Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Nick Clegg resigns as Lib Dem leader. Who will replace him?

Tim Farron is the most likely candidate.

Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of the Liberal Democrats. In his statement, he made a passionate defence of his party's record in government, saying that "There can be no down that the government of Britain is far stronger . . . and more liberal country than it was five years ago." He went on to say: "I hope at least our losses can be endured with a little dignity."

It was a terrible night for the Lib Dems, who have seen their parliamentary party dwindle from 57 seats to just 8. They lost some longstanding MPs and big hitters - Simon Hughes, Vince Cable, Ed Davey, Lynne Featherstone. As pundits have been saying ad nauseam all night, in coalition it’s always the little party that gets smashed.

Now that Clegg has gone, who will lead the much-reduced Lib Dems? There are two likely candidates:

Tim Farron

The MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale was one of the few Lib Dems to have a good election night - he defied the national swing against his party and was re-elected for his north-west constituency with a nearly 9,000-strong majority.  He’s been considered as the likely next leader for a while now (he served as party president 2011 - 2014), even though he’s a very different kind of politician to Nick Clegg. As George Eaton wrote after spending the day with Farron in March:

Farron is neither politically nor personally close to Nick Clegg, his party's leader. Indeed, perhaps no two senior Lib Dem figures are less alike. One is left-leaning, northern (Farron grew up in Preston), comprehensive-educated, Christian and folksy, the other is right-leaning, southern, privately-educated, atheist and technocratic. It is unsurprising that Farron was chosen to play Nigel Farage during Clegg’s preparation for his debates with the Ukip leader: the pair are natural antagonists.

The party is bound to feel like they need a change of direction in order to put the toxicity of their coalition years behind them, making Farron the most likely successor to Clegg.

Norman Lamb

A slightly longer shot for the leadership would be Norman Lamb, the MP for Norfolk North since 2001. He managed a majority of 4,000 this time. Lamb  is more closely associated with Nick Clegg and the coalition years than Farron, as he served as a minister since 2012 and was even Clegg’s PPS for a while. But he has impressed in his role as minister of state for care and support, talking a lot of sense on the looming elderly care crisis and spearheading their work on mental health. He’s from the right of the party, a so-called Orange-Booker, and is respected in Westminster by colleagues and the media. He represents continuity for the party - he would continue the “Clegg Project”, if there is such a thing.

But given how badly things have gone for the Lib Dems in this election, the party’s activists are surely going to want a chance of direction. Enter Tim Farron.

Caroline Crampton is assistant editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

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.