What I’d like to see in the upcoming independent review of the Prevent Strategy

Introduction

 It was recently announced that Lord Carlile of Berriew would be leading the independent review of the U.K.’s Prevent Strategy, which is expected to start within the next month.

I’ve been asked recently what I’d want to see in this review and have covered these points on my YouTube Channel. However, I wanted to elaborate on these issues – with a particular emphasis on what this means for how we respond to the radical right. This was the focus of my PhD study on the subject as well as a recently released book on how the Prevent Strategy has been applied to radical right extremism in the U.K.

The four big issues I’d like to see explored in the review are:

1). How the Prevent Strategy relates to other Policy fields. One of the key themes arising in my book is around the positionality of the Prevent Strategy in relation to the other policy areas. When we consider the extreme end of the radical right in the UK, there are a collection of applicable policies that each play a role in how we respond to this threat; principally the Creating the Conditions for Integration Strategy, the Hate Crime Action Plan and the Counter Extremism Strategy. And yet, there is very little synergy between these policies as they have been developed in isolation from one another.

For U.K. practitioners responding to the actions of individuals or groups subscribing to extreme right radical ideas, therefore, there is little understanding as to how policy responses are differentiated based on escalating levels of risk – with interventions on everything from street protest movements through to lone actors meant to cohere across these various policies. It is striking that many of the issues are then often laid at the door of Prevent.

 2). Independent oversight. I make the argument that Prevent requires ongoing independent and credible oversight. There have been several high-profile incidents whereby the delivery of Prevent has been framed as unfairly targeting members of Muslim communities. Drowning out the sensible voices, there is a vociferous anti-Prevent lobby who govern the public perception of Prevent away from its positive attributes, such as keeping people safe. Take for instance the now debunked “terrorist house” case in Lancashire, where a 10-year-old Muslim boys misspelling of “terraced house” was reported to have led to counter terrorism police becoming involved.

When we consider the ways in which Prevent has been brought to bear on right wing extremism since its explicit inclusion as part of the approach to “all forms of terrorism” set out in the 2011 Prevent review, there has been little in the way of independent oversight and/or scrutiny as to how this policy ambition has been realised.

In my book I found that there is little evidence of how the U.K. Government has challenged extreme right-wing ideology or worked with sectors/institutions on vulnerabilities associated with being drawn into right wing extremism since this policy shift in 2011. The only area biting on this form of extremism is found in the one-to-one interventions conducted with vulnerable individuals through the Channel programme. Referrals of an extreme right-wing persuasion now represent around a third of the total received by Channel across England and Wales.

My argument is that this independent oversight should be folded into the role of the Independent Reviewer of Counter Terrorism legislation. Now that Prevent sits on a statutory footing by virtue of the Counter Terrorism & Security Act 2015, the Independent Reviewer has a mandate to take a full and meaningful role in scrutinising how this legislation is being implemented.

3). Increased transparency.  I’ve written previously here about how further data on  the delivery of Prevent can be used to (1) support and enhance operational practice, and (2) further demystify and debunk some of the untruths being transmitted about Prevent, thereby increasing trust and confidence in what has now largely become a programme of safeguarding. The annual data drops of Channel data are a welcome step forward, but they are just that, a step. There is a mine of data sitting within Prevent delivery (particularly within Channel) that could be broken out for experts in everything from clinical psychology to criminology to review and provide suggestions for how to make the delivery of this particularly sensitive but important government policy better.

4). How the move from ‘top down to bottom up’ can be evolved. I work all over the world and I see how other counter terror strategies are co-ordinated in theory but not delivered in practice. The strength of the counter terrorism approach in the U.K. is in the way it is nationally-led, regionally-coordinated and locally-delivered. And yet, when it comes to the delivery of Prevent, we have some way to go to empower local communities to lead this work. This will include setting local priorities and building the necessary relationships. Yes, the national threat assessment states that the overriding threat to the U.K. and our interests overseas emanate from Islamist extremism. However, my research indicated that in Newcastle, for example, the threat profile there emanated mainly from radical right extremism rather than an Islamist threat. In any forthcoming review, it will therefore be operationally important for local practitioners to have more autonomy in developing bottom-up, community approaches to respond to the threats most relevant to their local context – especially when it differs from the national picture.

In addition to these points it will be vitally important for the review to be balanced and to shine a light on some of the fantastic work being carried out, particularly in relation to radical right terrorism & extremism. So much great work is being carried out by dedicated, skilled practitioners up and down the country and yet we seem to get lost in the criticism and noise that emanates from a vocal minority.

Conclusion

 To conclude, does Prevent need to evolve? Yes. Could it be better? Yes, and I’ve set out some ideas on how to do this. But let’s not forget that our approach to preventing people from being drawn into terrorism is still a leading light across an international community grappling with global terrorism. Prevent is a brand that has taken some knocks, and yet it endures. That is because it is a necessary element of our counter terrorism architecture.

Dr Craig McCann is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and is now Director of S.P.E.C.T.R.U.M. (Strategic Preventative Expertise to Counter Terrorism Risks using Upstream Measures) Universal Ltd, delivering Prevent-style training overseas. His profile can be viewed here.

© Craig McCann. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).