Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Extremism: The UK Policy Spirals

[2018] Public Law 725-747

Posted: 27 Nov 2018

See all articles by Clive Walker

Clive Walker

University of Leeds - Centre for Criminal Justice Studies (CCJS)

Date Written: March 4, 2018


The thesis of this paper is that policy spirals have developed around 'Prevent' and 'Counter Extremism'. A 'policy spiral' describes a policy which lacks clear initial purpose or subsequent direction, progression, control and reflection. A policy spiral is therefore susceptible to unresolved contradictions or gaps, dramatic direction changes, and uncertain outcomes. As a result, policy spirals arise from inexact and contested meanings, objectives, and mechanisms which generate dynamics of suspicion as much as persuasion. Spirals can readily spin out of control, since they are not 'unidirectional and deterministic'. The term, 'policy spiral', is coined here to contrast with the more familiar term, 'policy cycle', which follows a more assured progression through stages. One standard conception of policy cycle sequences depicts them as involving: 'agenda-setting, policy formulation, decision making, implementation, and evaluation'. This heuristic concept of a policy cycle has its critics and limits but remains a useful yardstick for analysing and assessing policy processes. The policy cycle notion here highlights deficiencies in the 'Prevent' and 'Counter Extremism' policies. They lack several distinct stages of a policy cycle and so suffer destabilisation into a 'policy spiral' in two ways. The first is that each policy lacks the internal stability which can be acquired through solid agenda-setting, policy formulation, and decision making, or through supportive structures to implement and refine the policy. The second aspect of turbulence arises through the interaction of the two policies; rather than mutual reinforcement, conflict arises from open texture and uncertain borders. This paper will plot and explain the policy spirals by asking: is it necessary and legitimate to embark upon 'Prevent' and 'Counter Extremism’; what has been done to date within 'Prevent'; and what future paths are being plotted within 'Counter Extremism'?

Keywords: Terrorism, Extremism, CONTEST, Prevent, Integration, Security

JEL Classification: K10, K14, K33, K19, K30, K33, K42, N40

Suggested Citation

Walker, Clive, Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Extremism: The UK Policy Spirals (March 4, 2018). [2018] Public Law 725-747, Available at SSRN:

Clive Walker (Contact Author)

University of Leeds - Centre for Criminal Justice Studies (CCJS) ( email )

Leeds LS2 9JT
United Kingdom
44 (0) 113 3435022 (Phone)
44 (0) 113 3435056 (Fax)


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