Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Britain's new working-class pride could be a bonus for Labour (Guardian)

That 60 per cent of Britons claim to be proletarian reflects a fear that the Tories have broken a promise on rewarding hard work, writes Gaby Hinsliff.

2. It does not really matter if Britain leaves (Financial Times)

The idea of the UK at the heart of the EU is bizarre, writes Wolfgang Münchau.

3. Obama's new team shows the Iraq lessons are forgotten (Guardian)

His key appointments contributed to the worst foreign blunder in at least a decade, says Gary Younge. Can we trust them in another war?

4. The war in Libya was seen as a success, now here we are engaging with the blowback in Mali (Independent)

Our government and media may often ignore the price of Western interventions, but in future conflicts and fuel for radical Islamist groups, it is still paid nonetheless, writes Owen Jones.

5. Tories, wear your hearts on your sleeves (Times) (£)

On social justice and poverty, the best ideas come from Conservatives, says Tim Montgomerie. The party needs to spell out its moral vision.

6. A straightforward pension scheme for all (Daily Telegraph)

The system we launch today will give workers the help they need in planning for retirement, writes Steve Webb.

7. We need a bloodbath to tame these arrogant officials (Daily Mail)

It requires a determined minister to make the civil service once more the servants of democracy, rather than its wreckers, says Simon Heffer.

8. Ignore ghosts of Eurolovers Dave...be tough with Brussels (Sun)

The greatest threat to an acceptable British outcome is half-hearted and indecisive leadership, says Trevor Kavanagh.

9. It’s transport that will carry us down the road to recovery (Daily Telegraph)

Upgrading the rail system is crucial if we are to be economically competitive again, writes Boris Johnson.

10. The battle against cybercrime is too important to be undone by Eurosceptics (Guardian)

If they come under attack from hackers, Eurosceptics will come to regret their opposition to Europol's Cybercrime Centre, says Misha Glenny.

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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.