Keep calm and carry on

Manchester

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On Monday 22 May 2017 my worst fears came true.

Salman Abedi, a 22 years old jihadi, was waiting in the foray of the Manchester Arena as young girls came out of a pop concert. Abedi blew himself up with a home made bomb, killing 22 and maiming dozens more, some for the rest of their life.

Last year, when discussing the growing threat posed by Islamist terrorism, I warned that jihadi terrorists would start deliberately targeting children. Tragically this warning has now come true.

The response from the public was overwhelmingly that we will not let this affect our lives and it is an understandable response. It is encapsulated in the slogan “Keep calm and carry on”. Yet, the time for platitudes, messages of solidarity and one minute silences, worthy as they are, cannot be the only response to this deadly threat.

It is time that our media and political elites start being honest with the general public about the scale of the threat, the nature of the ideology that drives young men to slaughter innocent men, women and children and the steps we could take to contain the threat.

As James Forsyth writes in his weekly column, the reality is that our security services are increasingly overwhelmed by the scale of the threat posed by radicalised terrorists. The security agencies have confirmed that there are 23,000 extremists on their radar but only 3,000 can be actually monitored at any time. Indeed, “…the reason the number of persons of interest to the security services has remained at 3,000 for so long is that the security services are operating an informal one in, one out policy. So no one can be added to this list unless someone else is taken off.”

Think about that for the moment. There could be hundreds, if not thousands, of dangerous extremists who should be monitored by the security agencies but who aren’t, as the resources simply aren’t available. The intelligence officers tasked with preventing terrorist attacks are playing God; taking a calculated risk that one potential terrorist is a greater threat then another radicalised extremist.

The truth is that our government has lost control of this problem.

I watched the BBC coverage in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing and not once was the issue of the radical Islamist ideology that drives these attackers discussed by the media talking heads. It is impossible to understand and defeat this insidious enemy if we are not prepared to call it for what it is, which is Islamic terrorism.

These jihadi terrorists are taught a selective and fundamentalist interpretation of Islam which worships the slaughter of infidels, the creation of a sharia based Islamic state which will conquer the non-Muslim world. They justify their actions by quoting the actions and words of the Prophet Mohammed.

This is a sensitive subject for obvious reasons, but my own reading suggests that there are two parallel interpretations within the Koran, a peaceful and aggressive interpretation, and both have theological roots going back to the beginning of Islam. As David Goldman, writing on this subject in Asian Times notes, “…there are two readings of the Qur’an and the Sunna (Islamic traditions connected to Muhammad): one that opts for the verses that encourage tolerance toward other believers, and one that prefers the verses that encourage conflict. Both readings are legitimate.”  

Thankfully, the vast majority of Muslims subscribe to the tolerant and peaceful interpretation of Islam, which is a blessing. Yet, in the absence of an Islamic Pope to make a final judgement and conduct a reform of the holy texts, the fundamentalist strand of Islamist thought will continue to exist within the Muslim world. The challenge for Britain and other countries is to contain and preferably destroy this extremist version from their societies.

Tarique Ghaffur, a Muslim former police chief, has publically called for the creation of special internment centres for the most dangerous jihadi extremists. These internment camps would work closely with Muslim religious authorities in removing these dangerous individuals from society and de-radicalising them with the assistance of moderate clerics. Colonel Richard Kemp, writing in the Telegraph, has also called for the internment of the most dangerous extremists, the deportation of foreign extremists residing in the United Kingdom (“UK”) and travel bans on jihadi’s who have gone abroad to fight for the so-called Islamic State (“ISIS”).

The above steps, if taken prior to the Manchester bombing, would have prevented Salmon Abedi from returning to the UK and carrying out his deadly attack. If the government does not take these steps then further terror attacks are almost certainly inevitable and more people will die over the coming years.

Having read extensively on the intelligence and security threat posed, I consider that the UK, in the absence of the internment of the most dangerous jihadi extremists, will face further deadly attacks in the coming years. Just as France experienced a series of jihadi terror attacks, culminating in the horrific Paris attacks which killed over a hundred French citizens in November 2015, Britain is on the same path.

At some point in the coming years, Britain will experience a terrorist attack on a similar scale to the Paris atrocity, and the government will be forced to implement a state of emergency. Internment, deportation and strict immigration controls will be put in place because the general public will demand a muscular response to this growing threat.

The tragic question is how many more innocent people have to die before such action is finally taken by our government?

Keep calm and carry on

French presidential elections: Final forecast

It’s nearly over.

The exit results will be published within the hour for the French presidential elections. All the opinion polls have shown that Emmanuel Macron (“Macron”) has consolidated his comfortable lead over Marine Le Pen (“Le Pen”) and the betting markets are overwhelmingly predicting a Macron victory.

The presidential debate held on Wednesday was the last big opportunity for Le Pen to build momentum going into the final days of the campaign. What she needed to do was reassure undecided voters that she could be trusted to take over the country, would not plunge the country into economic chaos and civil unrest and would restore order to a nation troubled by a series of jihadi terror attacks.

Whilst her aggressively populist pitch may have worked well with elements of her core base, it didn’t reach out to Fillon voters, who were most likely to switch to Le Pen. I noted in a previous post that the “silver voters” were the key kingmakers of this election and that Le Pen was struggling to get over 40% in the polls due to hostility to the National Front/Le Pen brand and opposition to her anti-Euro/Frexit economic agenda.

Some pundits have argued that Le Pen never had a chance of winning as the so-called Republican Front would mobilise to prevent her from winning. Yet, polling showed that Le Pen would have defeated President Hollande if he had got into the second round. Clearly, if the mainstream candidate was unpopular enough, Le Pen could win a presidential election.

For Le Pen to win tonight, she will need to capture the “silver voters” and persuade sufficient numbers on the Left not to vote for Macron. If I had been her campaign manager, I would have ditched the unpopular anti-Euro policy early on and aggressively courted conservative voters by building alliances with mainstream Conservative Right politicians to assuage concerns about a Le Pen presidency.

The other issue which a lacklustre Le Pen campaign has struggled with is its core messaging. The core patriots versus globalist narrative that Le Pen has pushed for month’s turns out to have confused their core working class vote. Messaging matters in elections.

The Leave campaign stumbled upon the brilliant “take back control” message which was simple, effective and resonated with the British population. Le Pen’s campaign team appear not to have done the basics, focus polling their messages and seeing what would work best with their core and potential voters. The change in their message in the last weeks of the campaign to “protection” was probably a case of too little too late.

At the beginning of the year I predicted, with a 60% probabilistic rating, that Le Pen would get into the second round and go on to win the election. Whilst I clearly got the first part of my forecast right, it appears likely that the second half of my prediction will be proven wrong tonight. Whilst the majority of the underlying polling data indicated that Le Pen’s “France first” could resonate with the majority of the population, a superb campaign and exceptional debating performances by Le Pen, was also a prerequisite for pulling of a victory. At the end of the day, the campaign and the leader matter as much as the underlying mood of the country, as the Leave campaign can testify.

We will shortly see whether Le Pen has done better then the surface polling suggests, and has narrowed or even won the election. The lower turnout might strengthen her final result, but I maintain that the most likely outcome will be a victory by Macron.

French presidential elections: Final forecast