PMQs sketch: Insults abound as quaffing beckons

Dave not so chillaxed after questions on vino and socialism.

Ed Balls may or may not be useful to the Labour Party as Shadow Chancellor, but as insulter-in-chief to the Prime Minister he has no match.
Having already been awarded the title of "most annoying man in modern politics" by Dave at a previous encounter, you might have thought that the old Brown bruiser would have been content to rest on his laurels.

But the smell of blood-to-be during the latest round of what purported to be Prime Ministers Questions proved once again too tempting for someone who has got far enough up the PM's nose to operate on his adenoids.

And Ed B was back excavating at his best today when he managed to produce another quality aside from the PM.

Having worked on him for 25 minutes with a variety of selected insults from his notes on bear baiting, Ed finally hit the Dave release button  with an apparent aside about how many glasses of wine the Prime Minister may have had.

Let us point out immediately this was not to suggest Dave had quaffed a couple on his way to the Commons to calm his nerves - but rather a reference to weekend reports that our "chillaxing" PM is reported to knock back a half a bottle of what passes for Vino Collapso in his circles with his Sunday roast.

These reports caused further consternation among the we-are-not-too-sure-about-Dave faction which is being sponsored by the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph. The PM was unhappy, to say the least, with Ed B's contribution from what is known in the House of Commons as a "sedentary position" - and in the real world as sitting down.

Thus Dave rebuked "this muttering idiot sitting opposite me" to the delight of all sides, who had become a bit bored with proceedings anyway as sunshine and quaffing elsewhere beckoned.

Now among the many arcane rules of the Commons chamber is the one that says you can say what you like  as long as the Speaker doesn't hear it - which is just as well for John Bercow bearing in mind what many MPs say about him.

As both sides swapped whatever insults came to hand and Tories demanded more retribution from their leader, Speaker Bercow kept shouting order which seemed rather apposite following the original Ed B insult.

Dave agreed to withdraw the word "idiot" but with all the reluctance of someone who realised he could have withdrawn something considerably ruder had he not been poked so sharply.

Sadly for some the insult that was not withdrawn during PMQs was the shocking suggestion made by a multi-million pound pal of the Prime Minister that the Business Secretary Vince Cable was "a socialist".

The afore-mentioned multi, who made his money forecasting other people's disasters, had shot to sudden fame with a report on cutting red tape for business to encourage employment. One of the more novel ways would be to scrap employment protection, which he admitted could let bosses sack workers just because they didn't like them.

Vince described his plan as "bonkers" - a word clearly only ever used by Karl Marx - and he was immediately denounced.

Proud of demonstrating their Lib-Dem credentials in the coalition government, Vince and his leader Nick Clegg were missing from the Chamber to the relief of Dave and the sadness of the Labour leader Ed Miliband, who could only warm up the PM for the eventual Flashman moment won by his alter-Ed.

Throughout all the jolly proceedings seasoned watchers will have noted the thousand-yard stare of Chancellor George who only absent-mindedly rubbed the bruised parts of his now decidedly un-chillaxed best buddy Dave.

The PM trotted out the European Court of Human Rights - far more threatening than Karl Marx - to try to get back onside with his critics, but you could see his relief when the Speaker thought the nation had had enough and called time.

Meanwhile, Frank Field said the Food Bank believed they would be feeding 500,000 people by the next election.

Photograph: Getty Images

Peter McHugh is the former Director of Programmes at GMTV and Chief Executive Officer of Quiddity Productions

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.