‘Our society is being eroded by extremism - British policies need an urgent update,’ writes Bill Rammell

Pro-Palestinian protest outside parliament

‘Our society is being eroded by extremism - British policies need an urgent update,’ writes Bill Rammell

GB News
Bill Rammell

By Bill Rammell

Published: 05/04/2024

- 20:57

Britons should be able to share their views and opinions without fear of harassment, Rammell writes

There are worrying trends of growing extremism across society, and I am a robust defender and advocate of free speech and open debate as the most effective means of exposing and tackling extremism.

As a Minister in the last Labour Government, I worked to strengthen the prevention strategy to tackle the ideological causes of terrorism and thwart radicalisation. I believe casual extremism creates the environment from which violent extremism grows. And it needs to be tackled.

Extremism takes many forms. In the US, a President refusing to accept a democratic election defeat and inciting a violent march on Washington. Here, the normalising of extreme politics such as through the illegal suspension of parliament by Boris Johnson, the growth of mad fringe conspiracy theories such as Bill Gates being responsible for Covid, a teacher hounded into isolation for responsibly portraying the prophet Mohammad, legitimate marches in support of Palestine disgracefully sullied by a minority actually carrying Nazi flags and not being challenged by the march organisers, and the biggest financial donor to the Tory Party making extreme and racist comments about this country’s first black MP and actually saying he wanted to “shoot her”.

Extreme transgender activists lobbying to undermine women’s safety and rights and hounding people who argue against them. Witness the attacks on JK Rowling, and the hounding out of the Guardian Newspaper of the feminist journalist Suzanne Moore.

It's as if the failures of liberal democracy, and the powerlessness people resultingly feel, are forcing many more people to embrace extreme solutions.

Now Government advisor Dame Sara Khan has published her review into social cohesion and democratic resilience. She talks of the rise of “freedom-restricting harassment”, such as doxing and threats of violence, disincentivising participation in public life. There are many sensible proposals within it, such as creating 150-metre buffer zones (with the

exception of industrial pickets) around schools to stop protests such as those outside abortion clinics.

But we need more.

Pro-Palestinian rally

Pro-Palestinian rally


The Government’s “countering hateful extremism strategy” is 9 years old, and urgently needs updating on a cross-party basis.

We need to promote free speech and open debate as the best method to expose and tackle extremism. And for our Government that means an end to their confused double standards. They fulminate against cancel culture, yet that’s exactly what they try to do with anyone they disagree with. As Higher Education Minister I supported the right of the Oxford Union to invite the BNP’s Nick Griffin. Because extremism, unless it is violent, needs challenging and exposing through free debate.

We need legislation to tackle social media and its algorithms. These push extreme views to the fore. These companies could tackle this but choose not to.

And our elected representatives need support and protection for expressing their views. Some of the attacks and harassment of MPs is shocking and unacceptable.

And as long as views are legal, people should be able to express them. A really worrying finding in Kahn’s report is the polling showing “76 per cent of people report having restricted expressing their personal views in public, out of fear of harassment”.

This needs leadership across the political spectrum. Making clear you have the right to express your views within the law. If your views are socially conservative fine, racist not.

And a report from More in Common provides the context for that leadership. It focuses on equality and diversity and shows “the British public are 5 times more likely to say that equality and diversity is a good, rather than bad, thing”. But the report persuasively says it is best received when grounded in people’s everyday lives and a shared sense of decency. And it should be framed in curiosity and generosity-not of criticism.

Free speech, open debate, not banning and shaming people for their views, and the absolute right to speak within the law.

Oh, and we need to learn to disagree agreeably. It’s the most powerful antidote to extremism.

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