Witnesses to the House of Commons home affairs select committee tripped over themselves last week in a bid to answer who gets to define a person as an “extremist”.
The committee met to discuss the recent Shawcross Review of the government’s Prevent “anti-radicalisation” programme.
Sir William Shawcross wrote that Prevent was spending too much time looking at people on the far right, when it should be focused on Muslims.
Security minister Tom Tugendhat and Prevent boss Michael Stewart came to the committee to explain why they thought Shawcross was right.
Tugendhat said that “fear of being labelled racist” meant many people did not refer Muslims to Prevent when they should.
“The balance of referrals has not been what we’d expect,” he said. But when the committee chair asked if there was evidence for this claim, the minister admitted that “at the moment, that is a supposition”.
A similar pattern was repeated when it came to Shawcross’s claim that “divisive” Muslim organisations were being funded by the government.
When the chair asked for evidence, Tugendhat muttered that Shawcross had looked at only a “couple of examples, several years ago”.
He added there were no “current examples”. In other words, the government has accepted the Shawcross report, and all its recommendations, despite there being no evidence to back up its claims.
It was all too much even for Tory MP James Daly. Addressing Tugenhat, he summed up Prevent’s success, saying, “We’re referring people into Prevent that may not have terrorist sympathies, and after they finish [the programme] they still don’t have terrorist sympathies.”