Prescott attacks Cameron’s ‘opportunism’

John Prescott has issued a passionate defence of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy after David Cameron accused ministers of not doing enough.

The deputy prime minister accused the Conservative leader of “putting opportunism before security” and said he had no policies to address the “serious issues” facing the UK.

His comments come after cabinet ministers lined up yesterday to denounce Mr Cameron’s claim that the government had failed to properly address Islamic extremism, and was not taking the necessary measures to ensure the country’s security.

Home Office minister Baroness Scotland noted that “on almost every level where we have sought to strengthen our hand against terrorism, the Tories have talked tough but voted soft”, referring to their opposition to ID cards and 90-day detention plans.

Communities and local government secretary Ruth Kelly also dismissed Mr Cameron’s claims that ministers were not doing enough to tackle extremism as “ill-informed” and “out of touch”.

She highlighted continuing discussions with Muslim leaders and noted that a new commission on integration and cohesion would be launched next week to look at how communities can be strengthened to tackle radicalisation.

“All of Britain’s communities are potential victims of the plans of terrorists and we will only defeat them if we remain united as a country. David Cameron’s comments suggest that he has no wish to play his part in this process,” Ms Kelly said.

At a press conference yesterday, the Tory leader said that “precious little” had been done to remove preachers of hate, and criticised the failure to take action to allow wiretap evidence in court, to ensure terror suspects could be brought to justice.

He criticised chancellor Gordon Brown for freezing the Home Office budget for the next three years, and said ministers had failed to implement much of the 12-point plan against terrorism announced by Tony Blair in the wake of the July 7th bombings last year.

However, today Mr Prescott insisted that spending on the fight against terror had doubled since September 11th, and the Home Office budget alone had increased by 75 per cent in real terms since 1997.

Nine of the 12 points outlined by the prime minister last year had been implemented, he continued, while ministers were also investigating how intercept evidence could be used in court without compromising the security services.

“So while Labour continues to get on with the job of delivering for the country’s future, David Cameron’s Tories show that they still put opportunism before security and have no substantial policies to address the serious issues this country faces,” he declared.

But this morning Mr Cameron was unrepentant – although he conceded that home secretary John Reid had handled the recent UK security alert “well”.

“In general I believe in working very cooperatively with the government on issues like terrorism and national security. I have shown that over the last seven months,” he told Today.

“Yesterday I made three points about things I thought they could do better in terms of the struggle against terrorism.”