'Hoon is the real vandal'

UK Green Party leader Caroline Lucas gives her take on this week's runway protest by direct action g

Environment Secretary Ed Miliband should be careful what he wishes for. No sooner had he told the Guardian that more popular mobilisation on climate change was needed, than the activist group Plane Stupid kindly obliged.

Using tried and tested tactics from the book of non-violent civil disobedience to make their protests heard far and wide, campaigners took to the runway at Stansted first thing on Monday morning to protest about Ministers’ continuing inaction on the climate agenda.

With 52 cancelled flights, 57 arrests on the last count, and pole position on TV, nobody could say they were unaware of the group’s concerns, least of all the government.

However, the prime minister’s disingenuous response saying ‘everybody has a right to protest, but people also have a right to be able to travel without unnecessary hindrance” clearly shows which corporate lobbyist he remains most loyal to.

The decision to push ahead with the expansion of Stansted airport is environmental and economic madness, and Ed Miliband will need to prepare for many more such actions unless the government starts acting on the climate agenda with the urgency and ambition it requires.

Forget the much criticised “vandalism” of Plane Stupid. The real climate vandalism belongs to Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon, who has been more than willing to brush aside the huge public opposition to the expansion of Stansted, not to mention the wishes of the local authorities.

It seems increasingly clear that peaceful direct action is fast emerging as the only way to focus the government’s attention on the climate challenge.

At Kingsnorth Climate Camp earlier this year, we gathered peacefully to register our disgust at the government’s ongoing commitment to coal. On the Campaign Against Climate Change’s Global Day of Action last weekend, we gathered to demand rapid changes to safeguard our environmental future. This week, Plane Stupid showed that those who care about our planet and its people will not be silenced.

With climate emissions from air travel at an all time high, the government is living in a fantasy land if it thinks it can allow aviation to grow at such an alarming rate, while also committing to significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.

As one of the MEPs involved in the negotiations on the EU’s energy and climate package, I’ve seen at first hand – and watched in horror – as government leaders of EU member states, including our own, water down key elements of the package, which were never ambitious enough in the first place.

So it’s a bit rich of government ministers to suggest that politicians can’t make progressive climate policies in the absence of the popular mobilisations.

What we need from our politicians right now is genuine political leadership - and if Labour MPs can’t provide it, they should move out of the way and leave the job to the politicians, like the Greens, who can.

Dr Caroline Lucas MEP, Green Party

Caroline Lucas is the MP for Brighton Pavilion.

Photo: Getty
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The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.