Sunday 4 June 2017

Theresa May is right, we need a difficult conversation - With her!

Sadly, I've written rather too many blogs about rather too many terrorist incidents. It is less than two weeks since the last one. In my working life, I've lost count of the number of terrorist outrages that I've seen in our wonderful city. If you've read any of my previous blog posts on the subject, I suspect that you will have spotted a bit of a theme. Today however, I have a bit of a different feeling about the whole thing. Like the previous Bridge attack, it is in an area of London I know extremely well. Until February last year, I worked in an office in Park St, which is a couple of hundred yards from the scene of the atrocity. I used to eat in Borough market every day. I still meet up with friends in The Rake in Borough Market regularly. The pub is probably third in the list of such establishments I have visited this year.

The London Bridge Attack
However, none of this close association accounts for the feelings of anger I have this morning. These are reserved for the Prime Minister. I normally would put criticism aside in the aftermath of such an atrocity, not wishing to make political points. However Theresa May has made an overtly political speech, clearly with one eye on the general election on Thursday. I find it quite unacceptable that she's chosed to do this on the morning after an atrocity. It is not what British Prime Ministers do. They appeal for calm, they appeal for unity, they try and bring us together. They point out that the people who do this do not represent the communities they originate from.  However Theresa May said this

Enough is enough. My response to last night’s brutal terror attack:
"Last night, our country fell victim to a brutal terrorist attack once again. As a result I have just chaired a meeting of the government’s emergency committee and I want to update you with the latest information about the attack.
Shortly before 10:10 yesterday evening, the Metropolitan Police received reports that a white van had struck pedestrians on London Bridge.
It continued to drive from London Bridge to Borough Market, where 3 terrorists left the van and attacked innocent and unarmed civilians with blades and knives.
All 3 were wearing what appeared to be explosive vests, but the police have established that this clothing was fake and worn only to spread panic and fear.
As so often in such serious situations, the police responded with great courage and great speed. Armed officers from the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police arrived at Borough Market within moments, and shot and killed the 3 suspects.
The terrorists were confronted and shot by armed officers within 8 minutes of the police receiving the first emergency call.
Seven people have died as a result of the attack, in addition to the 3 suspects shot dead by the police. Forty-eight people are being treated in several hospitals across London. Many have life-threatening conditions.
On behalf of the people of London, and on behalf of the whole country, I want to thank and pay tribute to the professionalism and bravery of the police and the emergency services – and the courage of members of the public who defended themselves and others from the attackers.
And our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and with their friends, families and loved ones.
This is, as we all know, the third terrorist attack Britain has experienced in the last 3 months. In March, a similar attack took place, just around the corner on Westminster Bridge.
Two weeks ago, the Manchester Arena was attacked by a suicide bomber. And now London has been struck once more.
And at the same time, the security and intelligence agencies and police have disrupted 5 credible plots since the Westminster attack in March.
In terms of their planning and execution, the recent attacks are not connected. But we believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face, as terrorism breeds terrorism, and perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully-constructed plots after years of planning and training – and not even as lone attackers radicalised online – but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.
We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are. Things need to change, and they need to change in 4 important ways.
First, while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred, sows division, and promotes sectarianism.
It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of the truth.
Defeating this ideology is one of the great challenges of our time. But it cannot be defeated through military intervention alone. It will not be defeated through the maintenance of a permanent, defensive counter-terrorism operation, however skilful its leaders and practitioners.
It will only be defeated when we turn people’s minds away from this violence – and make them understand that our values – pluralistic, British values – are superior to anything offered by the preachers and supporters of hate.
Second, we cannot allow this ideology the safe space it needs to breed. Yet that is precisely what the internet – and the big companies that provide internet-based services – provide.
We need to work with allied, democratic governments to reach international agreements that regulate cyberspace to prevent the spread of extremism and terrorist planning. And we need to do everything we can at home to reduce the risks of extremism online.
Third, while we need to deprive the extremists of their safe spaces online, we must not forget about the safe spaces that continue to exist in the real world.
Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it also means taking action here at home. While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country.
So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society.
That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism – and we need to live our lives not in a series of separated, segregated communities but as one truly United Kingdom.
Fourth, we have a robust counter-terrorism strategy that has proved successful over many years. But as the nature of the threat we face becomes more complex, more fragmented, more hidden, especially online, the strategy needs to keep up.
So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.
And if we need to increase the length of custodial sentences for terrorism-related offences, even apparently less serious offences, that is what we will do.
Since the emergence of the threat from Islamist-inspired terrorism, our country has made significant progress in disrupting plots and protecting the public.
But it is time to say enough is enough. Everybody needs to go about their lives as they normally would. Our society should continue to function in accordance with our values. But when it comes to taking on extremism and terrorism, things need to change.
As a mark of respect the 2 political parties have suspended our national campaigns for today. But violence can never be allowed to disrupt the democratic process. So those campaigns will resume in full tomorrow. And the general election will go ahead as planned on Thursday.
As a country, our response must be as it has always been when we have been confronted by violence. We must come together, we must pull together, and united we will take on and defeat our enemies."
This statement has a very different tone from previous speeches from Prime Ministers in the wake of such attacks. What I find sickening is that Ms May has completely forgotten her own role in the situation we find ourselves in. She was Home Secretary for Six years and has been Prime Minister for one year. When she says "While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country." She conveniently forgets that as Home secretary, she is the person who presided over this policy. She has been a senior member of a government that has presided over a legal system where convicted terrorists have received completely laughable sentences. I am aware of one instance of a terrorist who was involved in a plan to blow up a Jumbo Jet, who got sentenced to four and a half years. To put this in perspective, someone I know got three years for robbing gaming machines in Motorway service stations. Now I discussed this with someone who knows the case and the law, who said "his role was marginal". As far as I am concerned, there is no such thing as a "marginal" role in terrorism. One way or another as Home sectretary for six years and Prime Minister for one year, May knows all about this.

May said "So we need to become far more robust in identifying it and stamping it out – across the public sector and across society. "  but she again is culpable for huge cuts to police numbers, support staff and other roles. As Home secretary, she was police budgets as areas to be pruned. Support workers have been cut, as these are more palatable to the public, in huge numbers. This means that officers have to spend far more time on paperwork and far less on catching criminals. It is well known that the best defence against these home grown terrorist networks is to have the police fully engaged with the community they live in. This means that people are not scared to tip off the local bobbies, when they are suspicious of activities of neighbours and friends. It seems that in the case of the Manchester bomber, the police were alerted. They did not follow this up. Why? I can't believe that lack of resources was not a factor.

May stated  "That will require some difficult and often embarrassing conversations, but the whole of our country needs to come together to take on this extremism". Of all the statements she's made, this is perhaps the most controversial and divisive. Firstly as someone who has had access to priviledged secret information for seven years, why hasn't she been having "difficult and embarrassing" conversations for the last seven years? She doesn't say who should have these conversations or what they should be about. What disturbs me is that this will give organisations such as Britain First, The BNP and The EDL the idea that maybe they should have a few "difficult" conversations. Sadly these numpties generally have these conversations with perfectly normal and law abiding citizens.

I know a chairman of a Mosque. We spend hours discussing these issues. He tells me all manner of work and initiatives he undertakes to prevent radicalisation in his community. When I had treatment for cancer last year, he was the first person to ring up and dropped in some food. Unlike me, he would bee quite happy to see all potential Islamic terrorists interned or even dropped in the North Sea from helicopters. He says that in his opinion they alienate people from God and the Islamic religion and have no place in his community. I suspect that any conversation Theresa May had with him would be very embarrassing. He would be asking why she hasn't taken action.

Theresa May also said "Yes, that means taking military action to destroy ISIS in Iraq and Syria. "  Well remind me. Who sold off all our Sea Harriers, so our aircraft carriers. We've lost 30,000 front line troops. A quick look at Twitter highlighted these alarming statistics.

And this on the subject of Police cuts.

I had a quick exchange of texts this morning with a friend who is a serving police officer (as is her husband). I wanted to ascertain whether she thought it was appropriate to write a blog such as this today. Her response? "Go for it... Mention police cits while you are at it!!!". So I have.

There is one last thing I'd like to draw your attention to. Theresa May said "So in light of what we are learning about the changing threat, we need to review Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy to make sure the police and security services have all the powers they need.". I nearly screamed when I heard this. As home secretary for six years and Prime Minister for one, May has in this single sentence, proven that she is completely incompetent. Since the true scale and ambition of the Islamist terror threat became clear in 2001 and the 2005 attacks on the tube, it has been crystal clear that the UK is under permanent threat. This threat is constantly evolving and morphing into new forms and new organisations. The only way to stay safe is to keep the counter-terrorism strategy under permanent review. Every time the security services disrupt a plot and every time they fail to, there are serious lessons to be learned. May says we need to ensure that the police and security services have all the powers they need. What she doesn't mention, which is far more important is all the resources. The police can have all the power they like, but if the vans attending incidents lack the bums on seats to implement the policies and the laws, then we will fail.

The UK is almost unique in having a largely unarmed police service that by and large, everyone trusts. This has been undermined by Theresa May as Home secretary and undermined by Theresa May as Prime Minister. This has been the fourth general election since the scale and size of the militant islamist threat became clear. It is the first to see a spate of widespread terror attacks. It cannot be a coincidence that this has coincided with a run down of police services. If Theresa May had stood up and said "It is crystal clear that police cuts have gone too far", maybe we could have confidence in her. As it is, all we get is a dereliction of duty, a dodgy and hastily rushed out analysis of the issues and an attempt to try and look strong, having created the problem in the first place.

I apologise if anything I've said seems inappropriate so soon after this latest outrage, however, I can only be honest and call it how I feel.

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