Ukip leader Nigel Farage speaks to a journalist in Rochester on November 21, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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The Tories have ruled out a deal with Ukip - and they're right to do so

The Conservatives are right to deny the toxic suggestion that they would shack up with Farage. 

Conservative chairman Grant Shapps's speech this morning was designed to put the spotlight on "30 days of Labour chaos". But it is his comments on Ukip that have attracted most attention. Asked whether he could rule out a coalition with the party in the event of a hung parliament, he replied: "I can rule out - We are not going to do pacts and deals with Ukip".  Shapps's unambiguous response contrasts with David Cameron's equivocation earlier this month ("I don’t want pacts or deals with anybody," was his carefully worded response). But Conservative sources have confirmed that this was not a slip of the tongue: they really are ruling out any arrangement with Ukip (be it a coalition or a confidence and supply agreement). 

For several reasons, they are right to do so. First, the earlier refusal to rule out a deal with Ukip had the potential to inflict further damage on an already tarnished Conservative brand. While support for Nigel Farage's party has surged since 2010 (when it polled just three per cent), it remains toxic to many voters, not least those the Tories need to win over if they are ever to win a majority again. Polling has consistently shown, for instance, that ethnic minority voters - just 16 per cent of whom voted Conservative in 2010 -  have an understandably negative view of Ukip. YouGov last year found that a quarter of current Conservative supporters wouldn’t vote for the party if it entered a pact with Ukip, with 5 per cent switching to Labour, 4 per cent to the Lib Dems and 16 per cent abstaining. In the seats that the Tories gained from Labour and the Lib Dems in 2010, and those they need to gain in 2015, the prospect of a Tory-Ukip deal threatened to repel centrist and liberal voters. 

Second, the Tories have recently derided Labour over its refusal to rule out a deal with the SNP, seeking to portray Ed Miliband as "weak" and "desperate". It is far harder to level these charges if Labour can reply in turn that Cameron is preparing to shack up with Farage. The rejection of a pact enhances the rhetorical boast that the Tories are unremittingly focused on winning a majority. 

Finally, the chance of Ukip holding the balance of power in a hung parliament is smaller than often implied. Even if it makes five gains (a credible result), the party will still have significantly fewer MPs than the Lib Dems and the SNP (who stand to make far greater gains), and perhaps fewer than the DUP.

The cost of not ruling out a deal with Ukip is almost certainly greater than the cost of doing so. The Tories are right to have spoken with conviction today. 

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.