A technician at the British Cricket Balls company tests balls in a wind tunnel, 1981. Photo: Getty
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If you want to imagine England under Ukip, think back to cricket in the 1980s

Back then when critics pointed out that England had been overtaken by hungrier and more progressive teams, a stock reply was ready: “But we’re English and we’ve always done it this way.”

I was recently asked a difficult, intriguing question. Would I be able to identify national cricket teams at a glance, even if they had randomly exchanged jerseys? What, if anything, makes the England team distinctly English?

Initially, I wondered if the answer might lie in body language. Is there an English gait or an identifiable team dynamic? After all, great Australian teams often project a macho aura. Might there be an English way of standing, walking or, perhaps, swearing? Then I realised that the answer was much simpler. In terms of race, speech and skin colour, the England team looks and sounds less uniform than any other. And because our players are so ethnically and culturally diverse, they are the most resistant to stereotype. The quality that makes it so hard to say what we are is the very thing that makes us what we are.

The squad selected to play against Sri Lanka in the Twenty20 and one-day internationals this spring is a case in point. Chris Jordan, one of the stars of the series, grew up in Barbados before finishing his schooling in south London. Michael Carberry was born in Croydon but has family roots in Barbados and Guyana. Ravi Bopara, the second Sikh to play for England (after Monty Panesar), is the son of two Indians who migrated to England in the 1970s.

Two players opted for Englishness as an adult and professional choice. Eoin Morgan, until recently rated the best T20 batsman in the world, learned his dazzling stroke play in Dublin but chose to qualify for England. Gary Ballance left Zimbabwe to pursue opportunities in English county cricket, where the sheer volume of his runs forced him into the England side.

The most exciting new face, meanwhile, is also the most recognisable. Moeen Ali’s exuberant beard instantly marks him out as the latest British Muslim to be selected by England. His cousin Kabir made his England Test debut when I was playing in 2003. Moeen, blessed with a languid bat-swing and wristy elegance, has the chance to do for English cricket what Hashim Amla has achieved in a South Africa shirt: to become one of the country’s most loved and respected athletes while looking unmistakably different.

In this revealing list, we encounter a broad variety of personal stories. For some, immigration was an individual and pragmatic decision based on professional opportunities – examples of those who made the most of the newly fluid and globalised labour markets. For others, the move to Britain changed an entire family history. In each instance, whatever the motivation, English cricket has been the beneficiary.

Other teams, it is true, are more diverse than they may look to the untrained eye. The Sri Lankan team has included Tamils and Christians as well as Buddhists; India were captained by a Muslim, Mohammad Azharuddin; Australia recently selected Fawad Ahmed, a refugee from the north-western frontier between Pakistan and Afghanistan; South Africa’s post-apartheid quota system has insisted on opportunities for non-white players. But England’s diversity is the most organic and complete.

What about the argument that “native” players have been starved of opportunity as a result of English cricket’s policy of relatively open borders? Here, we see the flawed and misleading paranoia at the heart of anti-immigration rhetoric.

English cricket (last winter’s 5-0 trouncing in the Ashes notwithstanding) has enjoyed a very healthy few years. Since 2009, England have conquered Australia in three separate series and briefly became the top-ranked team in the world. The top tier, as usual, reflected progress in the whole game. For all the criticism levelled at “mercenary foreigners” who have plied their trade in county teams, their hunger, determination and work ethic raised the standard of the league – to the benefit of our national team. The improved quality of county cricket, driven by foreign and adopted English players, helped make the England team much more competitive on the world stage.

The benefits have extended beyond the pleasure of watching England play well (itself not to be underestimated). New money from sponsors and television has poured into the sport, and much of it has been reinvested in grass-roots projects and charities. Erase the contributions of Kevin Pietersen, Matt Prior, Andrew Strauss, Jonathan Trott, Eoin Morgan and all the other foreign-born players and the English game might well be on its knees.

Cricket turns out to be a classic example of how immigration affects an economy: by raising the standard of employment, it increases the size of the whole pie. Conversely, English cricket in the 1980s was at its most insular, introspective and stereo­typically “English”. Back then, it was assumed that the solutions to new problems had to reside in imitations of past glories. To critics who pointed out that England had been overtaken by hungrier and more progressive teams, a stock reply was ready: “But we’re English and we’ve always done it this way.”

Nostalgia for past triumphs, which were often exaggerated, morphed into a bizarre methodology; it was as if the semi-conscious inflation of bygone reputations was a practical solution to present-day problems. These arguments and prejudices were presented in committee rooms and corporate boxes around the country, powerfully articulated by overheated middle-aged men wearing ill-fitting blazers and ties depicting small birds.

The performance of our national team, meanwhile, was at its most lamentable. Just what we could expect if Ukip ran English cricket – or the country. 

Ed Smith’s latest book is “Luck: a Fresh Look at Fortune” (Bloomsbury, £8.99)

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 04 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, 100 days to save Great Britain

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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.