Extremism is at the top of all our agendas

David Cameron has pushed the issue of extremism on to the national social agenda, meaning PRs cannot afford to ignore it.

It was the Prime Minister’s best speech of his career. In July, David Cameron launched a nat­ional project to address extremism in our society.

Commentators noted the maturing confidence and intellectual grip. PR professionals paused to admire the measured rhetoric and media handling. But largely speaking the world has moved on.

After all, national security is typically the responsibility of spooks, cops and security wonks, so it is natural for comms types to look past such a speech, believing it applies only to a small number of frontline schools, colleges and social workers.

But I think it has wider implications for those involved in education, recruitment, corporate values and the digital economy; that it raises a wide range of issues worth studying by anyone curating the reputation of a major organisation.

This is because the PM’s post-Blair reboot of the extremism agenda takes it from a neo-conservative security issue into a broader social cause. By defining an aspect of national security alongside the generational social projects of our times – climate change, gender fairness or disability access – he has created a national challenge. I cannot do this on my own, he has said. Government cannot do it on its own. We are all touched by consequences of extremism and are all part of the solution.

He has put in place a grid of government measures – an ext­remism bill, a counter-extremism strategy, a cohesive communities programme, an integration review led by Whitehall’s social welfare czar, Louise Casey.

This programme will put us all on the hook because it co-opts familiar aspirational CSR-esque notions about opportunity, identity and cohesiveness, and gives them new teeth based on national security priorities.

So if you are looking at your medium-term horizon, it is worth thinking about how this will touch your organisation. Here are four thoughts for contemplation.

There is a new sense of accountability and intolerance of buck-passing. The PM forcefully challenged internet companies and universities to take a robust view on who uses their platforms and to put in place effective mechanisms for filtering out extremists (or, more subtly, those creating a pathway to extremism). Ofcom has new powers to regulate broadcasters. It is worth considering whether your organisation could be considered a facilitator of extremism in any way.

Secondly, access to opportunity, particularly employment, has gained a new edge as the PM made it a national security priority.

Thirdly, British values, that slippery eel of a concept, is back on the agenda. Firms operating in Britain have new pressures to join the struggle and be part of defining the country.

Lastly, there is a need for engagement skills, which will req­uire the sort of expertise the comms industry can provide.

Second only to the Europe referendum, extremism is at the top of the PM’s agenda for the tail-end of his premiership. If he has his way, it will affect us all.

James Bethell is MD of Westbourne

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