The progressive alliance? (Photo: Getty)
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For all our politicians fail to grasp it, a progressive alliance can still be built

Supporters of the three anti-Conservative parties must put aside the disagreements of the last five years - and vote tactically

The election looms and the polls stay locked.  No one yet looks set to win an outright majority.  So how are progressives supposed to vote?  So many questions abound – do we vote with our head or our heart, for what we most want or against what we least want? Our wretched and totally out of date electoral system  orces these horrendous private dilemmas on each of us.  It demands collective debate. 

Back in 2010 it was a lot easier. Voting to keep the Tories out was the order of the day and that meant by and large voting Labour or in some seats Liberal Democrat.  But the formation of the Coalition and the further fragmentation of party politics muddies the water a lot.

One big question is this: is the most important result the maximization of national vote share for a party or seats in the Commons? The answers dictates very different voting behaviors.  Constitutionally what matters is numbers of MPs – so this would suggest a requirement to think and vote tactically. 

So, do Labour people hold their nose and vote Liberal Democrat where a Liberal Democrat might win?  The rational answer is yes but will they just end up supporting the Tories again?

A less tribal and more nuanced response might be that the Lib Dems are more likely go with Labour if Labour has any interest – unlike 2010 – of going with them.  And if the Lib Dems go back into government in some way with the Tories – isn’t that better than outright Tory control? They can still stop some of the worse things happening. And maybe some Lib Dem candidates could make it clear that they will never prop up a Tory government. 

Of course this all works the other way round – Lib Dem voters need to hold their nose and vote for Labour – despite the rather wretched way that party’s leadership has treated them.  Here the total lack of empathy across the party divide divides Westminster out from the rest of the world – the lack of relational skills just marks it out as weird. 

And what of Green voters?  They face an awful decision.  In reality they can only win in Brighton Pavilion - the chances of success elsewhere are remote – maybe at a push in Bristol West.  But what voting Green could do is let the Tories in – in seats like Brighton Kemptown, Chester, Morecombe and a dozen others.  These seats could decide who governs Britain. I know Greens want to build their party and they have every right to do this - but I hope they will find it in themselves to    do what they can to stop the Tories. The question is what will Labour do to encourage that process?

At the last election Compass, the organisation I chair, debated the issue and its members voted to back and support tactical voting – this time we are having the debate again – and its more complicated. Anyone can join it here.  It will shape what we do.  We would love to know what you think.

If no one is going to win outright then the country needs to prepare now.  The closed tribalists of all parties are woefully prepared for the complex political landscape their narrow views have created.  But a progressive alliance will be formed in the country before Westminster follows in its slipstream.  In the coming months the people of this country are going to have to act like adults and negotiate a future that will be more complex than ever – I think they are up to it. What about the politicians?  

Behind their obvious public calls for you to vote for their party – they are secretly and desperately hoping that you will vote in the best way to stop the Tories – because then, and only then, will progressive parties have a chance. Because of the closed tribalism of Westminster and the out of date voting system they can’t take the lead – but we can.  And we must. The alternative is just too horrendous.

Neal Lawson is chair of the pressure group Compass and author of the book All Consuming.

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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.