Today the Sunday Times printed a story with the headline ‘Police Identify 28 Brighton Jihadists’. This is an extremely difficult topic but I don’t want to shy from it.
I meet regularly with the police and other agencies tasked with keeping us safe and healthy and I’m briefed on a number of areas of crime and community safety. So for me this story is not a surprise. In fact, I know the thrust of it to be true.
Its no secret that Brighton and Hove is not immune from the challenges of radicalisation but for some reason people think that because we are a socially liberal city with a below-average level of ethnic diversity that we are not as susceptible to the dangers of religious militancy as other parts of the country. But in truth we are a ‘Category 2’ city which puts us in a very small group of towns and city’s close to the top of the list.
It surprises people to know that there are more than a couple of local families who have members fighting for Daesh or al-Qaeda at this time.
The problem is very complex. It is not simply one of religiosity or politics or Britain’s foreign policy although each are definitely factors. Many of the people mentioned by The Times are also involved in other criminal activity and in some cases gangsterism or violence. Sometimes this can also be traced back to extremely chaotic childhoods that are marked by poverty, poor education, bad parenting, or abuse.
General reports have also identified middle-class and well educated, often university students, becoming militant in their views. So there’s no single thing that radicalises someone which makes it hard to spot and even harder to prevent.
So we have to do two things. Firstly we need a massive drive towards eradicating child poverty and getting to vulnerable people who are marking on parenthood by making suer they have the right support so they are equipped to make the right choices for them and their children. Child poverty in this country is growing again and in this city the number of ‘children in need’ has risen a staggering 36% so I believe government is fundamentally failing in this objective.
Secondly, our local enforcement agencies have to be joined up, be deeply rooted into our communities, and have the resources needed to keep us safe. We have an excellent police force with great leadership and outstanding frontline officers. Our council is also performing really well in its anti-radicalism work. Indeed, today’s story stems from a review commissioned by the council in order to identify ways it can improve even further. But I have two concerns: our community policing is being cut to the bone, and I believe our armed police units need more resource. I have challenged the Home Secretary on both of these issues in the Commons.
And finally, we need to look out for each-other. It’s not an invitation to snoop, but no-one knows a community better than the people who live there. So if you notice the behaviour of a friend, neighbour, or local resident changing or is giving you cause for concern, you really owe it to your family and to our community to let someone in authority know. You can call Sussex Police any time on 01273 475432.
I know this isn’t a cheery subject to raise, but it is important. Keeping us safe and healthy is vital and I’ll always do everything I can to fight for the people who provide that safety for us so they have whatever it takes to keep harm at bay. In every briefing I receive I ask if the police and other authorities if they have all they need to do the job well. If there is even a shadow of doubt I am the first to do whatever it takes to solve it – whether that means quietly communicating with government departments or shouting in the Commons chamber. Whatever it takes.
As ever, I really look forward to hearing what you think. All the best, Peter