EU flags float in Lille, northern France, on April 18, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour's opposition to an EU referendum is its trump card with business

Large companies are increasingly troubled by the threat of EU withdrawal under the Tories.
 

The one moment of spontaneous applause during Ed Miliband's speech to business leaders today came when he declared: "I am absolutely convinced that our future lies in the EU". Further applause followed as he reaffirmed his opposition to an arbitrary in/out referendum (Miliband would only hold one in the unlikely event of a further transfer of powers to Brussels) and said "it is not the priority for the country".

The EU is the one issue on which Labour has an unambiguous advantage over the Tories with business. Indeed, it is precisely this that troubles Len McCluskey (whose union has voted in favour of a referendum). He said yesterday: "As things stand, Labour won't [call for a referendum] because ducking this question is seen as part of Labour's commitment to business. That is a vast hostage to fortune. I would not like to be Ed Miliband explaining why he is not joining other parties in offering the British people a vote on something that is clearly a growing source of public concern."

Many large companies are far more worried by the threat of withdrawal than they are by Miliband's proposed energy price freeze or the reintroduction of the 50p tax rate. Martin Sorrell recently revealed that he and others had told David Cameron that "if he were to drop the referendum he would be a shoo-in". That's almost certainly not the case (as Sorrell appeared to forget, most voters support a referendum) but it shows how desperate businesses are for Britain to remain in the EU. 

It is a point that Ed Balls, who has been troubled by the party's lack of industry support, is particularly keen to make.  Having working hard to ensure that Labour did not rule out a referendum in all circumstances, he has swung firmly behind Miliband's position. After telling Newsnight that it would be "silly" to avoid a vote at all costs (a comment which was mistakenly thought to refer to a referendum at any time), he added: "We are not proposing a referendum now because we think to spend two or three years blighting investment and undermining our economy on the prospect of a referendum which David Cameron says he is going to have after he gets an unknown package of refoms would be bad for jobs and investment".

Labour figures privately concede that they are still unlikely to win the support of  a single FTSE 100 boss at the election, but the increasing possibility that the UK would leave the EU under the Tories may complicate the picture. It is, however, a price that Cameron is undoubtedly willing to pay. As has become ever clearer since his speech last year, had he not promised a referendum, he would likely now no longer be leader of the Conservative Party.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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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.