What did we learn today? Osborne will defend the banks. Again.

The Chancellor's Autumn Statement shows a commitment to backing the unregulated and reckless financi

Forget the bluster, the spin, the deflection of blame. Forget the bleat that "there is no money". Forget the "fake metrics". Forget "the plan to ensure we keep Britain safe from the sovereign debt crisis".

This Autumn Statement represents a welcome, if still inadequate, u-turn.

Underlying all the carrots and sticks is the Treasury's frank admission of error, the Bank of England's £75 billion (with a promise of more to come), and a frantic volte-face.

Of course, the Chancellor has had to disguise his about-turn by dressing it up as austerity, but he has dramatically relaxed fiscal consolidation -- even though public finances are, by his own admission, in far worse condition than they were just six months ago.

The Autumn Statement goes some way to acknowledging the cause of the rise in government debt and of turmoil in markets, noting that there was in the UK "the greatest expansion in debt of all the world's major economies over the last decade" and that "the full scale and persistence of that impact is slowly becoming clearer."

But while Treasury orthodoxy is finally "becoming clearer" about the scale of the crisis -- one deepened by synchronised austerity -- the Chancellor seems unable to learn the lessons and fully reverse course. While acknowledging that "the financial sector has acted as a drag on growth," the Chancellor today promised to ensure Britain "remains the home of global banks and that London is the world's pre-eminent financial centre".

In other words, the government is committed to subsidising, bailing out and rewarding the City of London -- at grave cost to public sector workers, pensioners and private firms. Their analysis, reactions and policies to this crisis remain profoundly inadequate.

For make no mistake, we stand at a pivotal moment in world history, and today our politicians and economic authorities are revealed to be disgracefully ill-prepared for it.

We remind them again: Britain is not facing a sovereign debt crisis. This is not a eurozone crisis. It is a private banking crisis: the catastrophic unravelling of the private, liberalised financial system. Governments, including our own, are not the cause of turmoil: they are victims of the turmoil in private financial markets -- in the City of London, "home to global banks".

The unregulated financial sector has lent recklessly and expensively for some thirty years to itself, to firms and to households. As a result, private indebtedness -- as both the Autumn Statement and the McKinsey Global Institute carefully document -- is at its highest as a share of income ever in history.

The unfolding and related crisis of sovereign debt is a consequence; the result of four years of futile attempts by western governments to maintain, compensate and support this bankrupt system. Osborne, in his statement today, persists in his backing of this failed order.

As rising unemployment, falling incomes and despair begins to crush western societies; as "indignants" in Britain, Europe and the US lead protests against more cuts in pay and pensions and are brutally assaulted by police for their pains, we are confronted by a frightening reality.

Our leaders and their advisers simply cannot absorb the lessons of the crisis. As a result they have abrogated any responsibility to lead. Instead, they struggle manfully to maintain and uphold the old, catastrophic financial system -- and are incapable of constructing a new, global order.

The resulting policy vacuum is frightening. No wonder the Polish foreign minister warns of "a crisis of apocalyptic proportions".

Ann Pettifor is executive director of Advocacy International and a fellow of the New Economics Foundation

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.