Commons Confidential: Frodo Baggins joins Ukip

Plus: Waiting for the union bus.

Gone a long way, Kingston and Surbiton’s Ed Davey – all the way to the Millennium Hotel, Mayfair. As the Energy and Climate Change Secretary he has acquired lots of wealthy associates, and so the Liberal Democrat’s constituency fundraiser on 6 June was held at a posh hotel in central London instead of a dreary local restaurant. My snout with the back of an envelope calculated 40 tables at £1,500 a pop must’ve raised £60,000 as heads of the power industry paid homage to the cabinet minister. Nick Clegg cracked a gag about Davey working in a pork pie factory and the porky minister scoffing them ever since, before an auction that included tea with Paddy Ashdown and a copy of the ConDem suicide pact signed by Clogg.

TUC bigwigs are wriggling to get off the General Strike hook after private advice from the lefty lawyer John Hendy, QC that “one out, all out” would be an unlawful action against the ConDem government. To protect union funds from sequestration under draconian laws banning political walkouts, the participating workers would each need to take a day off. “The General Holiday” isn’t a blood-curdling threat likely to vex Cameron.

A telling little right-wing moment outside a TV studio, involving Justine Greening and Nigel Farage. The International Development Secretary introduced herself to the Ukip leader instead of Farage greeting Greening – illustrating how, on the right of politics, it’s Ukip calling the shots over the Tories.

So, the Daily Express political hack Patrick O’Flynn will be standing for Ukip, as this column predicted, at next year’s Euro elections. The likeable if frighteningly Europhobic O’Flynn tortured a Fellowship of the Ring metaphor in his coming-out speech at a Ukip bash in Surrey. Tolkien is not an uncommon obsession on the right-wing fringes, but it appeared lost on Little Britain’s O’Frodo that the Fellowship was a coming together of peoples from diverse backgrounds in Middle-earth.

The servants’ quarters in the ancestral pile of Richard Drax MP – or, to give his full name, Richard Grosvenor Plunkett-Ernle- Erle-Drax – offer another insight into the world of Cameron’s toffs. Drax and his wife won an employment tribunal against a lesbian housekeeper. But the number of gossiping Tory MPs who were freely naming Drax in Westminster bars before then, while reporting restrictions were still keeping his name secret from voters, exposed the class war in a party split between the strivers and the inheritors.

Trade union anti-austerity buses will start touring Britain from 17 June to mobilise opposition to spending cuts and lower living standards. Unite is running two buses, with one each scheduled by the TUCs in London, Wales and Scotland. You wait ages for a union bus and then five come along all at once.

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Montage: Dan Murrell/NS

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

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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.