New frontline in terror fight

THERE is a growing sense that the West now finds itself at a crossroads in dealing with the threat posed by Islamic extremists both at home and abroad. The time has come for decisive action that confronts the so-called Islamic State and those who would spread terror in its name.

Worryingly, the signs that this will happen sooner rather than later are far from promising. In America, the abrupt resignation of Chuck Hagel, the US Defence Secretary, has been widely read as an exasperated response to the White House’s inability to come up with a credible strategy for containing the country’s enemies overseas.

Here, the Parliamentary inquiry into the butchering of soldier Lee Rigby in broad daylight on a south-east London street has exposed gaping holes in the security services’ capacity to keep the British public safe.

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Though his killers, Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale, had featured in no fewer than seven intelligence investigations, and Adebowale had expressed his intent to kill a soldier in a “graphic and emotive” manner during an online conversation with an overseas extremist, the report concluded that Fusilier Rigby’s murder could not have been prevented.

The failure of the US-based internet firm concerned to flag up Adebowale’s chilling objective highlights the alarming manner in which online companies provide a safe haven to potential terrorists.

In such cases, these companies have a moral duty to pass on such information to the security agencies. If they refuse to meet this obligation, then legislation must be brought in that compels them to do so.

With the likes of MI5 and MI6 having finite resources, and with police resources stretched to the limit, the collection of local level intelligence has never been more vital.

It means it is imperative that every member of society plays a part in protecting the public at large, with the onus on law-abiding members of the Muslim communities to recognise their responsibility to play a frontline role in identifying would-be extremists before they engage in acts of terror, whether it be on the streets of Britain or amid the plains of Iraq and Syria.

New home truths

Over-40s are denied mortgages

THE Chancellor will draw some comfort, ahead of next week’s Autumn Statement, from the fact that use of credit cards, overdrafts and personal loans is at a six-year high. George Osborne will regard this as a vote of confidence in the economy.

Yet these short-term gains are, potentially, masking longer-term pain with the economy – October saw the lowest number of mortgage approvals since May 2013 while another study reveals the extent to which homebuyers aged over 40 are now being denied the dream of home ownership.

Some perspective needs to be maintained. It is right that prospective purchasers undergo greater scrutiny – this lack of oversight led to many people borrowing beyond their means prior to the credit crunch and global financial crash – but there also needs to be a recognition that some individuals are not in a position to pay a deposit, and buy a house, until their early 40s.

To them, the interpretation of the new rules will seem perverse, and unfair, at a time when the retirement age is now having to be raised progressively to take account of Britain’s ageing society and changing demographics. As such, this is another reminder that the Government needs to do far more to accelerate the construction and availability of low-cost properties. For, unless it does, the divide between society’s “haves” and “have nots” is likely to widen still further.

Howard’s way

End of an era at stately home

THE Castle Howard estate of today is very different to the stately home which came to national prominence in the early 1980s thanks to the television adaption of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited – and a major film more recently.

This is due in no small part to Simon Howard, whose astute management of the estate over the past three decades has turned his family’s ancestral home into one of Britain’s finest country houses and magnet for 250,000 visitors a year. Though such homes are integral to Britain’s national heritage, their daily upkeep is laborious and Mr Howard set high standards during his tenureship which ends next month as responsibility for the running of the estate passes to his older brother Nick and his wife Victoria. We wish the whole family well.

For, without Castle Howard, Yorkshire would be a much poorer place.