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Where does Labour in Newcastle stand on anti radicalisation?

January 14, 2016 10:58 PM

Media reports of the controversy relating to Cllr Dipu Ahad's public meeting alongside Moazzam Begg of Cage UK misses an important point in respect to Liberal Democrat concerns about the event. We feel our concerns have been misrepresented by the organisers of the meeting (which included a Labour council candidate, the Tyneside Stop the War coalition, and Newcastle Palestine Solidarity campaign) and deserve to be stated more clearly.

The Liberal Democrat opposition on Newcastle City Council is strongly in support of free speech and we respect the right of anyone to present controversial or challenging views without wishing to "ban" them: We recently proposed a council motion to this effect. We would not - and did not - seek to prevent the public meeting going ahead, although we felt it was controversial, provocative, and ill-judged. By contrast, Cllr Dipu Ahad has recently advocated the banning of US Presidential candidate Donald Trump from the city for his views.

We understand that the purpose of the meeting, together with others organised by Cage UK elsewhere in the country and reported in the national media, was to speak against and foment opposition to the Government's PREVENT anti-terrorism and anti-radicalisation agenda, on the grounds that it encourages people (and requires public bodies) to report concerns about radicalisation of individuals and groups. In the view of Cage UK, this constitutes Islamophobia.

We are aware that the council has formal responsibilities concerning the delivery of PREVENT anti-radicalisation activity in Newcastle. The Liberal Democrat Opposition believes it is important that work to safeguard the city from terrorism and radicalisation is supported, and we agree that it is right for any concerns about civil liberties to be considered. We would like to know whether Cllr Ahad, or any of his Labour councillor colleagues who are members and supporters of Stop The War or the Newcastle Palestine Solidarity campaign, have expressed any concerns about PREVENT or have tried to influence the delivery of this work by the council.

Our concern is not about freedom of speech - Cllr Ahad should be free to say what he believes and associate with who he chooses, although clearly many others may disapprove of his views and those of his associates. In this context, we note the comments of Amnesty International that it "no longer considers it appropriate to share a public platform with Cage and will not engage in coalitions of which Cage is a member. Recent comments made by Cage representatives have been completely unacceptable, at odds with human rights principles, including the rights of women, and undermine the work of NGOs, including Amnesty International."

The key point is this: given that Cllr Ahad and Cage UK are seeking to publicly oppose the PREVENT agenda and encourage others to oppose it on the grounds that it is Islamophobic, we believe it is important to seek clarification of whether he speaks for the city council and the council's Labour administration on this matter.

We made this clear to the media in our statement but regrettably this wasn't mentioned in the report.

Yours sincerely

Cllr Anita Lower

Leader of the Liberal Democrat Opposition