Comment: What does Hizb ut-Tahrir climb-down tell us about our prime minister?

His government's failure to ban Hizb ut-Tahrir tells us an awful lot about David Cameron the man.

By Toby Perkins MP

Pursuing issues in opposition that subsequently prove considerably trickier to resolve in government is an occupational hazard of becoming a new prime minister.

David Cameron has been hoisted on his own opportunistic petard numerous times already. From promises to retain EMA to freezing VAT and from promising more prison places to NHS re-organisations he has many debits on the tally sheet. However it may be that his craven U-turn on the issue of the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir tells us most about Cameron the man.

Whilst a relatively obscure issue, Cameron the opposition leader went big on his claim that the Islamist group should be banned. In Gordon Brown's very first prime minister's questions, he was both insistent on the banning of the organisation and incredulous at claims that it might be problematic, arguing: "The prime minister said that we need evidence about Hizb ut-Tahrir. That organisation says that Jews should be killed wherever they are found. What more evidence do we need before we ban that organisation? … Two years ago, the government said that it should be banned. I ask again: when will this be done?"

Now PMQ's can catch out even the most experienced politician, but at least the leader of the opposition knows what he is going to raise, so there's little excuse for appearing to commit to a position that he wasn't willing to sustain. But this exchange in 2007 was not an isolated incident.

In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle in 2009 Cameron listed the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir as one of the three measures he would introduce to reduce anti Semitism, and later that year his shadow home secretary said that he 'would immediately ban Hizb ut-Tahrir' [on taking the post].

And after a presumably thorough policy review it was still there in the 2010 Conservative party manifesto, which pledged that: "A Conservative government will ban any organisations which advocate hate or the violent overthrow of our society, such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir, and close down organisations which attempt to fund terrorism from the UK."

And Mr Cameron is right that the record of Hizb ut-Tahrir is a worrying one. Passionately anti-semitic, they wrote: "O Muslim, O Slave of Allah. Here is a Jew behind me so come and kill him" in an article published back in 2000.

In 2002 their Danish spokesman was caught handing out literature demanding that Jews be killed and the organisation was suspended; a year later in Germany the organisation was banned from taking part in public activity, after further anti-semitic death threats and amid claims of links with the far right Neo-Nazis in Germany.

So this organisation -banned or restricted in other European states- is a seriously nasty group peddling racist hatred within our shores.

Yet in government there appears to have been a significant weakening of the Tory manifesto promise. When former home secretary Alan Johnson marked a year of Tory rule by asking Mr Cameron about the ban, the PM equivocated and in subsequent replies to questions from Ian Austin and myself his stance has got noticeably weaker still.

Dave Anderson QC, the government's independent reviewer of terrorist legislation also appeared to rule out adding Hizb ut-Tahrir to the proscribed list in his report to government which broadly arrived at the very same conclusions that Mr Cameron refused to accept from the previous administration.

Now I am willing to believe the PM if he says that the laws of the land do not allow them to be banned. But this leads us to one of only two conclusions about the character of the prime minister and the policy making at the top of the Tory party, neither of which reflects well on Mr Cameron and his party.

The PM either, on numerous occasions, floated a policy idea without ever checking out the legal basis of it, and furthermore included it in the Conservative party manifesto without making the basic enquiries as to whether he would legally be able to do such a thing.

Alternatively, it is possible the PM and his party did indeed do all the basic due diligence on policy prior to announcing it and knew that what he was proposing was illegal but decided to cynically use racist extremism for political ends knowing that if they got into government the policy would be quietly dropped as unworkable.

So what is it, Mr Cameron? Were you so careless that you allowed a policy into your manifesto without even making the basic checks as to the legality of it, or were you so cynical that you would play on racial tensions for naked political advantage?

Either way, another facet of our prime minister's character is exposed and our politics is the poorer for it.

Toby Perkins has been Labour MP for Chesterfield since 2010.

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