Nigel Farage speaks during a television interview in Basildon. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Why Nigel Farage won’t run in Eastleigh

A year after almost winning the Eastleigh by-election, Ukip didn't gain any council seats there.

"Shock Result in Eastleigh" said one local newspaper. A year after beating the Conservatives into second place in the Eastleigh by-election, what had Ukip done now?

Not a lot. The story of the Eastleigh borough council results was not how well Ukip had done, but how badly. Of the 15 wards being contested, Ukip failed to win any.

Naturally the party saw things rather differently. "A concentration of near misses in wards," the party’s Director of Communications tweeted. "Strategic goal achieved." We have come to expect such bluster from Ukip. But in Eastleigh it was a night of not-so-glorious failure for Ukip. It was successfully only if distant second-placed finishes are successful - and Ukip were meant to have evolved beyond that stage. It came second in 10 of the 15 wards. But where were the "near misses"? Ukip only came within 247 votes of the top party in one ward. And this was in elections people care little for, with the average age of voters older (and so more Ukip friendly). For all their derisory poll rating, the Liberal Democrats, who controlled – and still do – 13 of the seats, were a force that Ukip came nowhere close to overcoming. Mr O’Flynn must be very confident to advise "stick a tenner on us to win the seat". If Nigel Farage is serious about becoming an MP, he won't be standing in Eastleigh next year.

Last February, Ukip won 27.8% of the vote in Eastleigh. It showed the power of the party’s by-election campaign: polling by Lord Ashcroft found that 31% of Ukip voters made up their minds in the last week of the campaign. Yet the party’s follow-up has been rather less impressive. Lib Dem sources in the seat privately say that Ukip activists have been almost silent since the by-election, and that they regard the Conservatives as the real threat in the general election. Swanning into a seat at by-election time is one thing; remaining a presence thereafter is quite another.

When I visited the seat recently, Ray Finch, Ukip’s candidate there in 2010 and now running for the European Parliament, described the council elections as “more important” than the European ones, and "the real stepping stone to getting MPs elected". If he’s right, that bodes ill for Ukip in Eastleigh next year.

In a sense Ukip’s failure to convert their promising position in Eastleigh is little surprise – the age demographic is younger, and the unemployment rate lower, than seats in which the party tends to do best in. But it is a reminder of Ukip’s difficulties converting solid support into the concentration necessary for electoral gain – and of the big strategic question Ukip will soon have to confront. Does the party want to maximise its vote share at the general election? Or would it rather focus its resources on perhaps 10 seats to maximise its chances of representation in Westminster? As Eastleigh reminds us, votes count for little when all they yield is copious second-placed finishes.

Tim Wigmore is a contributing writer to the New Statesman and the author of Second XI: Cricket In Its Outposts.

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.