Read Andrew Gilligan in the Telegraph:
The central charge is perfectly true, thoroughly documented – and a scandal. But Cameron made some mistakes in the detail, sending the Westminster media chasing down one of their classic “process issue” cul-de-sacs (whether the schools were registered, and which particular part of the Whitehall cake this slice of cash had come from) and allowing Balls to launch his attack on Cameron. He clearly thought he’d scored a bullseye: one-nil to the forces of Gordon.
But it turns out to be Ed Balls, just as much as Cameron, who’s been playing politics and failing to check the facts. The issue is not the situation with the schools now. It’s the situation at the time the public money was paid. It turns out that the schools’ chief Hizb ut Tahrir trustee, Yusra Hamilton, only resigned last month, in response to my story, long after the Government grant came in.
The headteacher of one of the schools, Farah Ahmed, who remains a trustee to this day, refuses to deny that she was a Hizb member and has written in a Hizb journal condemning the “corrupt western concepts of materialism and freedom.”
And Ofsted – far from “satisfying themselves that there were no problems” – actually condemned one of the two schools as “inadequate,” questioned the suitability of the staff, and said that it could do more “to promote cultural tolerance and harmony.” That was in November 2007.
By May 2008, according to a follow-up report, the school had been magically transformed, and was now “good”. That second report, however, was written by an inspector with, at the very least, personal connections to Islamic groups.
I fear Mr Balls’s heavy reliance on these Ofsted reports to defend the schools is about to make him look pretty silly. Ofsted is also, of course, the body that rated children’s services in Haringey “good” – in the same year that the borough was comprehensively failing Baby P.
But there’s a broader point. If taxpayer-funded schools were run by supporters of the BNP, there would be an outcry. Hizb ut Tahrir is an Islamic version of the BNP: not actually violent, but openly anti-Semitic, racist, and an enemy of liberal society.
Do Ed Balls and New Labour really want to be the friends and defenders of such people? Does Balls really think it’s good politics to be the Minister for Hizb ut Tahrir?
Not for the first time, the minister has allowed his thirst for a quick hit on the Tories to overcome his common sense. And not for the first time, he has scored a tactical victory, but dropped a massive strategic clanger.
Here’s the tragedy of the situation.
Cameron did screw up at Question Time on the precise source of funds for the school. The CSC were not at fault. It was a daft error – why would anybody think that a primary school might be getting PVE Pathfinder money? Apparently, the answer is: a Tory researcher who put together Cameron’s briefing. Silly kid.
But over the next few days, it is going to become clearer and clearer that, just like the far Left groups that they emulate tactically, Hizb ut Tahrir have a policy of entryism. In fact, they are quite open about it. Here is Hizb ut Tahrir’s own description of its method:
1. Establish a community of Hizb ut-Tahrir members who work together in the same way as the companions of Muhammad. Members should accept the goals and methods of the organization as their own and be ready to work to fulfill these goals.
2. Build public opinion among the Muslim masses for the caliphate and the other Islamic concepts that will lead to a revival of Islamic thought.
3. Once public opinion is achieved in a target country through debate and persuasion, the group hopes to obtain support from army generals, leaders, and other influential figures or bodies to facilitate the change of the government. The government would be replaced by one that implements Islam “generally and comprehensively”, carrying Islamic thought to people throughout the world
Hizb constantly shuffles between Stage 1 and Stage 2. At Stage 2, it establishes a bunch of front organisations, through which it seeks to recruit the “Muslim masses”. They have been particularly active in the field of education. The ISF Schools are very far from their only areas of activity. Expect to hear more about this, soon.
Stage 3, of course, is a military coup. That’s pretty much what they argued for in Pakistan a couple of weekends ago, at the Friends Meeting House. Well done, Quakers.
What Ed Balls should have said is something like this:
“David Cameron’s research is slapdash and poor. He has made some pretty basic and foolish errors. His intervention at Question Time was sensationalist and counterproductive.
However, we do take the dangers of extremism in our schools very seriously. The ISF Schools are, quite possibly, blameless and these charges may be shown to be unfair. However, we are committed to ensuring that our system of inspection works, and I will personally be re-examining this case.
But the issue goes wider than just this particular school. There are important systemic issues at stake. If there has been shown to be any failing in our controls, we will take action to ensure that they are remedied.
Instead, Ed Balls put himself in a dangerous position. If it turns out that the ISF criticisms are substantially correct – and I think that they are – he will be forced either to backtrack, or worse still, to adopt Nelsonian blindness to the problem. Neither alternative is an attractive one.
There is a more fundamental problem here, and it has to do with the boring subject of methods of public sector regulation.
There are two regulatory “modes”. A good regulator should ordinarily see its function, not as catching those they regulate out and punishing them, but rather helping them to get things right. That should be the default position for most regulators, most of the time.
However, all regulators should also have a strong and resilient ‘enforcement’ mode that they shift into in appropriate case. Within any group of regulated persons, there will be some people who have no intention of complying. They want to “get away with it”. With such persons, there is simply no point in helping them to follow the rules. They have no intention of complying: they’re much more interested in sophisticated ways of hiding their non-compliance.
I don’t know what is going on in OFSTED. It is possible, as Gilligan suggests, that there has been entryism into OFSTED – who knows. But it is equally possible that OFSTED just doesn’t take seriously the possibility that a fascist group is trying to work the system, to get public funds, and to further their campaign for sectarian politics of the worst sort.
Equally, OFSTED might be very badly equipped to identify groups with this sort of agenda when they see them. For example, how much training have OFSTED inspectors had in recognising Hizb ut Tahrir philosophy or organisational practices? Can they tell them apart from ordinary religious Muslims at all?
OFSTED is poorly equipped for this task. Most schools are not involved with organisations which wish to establish totalitarian states, and so schools inspectors don’t know what to do with those who are.
This issue is not confined to education. A similar problem exists in relation to the Charity Commission, which appears incapable of acting against charities linked to jihadists, some of which appear to be raising funds for terrorists. The Charity Commission also appears to have put in charge of their “Faith and Social Cohesion Unit”, a man who has a background in a pretty dubious organisation.
This is a serious problem. It is time that the Government started to take it seriously.