David Cameron launches the Conservative Party's European and local election campaign last month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Cameron's zombie government is out of ideas and out of steam

The government has grown in size but has seriously diminished in purpose.

The Queen's Speech on Wednesday is David Cameron's last chance to live up to his own PR hype. Instead of breaking his promises and letting people down, he has to try and show that he has the ideas and values to tackle the major long-term challenges we must face in our economy, society and politics. He has to explain how we can earn and grow our way to a prosperity that can be shared by all rather than just a few at the top. Judging by his record since 2010, I'm not holding my breath. He doesn't have the answers because he doesn't have the right values. He just doesn't get it.

I've knocked on countless doors over the last few weeks, and people's alienation from politics has never been more pronounced. People don't understand why David Cameron is on their TV saying the economy is improving when they are still struggling to make ends meet. They don't understand why George Osborne crows about unemployment statistics when their zero-hours contract won't guarantee them a basic income, give them any security, or allow them to plan their life. And they don't understand why if we are all in this together, millionaires have been given a tax cut while the rest of us pay more.

If politics has one job, it is to answer the concerns of the nation. People are clear that David Cameron's government has not done so.

Recent months have shown that this is a government that has run out of steam and run out of ideas. Ministers should be bringing forward legislation to make work pay, to reform markets so they serve consumers and to increase the supply of affordable housing - but instead a lack of ideas and action has left Parliament twiddling its thumbs.

This government is now spending less Parliamentary time on legislation than at any point during the last Labour government. In the Parliamentary session 2012-13, just a third of time in the House of Commons Chamber was spent debating government legislation. The last session of Parliament had the fewest number of government Bills compared to any other year since 1950 -  fewer than even John Major's disastrous administration. The government is bulking out this years' Queen's Speech with a record number of "carry over" bills (bills they've already published). And MPs have been given the equivalent of an extra month off each year since 2010 because the government can't come up with anything for them to debate - and because it would rather rebellious Tory MPs were not in London plotting.

David Cameron claimed he would "cut the cost of politics" but this is the biggest government since reliable records began, with 121 Ministers, 95 Special Advisers and 160 new peers since 2010. This makes the House of Lords the largest legislative assembly outside of the Chinese National People's Congress in Beijing.

The government has grown in size but has seriously diminished in purpose. I've taken to calling this a zombie parliament because I've really not seen anything like it in my 22 years in the House. We have day after day with no legislation to discuss, and a government that seems completely unprepared to take the big decisions our country needs.

If this were Labour's Queen's Speech, we know exactly what we'd do. We'd tackle unfairness in the rental market by creating new long-term predictable tenancies. We'd tackle unfairness in the energy market by freezing gas and electricity prices until 2017. We'd tackle tax unfairness by cutting tax for working people. We'd stop jobs being undercut by foreign workers by enforcing the national minimum wage. We'd give unemployed young people a job guarantee. We'd help working parents with 25 hours free childcare. We’d guarantee an appointment with a GP within 48 hours. We’d back small business by cutting business rates and reforming the banks. We wouldn't just ignore this crisis in our living standards, a Labour government would tackle it head on.

In 11 months time, the country will face a clear choice. A choice between an ineffective, out-of-ideas government that wants to just leave people to sink or swim and a Labour government that believes our economy and our politics should work for everyone and not just a few at the top.

Angela Eagle is shadow leader of the House of Commons

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.