Scottish Labour leadership candidate Jim Murphy speaks to the media yesterday. Photograph: Getty.
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Jim Murphy rejects "Blairite" label but cautions against shift to the left

"The folk who say you can only do this from the left aren't following the lessons of recent Scottish electoral history," says the Scottish Labour leadership frontrunner. 

The label attached most often to Jim Murphy is "Blairite". And the frontrunner to become the new leader of Scottish Labour was one of the former PM's most loyal defenders. But interviewed today on The World At One, he was unsurprisingly keen to shed this reputation. "There's only one Blairite, really, and it's Tony Blair. All those labels are in the past," he said. On the Iraq war, he delivered the same line used by David Miliband during the 2010 Labour leadership election: "If we'd known then what we now know, none of us would have voted for it." He added: "The approach I'm going to try and take is, I don't care whether you're left-wing, or right-wing, or New Labour, or Old Labour, it's losing Labour I want to get rid of."

There are some within Labour who argue that Murphy is doomed unless he moves Scottish Labour sharply to the left. Katy Clark, the MP North Ayrshire and Arran (one of those interviewed for my report on the party in this week's magazine), told me: "There needs to be a shift to the left. The very clear message, not just at the referendum, but during the referendum even more so, was that people want to see political change, they want to see social change.

"Repeatedly people would say to me that they found Westminster politics very right-wing, they found the Tories very right-wing, they found Ukip even more right-wing, but, frankly, many people that historically would have looked to Labour, who voted Labour in recent elections, said very clearly that they didn’t think that Labour’s traditions were good enough and they wanted what we would call a more left-wing agenda, they wouldn’t necessarily put it in that way, but they wanted a move to the left from Labour. Scottish Labour needs to rise to that challenge."

But Murphy cautioned against such an interpretation. "I think the folk who say you can only do this from the left aren't following the lessons of recent Scottish electoral history," he said. "One of the reasons that the SNP won is because they promised a bigger council tax freeze than any of the other political parties. The nature of nationalism, is that the SNP are both to the left of Labour and to the right of Labour depending on what the voters want to here. I want to come up with a sensible Labour answer to Scotland's problems and that is about doing things differently here. This isn't a blueprint of taking whatever they do in London and trying to apply it in Scotland."

Rival leadership candidate Neil Findlay, the left-wing shadow health secretary, will be relieved that Murphy has left him with political space to occupy. He is on course to win the endorsement of Unite, whose Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said yesterday: "Neil Findlay’s declaration that he will stand for leader of the Scottish Labour Party should be welcomed – his democratic socialist credentials are without question and he has a proven track record of representing the interests of working people." 

While Murphy is still likely to win comfortably, one SNP source told me that the party was relishing the prospect of the trade unions, and Unite in particular (whose recent animus with Murphy dates from the Falkirk affair), opening fire on him. "Unless Ed can do a deal with them, the unions will cause problems for Jim," a Labour figure warned. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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.