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3 December 2014

Terrorism Bill: May continues the job started by Tony Blair

Ben Norman

The government's latest attacks on civil liberties, masked as anti-terrorism laws, are not only dangerous for trade unionists, socialists and social justice campaigners; they reinforce the very causes of 'extremist radicalisation' they aim to stop.

The new powers are touted as a reaction to an unknown number of British Jihadis who have travelled to Syria to join the Salafist terrorist group Islamic State (IS). Those suspected of travelling to Syria could be effectively rendered stateless by plans which Amnesty International warns breach international laws.

Suspects who cannot be prosecuted may still face forced relocation, with the evidence threshold lowered to "reasonable balance of probabilities". Internet use and travel will also be monitored, while court orders will be used to prevent university groups from inviting speakers deemed 'extremist'.

Theresa May can expect nothing but feigned opposition in Parliament. Labour's front bench includes Andy Burnham, who championed ID cards during his time at the Home Office. And although Nick Clegg pledged only last year that there would be no 'snooper's charter' while the Liberal Democrats are in government, he has already voiced support for the new measures.

The new laws merely extend the anti-terrorism laws passed by Labour. This package is the seventh such set of laws since 2000. The first six didn't prevent the 7/7 London bombings, nor protect Lee Rigby, nor prevent radicalisation by IS supporters. More repressive laws are also unlikely to stop terrorist acts.


May claims Britain faces an unprecedented terrorist threat. However, the intelligence agencies are by design inherently undemocratic and largely unaccountable. It is impossible to claim that today's 'threat' is comparable to the terrorism campaign waged by the Irish republican Provisional IRA.

In the Middle East, as in Northern Ireland, the Tories are reaping what British foreign policy has sown. But unfortunately it's ordinary people who pay the price.

In Ireland, atrocities such as Bloody Sunday in 1971 thrust Catholic youth into the arms of the Provisional IRA. Today, across the Middle East, social media allows us see the carnage from aerial bombings and other military operations by British armed forces unfold in real time.

Such laws also reinforce a poisonous culture of Islamophobia. The result is that many Muslim communities feel under siege, in which isolated youth are easy prey for those who peddle Salafism by pointing to British imperialism's bloody wars and invasions.

These laws also set a dangerous precedent for the workers' movement. Once a framework for 'tackling extremism' is created, it is left to the government to interpret who is considered extreme.

This new legislation is in parallel with Tory plans to impose even harsher anti-trade union laws.

London Mayor Boris Johnson has made plans to attack the unions central to his campaign for the Tory leadership, while the PCS union has uncovered plans from senior HM Revenue and Customs officials to undermine the union.

Socialists must campaign to unite the community to defend civil liberties and defeat the Tories' divisive laws.