The Tory rebellion leaves Cameron as the new John Major

The PM looks like a weak and defeated leader after last night's vote.

Labour’s plan to embarrass Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems over Lords reform has backfired spectacularly. "Why would we want to hand the Lib Dems a victory?" went the logic of Labour’s decision to two-facedly vote for the Bill but against the programme motion that gave it any chance of seeing the light of day. But what chumps they look now. Nick is left looking like the Miss Haversham of British politics, deserted at the altar of constitutional reform while the groom has a fistfight with his family in the car park. And trust me, everyone always ends up feeling sorry for the jilted bride.

But fear not, Labour MPs. Your war gaming may not have played out just as you expected. But there is a small consolation. You have probably just finished the career of David Cameron, ended any hope of this government doing much else of any worth in the foreseeable, and probably won the next general election to boot.

Cameron looks now like a weak and defeated leader – as the always excellent Jonathan Calder puts it, the new John Major of Conservative politics. Unable to control his backbenchers, he must be gloomily contemplating the hand that fate has dealt him. All over Westminster, Conservative rebels have been drinking the bars dry and celebrating showing the "leadership" – if we can still call it that – who’s boss. "Rebellion is the new cool", I saw tweeted tonight, quoting one Tory backbencher. I’m guessing it wasn’t Peter Bone. But they’ve got a taste for it now, and they know that with enough numbers, they can get the PM to back off. How Cameron must already be regretting his decision not to whip this one properly.

And having got a taste for rebellion, the Tory right will want more, more, more. The snooping bill, EU referendum, a British Bill of Rights. They’ll be clamouring for the lot. But they won’t get it. I doubt there’ll be many Lib Dem MPs willing to hold their noses for Tory policy going forward.

So the rebels won’t get anything they want. And they’ll blame Cameron for that. Ostensibly for not putting us in our place – but really because they’re still furious with him for not winning a majority at the last General Election. And so the rancour and the poison will continue.

And where will it end? Well, we have a Prime Minister, unable to deliver on his coalition promises, under the thumb of rebellious backbenchers, but incapable of satisfying their demands, behind in the polls and all the while becalmed in an austerity driven economy.

Major can probably tell Cameron how this ends ...

David Cameron with John Major in December 2011. Photograph: Getty Images.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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.