By Paul Goodman
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Andrew Gilligan notes this morning that the Federation of Student Islamic Societies has been condemned by Theresa May and Nick Clegg for its failure to
“fully challenge terrorist and extremist ideology”. Indeed, the Home Secretary ordered that civil servants withdraw from a graduate recruitment
fair held by FOSIS. These words and deeds didn't arise from a vacuum. They were shapped by the Government's Prevent policy – one of the four pillars of its counter-terror strategy – which other Ministers are, by extension, also committed to.
It follows that Sayeeda Warsi should have been barred from attending an event organised by FOSIS recently. I'm told that the matter was raised with CLG by Home Office officials, but that the former claimed that since its own approach to extremism is incomplete, Warsi should be allowed to attend. This raises interesting questions about that approach (to which I will return), but it is beside the main point – namely, that the Government has a Prevent policy in place, and it must be adhered to.
It is no secret that Warsi disagrees with parts of the policy, and believes that such groups as FOSIS should be engaged with by Government (albeit, in some respects, critically). This is an honourable view, though I believe it is wrong. So did the majority of her front bench colleagues when she was in opposition, and so does Downing Street and the Home Office now. David Cameron's Munich speech and Mrs May's actions provide evidence for that claim.
In my view, the Home Office is doing a good job of striving to ensure that the policy is adhered to. Its work should not be compromised by other Ministers. I think that Warsi has a lot to offer the Government – she has a sound grasp of inter-faith issues, as this article on the last Pope shows – and that Cameron would have done best to keep her in her old job at the Cabinet office which, like her present one, allowed her to attend Cabinet itself.
But she cannot be allowed to push the boundaries of the Prevent Policy to the point where they buckle. The FOSIS incident shouldn't have happened, and the details that Gilligan provides are extremely disturbing. I believe that the problem can be sorted, as it has been before, and that the Government can get the best out of the Baroness. But if it can't be, Cameron will have no other sanction available other than to dismiss her.