Party leaders seek to 'derail' government scheme to combat violence
British National Party leaders were under fire yesterday after it emerged that they were plotting to "derail" a government programme aimed at quashing violent extremism throughout the UK. A leaked email to BNP councillors revealed that the party is running a secret campaign to destabilise the Prevent strategy, set up three years ago to tackle "the specific problem of a small minority of young Muslims being attracted to violent groups".
The Home Office strategy, originally called "Preventing Violent Extremism", pledged £45m for local initiatives designed to coax youngsters away from "individuals preaching hatred and violence in the name of Islam" and integrate them into their communities. However, it was "rebranded" last year to take in wider issues, including the threat from political extremism, following complaints that the programme stigmatised the Muslim community. Councils have now been ordered to establish their own Prevent strategies to combat extremism in their areas.
The Secretary of State for Communities, John Denham, said: "At the current time, the greatest terrorist threat remains that from al-Qa'ida-linked violent extremism. At the same time, we also need to tackle other potential support for violent extremism, including that from racist and fascist groups."
The BNP has complained that the modified strategy is now allowing councils to target the party and it members – and it has enlisted its councillors in an attempt to undermine the strategy. In a councillors' bulletin last month, the BNP councillor liaison officer, James North, told colleagues: "Due to complaints that [Prevent] was picking on Muslims they widened it out to include all extremism and implied that they were also targeting right-wing extremism. In some areas they focus their energy on areas where we are active – eg target wards.
"If you have any knowledge of a Prevent strategy in your area could you please send information back, so we can build a more widespread picture of areas that are affected and then we can get local groups active to derail it before it takes hold."
Mr North said yesterday that the BNP wanted to "derail attempts by the Labour regime to link the BNP to right-wing violent extremists". He added: "The email asks BNP councillors for details of all Prevent attempts to link the BNP to extremists so that the BNP can take measures to circumvent these false allegations and smears." But the anti-fascist organisation Searchlight called on the BNP to explain why it was trying to destabilise a government policy.
"This project protects the public from terrorists and violent extremists," a Searchlight spokesman said. "The fact that the BNP is trying to undermine it speaks volumes about its organisation and its membership. If it is a truly peaceful and democratic organisation, what is it afraid of?"