Goodbye Mr Milburn. And don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

I am fed up of the media myth about the Blairites.

Gaby Hinsliff has an interesting, if provocative, piece on the Guardian's Comment Is Free. She thinks Labour has "taken the bait on Alan Milburn's coalition role" and mocks the "considered" response of the left ("Well, good riddance to Blairite rubbish, eh?"). Some highlights from her piece:

Right now, the left is too busy behaving like a teenage girl who dumps her loser boyfriend only to react furiously when he goes out with someone else, loudly protesting about how she never fancied him anyway . . . The relevant question should be whether the supposed traitors still have any original, creative thinking left in them -- or whether they are a bunch of broken records, wrung dry by years of Whitehall grind . . . That means working out fast who else is on David Cameron's speed-dial -- Peter Mandelson? Charles Clarke? David Blunkett? James Purnell? -- and whether Labour should get its own offer in first. (Tip: sometimes it shouldn't.) But it would also mean establishing why some of Labour's bigger beasts are wandering off the reservation . . . But it does need Milburn if it seeks to imply that the Labour Party is splitting asunder and its reformist right wing (like it or not, to some swing voters, its electable wing) is deserting the sinking ship.

I would question a lot of this. First, how do you define "creative thinking"? Being right-wing?? And who or what is a "big beast"? James Purnell?? Blunkett, who left the cabinet in disgrace on not one, but two occasions? Mandelson, who may have been the second-most-powerful man in the land until 6 May, but has since become a joke figure? Charles Clarke, who could never muster enough support in the Parliamentary Labour Party to challenge Brown and couldn't even keep hold of his own seat? These people represent the "electable wing" of the party? Really? I mean, really??

I, for one, am fed up with the media myth that suggests the Blairites were the cool dudes in the dull Labour gang, that they were popular and/or adored, and that they single-handedly won general elections for the party. Did anyone ever say to themselves, "I'm voting Labour because of Alan Milburn"? Did people take to the street in protest when Blunkett was sacked from the cabinet? Did the likes of Patricia Hewitt, Geoff Hoon and Stephen Byers help or hinder the Labour re-election effort this year, when they were outed by Channel 4's Dispatches grubbing for cash? And did anyone really doubt that the ultra-Blairites such as Milburn and Hutton were closer to the Tories, in their pro-market, pro-privatisation, pro-rich ideology, than to the Labour Party, new or old?

Call me an unreconstructed, tribal lefty but I can't help but disagree with pretty much everything in Hinsliff's piece. For once, I'm with John Prescott. "Collaborators" might seem a little excessive, but Milburn, Frank Field, John Hutton et al are doing the exact same job for the coalition as the Liberal Democrats: they are providing ideological cover for a regressive Budget and an all-out assault on the public sector.

Here is Ed Miliband's response to the Milburn decision, which he shared with the New Statesman earlier today:

If Alan had asked my advice on whether he should be an adviser to the government on social reform and mobility I would have said it was a bad idea. I think you always have to weigh the influence you can have -- because Alan will have wanted to try and make their policy better -- with the credibility that you give them. I'm afraid that any influence that he might have will be outweighed by the credibility he will give them. He is someone who worked on social mobility, and when you look at what they are doing on housing benefit, on VAT, on council tenancies, tax credits -- the list of public services is very long -- they're certainly not going to promote social mobility. I think that now he has accepted this role, he better speak out against what they are doing on these issues.

Will we hear an anti-Cameron peep from Alan "Pepsico" Milburn? I doubt it.

By the way, on a side note, one of the few refreshing and satisfying aspects of the Labour leadership contest is that all the candidates -- from the "Brownites" Ed Balls and Ed Miliband to the "Blairites" Andy Burnham and David Miliband -- agree that it is time to move on from New Labour, and put Tony Blair and Gordon Brown behind us. Hear, hear!

Oh, and before the New Labour outriders start parachuting into the comment section "below the line" and smugly pointing out that "Tony Blair won three elections", let me add that I don't disagree. But am I expected to believe that Milburn, Blunkett, Byers, Hoon and Hewitt were responsible for them? Am I supposed to forget that Labour, under Blair, shed four million votes between 1997 and 2005? Or ignore the fact that his victories were guaranteed by a combination of a majoritarian, first-past-the-post system with a built-in, pro-Labour bias and a crazed Conservative Party that chose William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard over Kenneth Clarke?

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.

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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.