The Conservative Party does not like it when the government sticks their noses into people’s business. Unless they are the wrong kind of people doing the business, of course. It seems that in the right set of circumstances, noses are most welcome in Tory circles.
I say this off the back of Theresa May’s outline of the Extremism Disruption Orders communicated at Tory conference becoming part of the Conservative Party manifesto, something George Osbourne has confirmed. The idea of the policy is to both widen the definition of what is considered extremist as well as enhancing the Law’s powers to curtail this activity. This policy idea is terrible in that it would unquestionably curb free speech whilst not even achieving its aims, i.e. seeing less British men going over to the Middle East in order to fight for the institution of a barbaric caliphate. Nor, more to the point, would they make anyone in Britain more safe.
Let’s start with the first part of that thesis – how would Extremism Disruption Orders make speech in the UK less free? I suppose in the end it would depend on the wording of the Bill, but in the form as it is now presented, one could see any environmental group, for instance, or religious group of any stripe, or indeed anyone critising the government of the day coming into problems. I’m sure Theresa May would argue that under the way she interprets the proposed law, most of the kinds of groups I just mentioned shouldn’t be captured. Problem is, it won’t be left to politicians to decide whether the law is broken or not, but rather to those who are charged with enforcing such a law. Unless you wanted to build some sort of racism directly into the Bill (so, for instance, it only applies to Islamic organisations or something), I don’t see how it wouldn’t cause problems for many campaigning groups.
The second criticism I have of the whole thing is even more pertinent: the idea that this would make the UK even 0.0001 percent safer is lunacy. For a start, one of ISIS’ main recruitment tools is viral messaging. It’s the 21st century; this is an international movement we’re trying to fight here. Would the law mean that the UK Google office could be charged with having committed a crime under the Bill if something questionable came up from the search engine? Twitter, under the same provision? How would that even begin to work? We need to be thinking about counter messaging and practical solutions to the very real threats from extremism in all its forms we face, not trying to turn ideas that won’t work into statute.
Perhaps this is just empty posturing by the Tories ahead of a general election and they know the whole thing is actually unimplementable. Still, I resent having the whole national debate around extremism ramped up again off the back of nothing whatsoever, and in particular hearing it come from a party of government who have the wherewithal to know that the policy they are spouting is complete drivel, done seemingly to reach a section of the electorate they think they can get back with this type of tosh.
What British politics desperately needs at the moment is more common sense, not more stoking of the public’s fear.