Ed Miliband talks to students during a press conference at Belfast Art College on January 22, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Labour needs more radical policies to avoid losing its base

The party's policies do not measure up to the needs of post-recession Britain.

Labour isn’t just fighting to win on 7 May but is fighting for its long-term survival. Greece, Spain and, closer to home, Scotland show what happens when social democratic parties disconnect with their core voters. Labour faces real electoral threats from insurgent parties of the right and the left that are targeting our base. Some people have argued that Labour should have a safety-first manifesto in order to reassure target voters. I argue that only a radical manifesto will give the party the clear identity it needs to galvanise existing supporters and reach out to the voters we have lost since 2005. A November 2014 ComRes survey showed that only 29 per cent of voters agreed with the statement that "Ed Miliband stands up for working people". 

My new pamphlet, Labour’s Eleventh Hour, shows that the erosion of our base of working class support has deep roots. While our problems in Scotland are obvious, Labour has had problems retaining and mobilising our base across the whole of Britain for some time. The 2010 election saw big falls in working class support in places like Southampton. Some within Labour place exclusive focus on the need to engage middle income voters in southern English marginal constituencies. However, the 2014 European elections saw Ukip poll well in southern Tory-Labour marginals in working class wards and this represents a real threat to our ability to win these seats in May. Labour can only win if we mobilise our traditional core vote and reach out to aspirant voters in southern England. A more recent development is the increase in the Green Party’s support. The Greens are gaining momentum amongst younger voters, exactly the group of the population where Labour should be intensifying its support. Ukip’s target voters often identify with positions that are to the left of the Labour Party on issues not relating to identity and culture.

Labour’s policies do not measure up to the needs of post-recession Britain. Labour lacks robust policies to adequately address job insecurity, low pay, housing pressures and the financial stresses facing young people Labour’s Eleventh Hour documents the high levels of insecure employment and under-employment faced by many heartland voters. Job insecurity is not restricted to those on zero-hours contracts but is a wider feature of the working conditions faced by people in retail, care and hospitality – a fifth of all employment. Young people have experienced a sharp downward pressure on their wages since the financial crisis of 2008. Significant numbers of middle income voters face the prospect of serious mortgage repayment difficulties if interest rates increase by 2.9 per cent. My pamphlet also highlights the housing pressures that are affecting target voters in the south of England.

We have also failed to tell a clear and compelling story that explains why Britain needs a radical progressive government. The Tories have told consistent stories about welfare dependency and deficits in order to anchor their policies. Labour should be telling a clear and self-confident story that wealth and opportunity has become too narrowly distributed in today’s Britain and that the financial crisis took place in large part because a wealthy elite pursued its interests at the expense of the rest of society.

Labour should embrace policies in its manifesto that show heartland voters that we are serious about tackling their concerns. We should set a target to move one million workers onto the living wage. We should back new incentives to drive up the skills of young people in the workplace. The private sector should be given new legal duties to deliver equal pay for women and to challenge low status female employment. Labour also needs to adopt more radical proposals for paying the deficit down in a fair manner, including additional wealth taxes and overturning the provision that allows British-based companies to avoid taxes on their overseas earnings.

Labour should take ownership of the democracy agenda. We should be willing to back moves to direct democracy in social policy matters and require local decision makers to show how they have acted on the views of local people following public consultations.

Some people have argued that Labour needs to embrace austerity policies in order to build electoral confidence. If Labour were to adopt these policies in government, it would lead to severe public spending cuts in local government, housing and education. Working class voters would be greatly impacted by these cuts with the risk that these policies would intensify their alienation from Labour.

Even at this eleventh hour, Labour could adopt policies that would rally our electoral base. Tackling low living standards and insecure work could unify low and middle-income target voters. We need a bold and progressive manifesto that rallies our core support in order to secure the turnout Labour needs on election day. In France and Spain, the traditional left has been outflanked by populist insurgents of the right and left. In Germany the Social Democrats have never recovered after adopting free market policies that alienated working class voters. In the months to come, we must show real determination that this will not happen in Britain.

Matthew Sowemimo is the author of the new Compass pamphlet Labour's Eleventh Hour

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.