Dean Godson

Why Prevent failed – and how to fix it

(Credit: Getty images)

William Shawcross’s long-awaited review of Prevent – the Government’s counter-radicalisation programme – is one of the boldest official documents of recent times. As such, it constitutes a radical reappraisal of a key state policy which has gone seriously off-piste and is in urgent need of rebalancing.

Much of the critique of Prevent has historically come from Islamists – who contend that it singles out Muslims for particular obloquy. For a programme that cost the Home Office a little less than £50 million per annum in 2020-1, Prevent commands a lot of attention.  

In his comprehensive ‘anatomy lesson’ published today, Shawcross lays bare in painstaking detail the ways in which Prevent has been faltering – but for a quite different set of reasons from those given by its loudest detractors.

He paints a picture of a highly bureaucratised system that has become profoundly unbalanced in ideological terms – with resources dissipated on multiple forms of mission creep. In consequence, Prevent is found to be ineffective against the real threats to national security and to society.

Islamists and their allies have thus policed the boundaries of debate with some success

Shawcross’s review poses a fundamental question: how can it be that Islamist plots constitute 75 per cent of hard ‘downstream’ counter-terrorism cases, but nonetheless form a mere 16 per cent of ‘upstream’ Prevent referrals – those early interventions aimed at heading things off at the pass before actual terrorist violence occurs?

Conversely, how can it be that the combined total of Extreme Right Wing (XRW) and Mixed, Unclear and Unstable (MUU, in the jargon), Incels and school shooters represent a full 56 per cent of upstream Prevent referrals but a minority of actual terror plots?

Shawcross shines a bright light on this striking disparity. He shows how the threshold for triggering the Prevent mechanism – in complete contrast to what Islamists believe – is actually much higher for Islamist plots than for XRW.

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