Tory cuts mean that Britain’s emergency services may not be able to deal with a Brussels-style terror attack in cities other than London, Labour’s Andy Burnham has warned.
The Shadow Home Secretary revealed his worry that the UK was not adequately prepared for an ISIL-inspired atrocity as he declared that the Government’s counter-terrorist ‘Prevent’ programme wasn’t working.
In an interview with Progress magazine, Mr Burnham said that the ‘Prevent’ programme risked making British Muslims more rather than less radicalised.
He also accused David Cameron of trying to blow a ‘dog whistle’ at Daily Mail readers rather than win “hearts and minds” in the Muslim community.
Speaking to Progress, the magazine of Labour’s moderniser group, Mr Burnham suggested that emergency services outside London were unprepared to cope with a big terror attack.
‘We need to be able to reassure people that if a Paris- or a Brussels-style attack were to be committed in Britain, particularly outside London, we need to be able to show the capability to deal with it. I think there is a fear among us that it isn’t there … outside London,” he said.
Mr Burnham’s office told HuffPostUK today that he believes that the lack of capacity outside London stems from a combination of Government cuts.
The cuts include reductions in neighbourhood police, who have a proven role in spotting changes in communities as part of the counter-terrorism effort, as well as the halving of fire service budgets for the six biggest metropolitan areas outside London between 2010 and 2020.
Fire chiefs in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Sheffield warned last month that ministers “can't keep cutting...we need to be ready for a Paris-style attack anywhere in the country”.
Late last year, Mr Burnham revealed that the Government was axeing a third of the decontamination units, based around the country and run by the Fire Service, used in the event of a dirty bomb.
A new ICM/Channel4 poll today revealed that just one third of British Muslims would tell the police if they thought someone they knew was getting involved with supporters of terrorism in Syria.
The survey was seized on by former equalities chief Trevor Phillips, who said that it underscored the need for more integration across the UK.
However, 86% felt a ‘strong sense of belonging’ to the UK and just 4% sympathised with those who took part in suicide bombings.
And Mr Burnham was scathing about the Prime Minister’s approach to the Muslim community in the UK.
“When Cameron makes comments on this agenda, he more often than not is blowing a dog-whistle in the direction of the Daily Mail. He isn’t trying to win hearts and minds in the Muslim community. Really, that’s quite serious.”
‘We’re about to launch a cross-party commission on Britain’s relationship with the Muslim community, because I believe very strongly the government is getting this wrong. We need to rethink it.”
The Shadow Home Secretary said that the Prevent counter-terror programme, which has been rolled out to schools in the past year, need to be reviewed following concerns that it was scapegoating individuals.
“We’ve got to rethink our whole approach to tackling extremism. I don’t think the Government’s Prevent agenda is working…if somebody perfectly legitimately changes how they dress … in theory they can be reported upon”.
After visiting a Mosque in Newport, he said that there was now “the idea that the Muslim community is being checked upon, spied upon, creates the conditions for further alienation, and then potential radicalisation”
Since last July teachers have been legally obliged, under the Prevent programme, to report any ‘extremist’ behaviour to police.
In January, it was revealed a 10-year-old Muslim boy was quizzed by police after he mistakenly wrote that he lived in a "terrorist house" rather than a "terraced house”. And last month, a 15-year-old boy was referred to police after clicking on the Ukip website in the classroom to research immigration.
Delegates at the NUT annual conference in Brighton last month passed a motion calling for the development of “alternative strategies to safeguard children and identify risks" to young people.
Mr Burnham added that “People like Donald Trump are playing into the terrorists’ hands … We have got to work really hard to challenge that, and to call out what this is, which is criminal behaviour by a tiny minority of people that don’t represent the Muslim faith or Muslim people. That job gets harder and harder, but it gets more and more important at the same time.”
In the Progress interview, Mr Burnham called for a strengthening of Labour's Compliance Unit, which roots out extremists.
"I’m aware of people having joined the Labour party who have been, in the past, virulently anti-Labour … I would question whether some of the people who’ve been allowed to join should be allowed to be Labour party members, because it actually demoralises CLPs," he said.
He also said that anti-social behaviour had ‘fallen off the Opposition’s agenda” since Tony Blair’s leadership.
Following a recent spate of claims of anti-Semitism in Labour, Mr Burnham said no MP would tolerate it but hinted that more needed to be done to root it out further down the party.
“I don’t know anybody in Parliament who has anything other than a total rejection of any form of antisemitism. However, that seemingly doesn’t apply all the way down the party … I think what you see is some people commenting on the Israel-Palestine situation go beyond the line, don’t they? And take positions that I think are, frankly, abhorrent.”