Nick Clegg speaks during his monthly press conference on November 24, 2014 in London. Photograph: Getty Images.
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We won't let the Lib Dems run away from their record

By trying to disguise its failures, Clegg's party is yet again treating young voters contempt. 

At elections, there is no better guide to a party's future intent than their recent actions. Since 2010, Labour has campaigned for the repeal of damaging health reforms which have put profit before patient care, argued against the unfairness of cutting taxes for those at the top while hardworking people pay more and pledged to reverse the bedroom tax. Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems – by contrast – have voted through each of these policies, repeatedly backing David Cameron all the way.

The spectacle of Nick Clegg attacking Tory spending plans that take public spending to levels not seen since the 1930s, after having signed them off, is lamentable, laughable and shows a shocking lack of awareness. The Lib Dem strategy to date has been complicity with the Tories and is now duplicity with the public.

Their election campaign is predicated on running against their own record. As so many young people have asked, how can you trust a word they say about the future when even they are ashamed of their past? 

It's worth revisiting some of the Lib Dems' 2010 manifesto pledges. They promised "fair taxes", but but millionaires and hedge funds have been given a tax cut while working people have seen wages fall £1,600 a year since 2010. They promised a “fair chance”, but broke a central election promise to not raise tuition fees and trebled them as soon as they were in power. They promised a "fair future", but despite pledging to do otherwise, backed cuts which mean there are 628 fewer Sure Start across the country. They promised a "fair deal", but the only deal made was a cosy one with the Tories.

Young people have learned the hard way that the Lib Dems can't be trusted. Because of Clegg’s broken promise on tuition fees, graduates will now leave university with more than £44,000 debt on average – an increase of £20,000 on the previous system. Under the pre-2012 system, half of all graduates would have repaid their debt in full by the age of 40. Now, 73 per cent of all graduates will still be repaying into their 50s, putting the dream of a home, a family, a career and a decent retirement even further out of reach. 

But this isn't all. Nick Clegg backed changes to the electoral registration process which has seen almost one million people drop off the register. It is a scandal that rushed implementation of individual registration – after scrapping Labour’s safeguards – means that so many people, hundreds of thousands of them young people, will be disenfranchised come May.

Many will be students. Those cities with the largest student numbers have seen some of the largest falls in registered electors. In Liverpool there are over 20,000 fewer people on the electoral roll. In Nottingham, 13,000 fewer people are registered. In Manchester and Brighton it’s over 12,000 fewer people. In Leeds the figure is over 3,000 and in Sheffield almost 5,000 people fewer people will be registered to vote. In dozens of towns and cities across the country – including in Nick Clegg’s backyard – students are denied the chance to hold this government to account at the ballot box. 

Many other young people are affected. But the huge effect on students might suit Nick Clegg, who has little to gain from courting the student vote. After raising election spending limits, we know the Tories want to rig the rules of the game in their favour but it is scandalous that, ahead of the most important general election for a generation, a million people are going to be denied a voice. The government must take action now to ensure people sign up by 20 April in time to vote in May - and if they won't, Labour will. 

Over the coming months, as Nick Clegg tries to differentiate himself from David Cameron, I'll be thinking about this country's young people - the million lost voters, the record one in four young people living at home with their parents into their thirties, one million 16-24-year-olds without employment, education or training. But it's not just enough to encourage each and every one of them to register and make clear what they think of this coalition government. 

Despite his recent reincarnation, Nick Clegg has been a leading member of this damaging, discredited government since May 2010. He has voted with the Tories on a staggering 259 occasions, there have been 37 Lib Dem ministers, with access to 200,000 civil servants and a total pay bill of £10.5m. They are as responsible for the crisis in A&E, the increase in VAT, the failure to meet economic targets and the fall in living standards as the Tories. Put simply, the Conservatives couldn't have done it without them. By trying to airbrush their record, they are treating the country's young voters, yet again, with contempt. In a few months' time, let's make sure young people get the chance to return the favour. 

Lisa Nandy is shadow Cabinet Office minister and Labour MP for Wigan

Lisa Nandy is the MP for Wigan, and Shadow Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change.

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.