Keeping it in the family

There’s nothing <em>that</em> unusual about Miliband <em>v</em> Miliband

That the Labour leadership contest seems destined to end in a race to the finish between David and Ed Miliband has excited many, some to the point of fever -- such as the Observer's Tim Adams, who, in an entertaining piece a couple of Sundays ago, raised the examples of the Brothers Karamazov, Romulus and Remus and even Jacob and Esau (evidently Cain and Abel was a comparison too far).

However, the Labour Party has a great history of prominent politicians not necessarily owing their positions to family connection, but certainly being related to each other. In his 2006 study Britain's Power Elites: the Rebirth of a Ruling Class, the historian Hywel Williams -- an occasional NS contributor -- details this most thoroughly. Parts of the relevant passage, which I'm going to quote in full, will be familiar, others not:

Roy Jenkins had a significant career start as the son of Arthur Jenkins, a Labour MP, who was close to Clement Attlee. Peter Mandelson's grandfather was Herbert Morrison -- a dominating party manager of post-war Labour London and a looming figure of consequence within the postwar Labour cabinet. Estelle Morris, the former education secretary, is the daughter of a former deputy chief whip as well as the niece of Alf Morris, a life peer and former minister whom she has now joined in the House of Lords. Hilary Armstrong is not just the Chief Whip, but is also the daughter of a long-serving Labour MP who also served in the Whips' Office. Charles Clarke shows a political-administrative continuity at work, being the son of Otto Clarke, a permanent secretary with an invincible confidence in the rectitude of his own judgement.

When Bob Cryer died it seemed only natural that his widow should take his seat in the House of Commons, where her son also sat as a member until 2005. Hilary Benn, the Overseas Development Secretary, is the son of Tony Benn, and Gwyneth Dunwoody's career starts with the fact that her father was Morgan Phillips, general secretary of the Labour Party (1944-62), while David Miliband is an august member of the Labour aristocracy, being the son of Ralph Miliband as well as the brother of Ed Miliband who in 2005 was elected the Labour MP for Doncaster North.

The career of Llinos Golding (Baroness Golding of Newcastle-under-Lyme) is a fine paradigm of familial politics, since she is the daughter of Ness Edwards, the Labour MP for Caerphilly (1939-68), and succeeded her husband, John Golding, as the member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (1968-2001) having previously been his aide.

There are of course family connections on the Tory benches. George Osborne's father-in-law, Lord Howell, is a Foreign Office minister and served in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.

Bernard Jenkin may now be known better for his keen espousal of naturism than for the shadow cabinet, er, briefs, he held under Iain Duncan Smith and William Hague, but the Harwich MP's father, Patrick Jenkin, was also a cabinet minister under Mrs T. The same goes (not the naturism) for the Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude, whose father, Angus, nicknamed "the Mekon", had a two-year stint as paymaster general. The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is the son of a former Tory MEP, and his brother Jo is the new MP for Orpington. (Advanced students of Johnsonology may like to refer to the NS cover story Brian Cathcart and I wrote in March 2008 -- "Who is Boris Johnson?" -- for a full explanation of how those Johnsons are related.)

These, however, Williams argues (or argued in 2006), are exceptions rather than the rule. "Among past and present members of the opposition front bench," he wrote, "Nicholas Soames and Dominic Grieve are very rare examples of significant Conservative politicians who have been reared from Tory political families." His view is that: "Beneath all the sentiment about what used to be referred to as 'this great movement of ours', there are some strikingly continuous facts of patronage and family connection which make New Labour the heir to the Hanoverian-Whiggish elites of the 18th century."

That does not sound terribly like a compliment -- or, at least, one cannot imagine a Labour politician publicly professing to take it as such. Worse for the Milibands, however, is the example of another political family in which two sons of a prominent father both served in the cabinet and both aspired to the premiership. Let us hope they do not follow in the footsteps of the Chamberlains: of Joseph, who helped destroy the Liberal Party, and of his sons Neville, forever remembered as the great appeaser of Hitler, and Austen -- who had the distinction, until William Hague, of being the only Conservative leader in the 20th century not to become prime minister.

Sholto Byrnes is a Contributing Editor to 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.