As we were gathering evidence for our report, Challenging Hateful Extremism, we routinely found that hateful extremists exploited local tensions to spread hateful narratives. We also found that public authorities and civil society were often unsure how to respond to such activity and how they could intervene quickly and effectively.
This was clearly the case in the three case studies we examined. In Birmingham religious fundamentalists actively spread dangerous misinformation about what children were being taught at school, spreading hatred of LGBT+ people and teaching staff. We showed how Far Right activists descended on Sunderland to exploit concerns about sexual assault by spreading misinformation and dangerous anti-minority narratives. In Lewisham we saw that local public bodies, religious and community leaders continued to engage with someone who had been declared an extremist at the High Court due to his encouragement of hatred and violence. In all three examples the impact on social cohesion and the wider local community was profound.
These cases demonstrate that a better response is needed to such incidents. This is why the Commission is piloting a task force which can bring together a range of experts to share best practice, to empower diverse local leaders to speak up and challenge divisive narratives.
As part of this work, a Steering Committee has been created to support the Lead Commissioner and bring valuable expertise.
Purpose of the Steering Committee
The Committee has two key roles as part of the pilot task force. Firstly, it will decide which incident to prioritise for discussion at action meetings. This decision will be based on the evidence presented to them by the Lead Commissioner in a short brief prepared by the Secretariat.
Secondly, it will meet with local stakeholders to help develop innovative responses to incidents of hateful extremism at action meetings.
Its members are not additional commissioners, rather they have been asked to be ‘critical friends’ of the Commission, and to provide constructive advice and challenge as appropriate. They are free to, and should, express their own views, based on their experience and expertise. They are not responsible for decisions made by the Lead Commissioner or the Commission. They are expected, however, to act in the public interest in accordance with the 7 principles of public life.
Cllr Simon Blackburn is currently suspended from the Steering Committee.
Biographies of Steering Committee members
Sir Mark Rowley
As a Police Officer, Sir Mark Rowley was the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations of the Metropolitan Police Service and the concurrent Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Counter-Terrorism Coordination Committee and National Lead for Counter Terrorism Policing during this time he led the national response to the five attacks of 2017 that produced an upswelling of public confidence. He was previously Chief Constable of Surrey Police, and also served as Acting Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police between February 2017 and April 2017.
He retired from the police in March 2018. Sir Mark was knighted in the 2018 Birthday honours list for his “exceptional contribution to national security at a time of unprecedented threat and personally providing reassuring national leadership through the attacks of 2017”. Having retired from policing in 2018, Sir Mark has turned to new leadership challenges, with a continued focus on secure and thriving communities.
Sir Mark was also a member of the Commission’s Expert Group during the Commission’s first phase of work, which culminated in the report ‘Challenging Hateful Extremism’.
Yasmin Waljee OBE – International Pro Bono Director – Hogan Lovells
Yasmin Waljee is an international human rights lawyer and has advised on issues relating to compensation for victims of crime and terrorism including the 7/7 bombing victims, the right to life, and regularly works on public policy issues in this area. Yasmin is the Vice-Chair of Mosaic, the HRH Prince of Wales led initiative to support young Muslims and their peers growing up in deprived areas whilst breaking down the barriers and suspicions with British Society.
She sits on the Advisory Panel to the UK's Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner and is a member of the British Council's Society Advisory Group.
Cllr Simon Blackburn - Chair of the Local Government Association’s Safer and Stronger Communities Board
As Chair of the LGA Safer Communities Board since 2016, and national lead for counter-extremism, Simon Blackburn represents local government across England & Wales. He regularly facilitates training and leadership events on councils’ role in countering extremism, Prevent delivery and cohesion. Simon currently serves as a member of the Local Government Association Executive, and acts as a mentor for new leaders, and a peer reviewer across a range of service areas. Simon has been Leader of Blackpool Council since 2011. He is a member of the Congress of the Council of Europe, and has also served as Chairman of the Shadow Combined Authority for Lancashire. He is a non-executive Director of the Calico Group, and the recently appointed Chair of the national Asylum, Migration and Refugee Taskforce.
Simon also served as a member of the Commission’s Expert Group during the Commission’s first phase of work, which culminated in the report ‘Challenging Hateful Extremism’.
Sunder Katwala, British Future, Director
Sunder Katwala is director of British Future, and independent, non-partisan think tank and registered charity. He leads British Future’s work as a thinktank engaging people’s hopes and fears about immigration, integration and identity, seeking to build a broad consensus among the public and opinion-formers for reforms that work for everyone. The organisation’s long-term aim is to contribute to a confident and inclusive society, by helping people to find common ground on issues that can often be polarising and divisive. British Future led the National Conversation on Immigration and provides the secretariat for the APPG on Social Integration.
Before launching British Future in 2012 Sunder worked as a leader writer and internet editor at the Observer, as research director of the Foreign Policy Centre, a commissioning editor at Macmillan and at the Fabian Society, where he was General Secretary from 2003 to 2011.
Sunder was also a member of the Commission’s Expert Group during the Commission’s first phase of work, which culminated in the report ‘Challenging Hateful Extremism’.
Claire McAlpine – Strategy Director – MediaCom UK Limited
Claire McAlpine is a Strategy Director specialising in behaviour change communications. Her work has particularly focused on social policy and crime reduction including counter terrorism, counter extremism, modern slavery, youth violence, drug abuse, forced marriage and FGM. Claire’s award-winning campaigns have included clients such as the Home Office, the Metropolitan Police and National Counter Terrorism Security Office, for whom she launched the ACT Counter Terrorism campaign. Claire leads MediaCom’s Social Change Hub, which works with clients across government, charity and the private sector to integrate social psychology and behavioural change theory into campaigns. She also specialises in reaching diverse audiences with digital and ‘traditional’ media. Claire previously worked as a social policy qualitative researcher where her work was focused on hard to reach audiences and sensitive issues.
Imran Ahmed – CEO Center for Countering Digital Hate
Imran Ahmed is Chief Executive and founder of the Center for Countering Digital Hate, and has a wealth of experience in countering extremism online. In his current role he oversees research and actions that go into disrupting the spread of hate and misinformation in our society. CCDH have run a number of innovative campaigns, the most recent being the #DontSpreadtheVirus campaign, endorsed by the government, which aims to counter misinformation around the coronavirus.
Prior to being appointed as Chief Executive, Imran was a political adviser in the UK Parliament and before that worked in the private sector. He has an MA in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge and was born and raised in Old Trafford.
A representative of the Home Office Counter Extremism Unit will be invited to attend meetings as an observer.