"I agree with Nick." Why Ed brought it back

The old pre-election refrain gets an airing.

It appears to be May 2010 all over again.

A Labour leader is throwing come hither looks at Nick Clegg. And after celebrating what looked like a victory in the small hours of a Friday morning, one long weekend later and Tory MPs are realising that there may be an orange obstacle preventing them doing anything and everything they want.

Meanwhile, a quirk in the coalition agreement -- that everyone bar Ed Miliband seems to have missed -- is about to take effect.

Let's deal with the Tories first. A certain amount of self-indulgent giggling on Friday at Cameron's "coup" has turned into sorrowful headshaking now that the Lib Dems have (belatedly) called foul.

"Do they understand the concept of collective responsibility?" was the question 18 months ago and is being asked again now. To which the answer is yes, it's a two way street, it applies to governments who have won an outright majority (the Tories didn't), and anyway withdrawing to the margins of Europe isn't in the coalition agreement. This last point gives the Lib Dems carte blanche on the issue of Europe.

For any Tory Eurosceptics reading this, "carte blanche" is a French phrase, which roughly translates as "stuff you".

So what does Cameron do about this? Tories keen to push on from Friday's, ahem, "victory", think he should dissolve the coalition, ditch us pesky coalition non-partners (how quickly they forget) and start repatriating powers from Brussels pronto. They are happy for Cameron to call a general election if he needs to -- no British politician has ever lost out by sticking up two fingers to the French, have they?

Unfortunately for those Eurosceptics, David Cameron can't do that. And what's stopping him? Well, amusingly, it's the Queen. For on 15 September 2011, Her Majesty graciously gave royal assent to the Parliament Act (sponsor: N. Clegg).

This means there can only be a General Election before May 2015 under two circumstances. Either at least two thirds of the entire House of Commons have to agree that it's a jolly good idea, which is unlikely. Or the government has to lose a vote of no confidence.

Now, that could happen. I'm not sure David Cameron would want to call such a vote and end up having to vote against himself in order to bring down his own government, but the option is there for him. Or for Labour.

But that doesn't trigger an election. First Parliament must examine if an alternative government can be formed from the existing make up of the House...

Hence we hear the clarion call of "I agree with Nick".

There will be plenty who say that won't happen. That it would make the Lib Dems look duplicitous to turn on their Tory partners and the electorate would never forgive them. Ah well, Plus ca change (translation - see above).

Ed Miliband knows that a vote of no confidence from Labour, Lib Dems, Green SNP and Alliance would end with him being Prime Minister without the need for a general election. Support of Plaid and others would make him more secure. The maths couldn't be made to work 18 months ago. But now the Tories have had time to annoy everyone - suddenly it looks a little more likely.

Like I said. It feels like May 2010 all over again...

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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.