding track record of tackling violent extremism in the UK as I describe in my new book .

It is also on this point that Clegg might qualify the argument Stratton ascribes to Charles Farr, head of OSCT at the Home Office "that to get to the really nasty guys, you have to engage with the not-so-nasty guys". In certain cases that may indeed be the case but what is needed right now are more brave politicians on the front bench like Jeremy Corbyn on the back benches who are prepared to stand up for their Muslim partners against unfounded allegations of extremism.

In labeling many mainstream Muslim organisations as "extremist", Cameron reveals his affinity with Tony Blair, not Clegg. Cameron has always admired Blair's populist instinct throughout the war on terror - even though he tries to distance himself from its worst excesses now. Blair's genuine special relationship with George Bush, a Republican, and Cameron's superficial special relationship with Barack Obama, a Democrat, are both premised largely on the war on terror and an analysis that conflates many of their own Muslim citizens who oppose US / UK foreign policy in the Muslim world with a handful of violent and non violent extremists and terrorists.

While waiting a long time for Barack Obama to shake hands with hundreds of admiring parliamentarians in Westminster Hall David Cameron turned away from Clegg and stood listening attentively to Tony Blair. Blair was familiarly animated and passionate and Cameron appeared genuinely interested in what he had to say. While it was purely idle speculation on my part it did strike me that Blair may have been talking about violent extremism as this is perhaps the one topic where the two prime ministers' views are fundamentally inseparable.

Indeed, although Cameron was at pains in his Munich speech in February to create the impression that he was breaking with the past he was in fact completing the policy Blair had begun to implement himself. According to Townsend and Olivennes, Home Office sources say that "Cameron has quashed Nick Clegg's argument for a more tolerant attitude to Muslim groups by insisting on a strategy centred upon the notion that violent extremism is incubated within the ideology of non-violent extremism".

This is a policy first prescribed by Michael Gove and his friends at Policy Exchange and set now to become Home Office policy. It is also an extension of the policy that the arch Blairites, Ruth Kelly and Hazel Blears first began to implement when they enjoyed brief control at the Department for Communities and Local Government.

In fact, the popular notion that there is a conveyor belt from non-violent ideology to violent extremism or terrorism has been utterly discredited by academics and counter-terrorist practitioners. It always was a triumph of New Labour spin over reality. It seems extraordinary that Cameron will be allowed to consolidate such a misguided policy this week without at least one cabinet voice being raised in defence of the many Muslim organisations and individuals that will be falsely labeled extremist by it.

In 2008 Clegg tackled Policy Exchange head on when he defended the annual London Muslim event Global Peace and Unity against unfair allegations and pejorative back door briefings. Clegg is less inclined to show such bravery now as deputy prime minister. Not only is he up against Tory hawks but he also has to contend with a pro-active Blairite rump that continues to hold sway on this topic in the Labour Party. In effect, Clegg is the outsider up against an undeclared Cameron-Blair /Tory-Labour counter-terrorism coalition.

Robert Lambert is the co-director of the European Muslim Research Centre at the University of Exeter.

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How Theresa May laid a trap for herself on the immigration target

When Home Secretary, she insisted on keeping foreign students in the figures – causing a headache for herself today.

When Home Secretary, Theresa May insisted that foreign students should continue to be counted in the overall immigration figures. Some cabinet colleagues, including then Business Secretary Vince Cable and Chancellor George Osborne wanted to reverse this. It was economically illiterate. Current ministers, like the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Chancellor Philip Hammond and Home Secretary Amber Rudd, also want foreign students exempted from the total.

David Cameron’s government aimed to cut immigration figures – including overseas students in that aim meant trying to limit one of the UK’s crucial financial resources. They are worth £25bn to the UK economy, and their fees make up 14 per cent of total university income. And the impact is not just financial – welcoming foreign students is diplomatically and culturally key to Britain’s reputation and its relationship with the rest of the world too. Even more important now Brexit is on its way.

But they stayed in the figures – a situation that, along with counterproductive visa restrictions also introduced by May’s old department, put a lot of foreign students off studying here. For example, there has been a 44 per cent decrease in the number of Indian students coming to Britain to study in the last five years.

Now May’s stubbornness on the migration figures appears to have caught up with her. The Times has revealed that the Prime Minister is ready to “soften her longstanding opposition to taking foreign students out of immigration totals”. It reports that she will offer to change the way the numbers are calculated.

Why the u-turn? No 10 says the concession is to ensure the Higher and Research Bill, key university legislation, can pass due to a Lords amendment urging the government not to count students as “long-term migrants” for “public policy purposes”.

But it will also be a factor in May’s manifesto pledge (and continuation of Cameron’s promise) to cut immigration to the “tens of thousands”. Until today, ministers had been unclear about whether this would be in the manifesto.

Now her u-turn on student figures is being seized upon by opposition parties as “massaging” the migration figures to meet her target. An accusation for which May only has herself, and her steadfast politicising of immigration, to blame.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

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