How Miliband has already transformed Labour

Refounding Labour was the biggest shake up of the rulebook since the party was formed.

A recent Guardian article claimed "Two years on, Refounding Labour to Win is largely forgotten. Most Labour MPs cannot recall what it proposed, nor can officials." This could not be further from the truth. 

When Ed Miliband first appointed Peter Hain to head up that programme of work, the challenge was clear. Previous leaders had launched schemes designed to shake things up that had been quickly forgotten. It was going to take a huge amount of effort on the part of Ed, Peter and all of us on the NEC if real change was going to happen. But it did. Refounding Labour ended up being the biggest engagement we’d ever had with our members and the biggest shake up of the rulebook since the party was formed.

The change it delivered, however, went further than any amendments to our rule book, important though they were. Over the past two years our party has:

· Made it easier for Labour supporters to get involved in our work by enshrining the rights of supporters in our rules and establishing a registered supporters' network to put them in touch with established local activists.

· Made it easier to be a part of our party by reviewing our membership rates, encouraging those who have more to contribute more to our party, lowering our minimum joining age to 14 and introducing a new youth rate which has seen more young people joining our party.

· Made it easier to be active in our party by reviewing the funding arrangements of local Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs) so that the biggest contribute more, creating a Campaign Diversity & Democracy fund which is currently ploughing money into local CLPs and supporting the work of new trainee organisers in the field, having Arnie Graf train our key activists in community organising  techniques, enhancing our technology platform and use of new and social media.

· Given members and supporters a bigger say in our policy making process - fundamentally reviewing our National Policy Forum, opening up those structures and processes so they are more accountable and transparent through the introduction of Your Britain, which is enabling both members and supporters to contribute their views on our policy proposals, giving conference new rights in setting our policy priorities.

· Encouraged and supported those from under-represented groups to become representatives of our party through our Future Candidates Programme.

I’ve visited 98 CLPs since November 2010 – more than any other volunteer – and I know that these changes are breathing new life into many of them and enthusing activists across the country.

So the further announcements Ed made last week are part of this process of reform and it’s a testament to his leadership that the National Executive Committee (NEC), which met yesterday, was absolutely united in its determination to approach this challenge constructively, engaging with Ray Collins in the work ahead.

Of course there are many issues that we will have to work through in the next few months to deliver this. We need to work out how to support out trade union partners in delivering individual affiliation and how this can be used to strengthen and renew our relationship.  We will have to put into place the very welcome spending cap for candidates seeking selection. 

And we need to work out what all of this means for Labour members. We must be clear about their future role. Ed Miliband has always been vocal about the value of our membership, the experiences and commitment they bring and we will continue to rely on them as one of our biggest resources and closest links to our communities. So I hope that if selections are opened up to non-members in the form of primaries, we can discuss the possibility of enhancing our members’ voice within the electoral structures of our party, perhaps even increasing the number of places we have on key decision-making structures like the NEC (where CLP representatives currently have just six of the 33 seats).

But no one can say that Ed Miliband is not ambitious, that he’s not trying to deliver a better type of politics for the people of this country.  As one of my NEC colleagues remarked: "this is bigger than Clause 4 and OMOV put together".

While we get on with this work, behind the scenes, the press could play its part in delivering a better politics by providing genuine scrutiny of this government’s actions, which are crippling the poorest in our society.

Devastating changes are going to be made to people’s rights at work on the 29th of this month. Workers who have been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against by their employer, and who seek redress at tribunal, will now be charged for taking that claim to hearing and have no assurance that if their claim is settled they will have their money repaid to them. Employers will also  be able to make 'offers' to employees to leave their organisations - without the need for that employer to go through normal dismissal, grievance or performance procedures – through conversations that will later be inadmissible in any future tribunal proceedings. This is tantamount to giving employers carte blanche to hold 'car-park conversations' with anyone they don’t like, pressing them to give up their jobs before they are pushed or dismissed, with the employee having no means of referring to that conversation, or how threatened they felt by it, in any future case.

While 'bad practice' in the operation of these conversations is supposed to be prohibited, it will, in many instances, be almost impossible for employees to prove that it has taken place.  All of those changes are being introduced after the government has already made it harder for workers to seek redress by increasing the qualification period before they can submit an employment tribunal claim and has cut legal aid for employment issues.

That’s just one example of the scandal of this administration and why we will be doing everything we can to build a Labour Party fit for the 21st century, with the policies and organisation it needs to win in 2015 and form a One Nation government led by Ed Miliband.

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

Ed Miliband delivers his speech on reforming the Labour-trade union link at The St Bride Foundation in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

Johanna Baxter is a CLP representative on Labour's NEC and Chair of the Southwark Labour Campaign Forum

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.