THE BLOG

Far From Having Nothing To Say In The Fight Against Terror, The Liberal Democrats Have A Real Plan

28/05/2017 20:40
Darren Staples / Reuters

One week on, as we try to come to terms with the tragic loss of life in Manchester and monstrous attack on innocence it is inevitable that questions about how this happened and what we can do to prevent further attacks appear. At times like this received wisdom is that Liberals should stay quiet and allow others to offer tough solutions and new laws to eradicate violent extremism and terrorism. Us bleeding-heart liberals have nothing to say and should stick to hand-wringing. That is wrong.

If we want to continue to live in an open, democratic society that values freedom and civil liberties we must accept that we can never be 100% safe, but that doesn't mean we do nothing either.

There are a couple of things that we need to figure out - first, why on Monday did a young man, who was raised in Britain, in a diverse and vibrant city like Manchester go out with the intention of killing innocent young people having fun? Second, if this person was known to the police and security services, then how did he slip through the net?

To answer the first question we have to look at what is in place to stop people being radicalised. The Conservatives and Labour have wedded themselves to varying degrees to the Prevent strategy. At its core it is meant to prevent terrorism by engaging with the communities to stop radicalisation or direct individuals into de-radicalisation programmes where there are concerns.

In and of itself these are ambitions that we fully support - the issue is, it isn't working. Prevent is viewed with suspicion - even the former independent reviewer of terrorism stated that there was a "lack of confidence in aspects" of the programme. The problem of perception cannot be ignored and simply doubling down on it when the evidence shows it may not be working in the most effective way possible shows a level of stubbornness that is counter-productive.

"Prevent" is now toxic to many people and a rebrand simply won't work. That is why the Liberal Democrats propose scrapping it and replacing it with a new strategy called 'Engage' that puts the communities affected in the driving seat. We would support those communities in developing their own approach to tackling the dangers of violent extremism rather than dictating from Whitehall. We cannot alienate communities who are the best source of intelligence and who are best placed to spot those who present a real and present danger.

And this brings us on to the second question. We are hearing reports that neighbours passed on intelligence that the Manchester bomber was presenting disturbing behaviour and the security services have admitted he was a known individual - so how did he slip through the net? Our intelligence and security services are the best in the world but they are being stretched. We know they are being asked to monitor over one thousand suspects, in addition they are being given mass surveillance powers, which means soon they'll have far more data to contend with - this just makes their job harder. What we need is more targeted, community-led intelligence that can differentiate those that might hold extreme views but present no immediate threat and those whose extremism has tipped them over the edge into advocating or planning violence.

Here, community policing is key and that has been eroded. This was the assessment made by Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Constabulary only a few months ago. In his annual report he argued the very concept of community policing was under threat. We all know that communities are the best source of intelligence - If we can reverse the erosion of community policing, we stand a chance of mending the net and stopping people slipping through it. That is why the Liberal Democrats would invest £300million a year into policing allowing local forces to restore that community link that is so vital to gathering intelligence and countering terrorism.

Far from having nothing to say the Liberal Democrats have a real plan. One based on trust, effectiveness and more than anything else the recognition that in the fight against terror we must not lose the very essence of what we stand for - freedom, democracy and community. We have seen these values come to the fore in the wake of the attack in Manchester, we must now not betray them going forward.

Lord Paddick is the Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesperson, peer and former Deputy Assistant Commissioner at the Met Police

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