This morning, Coffee House heard that the government’s policy of freezing out the Muslim Council of Britain was over and that Hazel Blears had met with representatives of the Muslim Council of Britain at a roundtable on the 8th of August. In response to an inquiry from Coffee House, the Department of Communities and Local Government said that they “don’t give details of private meetings.” However, it will confirm that Hazel Blears met with representatives of a dozen Muslim organisations on that date and will not deny that the MCB was one of those groups. The official line from its spokeswoman is that:
"There has been no change in our engagement strategy. As we have always said, we are prepared to work with any leadership organisation who demonstrates they are committed to tackling extremism. This means not merely paying lip service but demonstrating this through action."
In reality, the meeting represents a huge shift from the line that Ruth Kelly laid down last October. In response to the news, the Tory Commons spokesman on community cohesion Paul Goodman said that it looks like,
“the MCB are back round that top table again. If so, this is a staggering and deeply significant U-turn by Hazel Blears.
"Rather than operating behind closed doors, she must spell out exactly what’s changed in less than a year. On what basis does she believe that the MCB is now proactively tackling extremism? There’s clearly a danger that Gordon Brown’s Government is going soft on separatism."
The government clearly owes the public an explanation of what the MCB has done to persuade it that it is part of the solution, not part of the problem. Until that is forthcoming, it will look like the Brown ministry has retreated once more from the reform agenda.