The Muslim News and ENGAGE have noted an exchange in the House of Commons yesterday where David Cameron was challenged by Labour’s Alan Johnson over his failure to implement the Conservatives’ manifesto pledge to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir:
Alan Johnson (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab): On the subject of empty opposition, the Prime Minister castigated his predecessor for not proscribing the radical Islamist organisation, Hizb ut-Tahrir, when the previous Prime Minister had been in post for a week. The right hon. Gentleman has now been in post for a year. I would like to give him the opportunity to castigate himself.
The Prime Minister: It is very kind of the right hon. Gentleman to give me that opportunity. We are clear that we must target groups that promote extremism, not just violent extremism. We have proscribed one or two groups. I would like to see action taken against Hizb ut-Tahrir, and that review is under way.
The Muslim News quotes a government spokeswoman as saying that Cameron “has been working hard” to “ban extremist groups, not necessarily violent, like Hizb ut-Tahrir” and that this proposal will be included in the forthcoming review of the Prevent programme.
In earlier exchanges in parliament Cameron fudged the issue of a ban on HT as did Home Office minister Damian Green. The Daily Express reported at the time that “Downing Street insiders” had “admitted that there was a lack of evidence of law-breaking for such a banning”. It would appear that Cameron has now decided that lack of evidence is not an obstacle to illegalising HT.
You can guarantee that there will no equivalent proposal to ban the English Defence League, which unlike HT has a well-established record of political violence. If Cameron set out with the conscious intention of helping extremist groups gain support within Muslim communities he couldn’t come up with a more effective strategy than applying blatant double standards like that.
It will be interesting to see how it impacts on the coalition if Cameron goes ahead and attempts to impose a ban. Given that the Liberal Democrats’ disastrous showing in the recent elections was due to the public perception that they have sold out their principles in government, there will be a lot of pressure on Nick Clegg to uphold the Lib Dems’ traditional defence of civil liberties and oppose such a disgraceful attack on democratic rights.