Opinion: Counter-extremism laws will be anything but

Less than a week into the new government and we are already beginning to see the signs of a Conservative party moving sharply to the right now that the Lib Dem shackles are off.

Announcing proposals for counter-extremism legislation yesterday, Home Secretary Theresa May said that she would implement ‘banning orders for groups’ who are ‘actively trying to promote hatred ‘ and ‘undermine British values’. Prime Minister David Cameron added that we have been a ‘passively tolerant society for too long’.

A similar piece of legislation was proposed 3 times during the coalition but was rejected every time. Lib Dem MP Tom Brake today said that they were blocked because they were ‘ill thought through, illiberal and will not tackle the problem they are supposed to’.

For starters, the proposal is flawed in principle. It is undoubtedly the case that these proposals undermine the key British value of freedom of speech. Whilst the Lib Dems hugely disagree with the views of radical fundamentalists like Anjem Choudhry, we will always defend their right to say it. That is a fundamental principle of democracy. If you partially stop freedom of speech, as these proposals do, you set a very dangerous precedent which can border on censorship and risks allowing a government to silence any voice of which it does not approve.

Pragmatically it is also hopelessly flawed. It is common knowledge that if you ban something it sends it underground where it cannot be regulated so effectively. Extremist views are best defeated by free speech. The demise of far-right groups in the UK such as the BNP and the EDL was largely down to an increased media exposure which highlighted the bigotry and extremism of their views. Had we, as a country, allowed this to fester underground without confronting it, it would remain unresolved.

To conclude the proposals do absolutely nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem of radicalisation and are instead a weak attempt at regulating the results. They are wrong in principle and will not work in practice. Expect a lot more of this over the next 5 years!

* Adam Warner is a Lib Dem activist in Worcester

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  • You make good points, Adam Warner.

    You mention “…The demise of far-right groups in the UK such as the BNP and the EDL”.
    Was it the demise or have they just swapped their Jackboots for tweeds, fancy collars and frequent photo ops in pubs with a jolly pint in hand?
    Check out the 2015 UKIP result in Dagenham for example.
    The BNP vote in that seat ŵent down dramatically — guess who they voted for this time?

  • Sardo_Numpsa 15th May '15 - 10:21am

    “Less than a week into the new government and we are already beginning to see the signs of a Conservative party moving sharply to the right now that the Lib Dem shackles are off”

    Are you suggesting that the right have a monopoly on authoritarianism? Is Kim Jong-un being “right-wing” when he has political rivals executed with anti-aircraft guns? Were Rotheram council being “right-wing” when they removed children from the couple caring for them because they were members of UKIP?

    How aboout “we are already beginning to see the signs of a Conservative party moving sharply authoritarian”

  • Anjem Choudray and others say what they like but if I said the same towards them would probably be prosecuted. This is what makes everyone angry, as if xenophobia and racism only goes one way.

  • Well of course! Do you think May wants a liberal society? They need bogey men, Islamics under the beds to replace those Reds. Conservatives want a fear factor.

  • Bryan Morton 15th May '15 - 11:16am

    This is the issue above all else that persuaded me to re-join the party earlier this week. These and other Conservative proposals (think DRIP) are potentially hugely dangerous to basic freedoms – and I somehow doubt that Labour, who seem to be equally illiberal on this front, will provide the opposition required.

    While the LD voice in the Commons in sadly greatly reduced, 101 members of the Lords provides another channel to make our opposition to these & similar proposals known. It’s a channel we should be making full use of while looking to rebuild in the ‘other place’.

  • It seems to me that these “underground” groups (more likely to be online now) create echo chambers, where awful views go unmoderated, unchallenged, are multiplied and amplified. Add to this a sense of one-sided oppression and you have a powder-keg of hate…

    Yet this is exactly the policy May’s pursuing.

    Please encourage ex-coalition members to come out and do the “I told you so” dance? I mean… give us and the media an insight into the twisted ideas being cooked up by our partners.

  • Extremist groups are the authoritarian’s best friend. Other than the Falklands War, nothing benefited the Tories in the Eighties so much as the fear of IRA attacks.

  • David-1
    They didn’t get any benefit in the Eastbourne by-election.

  • Just to put this ‘outrage’ into context, the LibDems when in government were party to a clandestine amendment to the Computer Misuse Act (CMA) that came into effect on the 3rd of May and which was never debated in Parliament, which effectively exempt’s GCHQ and other law enforcement agencies from criminal prosecution has exempted them from the prohibition on breaking into other people’s laptops, databases, mobile phones or digital systems.

  • Prime Minister David Cameron added that we have been a ‘passively tolerant society for too long’. Absolutely! High time we became an actively tolerant society.

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