Why we should scrap the Prevent Strategy

We need a new policy that engages communities—rather than alienating people

October 12, 2016
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The Prevent strategy has failed. Despite it going through various iterations, it remains a fatally flawed programme. It is distrusted by the communities it professes to try and work with to tackle radicalisation and extremism. Without their buy-in, no matter what changes the government proposes, or what million-pound makeover it undergoes, it will still be a failure. That is why the Liberal Democrats are calling for it to be scrapped.

The strategy’s aims are laudable. Prevention is the best cure and the government should take an active role in preventing people from supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists themselves. However, in order to do this effectively and successfully it must be credible and wherever possible implemented at a community level, and here Prevent falls down.

This is a view shared by David Anderson QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation. In a recent interview he argued that "it is frustrating for me to see a programme, whose ideals are so obviously good, falling down on the delivery to the point where it is not trusted in the community where it principally applies."

Simply put, the brand has become toxic beyond repair. In fact, there are signs that it might actually be working against its professed aims. The UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of assembly recently said “by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, Prevent could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it.”

Prevent is meant to keep us safe but the way it is currently constructed and conducted goes no way to achieving that target. The Liberal Democrats would replace Prevent with an inclusive community engagement strategy that would make reporting concerns about extremism the same as reporting concerns about abuse. We would make community engagement an ongoing, core aspect of policing that does not solely focus on counter-terrorism or counter-extremism.

Civil society and community groups have the credibility and the in-depth knowledge of their communities that make them an ideal partner in this work. Let’s be honest—why would a young man being radicalised listen to a white, middle-aged man sat behind a desk in Whitehall? We have seen some excellent counter-narratives being promoted but the best ones come from the communities themselves who have authentic voices and histories. This is the path we should follow.

That is why we would also ensure that Prevent’s successor was not placed under the oversight of the Home Office. The Department of Communities and Local Government is far better placed to identify and work with the communities the strategy will serve. This is common sense. DCLG deals with schools, local councils and communities, meanwhile the Home Office is concerned with the police, the security services and terrorism. Which of the two would you say has a higher chance of success with actively and openly engaging with a community?

It looks like the government is preparing itself for yet another review of Prevent but it is time to see reality. The only way it can achieve its aims is by scrapping the strategy and starting again. We are willing to work together to do this, but this requires the government to stop the tough-talk and re-focus minds on doing what works.