Theresa May’s extremism: An illiberal and unnecessary plan from the Home Secretary


Click to follow
The Independent Online

It is, at least, a clear strategy. Theresa May today laid out how a Conservative government would confront extremism if the party wins election in 2015. On the issue of who should assume responsibility for the task, the Home Secretary reasserted sensible and on-going plans for her department to take full control, and so put an end to the muddle that has beset Whitehall in recent years. On the question of how extremism is to be fought Mrs May was equally forthright – but her proposals invite far less approval.

The Conservative manifesto will put forward proposals granting Westminster new powers to ban and silence extremist groups. Any organisation that seeks “to overthrow democracy” – an extremely loose definition – could be affected. Those considered extremists by the Home Office – and the parameters are far from clear on what constitutes “extremism” – would have to seek permission to post on Twitter and Facebook; they will also be banned from broadcasting in any format.

There is no reason to suspect such heavy-handed moves would suffocate the discontent that gives rise to extremism, nor prevent those who genuinely seek to do harm from linking up with like-minded or otherwise impressionable persons. There are already laws to criminalise incitement to hatred, as Tory MP Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General, noted in a scornful response to the BBC.

The Home Secretary also revived the subject of the Communications Data Bill – better known as the “Snooper’s Charter” – and hit out at the Liberal Democrats for putting a brake on its proposal to grant police greater powers of surveillance. The charter remains a needless encroachment on the privacy of British citizens: we have, in fact, much to thank Nick Clegg’s party for in holding Mrs May back from such panic-driven law-making.

Politicians walk a tightrope – liberty on one side, security on the other – when they consider measures that target the groups who may present a threat. Mrs May’s methods for dealing with extremism lean too far in the direction of authoritarianism. In an effort to preserve British values, among which May included “freedom of speech”, she has sanctioned moves that would hack away at that and other foundations of our society. The threat from Isis is real. But we have faced other real threats, from Nazism to the IRA, in saner fashion.