Look how the government chose to tweet about their new counter-extremism commission:
— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) June 21, 2017
The problem – as I have noted here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here – is that the government have a terrifyingly broad definition of extremism. How worrying, then, that the government choose to announce they are going to tackle ‘extremist ideology in all its forms’ with a picture of an armed police unit.
Apparently those who dare to hold views that are not in line with mainstream opinion can look forward to being slapped with an Extremism Disruption Order enforced by an armed police unit waving firearms as they seek to weed out the extremist ideology of not supporting gay marriage, being pro-life, going on a protest or daring to go on strike. At least, that’s the impression the Home Office give by tweeting the nebulous statement that they intend to ‘stamp out extremist ideology in all its forms’ alongside a picture of heavily armed police.
Though the picture probably gives the false impression they intend to send armed police down to your local Sunday School, there is no getting away from the wide-reaching power of EDOs. As they were introduced, and repeated by the then Home Secretary now Prime Minister, George Osbourne stated, Extremism Disruption Orders will go ‘beyond terrorism’ and ‘eliminate extremism in all its forms’. Given that the anti-terror legislation introduced during the New Labour years was atrociously applied to eject peaceful protesters from their own party conference (amongst other injustices), we should all be extremely concerned at the far wider reaching powers of EDOs being openly promoted as a means of now criminalising those who nevertheless obey the law.
As David Cameron said in the clearest possible terms:
For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone. It’s often meant we have stood neutral between different values. And that’s helped foster a narrative of extremism and grievance. This Government will conclusively turn the page on this failed approach.
EDOs are the means of no longer leaving alone those who currently obey the law. It is the government’s way of clamping down on all those they define as extremist.
The irony in all this, of course, is that the government are currently trying to establish and confidence and supply deal with the DUP. The DUP’s stance on gay marriage, abortion and a handful of other views held by many of their party members as a committed Evangelicals mean that the Conservative’s own definition of extremism manages to include the very people they are relying on to prop up their government. How can the government stamp out extremism in all its forms if they are entering into a pact with those they call extremists? For the record, I don’t think the DUP are extremists – the government definition is far too broad – but the fact remains that the government do. It is surely going to be hard for the party voting with the government in any confidence vote to do so whilst their backbenchers call them disgusting and their frontbench calls them extremists.