CAGE report is a bad faith attempt to change the subject
Last week’s publication of an open letter in the Guardian criticising the evidence behind the UK’s counter-radicalisation strategy, Prevent, represents the latest change in tack from the ongoing campaign to destroy the policy.
The letter took issue with ‘the implementation of radicalisation policies’, attacking the Extremism Risk Guidance framework or ERG. This tool provides the basis for vulnerability assessments carried out when someone believed to be at risk of radicalisation is referred to the Channel programme for support.
Based on a new report by the prisoner lobby group CAGE, the letter wrongly said the ERG ‘is being used as the basis for assessing risk of “radicalisation” and referral to the Channel programme’, and claimed ‘more than 500,000 public servants have been placed under a duty to implement the tool’, something which is simply not the case.
A closer examination of the CAGE report in question goes a long way to explaining these errors.
The central argument of ‘The ‘Science’ of Pre-Crime’ report is that the ERG ‘was intended only for professionals but has been implemented beyond its original remit’, meaning thousands of public sector staff are now using it to refer people to Prevent.
In fact, this entire argument is based on a fundamental misreading of a statement from the Home Office. On page 46, the CAGE report quotes the statement, which says:
“Teachers, social workers and others are familiar with the concepts involved in safeguarding and can readily adapt them to the harms caused by terrorism.
The statement goes on to say that:
“The CHANNEL programme, a part of PREVENT, assesses the vulnerability of those referred to it using a comprehensive system of 22 different factors”.
The CAGE report claims this statement demonstrates that ‘the government acknowledge[s] that the ERG22+ was used as a part of the way in which referrals are made to PREVENT and CHANNEL… [and] …that it is public sector workers, such as a teachers, who are best placed to make those considerations’.
However, this is demonstrably not what the statement says.
The statement actually very clearly states the 22 factors are used by CHANNEL practitioners to assess vulnerability after someone has been referred to Prevent – not to make a referral.
This is supported by Will Baldet, a Prevent coordinator in Leicestershire, who has pointed out that the ERG ‘plays no part in the Prevent duty’ and is only used by trained Channel safeguarding panels to assess those who accept support.
There is also an unarguable misrepresentation of the Home Office statement in CAGE’s suggestion the statement says teachers and other front-line staff are ‘best-placed’ to consider referrals – with the Home Office’s words actually only highlighting their safeguarding experience.
That such significant errors form the basis of two out of the three findings listed in CAGE’s press release, as well as the open letter published in the Guardian, is a damning indictment of the credibility of those using these lines to attack Prevent.
The same is true of the repeated accusations there has been an attempt to cover up the academic work behind the theories, with the report stating ‘the “science” is not accessible and we believe it was hidden on purpose’. The research the ERG draws on has actually been published in two publicly available academic journals.
These spurious allegations of a cover-up echo the tactics used by climate change deniers in their efforts to undermine scientific work. These groups have been described as ‘endlessly questioning data…stressing uncertainties and clamouring for more research’, misusing the language of scientific curiosity to drive paralysing indecision and undermine legislative processes.
It is easy to see the parallels with CAGE’s report. They are clear in a key argument of the report, which relies on CAGE’s abuse of the cautious words of the academics behind the research, stressing uncertainties by quoting the authors concerns about the “reliability and validity’” of their study.
The parallels are also obvious in CAGE’s hollow demands for further research and scrutiny of the ERG – as if any amount of further research would persuade a group of activists dedicated to scrapping Prevent.
That a report which relies on such false claims and disingenuous tactics received the support and coverage it did should concern anyone who cares about evidence-based policy-making.
There is no doubt more research is needed on how people become radicalised, and that governments need to improve their understanding of how best to identify those vulnerable people most at risk of recruitment by extremists of all ideologies who may go on to harm themselves or others.
However, when the criticism of efforts to do this comes this poorly informed, from a group which seeks to present people’s radicalisation by violent extremists as merely ‘politicisation’, it is important it is called out as the divisive nonsense it is.
Rupert Sutton is a fellow at the Henry Jackson SocietyLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.