I may not actually win...

Sian urges London's voters to send out a strong message over green issues by voting for her first, L

Okay, I’m going to be painfully honest and admit I have a very slim chance of becoming Mayor of London after the ballots are counted on 2 May. I’m being asked why I’m standing a lot at the moment, and the truth is it’s not because I think I’m actually going to be Mayor.

But, I do believe in giving voters a full choice of candidates in every election, and I know that many voters will want to send a strong message about wanting more progress on green and social justice issues, and that’s what a Green first vote is all about. Then, as I have blogged before, I am recommending people cast their final round votes for Ken Livingstone to save London from the horror of becoming Boris Johnson’s playpen for the next four years.

This is what I’m calling their ‘insurance’ vote, and I also have an insurance policy of my own in this election. I am fourth on our London Assembly londonwide list, and so I do have a realistic chance of becoming an Assembly Member after election day.

Provided we run a decent campaign (which of course I’m largely responsible for making sure of, working in the high-profile mayoral candidate role), I think we should be able to win the confidence of the same proportion of London voters as in the last council elections in 2006. This was 13.5%, and would just about be enough to put me in via the fiendishly complicated D’Hondt counting system used to assign the list seats.

The only problem – and it’s not a small one - is the pitifully tiny amount of attention actually given to the Assembly elections by the ‘Boris and Ken show’ obsessed press. Hardly anyone is aware we have a progressive, almost-fair, PR-based system for the Assembly election, or that they can vote for who they like and be sure their vote will count towards winning AMs for their chosen party. Hopefully this will improve though, as the campaign goes on, and of course I’m doing my little bit by posting this here.

It’s a double shame for us in the Greens that the Assembly is so invisible in this election, because our current two AMs, Darren Johnson and Jenny Jones, have made far and away the best job of being on the Assembly over the past four years. I have honestly never known two more hardworking, morally upright and astute politicians.

Unlike the part-timers from the other parties, they have worked tirelessly to make London better; and not just on green issues either. Some people are aware that Livingstone’s increased investment in cycling and home energy-efficiency is down to their casting vote over his budget each year. But how many know that they were also responsible for the creation of the Living Wage Unit, which calculates what a Londoner really needs to earn to pay for the basic essentials and enables campaigners such as London Citizens to go out and shame big employers like Citigroup into paying their cleaners decently?

The scale of their achievements came home to me the other day, when I was putting together this webpage, listing what they have got done. Yes, as they (probably) say, ‘you can take the woman out of the web manager job, but you can’t completely take the web manager out of the woman’, so fiddling with the London Green Party website is still my spare time hobby. The amount of material was so large I ended up putting it over four pages in the end, and it still needed a list of id-tagged contents at the top of each page.

So, while a Tory monopoly will still leave us with lots to do, my two hopes for this election are that, first, we retain a Mayor over which the Greens have an influence and, second, that I can be working alongside them in City Hall making it all happen.

To find out who you should be voting for on May 1st visit our Fantasy Mayor site.

Sian Berry lives in Kentish Town and was previously a principal speaker and campaigns co-ordinator for the Green Party. She was also their London mayoral candidate in 2008. She works as a writer and is a founder of the Alliance Against Urban 4x4s
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.