We don’t seem to be winning the war on terror. The violent events in Tunisia led to a very substantial death toll, with many British casualties, on which the media has focussed heavily. I’ve seen something of this before. In Northern Ireland, few families were untouched by what became known as ‘The Troubles.’ Had the death toll in Northern Ireland been reflected in equal proportions across the whole of the United Kingdom, then something like 120,000 would have died across the three decades when the violence was at its worst. At its height, terrorism was a very substantial element in the society where I was born and bred.

It’s hardly surprising, therefore, that I’ve always considered some of my most important work in politics to be as a Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. It was a tough job. I met paramilitary organisations regularly, seeking ways forward in a very tense atmosphere. I learned a lesson some still find as unpalatable as it is true: the pathway to peace was dialogue.

Many say you can’t negotiate away terrorism. That was proved wrong by the successful engagement between the British Government and the Northern Ireland paramilitaries, especially between 1998 and 2008. Today, some who used to rely on weapons make their case do so at the ballot box instead. It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than what went on before.

Can we take a similar approach with the ‘new’ terrorist groups? It’s unfashionable, but I believe it is irresponsible NOT to consider this option. The West has played a role in creating circumstances in which the current grouping have been able to attract support. Whether we like it or not, we’ve not delivered a particularly great result in Iraq, we meddled in Syria and our actions may have helped the Taliban win

‘hearts and minds’ in Afghanistan. Don’t blame our armed forces. If I’m right, responsibility lies with

Government. If the problem’s political, might the solution be too?

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