Gove unveils new extremism definition set to block funding to groups that ‘undermine democracy’ – UK politics live | Politics

Key events

Gove is responding to Rayner. He welcomes the constructive tone of her comments.

Nothing being said today means the government does not want to see free speech exercised as vigorously as possible.

He says he deprecates the leaking of some information about this announcement.

(At least one MP appears to laugh at this point.)

Gove says a leak inquiry has been launch.

If an organisation is named as extremist, the government will “show our working”, he says.

As for why the government may have engaged with extremists in the past, that was because previous advice was “perhaps insufficient”, he says.

Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader and shadow levelling up secretary, is responding. She says all MPs should take the threat posed by extremism seriously.

She criticises the way the government floated possible definitions over the past week.

And she says it was not right to leak the names of groups that might be affected by this.

She asks if this new definition will only apply to engagement with government. Or will it apply to engagement with groups like the police and universities?

And she asks why it has taken the government so long to address this. She says Gove’s statement implies the government has until now been engaging with extremists.

Gove says the government will shortly be responding to the reports done by Sara Khan, the former counter-extremism adviser, and by Lord Walney (former Labour MP John Woodock), the independent adviser on political violence.

Gove says Islam should not be confused with Islamism.

Islam is a peaceful religion, he says. But Islamism is a totalitarian ideology, he says.

New definition will not affect gender critical or environment groups, says Gove

Michael Gove is speaking in the Commons now.

He says extremism can lead to terrorism.

Most extremism is legal, he says. But it can lead to illegal acts.

He says council meeting have been disrupted. Councillors talk about walking a tightrope. This shows the chilling effect that extremists are having.

He says there is some evidence that Islamists and the far right are working together.

The government has provided extra funding to address antisemitism and Islamophobia, he says.

He says the government should not fund extremist organisations. In the past they have sometimes presented themselves as moderate to get access to government, he says.

He cites Shakeel Begg as an example of an extremist who was able to benefit by engagement with the government.

He says the new definition of extremism will help government bodies know whether or not they are engaging with extremist groups. And a new new counter-extremism centre of excellence is being set up, he says.

He says the new definition will not affect people like gender critical campaigners, or environmental groups.

It draws on work done by Sara Khan, the former counter-extremism adviser, and Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan police commissioner, he says.


Updated at 

Gove denies claims new extremism definition amounts to attack on free speech

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has denied claims that his new definition of extremism amounts to an attack on freedom of speech. (See 11.39am.) This is what he told GB News this morning in response to that claim.

There is absolutely nothing in this definition or any of the actions that we’re undertaking that curtails free speech. In fact, it’s vitally important that all of us uphold free speech.

Indeed, some of the people who are extremists want to close down free debate in order to advance their agenda. And this definition is only about access to government money and to government platforms.

So an organisation that is, after appropriate scrutiny, classified as extremist and one with which we will not deal, is still an organisation which is free to argue its case in the public square, it’s just that we don’t believe that taxpayers’ money should be used to subsidise that.

The Liberal Democrats say Michael Gove’s new definition of extremism (see 8.51am and 11.31am) could increase division. The party’s home affairs spokesperson, Alistair Carmichael, said:

After weeks of Conservative uncertainty, it is disappointing to see this new definition – which is at best vague, and at worst risks sowing even more division.

In working up this new approach, the Conservative government has failed to consult communities, while bringing forward concerning unilateral powers for ministers. With something as important as countering extremism, they cannot get away with this botched job.

Muslim groups dismiss Gove’s extremism definition as attack on free speech and ‘solution looking for a problem’

Sammy Gecsoyler

Sammy Gecsoyler

Groups set to be named by Michael Gove as “divisive forces within Muslim communities” today have warned against allowing the “personal biases of one man” to determine government policy on extremism, claiming the communities secretary has a history of promoting Islamophobic policies.

Gove is set to unveil a new, broader definition of extremism that will affect those who are deemed to have promoted or advanced an “ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance”, replacing the old definition that defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to British fundamental values”.

In a joint statement, MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development), CAGE, Friends of Al Aqsa, 5Pillars and the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) warn that freedom of speech in the UK is under threat by this new definition, citing widespread opposition to the change from former home secretaries Priti Patel and Sajid Javid, LGBTQ activist Peter Tatchell and the Countryside Alliance, among others.

A draft version of Gove’s ministerial statement, which has been seen by the Guardian, names the five groups as “divisive forces within Muslim communities”. They say they have not been contacted by the government for their view on the new definition.

The statement also cites a number of associations and incidents related to Gove that the group deems Islamophobic, including leading the governments role in the Trojan Horse affair, where it was falsely alleged that an extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham was underway, writing a book called Celsius 7/7 where he highlighted the “threat of Islamism” and being a member of the Henry Jackson Society which they say “has promoted an anti-Muslim agenda over many years.”

A spokesperson for the five groups said:

This new extremism definition is a solution looking for a problem. It attacks one of the cherished cornerstones of our pluralistic democracy – that of free speech. Anyone, regardless of faith or political colour should be free to criticise the government of the day without being labelled as ‘extremist.

Gove to make statement to MPs about new definition of extremism

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, will soon be making a statement to MPs about his new definition of extremism.

Here is our overnight story by Rajeev Syal, Ben Quinn and Daniel Boffey.

Here is the government’s news release. Here is an extract explaining what Gove is trying to achieve.

The updated and more precise definition of extremism will be used by government departments and officials alongside a set of engagement principles, to ensure they are not inadvertently providing a platform, funding or legitimacy to groups or individuals who attempt to advance extremist ideologies that negate our fundamental rights and freedoms and overturn the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy. This definition is not statutory and has no effect on the existing criminal law – it applies to the operations of government itself.

Since the 7 October Hamas terror attacks in Israel concerns have been raised about the wide-ranging risk of radicalisation. On hate crime, since 7 October the Community Security Trust recorded 4,103 antisemitic incidents in the UK in 2023, an increase of 147% compared to 2022, and Tell MAMA recorded a 335% increase in anti-Muslim hate cases in the last four months.

As the prime minister said recently, this kind of behaviour and intimidation is unacceptable, does not reflect the values of the United Kingdom and must be resisted at all times.

The new definition and engagement principles will make sure those who promote extreme ideologies or spread hate in their communities are not legitimised through their interactions with government. Following publication, the government will undertake a robust process to assess groups for extremism against the definition, which will then inform decisions around government engagement and funding.

We posted the wording of the new definition at 8.51am.

Boundary changes may reduce access to MPs in UK’s poorest areas, research finds

Some of Britain’s most deprived communities could find it harder to get parliamentary representation based on how UK constituencies have been redrawn, according to research backed by anti-poverty campaigners. Ben Quinn has the story.

Keir Starmer normally takes questions from journalists at events like this, but he did not today. That is probably because he was not keen to talk about Diane Abbott’s article in the Guardian today. In it Abbott does not just criticise the Conservative party, in relation to the Frank Hester controversy, but also Labour. She says she has not received an apology for racist comments made about her by party staffers, and she asks why she is still suspended from the parliamentary Labour party. She says:

In 2022, the Forde Report – commissioned by Keir Starmer – into allegations of racism, sexism and bullying in the Labour party was finally published. Martin Forde himself is a distinguished King’s counsel. His report set out how abusive senior Labour party officials were about me in their WhatsApp groups. Among other things, they said that “[Diane Abbott] literally makes me sick” and that I was “truly repulsive”.

The report went on to point out that the criticisms of me by these senior Labour staff were “not simply a harsh response to perceived poor performance – they are expressions of visceral disgust, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on racist tropes, and they bear little resemblance to the criticisms of white male MPs elsewhere in the messages”. They did not actually call for me to be shot but the tenor was not dissimilar to what Hester said. However, to this day none of the individuals concerned have apologised to me, and the Labour party has not apologised to me personally.

As the general election draws near, it will be important for the Labour party to step up to challenge racism, even if it costs us a few points in the polls. Starmer did refer to me in PMQs but all the indications are that the people around him are digging in against any suggestion that I should have the whip restored. It will be both sad and strange if Starmer throws Britain’s first black woman MP out of the PLP because of an eight-line letter, for which I immediately apologised.

Starmer may not be keen to talk about this, but during his Q&A he said something that suggests on one point he and Abbott do agree. He specifically accused the Tories of using culture war issues as a distraction because their record in office has been so poor. (See 10.45am – I have updated the post with the direct quote.) In her article Abbott says much the same thing. She says:

As the election draws nearer, and Labour stays 20 points ahead in the polls, the Tories are desperate. Their political trump card has always been low taxes and the sound management of the economy. But Liz Truss blew out of water any claim the Tories had to superior economic competence, and taxation is now at its highest sustained level on record. So the only card the Tories have left to play is the race card, and they are going to play it ruthlessly.

Starmer claims Tories ‘think working people don’t need culture’

In his speech Starmer also mentioned Dear England. Just after the announced the measures to combat ticket touts (see 10.35am), he cited it in a passage in which he argued that Conservatives “think working people don’t need culture”.

Referring to the importance of capping ticket prices, he said:

Because this is something I don’t think the Tories understand.

Look how the Tory culture secretary in 2014 – if you can cast your mind back a dozen culture secretaries or so –said that only the ‘chattering middle classes and champagne socialists’ care about ticket prices.

[Starmer was referring to something Sajid Javid said when he was culture secretary.]

They think working people don’t need culture.

There is a patronising view that working people don’t care, and shouldn’t care, about the arts.

When I went to see Dear England, I saw so many people in the audience who maybe hadn’t been to the theatre before – hadn’t thought it was ‘for them’.

We should be welcoming and encouraging everyone to our theatres, museums and galleries.

I mean – just look at how the Tories sneered at Angela Raynor for daring to enjoy the opera.

And try telling my dad – who loved Shostakovich – that working people don’t need culture.

Try telling that to thousands of working class kids who might long to work in the arts …

… but have got the message loud and clear from this government that it’s not a ‘real job’.

That ballet dancers should be retraining as cyber experts.

That’s why the Tory culture wars always end up as a war on culture.

The creative arts shouldn’t tell working class kids to ‘know their place’.

They should help them find their place in the world.

Arts and culture are about bringing us together, finding what we have in common, searching for truth and meaning.

But these culture wars are about dividing us, distracting us and disrespecting working people.

Keir Starmer doing a Q&A at the Labour Creatives Conference at the Guildhall school of music, with the actress Cush Jumbo taking the questions. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Starmer says he is really pleased James Graham’s play Dear England, about the England football team, is going on tour. He says it brought people into the theatre who might not have been before. They will have seen it and thought, this is for me, he says.

And that is the end of the Q&A.

Q: How will you use the soft power of the creative industries overseas?

Starmer says he thinks the power of the UK overseas is diminished. As DPP, he realised that people in other countries admired the power of the UK. That has changed, he says.

The UK is “brilliant” at arts, he says. Most of the time talk about being a global leader is “rhetoric from useless ex-prime ministers”. But, with the arts, it is true.

He says 75% of people who came to the UK for tourism say they are coming because of arts and culture.

Starmer claims Tories using culture wars to distract from their poor performance in office

Q: What do you think the role of the arts are in a time of division?

Starmer says he thinks the world feels more divided than in the past. Partly that is because of the culture wars. He claims the Tories, because their performance in office has been so poor, are distracting people by “finding enemies that don’t really exist, and then [having a fight], which is exhausting and divisive. instead of actually bringing people together”.

He says the arts can being people together.

But that requires a government with the right mindset.

He says during the pandemic he was struck by some of the simple things people did, such as knocking on the door of a neighbour they did not know well and asking if they were alright. That is “the power of coming together”, he says. He says the government does not really understand that.

UPDATE: Starmer said:

Whether it’s domestically or internationally just at the moment, it feels that we’re more fractured, divided world than we were a generation ago.

Partly that’s driven by the politics, the culture wars, where your performance in government is so poor that you have to distract, when you distract by finding enemies that don’t really exist, and then have a fight with them, which is exhausting and divisive, instead of actually bringing people together.

Keir Starmer speaking at the Labour Creatives Conference at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London. Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters

Updated at 

Q: What role do you see arts and culture playing in public services?

Starmer says music and drama at school can give people a lifelong love of the arts.

He says he inherited a love of music from playing the flute. As a teenager, he got to the Guildhall school of music through hard work, he says. When he got their, he realised other people were there through talent.

He says arts can also teach children about things like working as a team.

And there is a health component too. The mental health of young people is a real issue, he says. He says the arts can help.

That is why it is dangerous to think of the arts as “a nice to have add-on”, he says.

Starmer has finished his speech. He is now taking questions from people from the creative industry sector who are in the audience. Journalists have been told he is not taking media questions at the event.

Q: Will you be able to achieve these things if you inherit a broken economy?

Starmer says there are some things that can happen immediately, like changing the curriculum.

But he concedes that other measures will take time. He says he has spoken about the need for a decade of renewal.

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