Nick Griffin campaigning at the Wythenshawe and Sale East by-election in February (Christopher Furlong)
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Nick Griffin is gone - but hatred of the political class remains

Despair at the political elite drove the BNP’s rise - and hasn't gone away.

The most notable aspect of Nick Griffin’s ousting as party leader of the British National Party is its sheer irrelevance. It took two days for anybody to notice the results of the BNP’s national executive on Saturday.

The reason is simple. The BNP have ceased to be politically significant. From a peak of 58 councillors in 2009 it now has only two left. In 2009, the BNP won two MEPs, 940,000 votes and over six per cent in the European elections. This May, the BNP won 180,000 votes and barely one per cent of the vote.

The BNP was undermined by Griffin’s abrasive personality and the breakaway British Democratic Party. The BNP once monopolised the far-right scene, but no longer: 149 other candidates from radical and extreme right parties stood in the 2012 local elections. But, as I explored in my investigation into the BNP’s collapse, the British public ultimately did not have time for the BNP’s crude racism. Griffin’s successor – Adam Walker, who received a life ban from teaching last year after chasing down three boys with his car and then slashing their bike tyres – will not be able to change that image. The party is doomed.

Yet triumphalism should be averted. The fundamental reasons for the BNP’s success remain. These were not racism, but in the breakdown in trust for the ruling elite. It is perhaps most visible in the collapse of the two main parties – from sharing 90% of the vote in 1970, the Conservatives and Labour only mustered a combined 65% of the vote in 2010. The fall in membership of the parties has been even more dramatic. To too many, the mainstream parties seem hopelessly incapable of representing them or understanding and improving their lives.

Faith at the political elite drove the BNP’s rise: according to a survey in 2011, 80 per cent of its supporters were dissatisfied with the functioning of democracy in Britain. After Ukip’s victory in this year’s European elections, it would be delusional to imagine that such despair has gone away.

Collapse in British public institutions – not just Parliament - continues to be eroded. Far too many MPs enjoy safe seats, while all main political parties continue to look woefully unlike the population they aspire to represent. Over half of Conservative MPs were privately educated; the majority of Labour candidates in marginal seats have previously worked in politics. Just 25 MPs today have been manual workers, compared to 98 in 1979.

So it is little wonder that electoral turnout has declined steeply: it fell from 77% in 1992 to 65% in 2010 and was significantly worse among young people. The BNP may no longer be the beneficiaries of this discontent – the political class must work to avert its complacency.

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.