Mehdi Hasan on the threat from far-right terrorism

The Home Affairs Select Committee has produced an important report on an oft-ignored subject.

For some in the west, and in particular here in the UK, the murder of 77 people in Norway by Anders Breivik seemed unbelievable and inexplicable. It didn't compute. The moment the news broke, for instance, Labour MP Tom Harris took to Twitter to blame - yep, you guessed it - Muslim extremists for the killings. To be fair to Harris, he was just articulating out loud what others - liberals and conservatives alike - were thinking and assuming in their heads. Even after it became clear that it wasn't a Muslim who had perpetrated this atrocity, some refused to call it an act of terrorism, preferring to refer to the perpetrator of the crime as "mad" and "insane".

As Guy Walters noted at the time:

For some commentators, such as Simon Jenkins in the Guardian, Sam Leith in the Evening Standard, and Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph, Breivik's actions are explained by insanity, and there is not much need to study Breivik's 'manifesto'. This, the argument runs, was the work of a lunatic who had built a puerile ideology to accommodate his psychopathy. In essence - the madness comes first, then the political justification, then the slaughter.

But Anders Breivik isn't a madman and his crime wasn't prompted by voices in his head. Just read his detailed, 1500-page manifesto, 2083 A European Declaration of Independence, to see how disturbingly rational, thought-through and politicized his hate-filled views and opinions are.

As Walters argued last year:

The roots of Breivik's actions clearly lie in his politics, and when you read his 'manifesto', it is clear why he decided to act as he did. His argument runs thus: Multiculturalism, 'cultural Marxism' and immigration of Muslims is destroying our way of life. The people responsible for this are the ruling Labour Party. These people are traitors. I have tried to act politically, but that has yielded no reward, and little hope of doing so. Violence is the only solution. Therefore, kill the next generation of political Labour Party leaders. This is a necessary evil, but will save us from the greater murderousness of Islam in the long run. And, in a brutally logical way, that is just what Breivik did.

You can read Walter's excellent blogpost in full here.

Now, I've written before about the oft-ignored threat from far-right, "white" terrorism - for example, in the New Statesman in July 2009 and in the Guardian in January 2011. In the latter piece, I noted how

FBI figures show between 2002 and 2005 there were 24 acts of terrorism recorded in the US; 23 of those incidents were carried out by non-Muslim,"domestic terrorists".

Often the reaction I get to such pieces amounts to a version of: "You're just saying all this because you're Muslim and you want to deflect attention away from the crimes of your co-religionists." There is an assumption among opinion-formers and decison-makers that the threat from far-right terrorism isn't as serious or worthy of debate and discussion as the threat from Islamist terorrism - despite the killing of 77 people in nearby Norway by a non-Muslim terrorist with extensive links to our own English Defence League (EDL).

Thankfully, the Home Affairs Select Committee, in a new report out today, seems to disagree with the conventional wisdom. MPs on the committee noted that there

appears to be a growth in more extreme and violent forms of far-right ideology. Indeed it is clear that individuals from many different backgrounds are vulnerable, with no typical profile or pathway to radicalisation.

The MPs concluded:

A view was expressed by some of those giving evidence to us, and those to whom we spoke less formally, that the revised Prevent Strategy only pays lip service to the threat from extreme far-right terrorism. We accept that Prevent resources should be allocated proportionately to the terrorist threat, and that to an extent we must rely upon the intelligence and security services to make this judgement. However, we received persuasive evidence about the potential threat from extreme far-right terrorism. The ease of travel and communications between countries in Europe and the growth of far-right organisations, which appear to have good communications with like-minded groups within Europe, suggest that the current lack of firm evidence should not be a reason for neglecting this area of risk. The Prevent Strategy should outline more clearly the actions to be taken to tackle far right radicalisation as well as explicitly acknowledge the potential interplay between different forms of violent extremism, and the potential for measures directed at far-right extremism to have a consequential effect on Islamist extremism, and vice versa.

Will Theresa May and co take notice of the report's conclusions? Will the media start shining a light on the very real threat from far-right terrorism? If not in the interests of fairness and balance, then at least in the interests of safety, security and self-preservation? I have my doubts...

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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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.