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Mehdi Hasan hears the sound of a consensus cracking... now everyone loves Ed

Breaking news! Right-wing pundits now admit that they underestimated Ed Miliband.

What's that I hear? The sound of a consensus cracking?

Since 4.50pm on Satuday 25 September 2010, commentators on the right and on the so-called "centre" of the political spectrum have queued up to dismiss Ed Miliband as a lightweight, a cipher, a left-wing loon, "Red Ed", who would consign Labour to electoral oblivion in 2015 and beyond. They collectively mourned his brother David's narrow defeat.

"By choosing Ed Miliband, Labour has handed David Cameron the next election," read the headline to Matthew D'Ancona's column in the Sunday Telegraph the next day.

"On Saturday, David Cameron won the next general election," declared D'Ancona in his opening line, adding: "Could it really have chosen the wrong Miliband? Yes, it could."

"Will Labour be dead with Red Ed?" read the headline to Martin Ivens's column in the Sunday Times, also on 26 September.

"In No 10 last week some were looking forward to an Ed victory for the least flattering of reasons," wrote Ivens. "'There will be rejoicing in Tory towns all over the country if Ed wins,' a top Conservative strategist told me."

"The party voted for David Miliband but got the Panda instead," read the headline to John Rentoul's column in the Independent on Sunday.

"Ed Miliband, who would have struggled against David Cameron in the House of Commons in any event, is going to be roasted every week," argued Rentoul, an ardent Blairite, adding: "I fear that he fights with both hands tied behind his back."

Now, however, more than a year and a half later, following a shambolic budget from George Osborne and impressive gains for Labour in the local elections, those same commentators (and others) have changed their tune and are queuing up to warn against the new and looming threat posed by the Labour leader.

Here's D'Ancona in yesterday's Sunday Telegraph:

It is time to start thinking seriously about Prime Minister Miliband – to roll those words around your mouth. Whatever response the 42-year-old Labour leader provokes within you – and he has always inspired a broad range of reaction – only a fool would ignore his party’s steady progress in the local elections and commanding lead in the opinion polls (15 points ahead of the Tories in the last two YouGov surveys). The cement of popular opinion has not yet set in Miliband’s favour. But let us be objective: after two months of Coalition “omnishambles”, one has to consider that it might yet do so.

To be fair to D'Ancona, the former Spectator editor also added:

When the younger Miliband defeated his brother for the Labour leadership in September 2010 by a tiny twist of the DNA helix, many – including the present writer – thought he lacked the bearing of a future PM. But it must be conceded that he is learning, and fast.

Here's Martin Ivens in yesterday's Sunday Times:

[O]ne May morning in 2015 we could wake up with Ed Miliband as prime minister — even if there are no cheering crowds to greet the dawn with him as they did Tony Blair. Apathy, despair over a miserable economic outlook and a low turnout could return Labour to office...

The headline of the column?

How Miliband could make it to No 10

Meanwhile, in yesterday's Independent on Sunday, John Rentoul, through gritted teeth, acknowledged how

Cameron has allowed Ed Miliband to re-forge the coalition of the Blairites and Brownites. Peter Mandelson co-authored an article on the economy with Ed Balls, and Andrew Adonis returned to the fold to review Labour's industrial policy.

The political consensus has been well and truly cracked. The pack is on the move. Finally. It's taken a while but they seem to have got there in the end.

"Having spent the past six months studying him for our book, I have one piece of advice for Ed Miliband's conservative critics: don't misunderestimate him," I wrote in a column in the Guardian back in June 2011.

Those were the days when I got knocked by the right for daring to write such pieces. So, Matthew, Martin, John - great to have you onboard!

 

 

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.