Jowell is the candidate to beat in Labour's London mayoral race

The frontrunner announces she will stand down as an MP at the next election just days before debating Adonis, Abbott, Khan and Lammy.

Tessa Jowell is leaving parliament but, one suspects, not politics. Her announcement that she will stand down as an MP at the next election is the biggest hint yet that she is planning a bid to become Labour's London mayoral candidate in 2016. 

When questioned on the subject at the Labour conference, Jowell replied: "I am thinking about it and I am sure others [Sadiq Khan] on this panel are thinking about it." She will have been further encouraged by a YouGov poll published last month showing that she is the frontrunner for the post. Asked who would be "the best Labour candidate for London Mayor in 2016?", 21% said Eddie Izzard (who has said that he will not stand until 2020), with Jowell in second place on 17%. Diane Abbott was third (9%), followed by David Lammy (7%), Andrew Adonis (6%) and Sadiq Khan (5%), all of whom have publicly expressed interest in the job. (Although the one officially declared candidate, transport expert Christian Wolmar, was not included.) 

The race will heat up next week (as Adam Bienkov notes) when on Monday evening Progress hosts what is effectively the first hustings (disguised under the title "How can we win a mandate from London in 2015?") with Jowell, Khan, Lammy, Adonis and Abbott all on the panel. Other possible contenders include Oona King, Livingstone’s defeated rival from the last selection contest, and Margaret Hodge, the redoubtable chair of the public accounts committee. 

Jowell is undoubtedly the candidate to beat. She is lauded for her role in bringing the Olympics to London, well liked across the party despite her Blairite politics and, as I've noted, ahead in the polls. But keep an eye on Sadiq Khan. The shadow justice secretary is one of Labour’s most articulate and energetic performers (as he demonstrated again on Question Time last night) and was recently named shadow minister for London, a post that will allow to regularly meet and engage with the Labour activists and supporters who will determine the outcome. Borrowing the metaphor used by Boris Johnson to describe his prime ministerial ambitions, he has remarked: "If I was at the edge of the box and the ball came free and I thought I had the best chance of shooting and scoring, then I might do it. But let’s see if the ball comes free."

Whether "the ball comes free" may yet rest on the result of the general election. "Sadiq might feel duty-bound to serve as justice secretary if Labour wins," one party figure told me, noting that he had held the brief since Miliband’s first reshuffle. For this reason, Labour is likely to delay the selection contest (which will be a closed primary) until after 2015, to avoid candidates’ bids being viewed as a judgement on the party’s election chances. 
 
The (literal) joker in the pack is Eddie Izzard. The stand-up comedian will not run this time (despite leading in the polls) but has pledged to do so in 2020, suggesting that he either expects a Labour defeat or plans to challenge an incumbent. The announcement prompted one Labour MP to refer me to "the curse of Izzard": "He campaigned for the euro and for AV. What could possibly go wrong?"
Tessa Jowell speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. 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.