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PEER STOKES EXTREMISM ROW

10-05-2008

The government says that it wants to prevent violent extremism by “winning hearts and minds” – er, except when those hearts and minds belong to democratically elected members of the BNP, apparently. Professor Mick Temple reports on a curious retreat.

Lord Patel, an advisor to Hazel Blears, has upset a few people in Stoke this week. Patel’s brief has been to promote yet another New Labour ‘strategy’. This one’s called ‘Preventing violent extremism - winning hearts and minds'.

Now, that seems like a good idea. Go around the country, listen to people’s views, engage with those who disagree with your proposals and win them over. But it’s not that simple for this blinkered and out-of-touch government.

The noble Lord, an appointed not elected politician, refused to engage in any way with the leader of a legal and democratically elected political party. Patel’s meeting with Stoke’s party group leaders was abruptly cancelled, as was the remainder of his schedule, when he discovered (who’s not done his homework?) that one of those group leaders would be Alby Walker of the BNP.

Whatever one thinks of the BNP, the people of Stoke-on-Trent elected nine BNP councillors to represent them. As even Stoke Central’s Labour MP Mark Fisher admitted, the BNP had succeeded by engaging with local people in a way Labour had failed to do. And Labour got punished at the polls largely because of this.

You might think, given the noble Lord’s objective, that meeting a party commonly seen as representing extremist views would be high on his agenda. You might also think that the people who elected BNP councillors have a right for their views to be heard in this debate.

Gordon Brown promised after the debacle of the local election results to ‘listen and lead’. Maybe leadership should involve sacking those who won’t listen.

If Brown means what he says, a P45 should be winging its way to the House of Lords pretty soon – and while he’s at it, he might review the job prospects of the relentlessly chirpy and deeply unimpressive Hazel Blears.

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