The Labour leadership contest catches fire

Miliband brothers clash on Iraq as real differences between the five emerge.

The Labour leadership contest kicked off in earnest tonight in the first hustings since nominations closed, with the five official candidates outlining opposing approaches to issues ranging from Iraq to immigration.

David and Ed Miliband, the two leading candidates, clashed repeatedly on the invasion of Iraq as real differences between the two brothers emerged for the first time ever.

Tensions rose after Ed Miliband said that he felt that at the time of the invasion in 2003, when he was not yet an MP, Hans Blix, the chief UN weapons inspector, should have been given "more time". His elder brother appeared to raise his eyebrows at this point, as he did when Ed Miliband implied there had been a lack of "values" in foreign policy under Labour.

David Miliband, who was foreign secretary from 2007 until the general election, admitted that "of course" he would not have voted for the war had he known there were no WMDs, and described George W Bush as "the worst thing that ever happened to Tony Blair", but put up a bold defence of the invasion. He also accused his brother and Ed Balls of "having it both ways" over Trident.

"We cannot fight fight this contest pandering on Iraq and Trident or we'll be like the Tories on Europe," one MP supporting David Miliband said afterwards.

In one of the most animated moments of the evening, Ed Miliband was pressed on why he was standing against his brother, but he didn't take the bait, saying that "David would make an excellent leader and prime minister".

David Miliband, for his part, repeated that if he thought Ed Miliband would make a better leader, he would be running Ed Miliband's campaign. The impression was left that Ed was a little more generous than David about the other.

The other moment that was truly heated came later when, after a long speech by Ed Balls, Ed Miliband said: "It's like being back in the Treasury." Everyone laughed, apart from Balls, who then hit back, saying: "Tell us the answer then, Ed, like you always do."

In the opening statements, Andy Burnham set the tone for his pitch by saying: "I can give people something the Tories can't -- a leader whose background is similar to people."

David Miliband said his key mission was to fight inequality. He said, notably, that "if I was your prime minister", that would be "at the heart" of his agenda.

Diane Abbott highlighted mistakes under Labour including the 10p income-tax threshold and the Iraq invasion.

Ed Miliband said: "It's time to move on from the era of Blair and Brown and I am the best candidate to do that." He said that Labour had become a party of "technocrats", including oversights in the area of -- for example -- civil liberties. He added that Labour will win because of its values, not in spite of them.

Ed Balls attacked his non-Labour opponents and declared that the fightback against the Tories and the Liberal Democrats starts here.

After the first question, from Nicola Ormerod -- on what distinct qualities the candidates offer -- David Miliband emphasised the need to be able to make big decisions with an "iron will". He added that he would consult, but then "make decisions and stick to them".

Ed Miliband said he wants to "inspire" as a leader of a "wider movement", and pointed out that power was not worth it for its own sake.

On the Budget deficit, there was agreement between the two Eds -- not always best of friends these days -- that David Cameron is staking everything on an ideological attack on the state.

Burnham, again playing the class card, said that "we have a cabinet of millionaires" doing the cuts. David Miliband said: "We were too timid about industrial policy after -- ironically -- Peter Mandelson left the DTI." He also said the Tories are wrong to claim that deficits are in themselves wrong, arguing that in some cases they are necessary.

Diane Abbott impressed the hall when she said that David Cameron's claim that the cuts would change our way of life "doesn't mean his way of life". She also called for the scrapping of Trident, to some applause.

At one point, after Ed Balls had attacked those who "dump on our record", Ed Miliband said that was not what was being done in an honest appraisal of what went wrong, "on Iraq or any other issue". Balls nodded.

In a combative moment, after Ed Miliband backed David Miliband's policy of electing a party chair, and discussed party accountability, Ed Balls turned to him and asked him if he would have done the manifesto differently. Ed Miliband said he would have, to an extent.

Andy Burnham said that he was brought into politics by "the theatre" of Neil Kinnock versus Derek Hatton. It sounded a tiny bit glib, and David Miliband shook his head.

Moving on to more specific issues, an audience member asked whether the candidates would be positive on immigration. Abbott kicked off the answers, saying that Labour must not "play the old tunes", making out that all problems are down to immigrants (including eastern European migrants, whom Ed Balls has made an issue in this campaign). She got a huge round of applause.

Burnham took a very different line, saying that immigration had been a big issue on the doorstep.

David Miliband agreed that "immigration was an issue" in the election, but said it must be approached as a "fairness" issue, not a "racial" one. He also said that the Brown slogan of "British jobs for British workers" had produced the lesson that you should not have a "Dutch auction" on immigration, or Europe.

He then used what, for this campaign, was an unusually positive tactic, saying that to play in to such rhetoric is wrong and that if this was what party members want, "don't vote for me".

It echoed a speech by Tony Blair in which the then prime minister said of William Hague: "Asylum: we've got a problem, but ask me to exploit it in terms of race? Then vote for the other man -- I won't do it."

Ed Miliband, too, struck a positive note, challenging the idea that the free movement of labour in Europe could be restricted -- an idea floated in Ed Balls's recent Observer article.

Depressingly for some electoral reformers, none of the candidates backed proportional representation, while Burnham surprised some by saying that whether or not he supported AV would depend on narrow party interest.

Overall, all the candidates performed well. Abbott showed she was worthy of appearing on the ballot paper. Burnham had humour. Ed Balls was as combative as ever. Ed Miliband appeared the most passionate. And David Miliband the most credible.

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James Macintyre is political correspondent for the New Statesman.
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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.