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The Khan Review: executive summary, key findings and recommendations

The Khan Review: executive summary, key findings and recommendations
Britain’s most precious asset is our diverse and cohesive democracy. Built on centuries of hard‑won rights, our democratic freedoms form the bedrock of our nation. However, it is a mistake to assume the endeavour towards building an inclusive and cohesive society is accomplished. Advancing and protecting our plural democracy requires constant vigilance.
Across the globe many democracies are facing internal fragmentation and polarisation as well as domestic and cross-border political, economic and social challenges.
Disillusionment with democracy, the emergence and growth of social media and artificial intelligence, the spread of disinformation and deep fakes; and the mainstreaming of extremism has profound consequences for democratic nations. How we preserve social cohesion while preventing, managing, and responding to these challenges is fast becoming one of the most important questions of our time.
This Review is an examination of some of the contemporary threats to social cohesion and our country’s democratic resilience. Many of the risks I outline are eroding cohesion and our democratic norms at an individual, institutional and societal level. Rather than high risk and acute threats such as terrorism, cyber-security and foreign state interference, many of the cohesion risks I identify are chronic, insidious and often sit below the radar; the impact of which is not actively measured or even fully appreciated. There is a growing and dangerous climate of threatening and intimidatory harassment leading to serious censorship – what I have termed freedom-restricting harassment – affecting not just our politicians and those in public life, but members of the public too.
In the first polling of its kind, this Review demonstrates the shockingly widespread nature of this phenomenon across British society. Horrifying victim testimonies demonstrate how freedom‑restricting harassment is poisoning the lifeblood of our public and civic life and our institutions; and is creating a pervasively censorious culture antithetical to our democratic way of life. While some are bound to ‘cherry-pick’ some victims and perpetrators over others to suit their own narrative, such an approach would be self-defeating as this trend crosses ideological and social divides, affecting individuals from all walks of life.
On the front line, local authorities are struggling to prevent, manage and contain the impact of conspiracy theories, disinformation and extremist activity, which is undermining social cohesion and, in some cases, causing democratic disruption. And while we have seen inspiring numbers come together and volunteer to support their communities during the Covid pandemic, cohesion indicators suggest this is against a backdrop of overall declining civic engagement as well as declining trust and participation in democracy and its institutions.
Despite this worrying picture, there is no strategic approach within Whitehall’s machinery to deal with these threats to social cohesion and our country’s democratic resilience. My Review follows a twenty year long-line of government commissioned cohesion reviews and recommendations. It is disappointing that today there exists no strategic approach, or comprehensive analytical capability and framework to assess social cohesion trends and to ensure a robust and resilient response in the face of evolving risks.
I have met countless incredible people across our country on the frontline of local communities who are passionately working hard to build and preserve social cohesion. They are however being let down in the face of poor policy, insufficient data, and the lack of strategy and supporting infrastructure.
Our country has made giant leaps in becoming a tolerant cohesive society and we have much to build on, but I believe the scale and challenge of the cohesion threats we now face requires a radically new approach. I have put forward fifteen recommendations the large majority of which are for government. The government of the day may choose to continue to commission further reviews as it has done in the past, but it is implementation and decisive action that is ultimately needed.
In the year of a general election, I hope all political parties establish how they will address the issues I have raised. The government must demonstrate the political will, leadership and long-term commitment that is required to harness the many benefits social cohesion brings, while at the same time protect our democratic way of life from the many threats that seek to undermine it.
Dame Sara Khan DBE
Independent Adviser to the UK Government for Social Cohesion and Resilience

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