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Labour leadership: Simon Fletcher's resignation is a victory for Seumas Milne

Organisational victory for Karie Murphy means strategic victory for Seumas Milne. 

Simon Fletcher, Jeremy Corbyn’s director of campaigns, has quit the leader’s office.

Fletcher was Corbyn’s campaign manager in his first bid for the Labour leadership, and his chief of staff until 3 June 2016, when he was appointed director of campaigns and tasked with getting the party fighting fit for the election.

This resignation was a long time coming. Some saw Fletcher as a crucial lynchpin of the office, who held things together “through force of will” in the words of one insider. In the early days of Corbyn’s leadership, he operated as chief of staff, press officer, head of rebuttal, chief strategist and speechwriter while the work of hiring a team around Corbyn went on. However, that meant others saw him as responsible for the missteps of the early days.

He and Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s communications chief, were often at odds. Fletcher and Anneliese Midgley, his deputy, both refused to take part in a Vice News documentary about Corbyn which was widely panned and presented an unflattering view of the leader’s office.

But in a signal of where power in the leader’s office lay, Midgley quit in April to take up a post as political director at Unite.

Shortly thereafter, there was an internal reshuffle of the leader’s office, with the abolition of the role of chief of staff and the introduction of a new “flat” structure. Fletcher became director of campaigns and planning, Milne became director of communications and strategy, Andrew Fisher was director of policy and Karie Murphy was director of the leader’s office, responsible for running the leader’s office day-to-day.

In a further confirmation of Milne’s internal success, he made his loan move from the Guardian permanent at the turn of the year, while Murphy has an enhanced role running the leader’s office day to day. In addition, new hires in the communications department - James Schneider and Matt Zarb-Cousin - both came with the Milne seal of approval, in contrast to his previous deputy, Kevin Slocombe, who was a Fletcher hire. 

Opinions of Murphy differ wildly. In the leader's office, she is seen having brought significantly improved organisation and greater intensity to the team. But what call an insistence on high standards, others see very differently. 

Friends of Jon Trickett say that she was instrumental in pushing him out as the party’s election coordinator. The two clashed at one recent meeting and allies of Trickett, now demoted to the Cabinet Office, say that she made his job “unworkable”.

Insiders say that Murphy is “waging war” on multiple members of the leader’s office, with one dubbing her a “control freak”, who was keen to add Fletcher’s role of oversight for the election campaign into her own orbit.

“The thing about Jeremy,” says one senior source, “Is that he can tell people what they want to hear, and then he has to get Seumas or Karie to tell them what he really wanted to say. So you’ll read stories about how Seumas has forced something through or Karie has gone over Jeremy’s head, but actually that’s not it at all.”

But for critics of Murphy's, Fletcher’s exit, they say, will exacerbate the low morale and internal tension in the leader's office. 

Whoever is right about what comes next, the central truth remains: Fletcher’s resignation is a sign of internal victory for Milne and Murphy.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

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Who will take responsibility for the rise in far-right terrorism?

Muslims are asked to condemn Islamist terrorism – should the mainstream right do the same when the attackers are white?

Following the attack on a Finsbury Park mosque, both Theresa May and Amber Rudd have issued statements and delivered speeches adopting hard lines against Islamophobia and right-wing extremism. May has gone so far as stating that Islamophobia itself is a form of extremism.

These pronouncements have drawn positive responses from prominent members of the Muslim community such as Miqdaad Versi of the Muslim Council of Britain. But it is important to question whether or not this change in rhetoric signifies a genuine change in government policy.

On the face of it, there are reasons for tentative optimism. The seriousness with which politicians took the Finsbury Park attack is a significant change. On this, the government is ahead of the media. While other terrorism attacks have been condemned as unjustifiable violence, some newspapers framed the Finsbury Park attack as a "revenge".

In fact, radicalisation is not a one-off event, but takes place in a web of institutional, social and ideological conditions. Furthermore this ignores a much longer story about the drip, drip, drip of Islamophobic or anti-Muslim discourse which permeates British society. 

The government has played a part in legitimising this anti-Muslim sentiment. Let’s not forget that Prevent has, since its inception, disproportionately targeted Muslims. The impression of an "us and them" mentality is only underlined by its secrecy. Moreover, the Prevent agenda has conflated a variety of other social policy concerns relating to gender equality, sexual violence, and unemployment as "extremism" issues. For example, Amber Rudd herself suggested that Islamophobia would decline if grooming stopped, which can not only be seen as victim-blaming, but further contributes to stereotyping Muslims as the enemy within.

So are promises to get serious about Islamophobia more empty words from the Prime Minister?

Think about timing. Far-right extremism has been deadly. Mohammad Saleem was brutally murdered in 2013 in Birmingham by a far right extremist. Mushin Ahmed was killed in 2015 (and was notably called a "groomer" by his attacker as his head was stamped on).

Jo Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist this time last year. This is not even mentioning individuals such as Ryan McGee, who made a nail bomb and was intent on murdering immigrants.

Just twelve days ago, the Prime Minister claimed that Britain was too tolerant of extremism, and she was right. Just not in the way she meant it.

Britain has indeed been too tolerant of extremism of the far right kind. This is a rising problem, not just in the UK, but also in Europe.

According to the defence and security think-tank RUSI, far right extremists make up 33 per cent of the threat, with Islamic extremism slightly more at 38 per cent. Furthermore, one in four referrals to Channel, the UK deradicalisation programme, are from the far right.

We cannot forget the government itself peddles the tropes of far right hate. Think of David Cameron referring to migrants as "swarms", May’s hostile environment policy, complete with "go home vans" driving around in multicultural areas, and the uncritical embrace of Donald Trump’s presidency by the Prime Minister. 

The Muslim community has been told many times to fight terrorism from within, but will there be a similar response to far right extremism? The ongoing rhetorical attacks on multiculturalism, and the longstanding association of Islamist radicalisation with a lack of integration, rather than religiously inspired political violence, make it difficult to see how real change will happen.

This would require deep soul-searching, followed by serious changes in public debates about policies relating to both immigration and extremism. Until that happens, May’s words on Islamophobia will be nothing more than political PR.

But this PR also has a more sinister element. Although no specific new counter-terrorism legislation was announced in the Queen’s Speech, there was a promise that the government would review existing counter-terrorism laws, with a spokesman stressing that new legislation would be brought forward if needed.

May continues to lobby for increased executive powers to fight terrorism, which she has done since her time as home secretary. The policy on right-wing extremism is likely to follow that of Islamic extremism: it will focus only on ideology and it will ignore the wider context of structural racism and white privilege.

Ask yourselves, will white men ever be stopped and searched to the same extent as brown men? Will white women be seen as easy targets for violent attacks as Muslim women disproportionately are? Will far right extremists fear for their citizenship status?

And does the solution to extremism, in any form, truly lie in further oppressive legislation and more government power? We also need to be aware that powers extended to address extremism are likely to continue to have a disproportionate effect on minorities.

As long as there is no change in government policy, the status quo will continue to reinforce the same divisive narrative which is the bread and butter of every extremist group. After the Queen’s Speech, we continue to see no evidence of any serious attempt to reform policy and seriously address far right extremism. May’s empty words after the Finsbury Park attack represent nothing more than an opportunistic political move from a weakened Prime Minister who is desperate for approval – and for power.

Dr Maria Norris is a political scientist researching terrorism and national security. She is a Fellow at the  London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.

Dr Naaz Rashid is a Research Fellow at the School of Law, Politics and Sociology at the University of Sussex and is author of Veiled Threats: Representing the Muslim Woman in Public Policy Discourse (Policy Press 2016) about the UK government's engagement with Muslim women as part of its Prevent agenda. She can be followed on Twitter @naazrashid.

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