Farewell Ken

Under Boris catchy ‘headline’ policies like a new routemaster bus and a no-strike deal with the RMT

So, the election in London is over, we’ve lost a great Mayor, gained an uncertain future and kept our two Green Assembly Members in the face of an almighty squeeze. After a week of catching up on sleep, meeting the babies my friends produced during the campaign and – importantly – reacquainting myself with the local pub, it’s time to reflect.

Although as predicted I am not Mayor, the Greens did remarkably well, all things considered. The thousands of new voters turning out to vote for either Boris or Ken rightly made all the other parties nervous about their vote shares. When we arrived at City Hall on Friday afternoon last week, we had to rely on staring at the relative sizes of the Labour and Tory Assembly votes that were being displayed on plasma screens (via the patented London Elects scale-free bar chart system, which seems to be specifically designed to make candidates nervous). As we tried to work out what each extra chunk on our electronic columns meant in the real world, it did at first look like we would be facing the same level of squeeze that the Scottish Greens saw last year, and which resulted in them losing five of their seven MSPs.

However, as the evening wore tensely on, it became clear that our vote had stood up to the challenge, and that we’d added as many voters as the turnout demanded to keep a virtually identical vote share on the Assembly list as in 2004. In the final count we ended up with exactly the same number of AMs as before, and my vote share in the Mayoral race went up slightly, with around 25,000 extra first preference bringing me in at fourth place (up three on last time). Full results from London Elects here.

Other parties did not fare so well. UKIP and One London were wiped off the Assembly completely, and the LibDems lost two of their five AMs when their Assembly vote went down nearly 7%. Mayor candidate Brian Paddick lost them nearly 5%, too, with an overall reduction in voter numbers for the LibDems of more than 50,000. Our campaign, while it felt a lot like running very hard to stand still, at least saved us from being squeezed like this and, if our extra votes turn out to be from people switching from other parties, rather than new voters coming in to bash Ken or stop Boris, it may mean we are set for a hefty percentage increase in the Euro elections next year.

What’s concerning me in the short term, however, is what our new Tory Mayor will do now. I can guarantee some things we won’t see. Catchy ‘headline’ policies like a new routemaster bus, a no-strike deal with the RMT, and rephasing traffic lights to solve congestion, are all likely to fold quicker than you can say ‘ethical foreign policy’, and I predict we will see them shelved as quietly as possible by the new team in City Hall over the next few months.

On the other hand, Johnson’s pledge to cancel the new £25 congestion charge for gas-guzzlers can be achieved all too easily. After a few days off, I’ll be getting together with my colleagues on the 4x4 campaign and with cycling groups (the money raised by the new C-Charge was earmarked to support new cycling facilities for the next decade, so it’s their concern too) to work out our next move. Watch this space…

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.