Labour has begun the work of building a mass party

While the Tories' membership dwindles, we are changing our party and processes to make politics relevant to ordinary people.

Politics matter and political parties matter. What they say and do matter. How a political party operates, raises money, recruits members and select candidates matters. Why? Because it gives us a lodestar, a set of values and guiding principles on how to deal with things.

Just chatting to my constituents, meeting them in the streets, or seeing them in my surgery, I know what ordinary people are facing on daily basis - a cost of living crisis that’s unprecedented. Prices have risen faster than wages in 38 of the 39 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street. The average worker is around £1,500 worse off under this government than under the last Labour government. At the same time, David Cameron has cut taxes for people earning over £150,000 whilst hiking them up for everyone else.

David Cameron and George Osborne boast about fixing the economy, but ordinary people in Britain don’t feel it. Yet it’s no surprise that they are so out of touch with ordinary people.

The membership of the Tory Party is dwindling; they are funded by cash from their friends in the City, bankers and hedge fund managers. They listen to their big donors, the corporate lobbyists, the richest and the most powerful. That’s why we say David Cameron is not only out of touch with ordinary British families, he is always standing up for the wrong people.

It’s the way the Tory Party operates. It’s in their DNA. The Labour Party is very different. We want to govern in the interests of all the people and not just a narrow elite. We are a One Nation Labour Party that aspires to be a One Nation Labour Government.

But for us to truly to be a One Nation Party we need to reform and strengthen our party. We are proud that our members are ordinary people who come from all walks of life. Another great source of pride – and strength – are our links with trade unions who represent shop workers, bus drivers, office workers - the backbone of our economy. We are proud those ordinary workers are a part of the Labour Party, but we want them to play an even greater role in the party. Not just at edges but right in the centre.

And yes we are ambitious, we want to see a mass party – and yes we want to have ordinary Labour Party members in every street in Britain. It means members of trade unions, who are now affiliates, becoming full and active members. It will mean a stronger Labour Party.

So we have begun a process of talking and consulting with ordinary members, trade unionists and supporters to ask how we can strengthen our party. Headed by Lord Collins, our former general secretary, we are going to work out how we can really change our party structures, processes and finances to build a modern 21st century Labour Party. Ordinary members will get their say and will vote on the final proposals at a Special Conference in March.

This is an exciting time for us in the party. Exciting, because we know that by changing our party and processes, we will be changing how we do politics and so help make politics more relevant to ordinary people.

We are doing this because politics matter and political parties matter. We are doing this because we want to change the Labour Party to be ready, in less than two years' time, to be Britain’s One Nation Labour Government.

Phil Wilson is Labour MP for Sedgefield

Ed Miliband speaks to reporters after Labour candidate Andy Sawford won the Corby by-election on November 16, 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Labour candidate Phil Wilson is 48 years of age and has lived in the Sedgefield constituency all his life. His father worked down Fishburn colliery before closure.
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.