Features

After Woolwich, what will change?

Theresa May knows what it is necessary to do to fight Islamism – but her hands are tied

1 June 2013

9:00 AM

1 June 2013

9:00 AM

The decapitation of a British soldier on a street in London is the latest disgusting new low in this country’s experience of Islamist terror. But everything else in the aftermath of the killing of Drummer Lee Rigby is hideously familiar. What the country has gone through since last Wednesday is the same endless turning over of clichés about terror which we have now heard for years. But one thing is clear. Nothing will be done. This country simply will not deal with the extremists. Not just because part of our political leadership does not want us to, but because those who do want to do something cannot.

As on each occasion before and since 7/7, the debate in recent days has covered the usual familiar terrain. The Prime Minister and all leading politicians have given grandstanding speeches about how ‘we will never give in to terrorism’. As though there were any imminent likelihood of getting the Queen to step down and then instituting a system of -sharia law. Next, politicians and pundits from all sides of the aisle spout whatever is their pet security grievance.

Some have said that there needs to be better spying on communication data — as though this could have made any meaningful difference in Woolwich. Others insist on banning some group not at all connected with Woolwich. There was even someone who called for the banning of the Islamist group Hizb ut-Tahrir. This — if you wondered where you have heard it before — is what Tony Blair said he would do after 7/7 and David Cameron absolutely swore that he’d do when he became PM. Today — as on each occasion before — absolutely nothing important will be done.

Yet in the midst of all these endless suggestions is one woman who actually wants to do something, understands the problem and knows how fearsome the opposition actually is. Theresa May knows the security issues this country faces. She sees the briefings. She knows the number of people under observation who plan to carry out attacks. But in every direction she is scuppered. Her incapacitation — in the face of numerous opponents — is a microcosm of the incapacitation of our country. At every turn, those who want not only to keep the people of this country safe, but to defeat this enemy, find people who are working against not just them, but all of us.

First there is the problem of Theresa May’s own colleagues. Shortly after coming into government the coalition announced that it was performing a review into the so-called ‘Prevent’ counter-terrorism strategy of the previous government. At every stage of its gestation, the Prevent review was bitterly fought over. Right up until the last days, Nick Clegg and his colleagues were trying to water down the report’s findings and recommendations.

But there are also Conservatives in the same Cabinet who undermine and work against the government’s own policies. Take Sayeeda Warsi.


Ever since he promoted her for the wrong reasons (and before she had in any way proved herself), the Prime Minister has found himself stuck with the Baroness. Too incapable to have a department of her own, and having spectacularly failed in her role as party chairwoman, Warsi was given a consolation title: ‘minister for faith and communities’. In this meddlesome role she has gone rogue against her own colleagues — with no apparent repercussions. Take just one example.

One of the organisations criticised in the Prevent review was FOSIS (Federation of Student Islamic Societies). This organisation has routinely and repeatedly hosted hate-speakers for years. Yet in March Baroness Warsi herself addressed this group at a FOSIS conference in Westminster. This conference discussed the alleged ‘demonising’ of Muslim students. Despite the fact that numerous former heads of Islamic societies have actually been convicted of terrorism, and despite the fact that week in and week out Islamist hate-preachers speak at campuses all over the country, Baroness Warsi helped pump up the self-pitying and deceitful narrative of an organisation condemned by her own government.

Just before Warsi addressed the group, FOSIS organised a speech by an Islamist who believes that the beheading of those who leave Islam is not only right but also ‘painless’. And shortly after Warsi addressed FOSIS, one of the heads of the organisation was on a platform in London alongside extremists calling for the release of a convicted al-Qa’eda terrorist. This is the kind of help and support Theresa May gets from her own colleagues.

If that is the enemy at the table, then just as serious is the enemy underneath: the civil service. It is not only in this area that civil servants are out of control. But here it is as bad as it gets. In the Home Office and across related departments are senior civil servants who think they know far better than the Prime Minister and Home Secretary. They actively work against May.

When the Prime Minister gave his key Munich security conference speech on multiculturalism and counter-terrorism in 2011, he made several classic prime ministerial mistakes. Among them was one Margaret Thatcher could have warned him about. For giving a speech is just giving a speech: it is not the same thing as forcing that speech to shape policy. Shortly after Munich I heard a statement by a senior civil servant — one of the men at the very top of the British government’s security policy. When asked about the Prime Minister’s speech, this civil servant said, ‘The Munich speech is Cameron’s personal view, it is not policy.’

This is the view of much of the civil service. They work against the government’s counter-terrorism agenda, fail to implement it, implement it wrongly, or go after pet peeves of their own as a condition of doing the job they are supposed to do.

And last but not least among the Home Secretary’s tormentors is the ultimate curse: European law. No one who spends any time looking at the effects on Britain’s security policy of the European Convention on Human Rights could come away without the impression that it has tied this country up in a nightmarish bind. As I have pointed out here before, the al-Qa’eda cleric Abu Qatada should never even have been in the UK. He came here illegally on a forged passport and has spent the past 20 years posing a security risk and a legal nightmare. He is wanted for terrorism charges in Jordan. Yet the ECHR says, while continually moving the goal-posts, that we cannot deport him because of his own ‘human rights’. The Home Secretary must have now spent longer on his case than any other. She has flown to Jordan to get yet further assurances and understandings from that government, yet nothing is ever enough to satisfy the ECHR or our courts, which now feel wholly subservient to its whims.

Of course Theresa May could do what her counterparts in France and Italy have done, and simply ignore the ECHR. The Italians don’t even bother to pay the paltry fines the court sends out for this disobedience. But the British — honest even with dishonest laws — keep sticking to these unworkable rules. Legal advisers encourage the Home Secretary to continue playing on ground that has been set up for her, and all of us, to lose.

Those of us who have argued that Theresa May should follow the example of our European counterparts and simply ignore the ECHR until we scrap it completely have been rapped across the knuckles by the legal panjandrums. One — who advises the government — told me that if the Home Secretary had followed my advice she would have been arrested. Good, I told him — go ahead and let us all see that the same police who cannot arrest a radical cleric can arrest a Home Secretary for getting rid of a radical cleric. As the police have reminded us in recent days, by arresting ‘Twitterers’ while allowing Anjem Choudary to walk free, this in an increasingly demented situation.

Since the slaughter in Woolwich, people keep asking the same question. Will it change things? On the basis of the last week I can say: ‘No, not at all.’ Some more members of the public will recognise the serious and malignant threat that Islamic fundamentalism poses. But among our politicians, there will be no change. Not only because across government and across all parties there are people who believe there is no problem — but because there are so many people and powers in place to stop this country doing what it needs to do.

It is not hard. Deport illegals, lock up radicals, tell the sympathisers the game is up, and fight not for a draw but for victory against this enemy. There are those who would like to do this. But they have been magnificently trussed up. The people dancing around them are the same people dancing mockingly around all of us.

Subscribe to The Spectator today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Get more Spectator for less – just £12 for 12 issues.


Show comments
Close