The Sun reported today that Penny Mordaunt has been rapped by Downing Street for meeting with the new Secretary-General of the Muslim Council of Britain. Thereby hangs a tale, or perhaps a puzzle.
Number Ten emphasised to ConservativeHome recently that “the Government’s position is that we don’t engage at all with the MCB” [Downing Street’s italics]. That doesn’t seem to have been the case under Theresa May.
A written question from Lord Blencathra in 2018 asked why Home Office officials met with the MCB “to discuss the possibility of Home Office re-engagement” – in other words, to have talks about talks.
This does not of course mean that Ministers met with the MCB during the May Government. Though Liberal Democrat ones certainly did so during the Coalition years.
Then again, those Ministers may well have been acting in a personal capacity – to borrow the kind of language that Charles Farr, the former Director of the Government’s Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism, used about David Cameron’s Munich speech.
At any rate, the answer to Blencathra’s question was that “the Government meets with a wide range of organisations in order to safeguard individuals, families and communities from the harmful impacts of extremism and radicalisation”.
“These organisations must be prepared to show leadership, point to solutions and challenge and confront extremist and terrorist ideologies and narratives whatever form they take.”
Downing Street itself drew our attention to that reply when we asked on what terms if any a ban applied, and the suggestion is that the Government is dissatisfied with the MCB on that front.
However, civil servants in some departments have met with the organisation on a variety of issues in recent years – for example, religious slaughter and burials.
So there is a sense that the left hand of government doesn’t necessarily know what the right hand is doing. The Sun referred obscurely to Mordaunt meeting with the MCB in her capacity as a constituency MP.
We wrote yesterday about the ommission of confronting those ideologies from the Prime Minister’s successor speech to Cameron’s – delivered at the same regular event, the Munich Conference on Security.
This suggested that the Government’s attention to and policing of its own guidelines is not all that it might be. In which case, it needs to get its act together.
Either there’s a ban on Ministerial engagement with the MCB or there isn’t; either the bar extends to civil servants too, or it doesn’t, and whatever the situation may be, the Government should be more forthcoming about the reasons for it.
And if Ministers go wide of whatever guidelines are judged necessary, it’s three strikes and they’re out. Or, better, two. Whatever the Government’s guidelines may be, no-one will take them seriously if it doesn’t do so itself.
P.S: On a related subject, the independent investigation into discrimination within the Conservative Party continues its enquiries. Since its call for evidence took place last October, we all need to hear from it sooner rather than later.