Labour's new prawn cocktail offensive

Miliband's drive to recruit business people as party candidates has raised some eyebrows.

In one of his most pointed interventions since leaving office, Tony Blair warned Labour MPs earlier this year that the party could not afford to "go into the next election without the support of a single CEO from a big company" as it did in 2010. Ed Miliband, who appeared with Blair at a party fundraiser last week, seems to have been listening.

At Labour's annual business reception tonight (in the rarefied surroundings of the Chartered Accountants' Hall in the City of London), Miliband will announce a new drive to recruit business people as parliamentary candidates. The Future Candidates Programme will offer mentoring for those who want to go from business into politics. According to the party, applicants do not need to be Labour Party members but "should share Labour values" and "be willing to join if selected to take part in the programme".

The decision to waive the requirement that one be a Labour member has already caused some to raise a sceptical eyebrow. Labour List's Mark Ferguson notes that "Joining a party to become a candidate isn’t necessarily the best way to get the best MPs and councillors…".

Of the programme, Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, said:

Not only do we want more people setting up businesses, leading businesses and working in businesses, we want more people from the world of business in our ranks - from our councillors to our MPs. There are some already: like our MPs in the shadow Business team; all of whom have set up and run businesses or worked for business, but we need more.

We know many people who go into business share our values: hard work, contributing to society, creating something from nothing, creating jobs, creating value. This is why we want to bolster the number of people from business in our ranks and from different walks of business life – from entrepreneurs to engineers, manufacturers to media marketers, architects to analysts, retailers to recruiters.

In a similar spirit, Umunna used his summer reception at Adam Street last night to announce a new campaign to save the private members' club, which is threatened with conversion into luxury flats. It was, he said, an important networking venue for business people and entrepreneurs.

What of the need to recruit more working class candidates, you may ask. Well, the two aims are not mutually exclusive - Labour can recruit working class business people - and Jon Trickett, the shadow cabinet office minister, recently launched a new programme to increase the number of working class candidates. All the same, some will note that that launch received considerably less promotion than today's. Where was the reception for working class applicants? (Miliband's appearance at the Durham miners' gala notwithstanding). And if business people are not expected to be existing Labour members, why should anyone be? Those are some of the questions Miliband and co will need to answer.

Ed Miliband will offer business people who are not Labour members the chance to become parliamentary candidates. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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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.