Posted on February 23, 2023

Satire Programmes Flagged by Beleaguered Counter-Terror Prevent Scheme for ‘Encouraging Far-Right Sympathies’

Sam Merriman et al., Daily Mail, February 17, 2023

Some of Britain’s most popular sitcoms and greatest works of literature were flagged as potential signs of far-Right extremism by a counter-terror programme.

The flagship Prevent scheme, recently the subject of a scathing audit, singled out comedies Yes Minister and The Thick Of It, the 1955 epic war film The Dam Busters, and even The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare as possible red flags of extremism.

It said the works of fiction were ‘key texts’ for ‘white nationalists/supremacists’.

A report by Prevent’s Research Information and Communications Unit (RICU) described how far-Right extremists promoted ‘reading lists’ on online bulletin boards. And it reproduced an image being shared on far-Right corners of the internet that listed ‘important texts’, under pictures of Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, and Oswald Mosley, who led the British Union of Fascists in the 1930s.

The taxpayer-funded document included references to The Lord Of The Rings by JRR Tolkien, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent, 1984 by George Orwell and the poems of GK Chesterton. It also referenced films including The Bridge On The River Kwai, The Great Escape and Zulu.

Works by some of the world’s greatest writers were included as examples of warning signs of potential extremism, including Shakespeare, Chaucer, Milton, Tennyson, Kipling and Edmund Burke.

It almost seems like a joke
The report even highlighted the BBC’s 1990s political thriller House Of Cards, John le Carre’s seminal spy trilogy Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Sharpe, the ITV drama set in the Napoleonic wars.

Inexplicably, it said the BBC’s Great British Railway Journeys, presented by former Conservative minister Michael Portillo, was of interest to the far-Right.

Historian and broadcaster Andrew Roberts said: ‘This is truly extraordinary. This is the reading list of anyone who wants a civilised, liberal, cultured education.

‘It includes some of the greatest works in the Western canon and in some cases – such as Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent – powerful critiques of terrorism. Burke, Huxley, Orwell and Tolkien were all anti-totalitarian writers.’

Other books, shows and films on list
The Canterbury Tales
The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare
Paradise Lost
The Four Feathers
Lady Hamilton
The Dam Busters
The Bridge On The River Kwai
The Great Escape
Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
House Of Cards Trilogy
Ray Mears’ Bushcraft Survival
David Starkey’s Monarchy

Author Douglas Murray obtained the full list and discovered that one of his books had been given a red flag by Prevent.

Mr Murray wrote in The Spectator magazine: ‘A number of books are singled out, the possession or reading of which could point to severe wrongthink and therefore potential radicalisation… It seems that RICU is so far off-track that it believes that books identifying the problem that it was itself set up to tackle are in fact a part of the problem.’ He concluded that RICU’s work was ‘pathetic’ and called for ‘accountability’ for its errors and ‘sackings by the score’. The list has emerged following a major review into the Prevent scheme by William Shawcross.

His report, published earlier this month, exposed serious failings in Prevent, warning that it applies a ‘double standard’ to Islamist and far-Right threats. The £49million-a-year scheme had prioritised countering far-Right activity above tackling the prime Islamist threat, it added.

The report said Prevent had scrutinised Right-wing material which ‘falls well short of the extremism threshold altogether’.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman told MPs Prevent had ‘defined the extreme Right-wing too broadly, encompassing the respectable Right and the centre-Right’.

House of Cards screenwriter Andrew Davies said: ‘It almost seems like a joke. House Of Cards was actually a satirical view of Right-wing politics. This list includes more or less the entire classical canon of literature and some of the very best British television programmes ever made.’

A Home Office spokesman said: ‘The Home Secretary made clear that Prevent will now ensure it focuses on the key threat of Islamist terrorism, as well as remaining vigilant on emerging threats. We’ve accepted all 34 recommendations and are committed to protecting our country from the threat posed by terrorism.’