How Labour lost Bradford West

As in Scotland, the party focused on an anti-Tory message that ignored the real electoral threat.

When I suggested that Labour could lose Bradford West I said that "Regardless of the mitigating circumstances, Labour needs a win... Anything else would be disastrous for the party - and for Ed Miliband especially - heading into recess."

I also said that such a result was "unlikely".

How wrong I was.

Let us be clear. This result is pretty disastrous for both Ed Miliband and for the Labour Party. After a week of dreadful headlines for the government, the last thing that Labour needed was a story that threatens to turn the media narrative again. Media narratives do matter - especially with MPs away from Westminster for two weeks, which means bored hacks are looking for a story. Labour has now have provided one of those.

But to claim that Labour's defeat in Bradford can be laid solely at the feet of Miliband is far too simple. If Miliband's performances had been better, if his personal polling was better and if Labour had a genuine policy offer to the people of Bradford, then perhaps Labour might have performed less awfully. But we would still have lost. The same goes for any other Labour leader you might care to name. A different Labour of leader wouldn't have won Bradford West.

The change we need is bigger than that.

What we saw in Bradford was an extreme example of how Labour's approach to politics is failing. We focused on an anti-Tory message that ignored the real electoral threat, it didn't engage voters, and it failed. It was Scotland MkII. It was comfort zone politics from a comfort zone opposition. As I've said elsewhere today, the result in Bradford is also an example of what happens:

"when voters become considered as 'voting blocks', and when wards are talked of as 'Muslim wards' and 'White wards', rather than talked of - and to - as individuals, families, neighbourhoods. As fathers, mothers, young people and old. Students and workers. As people."

Miliband has said that he will go to Bradford West and "learn lessons" from this defeat. That's crucial and something he should be doing at the earliest available opportunity. But a lot of the lessons aren't new, and he has already learnt them, which is why his community organising guru Arnie Graf and his reformist general secretary Iain McNicol need to go with him. We already know the rebuilding job in Bradford and in moribund constituencies across the country is going to take much more than a return to the old ways. The challenge now is delivery.

As for Miliband's leadership in general. Is he in trouble? More so perhaps than he was 24 hours ago certainly. After such a disastrous result, how could he not be? But he's arguably more secure than he was a few weeks ago, and certainly more secure than he was a few months ago. There are potential electoral speed bumps (to put it mildly) up ahead, which would certainly unleash at least a few of those who have never forgiven him for winning the leadership. But if he wants to cage them long term, he must make prove them wrong. He must grow and change the party, and the way we do politics. We, the Labour Party, must become inclusive, open and engaged.

He must acheive what his leadership always promised, but has not yet delivered. Change.

Mark Ferguson is the editor of Labour List.

"It was comfort zone politics from a comfort zone opposition." Photograph: Getty Images.
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.