Montage: Dan Murrell
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Commons Confidential: Ed, the vet, Yvette and Harriet

Harriet Harperson misunderstands her MP hubby Jack Dromey after the couple acquire a kitten called Otis.

The workers are revolting. Staff at United Utilities complain they were duped into forming an audience for David Cameron to deliver Tory propaganda. The water company, keen to board the fracking bandwagon, told employees to be at its Warrington HQ to receive “very important information”. The press-ganged staff were informed they were required to sit, smile and applaud Cameron blowing his Tory trumpet.

 

Two summer observations on Ed Miliband after talking in recent months to his office and Labour’s shadow cabinet: the first is that he swears more than he did. “Fucking” is the leader’s curse of choice. The second is his sensitivity to the merest hint of criticism of election maestro Douglas Alexander’s strategy. One Mili loyalist who had received a tongue-lashing told me that Sweary Ed uses the former whenever he detects the latter.

 

Veterans of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign report gazebo wars between the Socialist Workers Party and the Socialist Party. The rival Trots apparently compete for the best plots to pitch tents on at Gaza protests and brag about who handed out the most placards. It might be funny if Palestinians weren’t being slaughtered.

 

I overlooked the grand digs that come with the Italian job should Cameron reward Old Etonian retainer Ed Llewellyn by appointing him our man in Rome. The Villa Wolkonsky is perhaps the grandest residence of any British ambassador, originally owned by a Russian princess and a Nazi hangout when Mussolini and Hitler were partners in crime. The Foreign Office bought the pile after the war. It was recently cased by a parliamentary delegation, including Charlie Elphicke, Chloe Smith and Stephen Pound. I’m assured that the bedrooms are vast and the swimming pool large enough to host a regatta. Cameron and Llewellyn would be in it together.

 

Fur is flying in Devon after ex-strawberry farmer George Eustice, a one-time Ukip candidate-turned-Tory environment minister, opposed building new homes for beavers. His excuse is that much has changed in the 500 years since the beavers left the river, before returning a few years ago. Surely he doesn’t fear that if the government built lodges for beavers Iain Duncan Smith would count occupants to impose the bedroom tax?

 

Harriet Harman was guilty of everyday sexism at a TUC dinner when she announced football gags could be dropped now that Frances O’Grady is the unions’ general secretary. Harperson’s stereotyping led her to believe, wrongly, that only blokes like footie. Sister O’Grady is a fanatical Arsenal fan. That faux pas aside, Hattie tells a nice joke. Her latest is misunderstanding her MP hubby, Jack Dromey, after the couple acquired Otis, a kitten. When Dromey shouted, “Call the vet, his balls have to go!” Harman claims she heard: “Call Yvette, Balls has to go!” My informant muttered that some in the audience preferred the misheard statement. 

Kevin Maguire is the associate editor (politics) of the Daily Mirror

Kevin Maguire is Associate Editor (Politics) on the Daily Mirror and author of our Commons Confidential column on the high politics and low life in Westminster. An award-winning journalist, he is in frequent demand on television and radio and co-authored a book on great parliamentary scandals. He was formerly Chief Reporter on the Guardian and Labour Correspondent on the Daily Telegraph.

This article first appeared in the 06 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Gaza

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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.