Following reports of bias in a King’s counter-terrorism course, MP and Minister for Security Tom Tugendhat has called for a review into the civil service’s use of outside academic institutions for training, according to The Times.
The Minister spoke in the Commons on Tuesday 16 January when asked about ‘anti-Government and party bias training’ by a Conservative colleague. Tugenhadt told MPs that: “If courses aren’t high-quality and politically neutral, then civil servants shouldn’t be attending them.”
“My hon. Friend will have seen recently a pretty extraordinary report on allegations about extremism and the failure to train properly, and what is going on in universities around the United Kingdom. In one recent problematic case, it was said that it is very hard to define what a terrorist is. We know what a terrorist is, the law knows what a terrorist is and this Government knows what a terrorist is”.Tom Tugendhat MP, Minister for Security
Allegations about a King’s College London (KCL) counter-terrorism course first appeared last week, when ex-civil servant Anna Stanley wrote a piece about her experience in the Fathom journal. She alleges that the content taught at King’s amounted to “scandalous indoctrination”.
Stanley claims that course providers downplayed the threat of Islamist extremism and that the lectures taught an inappropriate “moral relativism” about terrorism. Her allegations were later misrepresented by right-wing television outlets TalkTV and GB News. King’s has since told The Times that they are investigating the complaints made against the course, and that they will ensure “appropriate changes are made to any course materials and possibly to the way in which the courses are provided, including by whom”.
King’s College London (KCL) hosts a three-day series of lectures and workshops into counter-terrorism for British civil servants. The course is usually attended by staff members from the Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Home Offices. Academics administering the course who are named in The Times’ article include Peter Neumann, John Gearson and Tim Willasey-Wilsey, who are all members of the Department of War Studies at KCL.
Sir William Shawcross, who wrote a recent government report into the counter-terrorist Prevent programme, said that it was “outrageous” that the training was “politically biased”. According to Stanley’s account, Shawcross was allegedly discredited by KCL lecturers on the course, being called as the “type of person who would say all current counterterrorism professionals are woke”.
Other accusations include claims that journalist Douglas Murray and podcaster Joe Rogan were examples of “far right” thinking. One academic allegedly said: “They have millions of followers. To de-platform them would cause issues. So society needs to find other ways to suppress them.” Murray has criticised the courses delivered at KCL as being “a moral and educational disaster”, and claimed that he is considering taking legal action against the university.
An opinion piece published in The Times on Monday accuses the course of “dangerously downplaying extremism”, and promoting “anti-western ideology” that is “infecting the public sector”. The article was written by columnist Melanie Philips, who was called “one of the [British] media’s leading right-wing voices” by the BBC in 2008. In the article, she also criticised KCL for its economic relationship with Qatar, who fund the university’s centre for global banking and finance.
The course was delivered to civil servants a total of four times, with each course being attended by 32 participants. The Spectator has reported that these courses cost the Foreign Office a total of £109,000. Douglas Murray, the journalist who was allegedly criticised by King’s academics for his right-wing views during the course, called this “a disgraceful waste of taxpayer money”.
Accused King’s academic Peter Neumann has since published a letter in The Times, explaining his side of the controversy and criticising “cancel culture”, whether it originates from the left or the right of the political spectrum. He said that his “strong belief is that, when it comes to politically controversial ideas, it is the job of society, not governments or legislators, to engage with and — if necessary — debunk them”.
A King’s College London spokesperson said, “This private, invite-only course for civil servants was delivered on behalf of the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office and as with all our courses, attendees were taught by eminent experts using impartial and evidence-based resources in an environment where different theories, concepts and questions are shared to prompt discussion.”