Ed Miliband speaks at the launch of Labour's local and European election campaign. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Labour has changed on immigration - we recognise the public was right

By acknowledging where we went wrong and setting out a different approach, Ed Miliband has given us a route back into the national conversation.

It is almost four years ago to the day that Ed Miliband launched his campaign to be leader of the Labour Party. I was proud to support him back then because I believed - and still do - that he was the one person with the vision, strength and energy to do the impossible, and lead our party back into government within a single term. I sincerely believe that time will prove my belief right.

What gives me confidence is that Ed is someone who is prepared to acknowledge where Labour got things wrong and to change our approach. He understands that after 13 years in government, on some issues, we were just wrong - and there is no better example of that than on immigration.

My parents came here from Pakistan in the 1960s so I'm well placed to talk on the subject. They worked hard - my dad as a bus driver, my mum as a seamstress - paying their taxes, saving up to buy a home and seeing their children thrive, going to university and into successful and varied careers. Britain became their home, giving them a safe and prosperous community in which to live. Such an upbringing helped make it possible for me to to become the Member of Parliament for my boyhood home of Tooting.

Our story shows that in Britain, anything is possible. I believe that my family's story shows that when managed properly, immigration can benefit everyone in our society. It benefits those coming here to try to build a better future for their families - and to give them the opportunities that my parents, my siblings and I have experienced in this country. It also benefits the rest of the country. My dad worked and contributed to our economy for more than 25 years. One of my brothers set up a thriving business that has created jobs and wealth. My other siblings have spent a lifetime supporting the public sector. In my case, I entered politics.

This is the way immigration should work at its best. However, I know that immigration is a big concern for many voters and I recognise that we - the Labour Party - are partly to blame for this. In the past, when people told us about their worries, we too often dismissed them - and, worse, some said that legitimate concerns were based on prejudice. We all remember Gillian Duffy. When people told us they were worried about the pace of change in their community, or about their wages being squeezed, we were too quick to say they were stuck in the past - that they needed to change their views, when in reality it was us that were stuck in our ways.

Under Ed Miliband's leadership, things are different. We recognise that the public was right. It is no exaggeration to say that Ed has led Labour on a journey of change on immigration. It would have been all too easy to just carry on as we were - refusing to talk about immigration and hoping the issue went away. The path of least resistance. But Ed was right not to let that happen. By acknowledging where we went wrong and setting out a different approach, he has given us a route back into the national conversation on immigration.

We will never pander to those who say we can or should turn our backs on the world and pull up the drawbridge. That is not the Labour way and goes against the basic values of fairness and internationalism that are at the heart of our beliefs. Unlike other parties, we will not make promises that we can't deliver, simply to curry favour. Instead, we are setting out practical solutions that will make a difference. That starts with the change we need to see within the EU.

As Ed and Douglas Alexander have said, we would negotiate longer controls for new countries, So that workers have to wait longer until they can come to work. We need to act on people's sense of fairness. We will make it a priority to change the rules on child benefit and child tax credit, so that money doesn't go to support kids who don't live in this country. We also need to stop a race to the bottom between British citizens and workers coming here from abroad. Businesses in Britain like being able to hire people from across the EU. We support that right but it must not become a green light for undercutting wages.

So we will strengthen the law to crack down on employers not paying the minimum wage. We will stop recruitment agencies who hire exclusively from abroad, advertising jobs in foreign languages only. We will close loopholes that allow agency workers to be used as a way to undercut wages and conditions of permanent staff. And we want employers to train up and invest in the next generation. Under a Labour government, any company bringing in skilled workers from outside the EU, will have a legal duty to provide apprenticeships to the next generation.

It is important that people who do come move to our country integrate into our society, as my parents, siblings and I did in the 1960s. The English language should be a passport to a better job and a happier life. That's why we would prioritise the learning of English, and have a new rule that anyone working face to face with the public in our NHS or local councils would have to be able to speak the language. It would benefit everyone - those immigrants who would find it easier to play a full role in our society and economy and also the rest of society.

Some people want to go further and say we should get out of the EU. There is real discontent in our country right now and immigration has become the symbol of that dissatisfaction. Ed has made it his mission as Labour leader to provide real answers to this discontent. Our openness, diversity and commitment to playing an active role in the world around us can help us build a more prosperous country. But this only works - and only benefits everyone - if we do it in a way that advances, and doesn't hold back, people's ability to build a better life for themselves and their families.

Sadiq Khan is MP for Tooting, shadow justice secretary and shadow minister for London.
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.