No, Farage, the protesters weren't anti-English, they were anti-UKIP

It's right-wing bigotry that the protesters are "virulently opposed" to, not "the English".

If Nigel Farage is to be believed, the protesters who forced him to abandon his planned press conference at a pub in Edinburgh yesterday, were Scottish nationalists "virulently opposed to the English". In an interview on the Today programme this morning, he challenged Alex Salmond to "come out and condemn this sort of behaviour", declaring that "they were all campaigners for independence, they were all people who vote SNP. They were all united by a hatred of the English, the union jack and everything the UK represents."

But while it's politically convenient for Farage to dismiss the protesters as nationalist bigots, you will search in vain for any evidence to support his claim. Those who disrupted the press conference shouted "racist", "scum" and "homophobe", words which suggest that the protest had more to do with UKIP's opposition to gay marriage and its anti-immigration policies than it did with Farage's nationality. For one thing, if SNP supporters are motivated by anti-Englishness, why aren't Labour, Lib Dem and Tory politicians mobbed whenever they set foot in Scotland? 

Rather than naïvely accepting Farage's characterisation of the protesters, (as some anti-independence Labourites have done), it seems reasonable to let them speak for themselves. 

John Martin, the president of the Edinburgh College Students' Association, said: "We organised yesterday's protest against Farage out of a belief that UKIP's policies are fundamentally rotten. Their headline five-year immigration freeze is not only completely disconnected from reality, but is a policy that neither the people of Scotland nor the rest of the United Kingdom would stomach. His regressive and repugnant ideology is not far removed from that of the BNP - just dressed in a better-fitting suit."

A spokesman for the Radical Independence Campaign said: "This was about challenging someone whose party has been spouting racist, sexist and homophobic bile and gone unchallenged for months. Everyone who opposes the politics of fear and division should unite against UKIP - whether you live in Scotland or England."

Farage's insistence, against all evidence to the contrary, that the protesters were united by a hatred of the English (a significant number were English) is amusingly at odds with the line adopted by his own party's spokesman yesterday: "Was it anti-English? I doubt it." 

In another interview, on Good Morning Scotland, Farage insisted: "The anger, the hatred, the shouting, the snarling, the swearing was all linked in to a desire for the Union Jack to be burnt." Note the peculiar phrasing: a "desire" for the Union Jack to be burnt. If the protesters loathe the English as much as Farage suggests what was stopping them setting light to the flag there and then?

One protester did invite the UKIP leader to "shove your union jack up your arse", but this stray quip hardly summed up the spirit of the demonstration (nor was it obviously anti-English). 

The protesters may have been foolish to greet Farage as they did (yesterday's events were a political gift to UKIP), but anti-English they were not. 

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage addresses the media in central London on May 3, 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.