No continuity Milibands here. Photo: Getty Images
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Let's be clear: there is no continuity candidate in the Labour leadership race

No-one in the Labour party thinks that "one more heave" is enough. No-one thinks the party doesn't need to change. The question is: how much change?

Ok.  I’m getting irritated now.  The very idea that anyone really supposes that Labour can stand still and just wait for the government to fall into our lily-white hands is not just daft, it’s offensive.  Nobody thinks that one more heave will win this tug of war.  Everybody – including every candidate for the leadership of our party – believes that we have to change. Nobody is a continuity candidate.  Everybody knows that we are going to have to be absolutely ruthless with ourselves if we are to stand a chance of returning to power.  

Besides, the whole point of Labour has always been change.  Deep, fundamental change in the way our country, our economy, our democracy and the world is run.  If we can’t embrace change ourselves we have no chance of bringing about change in the world.

But let’s be clear, we do come with baggage.  Every single member of the Labour Party does. We have a set of values and principles.  We believe in equality and peaceful coexistence.  We hold that work is the best route out of poverty and that a civilised society protects the vulnerable and the rights of the minority. We know in our guts that grinding poverty can destroy people and that a more equal society is a happier society.  We have railed at every moment of injustice and cheered on every campaigner for democracy and the rule of law.  We see humanity as essentially social but we cherish the freedom of the individual.  This is our baggage – and I for one have no intention of discarding it.  Not because I fear change, not because I believe that Labour has a monopoly of truth, not because I believed every jot and tittle of our manifesto this May, but because politicians without principles are worth nothing.

We’ve other baggage too.  We were in government for thirteen years – and for all the bitch-slaps our opponents try to land on us, there is so much to be proud of.  Others will have their specific policies we should boast of, but I remember so very clearly those hateful years when some attacked the brave souls in our party who campaigned for gay equality as ‘loony lefties’.  But Tony Blair and Jack Straw, building on the 1960s liberalism of Roy Jenkins, managed to crack that argument wide open.  An equal age of consent, gay adoption, gays in the military, an end to discrimination on the grounds of sexuality and civil partnerships all followed because we were brave enough to change our party so that we could change the country.

We can and must do that again, rebuilding our economic credibility and refashioning our whole approach.  Old nostrums will need new analysis.  Individual policies that made sense in the 1950s or 1990s will need re-examining.  At times we will need to revise some of our most cherished ideas, because the world is changing fast. 

But let’s be clear.  There is no point in trying to rerun the 2015 election.  Nor can we just pretend that 1997 is just around the corner.  None of us knows how the 2020 election will play out and it is neither certain that we will win nor inevitable that we will lose.  But one thing is certain, we shall have to reframe the party so that every aspect of our manifesto runs with the grain of life as it is lived today and will be lived in the future, not as it was in our industrial past. Political nostalgia could all too easily undo us.

So yes, let’s embrace change, but if we try to ditch all our baggage we shall look like shape-shifting charlatans. Better to own our baggage and write our own version of our history so that we can write a different future for our party and our country. 

Chris Bryant is shadow secretary of state for culture, media and sport and the MP for Rhondda. 

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.