UK Politics

Cameron vows to 'sort out' Gove and May extremism spat

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Media captionDavid Cameron: "I will get to the bottom of who said what"

Prime Minister David Cameron has vowed to "sort out" a row between two of the cabinet's biggest hitters over the best way to deal with extremism.

Education Secretary Michael Gove was said by aides to believe Home Secretary Theresa May was too soft on the issue.

Mrs May hit back by criticising his department's handling of an alleged Islamist plot in Birmingham schools.

Mr Cameron said the "whole government" was behind efforts to combat extremism but vowed to settle the row.

Speaking at a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama at the G7 summit in Brussels, Mr Cameron said: "I think it's very important that you recognise that we have got to deal not only with violent extremism but also the sink of extremism, of tolerating extremist views from which violence can grow.

"The whole government is signed up to that agenda and is driving through changes to deliver that agenda.

"As for these issues for the last day or so, I will get to the bottom of who has said what and what has happened and I will sort it all out - once I have finished these important meetings I am having here."

'Fantastic job'

Mr Gove and Mrs May clashed at a recent meeting of the Extremism Task Force - a committee of cabinet ministers set up by Mr Cameron in the wake of the murder of Lee Rigby, according to BBC Political Editor Nick Robinson.

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Allies of Mr Gove, who has long argued for the need to confront Islamist ideology, briefed The Times newspaper about his frustrations that the Home Office was being too soft on extremism.

The home secretary hit back by releasing a letter she had written to Mr Gove accusing his department of losing control of the education system - and of failing to act when concerns about the Birmingham schools were brought to its attention in 2010.

The briefing war escalated, with a Home Office source telling the media: "The Department for Education is responsible for schools, the Home Office is not.

"They have got a problem and they are trying to make it someone else's problem."

Ministers insisted on Thursday that there was not a wider rift across Whitehall over the best way to deal with extremism, and played down disagreements between May and Gove - seen as two leading contenders to replace Mr Cameron as Tory leader when he steps down.

Mr Gove denied he was at war with Mrs May, saying he thought the home secretary was "doing a fantastic job". Asked if he thought she was too soft on Islamic fundamentalism, as his aides appeared to suggest, he said: "No, absolutely not."

'Cultural isolation'

It comes as one of the schools involved was accused by Ofsted of doing too little protect students from extremist views.

The BBC has obtained a copy of the full Ofsted report for Golden Hillock School, which is run by Park View Educational Trust.

It said the school's management was "not doing enough to mitigate against cultural isolation" and this "could leave students vulnerable to the risk of marginalisation from wider British society and the associated risks which could include radicalisation".


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Newsnight's policy editor Chris Cook writes: "Senior civil servants in the Home Office have accused the Department for Education (DfE) of running a 'parallel security policy', Newsnight has revealed, after years of rivalry between the two ministries over how to deal with extremism. Part of the argument is a real difference of opinion over extremism - Michael Gove would oppose a wider range of views and actions than Theresa May. He is more worried about the idea of a 'conveyor belt' from religious conservatism to extremism. There is, however, also a simple turf war at the centre of this."

In her letter to Mr Gove, Mrs May appears to suggest that the education secretary wanted to include restrictions on the wearing of headscarves by Muslim girls in a voluntary code of conduct aimed at combating extremism in schools.

The letter says: "We know that extremists try to impose specific forms of dress on people and this includes the mandatory veiling of women.

"The consultation document should be clear that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way.

"We do, however, need to recognise that many moderate Muslims, as well as people of other religions, believe that covering one's hair is a religious requirement and some parents will therefore want their children to do so.

"The text on dress requirements should therefore not be part of the extremism definition but, consistent with the Government's already-stated position on the burka, we should state clearly that nobody should be forced to dress in a particular way."

Labour MP Hazel Blears, a member of Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee who had responsibility for the "Prevent" anti-extremism strategy as a minister, said she was "very concerned" that the government appeared to have scaled back efforts to counter the appeal of militant messages to young Muslims.

Image caption Hazel Blears claims the government has scaled back its efforts to combat extremism

"This whole issue is too important to be reduced to a kind of ministerial spat or argument," she told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

She added: "The Communities department has completely abandoned this agenda and it is left now to the Home Office and a particular police approach.

"They do great work, but the work that needs to be done is at local level, working with local authorities, with education, with the prison service. This should be an all-out government effort."

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg refused to be drawn into commenting on the row between Mrs May and Mr Gove.

Asked on his weekly LBC radio phone-in how badly the two ministers dislike one another, he said: "Ask them... I don't know."

But he appeared to disagree with Mr Gove's views on tackling extremism.

He said it was not possible for politicians to say, from an office in Whitehall, that "that they are going to put an end to an ideology that they don't like", adding that it was "communities themselves who are the best antidotes to extremists in those communities".

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