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Addressing terrorism in the UK

After the terrible events of Manchester and London, I have come across many people who are asking the same simple questions. I’m no expert but a Politics degree covering political violence has the occasional use and therefore here’s my attempt to try and explain some of the main areas.

  1. Why now?

We have a history of terrorism within the UK and this isn’t a sudden phenomenon. Over the last 40 years, the UK has seen terrorism relating to animal rights, Ireland from both nationalist and republican, far right extremism and now “Muslim” extremists. This is in addition to other terrorist events elsewhere in the world relating to Israel & Palestine, guerrilla groups in various countries and separatist groups such as ETA in Spain.

The main difference now is that where before the perpetrators tended to commit violence and then run away so to commit further offences, the perpetrators now are actively wanting to die. There are three reasons namely (a) where they have a religious belief, they believe they will get rewarded in after life (b) (whether religious belief or not) their name becomes famous in history and (c) the cause is more important to them than their life.

2. How do people become terrorists?

This is actually pretty common across all causes and people are not born terrorists – indeed most are born and citizens of the host country. It usually starts with a trigger incident of a perceived injustice (such as a war or bombing) where the person is then extremely angry. This then gets compounded by further incidents of perceived injustice such as watching repeated internet videos of other incidents combined with watching highly emotional speeches/messages linking the cause.  Already impressionable people then connect using via social media but occasionally through community links with others of similar views to watch further videos and speakers compounding their angry emotions even more.  Over time, some of these get so radicalised that they see the issue as a war and therefore that they have no option but to fight back against the perceived enemy. At this point, most will link into “cells” of usually around 3 to 5 with one person being a link to a wider terrorist group with others just working individually. A small number will travel somewhere for specific training but more common now is organisation through social media with WhatsApp being the main medium.

3. Why are the terrorists Muslim?

Many terrorist incidents are not actually committed by people from any faith for example the man who killed Jo Cox or the Norway atrocity in 2011.  However, there has been an increase in “Islamic fundamentalism” i.e. people who are claiming to be committing terrorism by saying that it is on behalf of Allah.

However, that’s very different to actually being in the name of Islam.  In fact, if you look at the people who actually commit these offences, they are usually linked with Wahhabism rather than Islam. Wahhabism is an ultra-conservative sect which was first established in the mid 1700s but had little impact until the mid 1970s where it became more popular in the Persian Gulf.  Whilst it claims to be following Islamic teaching, the overwhelming view of Muslims disagree with their interpretations of the Quran and consider followers to be a cult.

It is correct that there have been attempts within a small number of UK mosques for Wahhabism to take over from mainstream Islam.  It is difficult to know exactly how many mosques have been affected within the UK but estimates are very few due to the low number of their actual followers within the UK.

It is important to say that the vast majority of Wahhabi followers will not be tempted towards terrorism but that a small number may be more open to the idea especially if they are disconnected from society for other reasons (drug use, mental health, housing etc.) Incidentally this tends to be single young men – female terrorism does happen but is less common.

Unfortunately, many people of other faiths and none do not understand this distinction and falsely lump everyone together as Muslim. A good way of understanding how insulting this is to the vast majority of Muslims is if you say that Catholics support terrorism because the IRA happened to claim a Catholic identity.

4. What can be done to address terrorism of this nature?

There are no easy answers but here are my proposals.

  1. Assertively challenging the basic beliefs

We should be patriotic in standing up for what we believe in and assertively challenging values and beliefs which go against this.  The key is to do this in an assertive rather than aggressive way and through persuasion through laws.  Banning the Burka entirely is one example of what we should not do because it merely confirms a prejudice in the minds of believers when other religious clothes are not banned.

2.Need to support mainstream Islam

This is the most important area and the most obvious and yet for some reason, the most controversial. Islam is a peaceful religion and followers are equally appalled that atrocities are being wrongly announced in their name.  This means giving prominent platforms and space to mainstream Muslim voices.  Most importantly, we must challenge at every opportunity where ignorant people wrongly blame Muslims for these acts. Instead, we need to bring our communities together sharing the many values we celebrate rather than focusing on what divides.

3.Cut off the fuel of hate videos

This is one area that politicians of all parties can quickly resolve.  Far too many people are getting radicalised from their bedrooms watching emotive videos where people die or are injured.  We are not talking here about balanced news stories but endless propaganda and hate preaching. Social media has many strengths but we need to be able to filter material so it is not accessible within the UK.  This is not a freedom of speech issue.

4.Recognise foreign policy will have an impact

It is always difficult making decisions about whether or not to intervene in another country and there are always implications of acting or not.  We have to recognise that if we decide to intervene and more particularly through military means that some people will get very upset by this especially if innocent civilians are killed or injured as a result.  That does not mean that intervention is wrong but merely that we have to work out what is the greater good not only in the short term but the long term as well as ensuring there are long term humanitarian measures in place.

5. Tight Security checks on young males travelling from or been to key countries where intelligence suggests (e.g. Libya, Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen)

Immigration has a role to play but not to the prominence that many politicians claim.  It should be remembered that most UK terrorists will be born and brought up in the UK.  However, we may catch a few that have been to training camps in the recent past especially where any intelligence has been received about that person and these are more likely to be young men.   This does not mean banning refugees from those countries which is again just based on ignorance.

6.Increase community policing and community workers.

 These are especially important in areas with different cultures.  The purpose is to build bridges and not build walls.

7. Ensure policing levels are adequate in all communities

The response to last night in London was remarkable. We need to understand that if the prevention measures have failed, the last resort is firm and lethal action to stop an incident at the earliest possible opportunity thus minimising the number of deaths.  This means having sufficient armed response officers throughout the country and not just in our large cities.  This obviously does mean a cost to the public purse but is worth paying.

 

Surrey Heath Borough Council plan a year of…clear targets or corporate flannel??

Tonight saw Surrey Heath Borough Council’s Executive Committee meet with the first item being to consider the Council’s Annual Plan for 2017/18.  The purpose of this is to explain simply to the public what the Council intend to do and apparently to be accountable.

So here using the exact words are some of the plans for this coming year that were agreed.  You can come to your own view as to whether this is a genuine attempt at positive vision and clear targeted action or just a load of meaningless non committal words dressed up as a plan.

The Council state that “In 2017/18, we will..”

1. “Work to increase residential development within the borough.”

Laudable but Surrey Heath BC does receives hundreds of planning applications every year – many are for residential developments and the Council would ordinarily consider these as part of their ordinary work.

2. “Work with Business Associations across the Borough to develop projects to deliver improvements.”

Great but Business Associations would hardly wish to work with the Council to deliver worsening services.  What projects are we talking about, what improvements and how will we know these are actually improvements?

3. “Work with partners to promote the health and wellbeing of our residents and encourage delivery of activities that promote sport and healthy living.”

Which partners? What activities? How can this be measured?  Note “encourage delivery” rather than actually delivering anything.

4. “Deliver a programme of high quality community events.”

Great but then the Council would hardly wish to deliver a programme of low quality community events.  How many events and how will the Council know whether or not it has been a high quality or even a successful event? No of people attending?  Satisfaction surveys? Town Centre footfall on those days? Retail sales on those days?

5. “Encourage an increase in the number of volunteers delivering sport and health related activities and events.”

Note this doesn’t say actually increasing the number of volunteers but merely encouraging this. The Council could therefore tick this off by sending out one tweet during the year encouraging people to become volunteers.

6. “Promote Surrey Heath as a location for companies to invest in.”

Note this doesn’t say that we would set a target to increase the number of companies or increase business investment into the area but merely promoting Surrey Heath. Again a simple tweet would tick this box.

7. “Continue to explore alternative ways to deliver our services more efficiently.”

How are the public meant to know whether or not this has actually been achieved? How will efficiency be measured? How many services will be considered for potential alternative ways in the next 12 months?

All of these are examples of passive language which don’t actually commit the Council to doing anything very  much at all.  Despite this, I have no doubt that in 12 months time, we will all be boastfully told that wonderful achievements have been made in all of the above areas despite little or no actual evidence being produced to back up these claims.

Interestingly, the Council have also decided this evening to repeat the Camberley International Festival and Cllrs were told that last year was a success because there were some magazine articles and some local radio interviews about the Festival. However, no actual figures were presented about the number of members of the public attending or involved. To be fair, the Executive Member did suggest measuring success through increased footfall in the town centre or feedback from host venues but this was oddly corrected by officers who suggested it was too early for this.

The logic of measuring success suggests that if I do an occasional interview on local BBC radio that I must therefore be a successful Cllr? Hmm… don’t think it works like that…

 

 

Challenging stereotypes on a train..

Having been away a few days, I travelled back from Liverpool late last night on the train.  Now Saturday evening is always an interesting experience on public transport but this one showed me a really good example of how stereotypes can be wrong in our society.

The first train from Liverpool from Birmingham was absolutely packed. In my carriage were a group of middle aged people in their late 40s and early 50s who were clearly drunk.  This meant lots of swearing and explicit sexual talk despite being in the immediate and obvious vicinity of young children. One woman in particular kept shouting out “Ellen” very loudly to such a level that was deafening to everyone else in the carriage.  The “Ellen” in question was her pal who spent much of the journey in the carriage toilet part of which was accompanied by some bloke. Thankfully, she and her group got off at Wilmslow after 45 mins of being extremely irritating and offensive to all probably without realising.

The second train from Birmingham to Reading was also absolutely packed and running around an hour late. In my carriage standing next to me were a teenage boy and girl who I would estimate to be around 18 and were students. In contrast to the previous “adults”, they were delightful offering unprompted practical help to an elderly couple with their bags and reassuring a foreign lady who was concerned she was on the wrong train. Despite standing themselves for over an hour, they then offered me a seat that came available rather than taking it themselves.  They got off at Banbury before I had a chance to privately recognise their efforts and the positive impact to others that they quietly made probably without realising.

It made me reflect that often it is students and young people that wrongly get blamed for problems in society when in fact it is behaviour rather than age or occupation that is the problem…

Why I voted No to Camberley Mall deal

Below is the contents of a press release that I have sent out tonight.

“On Monday 31st October 2016, Surrey Heath Borough Council formally announced that it is poised to purchase The Mall Shopping Centre in a deal worth around £86 million.

Speaking about this announcement, Cllr Rodney Bates said, “Now that this issue has been put into the public domain by Surrey Heath Borough Council, I can confirm that I voted against this deal at the relevant Council meeting.”

He added, “Whilst I have always supported a positive long-term vision for Camberley, the financial information presented to Cllrs at that time was not sufficiently convincing in my mind to be sure that this particular deal represented good value for money.  This is especially important recognising that £86 million is a very large amount of public money and that local taxpayers would have to bear any future loss.

I was also concerned that the demand for long term expensive retail units in town centres will be reduced due to the huge increase in internet shopping based from commercial units. This worry was further compounded by the national economic uncertainties caused by Brexit and what this may mean for the confidence of potential investors.

Taking this all into account, I reluctantly concluded on the available information that I could not support this risky deal but wish the Council every success in trying to make it work.”

END

Contact:  Rodney Bates  01276 679957

Life as an Old Dean Cllr

Below is a message that I sent to our Labour members within Surrey Heath over the weekend.

“Firstly I would like to welcome the 120+ new members to Surrey Heath CLP that have joined in the last 4 weeks.  These are interesting and challenging times for all of the political parties but thank you for joining and being part of our team.  Surrey Heath Labour Party is a friendly and active group with members actively involved in all aspects of political and community life.  I look forward to meeting with you in coming weeks and months at future events and socials.

As your only Labour elected rep in Surrey Heath, I do a regular update of my Old Dean Cllr activities so you get to know more about life at the local Council.  Feel free to send me your thoughts and local updates. Please be aware that this only covers Surrey Heath Borough Council so members living in Ash, Ash Vale and Tongham come under Guildford Borough Council (who have 2 Labour Cllrs)

On 20th June, it was good to meet many of you at Camberley Theatre when we had a talk from Roger Liddle about the European Union.  This was also an opportunity for us to pay our own quiet tribute to Jo Cox MP. Thank you to Murray Rowlands for arranging this at short notice.

On Thursday 30th June, I attended the Surrey Heath Local Area Committee at Portesbury School in Deepcut.  I am one of the 6 Borough reps along with the 6 County Cllrs.  During the meeting, we received a petition from residents of Gibbet Lane in Camberley concerned about speeding their road and also resolved previous petitions relating to Bagshot High Street, HGV use in Lucas Green Road (West End) and HGV signage throughout West End, Bisley and to Woking.

The next evening, I attended the Phil Collins Annual Dinner at Aldershot CLP which included a very balanced discussion of the national leadership situation from Syd Rapson (former Lab MP in Portsmouth)

On Saturday 2nd July, I attended the Wreath Laying Ceremony at the Camberley War Memorial which commemorated 100 years of the start of the Battle of the Somme.  This was also attended by other Cllrs including the Mayors of Surrey Heath and Rushmoor and many members of the public and was a moving ceremony. I have always thought it important to try and attend remembrance events as a small way of recognising the huge sacrifice given by others.

On 5th July, Surrey Heath Cllrs received a private briefing on the options relating to fast trains to London from the area before a consultant report was made public. Unfortunately, this has concluded that despite looking at various options, there was little value for money in trying to connect Surrey Heath stations to the Woking fast line to speed up journeys (for example by building a connection somewhere between Frimley and Ash Vale). This means that improvements can not really be done by engineering but by scheduling improvements. There are possible options for this (such as more direct trains without changing at Ascot) and now is a good time to look at this as the train franchise is currently being considered. We will have to wait and see if anything comes from this.

The following evening, we held a members meeting at St.Mary’s at short notice to discuss the national leadership situation. Thank you to those that attended and contributed your thoughts on the night. It was clear that members had strongly held but contrasting opinions and as requested, I since wrote to Tom Watson and to the Regional Chair with our agreed position calling on everyone to work together within party rules. Since the meeting, we now know that there will be a leadership election with the final candidates known in the next week.

The following day, I went to a meeting of the Old Dean Community Group which discussed various local community projects and activities including a future networking lunch and community noticeboards.

On Tuesday 12th July, I attended the Surrey Heath Council Executive where I can speak but not vote.  Items discussed at this meeting included a financial update, details of our spending on professional advisors (£402k between Apr 15 and Mar 16) and a proposal to introduce marked parking and enforcement at Frimley Lodge Park as there had been problems with obstructing access roads.  However, there were two items of particular interest to me where I spoke namely:-

  1. Review of Housing Allocation & Homelessness Update

I unsuccessfully objected to changes in the policy that meant that people would have to be in “continuous employment for 12 months” to be eligible rather than settled employment. Unfortunately, many hard working people may not have this luxury in these difficult economic times but may have secured a job more recently and I don’t see why they should be penalised.

2. Camberley Ice Rink

The Executive agreed to hold a Christmas Ice Rink and market at London Road Recreation Ground.  This to me is a complete waste of officer time and Council money and I strongly argued against this.  Leaving aside the local resident opinion which appears also to be against, Camberley is not a tourist attraction and comparing it to Winchester and Windsor is nonsense. My main concern is that any such attraction needs to be in the heart of the town centre in areas of high footfall such as Park Street or the Mall and not on a out of town tennis court hidden behind an old pavilion.  As a result, the Council have now committed to spending £10k on marketing this plus lots of officer time which should have been redirected to hard pressed local businesses worried about the economy or to community projects.  I suspect this will be another Council flop such as the Camberley Theatre Café and the large anchor store that never happened but we will wait and see..

Finally and on a much more positive note, it was great to attend a farewell reception for two athletes from Camberley Judo Club that will be representing their respective countries at the Olympics in Rio. This is a fantastic achievement and I am particularly pleased as they are based on the Old Dean. They also had other athletes that narrowly missed on selection..good luck to Szandra for Ghana and Ashley for the UK and please look out for their results!

Best wishes

Cllr Rodney Bates

Labour Cllr for Old Dean”

Vote Love not vote leave

As most of you know, I have been actively involved in student and local politics for over 20 years. This has often been challenging making difficult decisions between closely balanced arguments.

However, deciding to vote in the EU referendum has been the easiest political decision I have ever made and for those that have yet to decide, here’s why:

I want to live in a tolerant, inclusive society where people are judged by the gifts that they bring and the behaviour they display rather than being deliberately and hatefully divided based on their nationality, religion, colour or creed.

I want to live in a world where we have both a strong economy and a strong community both within the UK and elsewhere but where people work together to address deeply difficult issues that do not respect artificial borders such as environment, crime, famine and poverty recognising that no one person and no one country can address these issues alone. Where we break down barriers rather than building up walls. Where we lead the world rather than ignore the world.

I want to live in a country where our politics is passionately but respectfully argued recognising strongly held opinion from all voices are welcome but where deliberate lies and unintended inaccuracies are challenged, changed and apologised. Where we actively stir up hope rather than actively stirring up hate.

I want to vote for a future not for a past that can never be recovered. I want to vote for an economic reality and not an unfocused guess which even the most passionate supporter admits they don’t know the answer.

In the end, it was really easy. I wanted to vote Love and not vote Leave.

Surrey Heath Cllr diary

Here is my latest Cllr diary from the last few weeks.

On Tuesday 15th March, I met up with the 3 other non-Conservative Councillors in Surrey Heath mainly to discuss the forthcoming electoral review for the area and catch up on local news from the various committees. Although there is no Group “whip” as we represent three different parties, we do informally keep each other updated and sub for each other on Council meetings to ensure there is always an opposing Cllr present.

The next morning, I had a local duty by attending the Advisory Board meeting of our Childrens Centre in Old Dean.  This is such an important community resource for local families and the Old Dean Centre does a great job. Our main challenge is actually trying to make links with families that live outside the Old Dean but within the catchment area (for example in Camberley Town Centre) as their contact rates within the Old Dean are high. This is such a lifeline for parents particularly those who have other life challenges and make such a difference. 

During that week, I also met up with the Windle Valley Youth Project over a coffee for an update and attended a meeting of the Governance Working Party at the Council Offices.

Easter Week was quieter but on Tuesday 22nd, I attended the Borough Council Executive. The main items of discussion were the awarding of some community grants and to submit a borough response to some Government proposals on Planning changes. It was clear that the local Conservatives did not think much of these Government ideas for example the idea of “competition” for some planning applications via “Approved Planning Officers”. The big concern here is that if these external planning officers could bid for certain applications, the Council would then have to resolve their recommendations within a very short time (perhaps 1 or 2 weeks) thus negating the role of local Cllrs in planning committees.

 Also on the agenda was an interesting idea to have a 10 day “Camberley International Festival” celebrating the culture and arts within the Town Centre in June 2016.  In principle, this is a very good idea bringing together some current events with some live music and other activities. However, I remain extremely sceptical of the event finale being a “Picnic in the Park” about which I have blogged separately and it was clear that the practicalities had not been fully considered at this stage.

On Thursday 24th March, I had been invited to Woking Youth Arts Centre to watch a performance of “Hidden” by Peer Productions. This was delivered by 10 young performers on the subject of self-harm who usually present within schools but was a special performance for guests and supporters.  I have to say that this was extremely good – challenging and moving in parts and it is no surprise that after performing in schools, they have had a number of disclosures from other young people. It also turned out that one of the young leads was a resident of Old Dean who I subsequently met again recently at the local Cafe to discuss life as a young person living on the Old Dean.

On Thursday 31st March, I attended the funeral of the Surrey Heath Conservative election agent, Alan Cleverly.  I had known Alan for many years and wanted to pay my respects both personally and on behalf of our CLP of a worthy political opponent with whom we had regular friendly banter.  Around 500 people attended the service at Guildford Cathedral – family, friends and political colleagues and it was a good send off.

In the evening, we had the Audit Committee and the return of our External Auditors.  After several months of wrangling and much delay, we heard that the External Auditors have now agreed to sign off the 2014/15 accounts although only offering a qualified opinion in relation to the value for money aspect.  The main reason for these problems was because the Council decided to get a new finance system. Unfortunately, the amount of work involved in transferring was severely underestimated especially with some technical issues that arose. This was then compounded with staffing issues specifically sickness meaning that the submissions were late and rushed. This resulted in mistakes and the external auditor then decided to conduct a far more detailed audit than usual which of course now means a larger bill. At the meeting, it was clear that borough officers were not overly happy with every recommendation made by the auditor but which they have now implemented or with a clear timetable of doing so. We don’t yet know the final bill for this but clearly not one of Surrey Heath’s finest hours and one that will hopefully not happen again.