I have just spoken at the Counter Terror Expo, an enormous exhibition and conference at Olympia. I was standing in for Patrick Mercer who was apparently taken by surprise by the fact that there was going to be a General Election campaign going on when he agreed to speak.
My main theme was that we could envisage that we would be living in a much riskier society over the next twenty-five years. The UK would be in a world:
“in which there will be greater political extremism and conflict and where radicalisers can flourish with a volatile and disaffected population in whose minds their ideas can take root. This will be an environment in which international crime will be stronger and the restraints on it from the international community will be weaker. There will be problems in building an international consensus as to what needs to be done as the current international certainties dissolve into a multi-polar future.
This will be a riskier society as state and city authority break down in many places and where international crime and terrorism can flourish and be nurtured in such lawless areas.
At the same time, society itself will become more vulnerable through its increasing reliance on ICT.”
I recognised the success of the Government’s CONTEST strategy with its four strands: Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. I pointed out that:
“This has been accompanied by substantial investment. By next year, there will be £3.5 billion spent on counter-terrorism. The number of police engaged in CONTEST has risen by 70% and the Security Service has doubled in size.
The strategy has been effective. Since 2001, 200 people have been convicted of terrorist related offences and over a dozen significant plots have been disrupted In addition, in the last four years, some 250 people have been excluded from the country on national security grounds or on the basis of their activities.”
But went on to point out that in the future more will need to be done:
“to ensure that the CONTEST strategy builds in expecting the unexpected. We must be ready to look beyond al Qaeda, recognising the developing picture of dissident republicans in Northern Ireland, other political and regional struggles elsewhere in the world (certain in the knowledge that the diaspora from those struggles will be here in London) and new challenges such as those holding extreme ecological views who may have come to believe that mankind is so bad for the future of the planet that that future would be improved if mankind’s population was dramatically reduced.
We must be constantly vigilant about symbolic and iconic sites, economic targets, and all places of mass resort. We must recognise the risks posed by terrorist groups or individuals seeking to have access to CRBRN weapons or materials and the implications of both our greater cyber-dependence and the opportunities that that provides to an increasingly cyber-aware opposition.
And at the same time we must continue to work with all our communities to build support for and trust in the responses that are being made.”
And as I said:
“Whoever is responsible for taking counter-terrorism forward after 6th May is going to have their hands full.”