Democracy needs society to be ‘sensible and grown-up’, says minister

Tuesday, Mar 05, 2024

LONDON: Democracy will only work if people act in a “sensible and grown-up way”, a minister has said, as the Government weighs options for clamping down on “extremist” behaviour.

Ministers are expected to put forward new measures in the coming weeks following Rishi Sunak’s speech in Downing Street on Friday, in which he warned that democracy is being targeted by extremists and there were “forces here at home trying to tear us apart”.

Commenting on the speech, Treasury minister Bim Afolami told Sky News on Monday: “The truth is that the Prime Minister feels very, very strongly about this.“He is the first non-white Prime Minister, I think that he definitely sees the responsibility he has to promote the hugely positive, multicultural democracy that we have.

“But that is only there when, broadly speaking, society behaves in a sensible and grown-up way, and there have been some worrying signs over the last few months, particularly since the October 7 attacks in Israel, that have shown that things are going the wrong direction.”

He did not expand on what those measures might be, but it is understood that ministers are considering plans to bar hate preachers from entering the UK on the grounds they are “non-conducive to the public good”.

Typically used to prevent people who pose known security concerns from coming to the UK, it is understood the new plans will extend the powers to include those preaching racism, incitement or using intimidation or violence to undermine the democratic process. But Mr Afolami rejected claims from former immigration minister Robert Jenrick that mass migration had made integration “impossible”. He said: “I don’t think he’s right in the whole, but of course there are instances where people have not integrated properly into British society.

“I don’t know whether that’s necessarily the cause of immigration or high immigration levels or not, but that’s one of the reasons, this lack of integration by a small group of people, is one of the things that’s caused difficulties with what the Prime Minister was talking about when he made his announcement to the country, when he made his speech to the country on Friday.”

He added: “If certain people haven’t integrated properly they are more likely to not exhibit those behaviours and we are going to come forward in the coming weeks to set out what more we are going to do to clamp down on extremist behaviour.” Other suggestions have come from former Labour MP John Woodcock, who now sits in the House of Lords as Lord Walney and has been advising the Government on tackling political violence.

On Sunday, he called for party leaders to ban their MPs from meeting with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, which has organised several pro-Palestine marches in London since October 7, “until they get their house in order and cut the hate from their marches”.

He wrote in the Sun on Sunday that environmental protest groups such as Extinction Rebellion and Just Stop Oil should also not be able to meet with politicians, saying: “If you threaten MPs and break the law try to get your way, you should never be invited into the room to express your views.”The recommendation forms part of Lord Walney’s report on political violence, due to be submitted to the Government shortly.