Here's 10 left-wing things Gordon Brown could do

But I couldn't think of any of them on LBC!

I was on Petrie Hosken's show on LBC last night discussing politics and the week's big news stories with the Tory blogger Iain Dale and the Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack (the former "head of innovations" for the party - what on earth is that, then?) for an hour. As the show came to an end, Petrie gave each of us less than a minute to tell the listeners what one thing Gordon Brown should do to revive Labour's fortunes (Pack said "Resign!"). I have been kicking myself since, as my rather flat and dull answer was to say he should take a risk and hold a referendum on proportional representation on the same day as the general election. Now, don't get me wrong. I do care passionately about electoral reform and genuinely believe that proportional representation would revolutionise British politics (and prevent future landslide majorities for both Labour and, thankfully, the Tories) but I accept that it's not going to set pulses racing. Nor is it going to energise the rank and file of the Labour Party or, for that matter, the wider left. As I left the LBC building in Leicester Square, one friend texted to say, "Jeez, PR? What kind of lefty are you?"

She has a point. PR is a necessary but not sufficient part of a robust and risk-taking Labour fightback. Like Polly Toynbee, I think Gordon Brown has nothing left to lose over the next nine months, so it's time for him to throw out his copy of the Daily Mail, stop worrying about "Middle England" and go for broke. As a wise man once said: "This Labour Party [is] best when we are boldest, best when we are united, best when we are Labour."

So here are ten things Brown could do in the coming months that I should have pointed out on LBC last night:

1) Scrap Trident, saving the taxpayer around £20bn.
2) Crack down on tax havens and tighten tax loopholes, saving the taxpayer around £25bn a year.
3) Impose a retrospective 90 per cent tax on all 2008/2009 UK bank bonuses.
4) Scrap ID cards and the national identity register, saving the taxpayer at least £5bn.
5) Increase Jobseeker's Allowance from the miserly £64.30 a week to at least £75 a week.
6) Scrap charitable status for private schools, saving the taxpayer around £88m a year.
7) Impose a windfall tax on the multibillion-pound profits of energy and utility firms.
8) Abolish prescription charges in England to ensure equality across the UK and to bolster the NHS.
9) Lower the threshold for the new 50p top rate of tax from £150,000 to £100,000.
10) Raise the threshold at which tax is paid on redundancy money - currently £30,000 - to £50,000.

There you go! I feel a bit better now.

Now, what would your left-wing advice for G Brown look like?

 

 

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.