Ed Miliband delivers his speech on the EU at the London Business School earlier today. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Miliband's EU referendum stance shows he is confident of election victory

The very fact that the Labour leader feels secure enough to affront Eurosceptics suggests he believes No.10 is within reach.

Ed Miliband always seems to get there in the end. Labour now has a settled policy on an EU referendum: there will be one in the event of a treaty that transfers powers to Brussels. Otherwise there won’t.

It is a sign of how briskly hardline sceptics have set the pace of British debate on this subject that Miliband’s position is technically more enthusiastic about a plebiscite than the stance that David Cameron brought to government in 2010.

The "Sovereignty Act" passed by the coalition in 2011 envisages a vote on a specific treaty if ministers judge that it surrenders power. Labour’s offer upgrades that to a straight in/out vote. From a pro-European perspective that is a sensible adjustment. A vote on a specific treaty practically invites the public to express their distaste for the EU without confronting the risk of actually leaving the club. That makes a "no" much more likely. Pretty much the only way to get a "yes" in any European poll is to make it an all or nothing choice – and even then the odds are tight.

As George wrote earlier, the essential judgments that Miliband has made are, first, that most of Britain is not anywhere near as obsessed with the EU as the Conservative Party consistently proves itself to be and, second, that Labour’s position is only weakened by appearing to take policy dictation from Tory backbenchers via the dubious proxy of a weak-willed David Cameron.

Another important calculation is the aversion that many businesses have to the prospect of gambling with British EU membership (or trusting the people, as the sceptics prefer to see it). As one senior shadow cabinet minister put it to me recently, avoiding a vote on Europe is "pretty much the only Labour policy business likes." Since Miliband’s relations with captains of capitalism are pretty shaky there is obvious merit in underlying the one big interest they have in common. Indeed, the CBI has come out in strong support of the new Labour position, which will be a source of great cheer in the party’s upper echelons.  

The reaction from Tories and Ukip has been predictably intemperate. They each point to the essential unlikelihood of a referendum ever being held under Miliband’s plan and denounce this is a betrayal of the national will. Their problem is that those arguments resonate best among people who have long since decided they won’t be voting Labour. Meanwhile, efforts to sustain a prolonged argument on the subject risk looking quixotic at best, unhinged at worst when most voters’ concerns are elsewhere. Crucially, Labour’s position is now neatly aligned with the Lib Dem stance, enabling a two-against-one dynamic in the argument over who in this debate is reasonable and who are the fanatics. (It would be two-against-two if you count Ukip, but Farage’s party has to keep its distance from the Tories to sustain its own distinct anti-everyone-else identity.)

Above all, Miliband’s position has the virtue of being practical in the event that he ends up being Prime Minister. (He doesn't want to squander his limited political capital in a battle to save Britain's EU membership any more than Cameron does, but only the Tory leader has signed up to that torment.) The very fact that the Labour leader feels secure enough to affront Eurosceptics in the way has done today suggests increasing confidence on his part that No. 10 is within reach.

The political impact of formulating this new position on Europe is probably diminished by its agonisingly long gestation. Countless variants and different permutations of referendums on possible dates and different ways of declaring there will be no referendum have been debated in Miliband’s office (but notably never at shadow cabinet). But this is the Labour leader’s style. He ponders, he waits, he calculates the risk, he decides. It is an approach that tests the patience of his party and provokes sneers in the media. But it also disorients the Tories and has, on balance, proved quietly effective. Increasingly, Labour MPs can be heard admiring their leader’s timing and judgement. No one can be sure that his plan to reach Downing Street next May will come off. But it is getting progressively harder to deny that, in keeping with Miliband's ponderous style, he really might get there in the end. 

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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.