Why Boris Johnson should step in to save London’s WorldPride parade

The Mayor could make an important gesture to the LGBT community in London by helping with last-minute funding problems.

WorldPride, an event that was meant to showcase London as a leading city for LGBT rights and life, is fast resembling a paltry village fete. Now, it’s up to all those who honour Pride’s core values to call on Boris Johnson to intervene, and to step up and be counted themselves on Saturday, whatever the state of the parade.

If you don’t already know (and it’s been so little reported in the mainstream press you probably don’t), last Thursday WorldPride organisers Pride London revealed that a shortfall in funding, estimated to be around £66,000 by the LGBT VSO coalition Consortium, would mean drastic last-minute changes for this Saturday’s WorldPride parade day. No special events in Soho, a reduced rally in Trafalgar Square, no outdoor drinking and late licensing in Soho and most galling of all, no floats – floats which volunteers and LGBT charities have invested precious hours and pounds in constructing (with a minimum cost of £2,500 just to secure one), and are now out of pocket for having done so. Being unable to pay for the requisite policing means the procession start time has been moved forward by two hours, scuppering thousands of pre-arranged travel plans, and the official Pride magazine, which details the day’s schedule, has been out of date since it dropped off the press. The one million or so expected visitors are currently en route to a glorified march about town, something akin to what Pride London’s bizarre sleight of spin calls "the roots of the original Pride London rallies". But 40 years later, even Peter Tatchell, the founder of that first march, considers the comparison a travesty, not a compliment: “We’re not only letting down LGBT people in Britain, we’re also betraying the trust and confidence of LGBT people world-wide. This is an absolute disaster,” he said.

WorldPride in London should have been a spectacular party which reminded the international community of the ever-pressing need to fight for the rights of LGBT people, wherever they may be. Now, both the party and the political message have been egregiously undermined by the committee’s incompetence and nonsensical hesitancy in admitting it needed funding help. If the event is allowed to fall apart, London’s claim to being a city of tolerance and social liberalism will surely be tarnished.

Meanwhile, the LGBT community and those involved with the event are conflicted about the best way forward. In an open letter to Boris Johnson, a Facebook group called Shame London have asked the Mayor "to provide equivalent funding to the Notting Hill Carnival", which would enable the parade proper to be reinstated. Since the GLA has in fact already donated £100,000 to the event, others disagree that it is Johnson’s duty to step up to the plate. Some have called out for a celebrity donor, or Soho businesses that profit year round from the LGBT community, to put up the cash; others claim to be prepared to fundraise themselves. Pride London is the only official group with the means to distribute gathered funds, but vitriol for them is now so intense that many potential supporters would not pass a penny the committee’s way whatever it could now pull off. Somebody, then, must surely act as both a mediator and a guarantor.

Late last night, Pride London confirmed that it had secured the support of two sponsors, Smirnoff and QSoft in meeting some of the deficit, theoretically enabling the restoration of the floats to the parade and the closure of selected Soho roads, should the GLA agree. A final all-agencies meeting is planned for later today where the restoration of WorldPride now depends on the cooperation of Westminster Council and the Met, or a top-down order from the only man who can demand it: the Mayor himself.

Johnson’s reticence to intervene so far is not exactly reassuring. Would Johnson not have offered help immediately if the Jubilee celebrations had been financially mismanaged? Or the Olympics? Even the most cynical of us can see that the furore presents Johnson with the perfect political opportunity to up the Tories’ liberal cuddle-credentials. So what point has the Mayor made by so far failing to step in and save the day? That you can put a price on protecting and promoting human rights, and it stands at roughly £66K?

In the meantime, besides occupying City Hall, or picketing Boris’ home, what can any of the appalled rest of us do? Well, join the Shame London Facebook campaign and email the Mayor. Or use a similar letter drafted by Consortium to put pressure on the GLA to reinstate the original plans. And – most importantly - plan to attend WorldPride on Saturday, of course, however the event turns out. Even if we can’t party as hard as we were hoping, we can still do what thousands of other individuals still waiting for LGBT acceptance around the world cannot; march with our friends and loved ones and say to the world, it’s ok to be gay. Whatever Pride London or the authorities owed us in honesty or actions, we owe it to all those denied the right to LGBT identity to show that solidarity.
 

Boris Johnson at the Gay Pride march in London in 2008. Photograph: Getty Images

Nichi Hodgson is a writer and broadcaster specialising in sexual politics, censorship, and  human rights. Her first book, Bound To You, published by Hodder & Stoughton, is out now. She tweets @NichiHodgson.

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.