Worrying doubts over Britain’s new security minister

David Cameron’s government has appointed Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as minister of state for security and counter-terrorism.

Our guest writer is Alex Holland, associate editor of The Samosa and a Labour Party councillor in Lambeth

David Cameron’s government has appointed Dame Pauline Neville-Jones as minister of state for security and counter-terrorism. Since becoming shadow security minister for the Conservatives in 2007, Neville-Jones has promoted a tough-talking, transatlantic brand of counter-terrorism. A key Conservative pledge has been to create a UK Homeland Military Command, analysed last month by The Samosa.

According to Neville-Jones, a UK Homeland Military Command would not only get the armed forces to help the emergency services deal with the aftermath of attacks, but would assist the police “in meeting the terrorists head on”; she has repeatedly said this is necessary as a Mumbai-style attack could do similar damage in the UK, unless there is an increase of military intervention in UK home affairs.

This radical claim by the Baroness leaves her open to accusations of at best ignorance, and at worst point-scoring cynicism, about the reality of the UK’s ability to deal with such threats. Mumbai’s casualty level was so devastating mainly due the inability of the Indian security services to react to the assault. Among the most infamous security failings is that it took ten hours from the beginning of the attacks for Indian commandos to respond and 72 hours to finally resolve the situation.

Sustained government investment and training for UK armed police has meant they are maintained at a high state of readiness for gun crime or terrorism. If anybody had the same desire to ‘do a Mumbai’ in the UK they would find it infinitely harder for this reason, among others.

The desire to more actively involve the military in UK domestic counter-terrorism, especially in cities, is also a step backwards. While the SAS are a world class ‘final option’ for killing hostage-takers, their encounters in Northern Ireland under the previous Conservative administration left a number of civilians dead.

One of the recognised strengths of British counter terrorism is the benefit of its muscular policing approaching rather than a more French-in-Algeria war-fighting stance. Tragic instances like the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes in Stockwell would be more likely to happen if soldiers are deployed into sensitive urban settings.

Further questions about Neville-Jones’s judgement have been raised in The Guardian regarding her involvement with the late former Serbian leader Slobadan Milosevic. Following her role as a negotiator for Britain in the Bosnian war, Neville-Jones was hired by NatWest Markets to broker the part-privatisation of Serbia’s telephone network. Members of the Serbian opposition believed the deal “supplied Milosevic with the war chest for his Kosovo campaign”.

The Guardian also reveals she made £400,000 from a £60,000 investment after selling shares in the MOD spin-off Qinetiq. The National Audit Office conducted an inquiry into the privatisation of the firm, concluding taxpayers lost out on ‘tens of millions’ of pounds because the company was initially undervalued.

To some observers, David Cameron will have missed a golden opportunity to remove a weak, and potentially compromised, member of his shadow cabinet in his coalition jobs giveaway. For the security of Britain, one hopes Cameron’s loyalty is not rewarded with a ‘heck of a job, Brownie’ moment.

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