It's time for Ed Miliband to come back with a bang. Illustration: Nick Hayes
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Nine lessons for Miliband

What is the question to which “vote Labour” is the answer?
Ed Miliband has plenty to ponder over the summer. Labour is ahead in the opinion polls but not by enough to instil confidence of victory. MPs are mostly loyal to their leader but they feel his ship is becalmed. They fear the prospects of a majority will drift from view if something doesn’t change. But what? There is no shortage of advice, not all of it helpful, much of it contradictory. But from countless conversations with figures across the party, some common themes have emerged.
 

1. Tell a story

 
Behind the old cliché about politicians needing a “narrative” lies a deep psychological truth. People are emotional animals and their trust is won more easily with a story than with a statistic. David Cameron has a neat parable: once upon a time there was a wicked King Gordon. He borrowed lots of money and spent it all. Then a terrible storm wrecked the kingdom and there was no money to fix things. So the people deposed Gordon and installed King Dave to clear up the mess. That turned out to be harder than anyone expected, but the people were brave and they knew there was no going back to the bad old days.
 
What is Ed Miliband’s rival tale? His much-praised “one-nation” speech last October harked back to the 1945 Labour government as a fable of left solidarity, weaving in bits of Miliband’s own refugee heritage. He has an ideological account of a rotten economic model that colonised Britain under Margaret Thatcher and infiltrated the Labour Party under Tony Blair. But that is an ideological postulation, not a story. No one ever gripped an audience with the words “once there was a paradigm”.
 
Miliband needs to narrate modern Britain in a way that makes it sound obvious that the coalition are the bad guys and Labour the good guys – or at least the better guys. He needs to describe the past in a way that makes people nod along and want to put him in charge of the future.
 

2. Tell it with pictures

 
One of the most common complaints I hear from Labour MPs about the Miliband operation is that it fails to control images that shape public perception of the party and its leader. The two most senior communications people in the team – Bob Roberts and Tom Baldwin – both have newspaper backgrounds. Miliband’s closest advisers deal either in technical detail or abstract ideas. Miliband himself has an aversion to the kind of husky-hugging photo stunt that Cameron used to get his message across in the early days of opposition. Cameron employed his own photographer to maintain a steady flow of faux-intimate black-and-white shots of the candidate at work. By contrast, picture agency databases are full of unflattering angles of the Labour leader. He needs someone to be thinking harder about how his message is transmitted without words.
 

3. Sign up some capitalists

 
Miliband wants to reform British capitalism. He says it rewards the wrong people; it squeezes the many while indulging the wealthy few. It is a message that could resonate with people weighed down by the rising cost of living. The problem is that, historically, Labour has a prickly relationship with profit, markets and commerce, which makes it hard for the nuance in Miliband’s position to come across. He can talk about fairness but as soon as he says “capitalism” some people will see a career politician with no business experience giving vent to old lefty grudges.
 
Miliband wants Labour to be the party of small businesses and entrepreneurs – the little guys who feel the rules of the game are skewed to favour banks and huge corporations. To get that idea across he needs endorsement from the people he claims to be representing. He needs to be able to point at good (that is, profitable and ethical) companies and say, “This is what I’m talking about.” To have a credible agenda for remaking capitalism, he needs capitalists on stage with him.
 

4. Promote the innovators

 
Miliband has accepted that any government he leads would face severe budget constraints. That is only the first stage in a process aimed at convincing voters that Labour takes seriously the need to be careful with taxpayers’ money. The next challenge is explaining how Labour austerity would be so different from the coalition version.
 
The answer, Miliband’s allies say, is that Labour would have different priorities. Partly these will be expressed by shuffling money around between government departments – building new houses instead of spending on housing benefit, for example. Or funding childcare places instead of paying benefits to rich pensioners.
 
But those are marginal devices that don’t herald a transformation in the way Britain is governed. Labour has to take an interest in ways of delivering public goods outside the old Whitehall model. That means taking an interest in social enterprise, co-operatives and projects that give local communities more control over budgets. There are many Labour MPs and councillors already immersed in this kind of thinking but it won’t be recognised as central to the party’s philosophy until it is embraced by the leader. For now, Labour looks defensive and nostalgic, hoping to preserve as much of the existing apparatus as possible without spending more money doing so. Voters can see that doesn’t add up.
 
Instead, Miliband should find projects where energetic people are effecting social change in innovative and cost-efficient ways. He should point to them as signposts to a fairer future with balanced budgets.
 
Miliband should promote MPs and shadow ministers who can do the same. He needs to create the sense that Labour is brimming with imaginative ideas, eager to prove it can govern in austerity instead of cringing before the task.
 

5. Don’t lose control of the tax debate

 
George Osborne has said that if the Conservatives win the next election he would not raise any more taxes in his effort to contain the deficit. That implies billions of pounds in budget cuts – a squeeze tighter than the one being inflicted. It may not even be possible, but that doesn’t stop the Chancellor putting it in a manifesto and then attacking
 
Labour for planning a “middle-class tax raid” as part of its deficit-reduction plans. Sneaky, but effective. Labour has some prototype tax plans: restoring the 10p rate; a mansion tax; a levy on bankers’ bonuses. In revenue terms, that won’t cover the cost of reversing many coalition cuts or avoiding new ones. The Tories will declare a “black hole” in Labour’s plans, where there lurks a “tax bombshell”.
 
What Miliband needs is a device to shape the way taxes are discussed as part of the budget debate. He needs a memorable measure, a fair-tax rule of some kind, that will serve as a cultural counterpart to Osborne’s cap on welfare spending.
 
This could come in the form of a minimum tax threshold to prevent corporations from hiding their money from the exchequer. It could be a pledge to lock in a certain ratio of tax that the richest pay compared to the middle and the poorest. Whatever it is, Miliband should be able to declare that, under Labour, the boss could never end up paying less tax than the office cleaner – and challenge Cameron to match that vow.
 

6. Recognise the anger on both sides of the welfare debate

 
The easiest mistake a party can make in opposition is blaming something other than itself for election defeats and lost arguments. For Labour, that hazard is enhanced by a tendency to assume a monopoly on righteous indignation.
 
According to this view, Tory ministers who say they are motivated by the impulse to help the poor must be stupid or lying and if they appear to be winning the argument over, say, benefit cuts, it must be because the truth has been obscured by spin and biased reporting. By extension, Conservative voters are selfish or deluded. That attitude guarantees a long stint in opposition.
 
Yes, George Osborne’s anti-welfare agenda has been advanced with selective statistics and unrepresentative anecdotes. It is cynical but that isn’t why it works. Tory welfare policy is popular because it strikes a chord with voters who feel the system makes mugs of working people. They labour for meagre wages, paying their rent out of their own pockets, and then in effect pay their workless neighbours’ rent too.
 
Miliband has understood that this is a problem in terms of raw opinion poll data and shifted Labour’s position accordingly. He has accepted the need for some kind of cap on social security spending. He talks about restoring the link between effort put in and reward taken out of the system. He also passionately, and rightly, rejects the vicious caricature of benefit claimants as an army of scrounging layabouts.
 
What Miliband hasn’t yet done is sound authentically convinced that public frustration with the benefits system is justified. Until he can do that, he won’t get any credit for his more humane approach. People are attracted to Tory welfare policy not because they are mean-spirited or brainwashed but because it speaks to sincere feelings of outrage.
 

7. U-turn on Europe with style

 
It is getting harder to find Labour MPs who like their leader’s current reluctance to promise a referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union. Most doubt that the party can get through an election campaign in which David Cameron constantly berates Miliband for refusing to trust the people. So a U-turn looks likely.
 
When the time comes it is vital that Miliband pull it off with style. Voters are generally forgiving of changes in policy as long as they are candidly declared. The line should be that Labour remains worried that Cameron’s ambivalent attitude creates uncertainty that damages Britain’s economic interests. But the party has also listened to the people. So, in the interests of greater certainty, the best plan is to have the in/out referendum promptly. Bring it on!
 
If the car is going to end up pointing in a different direction, don’t put it through a clunky three-point manoeuvre. Make it a handbrake turn.
 

8. Get organised online

 
There is a jaundiced view of Miliband’s election as Labour leader that sees him as having been smuggled into the job by trade union bosses. Yet he also persuaded many ordinary members that he was the man to rejuvenate the party. Veteran activists report that there was something close to a buzz around Ed among younger members in their constituencies, generated in part by a smart online campaign run by Alex Smith, a young digital communications expert. That energy vanished once the leadership campaign was over and the party’s lumbering, steam-driven machinery cranked into gear. Smith left. Contact with the network of eager Ed-ites was lost.
 
There are now signs that Labour is getting organised online again. In April this year, the party signed up Matthew McGregor, a British social media expert who ran Barack Obama’s “rapid response unit” in the 2012 US presidential election. His main focus is co-ordinating attacks on the Conservatives. But Miliband also needs a digital strategy to shape his own image. Tory papers will wage a brutal personal campaign against him. His own ratings, lagging behind those of his party, are a problem. A web fightback can’t neutralise Fleet Street aggression but it can help define the Labour leader in terms he has chosen. His pitch is renewal and change. If that isn’t selling through the usual channels, it’s time to get viral.
 

9. Decide the question

 
The Conservatives want people to go to the polls in May 2015 with certain questions in their minds. Can Labour be trusted not to screw things up as it did last time? Does Ed Miliband look like a prime minister? Things are gradually getting better; why risk change? Labour needs to plant different questions. After all that pain, are we better off? Whose side are Cameron and Osborne really on?
 
The Tories will stoke fear of a Labour government. Miliband needs to conquer that fear and inspire people who doubt that it makes much difference who wins. This is a huge challenge when politics itself is in disrepute. What is the question to which voting Labour is the answer?

Rafael Behr is political columnist at the Guardian and former political editor of the New Statesman

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We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white women

Alt-right women are less visible than their tiki torch-carrying male counterparts - but they still exist. 

In November 2016, the writer and TED speaker Siyanda Mohutsiwa tweeted a ground-breaking observation. “When we talk about online radicalisation we always talk about Muslims. But the radicalisation of white men online is at astronomical levels,” she wrote, inspiring a series of mainstream articles on the topic (“We need to talk about the online radicalisation of young, white men,” wrote Abi Wilkinson in The Guardian). It is now commonly accepted that online radicalisation is not limited to the work of Isis, which uses social media to spread propaganda and recruit new members. Young, white men frequently form alt-right and neo-Nazi beliefs online.

But this narrative, too, is missing something. When it comes to online radicalisation into extreme right-wing, white supremacist, or racist views, women are far from immune.

“It’s a really slow process to be brainwashed really,” says Alexandra*, a 22-year-old former-racist who adopted extreme views during the United States presidential election of 2016. In particular, she believed white people to be more intelligent than people of colour. “It definitely felt like being indoctrinated into a cult.”

Alexandra was “indoctrinated” on 4Chan, the imageboard site where openly racist views flourish, especially on boards such as /pol/. It is a common misconception that 4Chan is only used by loser, basement-dwelling men. In actuality, 4Chan’s official figures acknowledge 30 percent of its users are female. More women may frequent 4Chan and /pol/ than it first appears, as many do not announce their gender on the site because of its “Tits or GTFO” culture. Even when women do reveal themselves, they are often believed to be men who are lying for attention.

“There are actually a lot of females on 4chan, they just don't really say. Most of the time it just isn't relevant,” says Alexandra. Her experiences on the site are similar to male users who are radicalised by /pol/’s far-right rhetoric. “They sowed the seeds of doubt with memes,” she laughs apprehensively. “Dumb memes and stuff and jokes…

“[Then] I was shown really bullshit studies that stated that some races were inferior to others like… I know now that that’s bogus science, it was bad statistics, but I never bothered to actually look into the truth myself, I just believed what was told to me.”

To be clear, online alt-right radicalisation still skews majority male (and men make up most of the extreme far-right, though women have always played a role in white supremacist movements). The alt-right frequently recruits from misogynistic forums where they prey on sexually-frustrated males and feed them increasingly extreme beliefs. But Alexandra’s story reveals that more women are part of radical right-wing online spaces than might first be apparent.

“You’d think that it would never happen to you, that you would never hold such horrible views," says Alexandra. "But it just happened really slowly and I didn't even notice it until too late."

***

We are less inclined to talk about radical alt-right and neo-Nazi women because they are less inclined to carry out radical acts. Photographs that emerged from the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville this weekend revealed that it was mostly polo shirt-wearing young, white men picking up tiki torches, shouting racial slurs, and fighting with counter-protestors. The white supremacist and alt-right terror attacks of the last year have also been committed by men, not women. But just because women aren’t as visible doesn’t mean they are not culpable.  

“Even when people are alt-right or sympathisers with Isis, it’s a tiny percentage of people who are willing or eager to die for those reasons and those people typically have significant personal problems and mental health issues, or suicidal motives,” explains Adam Lankford, author of The Myth of Martyrdom: What Really Drives Suicide Bombers, Rampage Shooters, and Other Self-Destructive Killers.

“Both men and women can play a huge role in terms of shaping the radicalised rhetoric that then influences those rare people who commit a crime.”

Prominent alt-right women often publicly admit that their role is more behind-the-scenes. Ayla Stewart runs the blog Wife With a Purpose, where she writes about “white culture” and traditional values. She was scheduled to speak at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” rally before dropping out due to safety concerns. In a blog post entitled “#Charlottesville May Have Redefined Women’s Roles in the Alt Right”, she writes:

“I’ve decided that the growth of the movement has necessitated that I pick and choose my involvement as a woman more carefully and that I’m more mindful to chose [sic] women’s roles only.”

These roles include public speaking (only when her husband is present), gaining medical skills, and “listening to our men” in order to provide moral support. Stewart declined to be interviewed for this piece.

It is clear, therefore, that alt-right women do not have to carry out violence to be radical or radicalised. In some cases, they are complicit in the violence that does occur. Lankford gives the example of the Camp Chapman attack, committed by a male Jordanian suicide bomber against a CIA base in Afghanistan.

“What the research suggests in that case was the guy who ultimately committed the suicide bombing may have been less radical than his wife,” he explains. “His wife was actually pushing him to be more radical and shaming him for his lack of courage.” 

***

Just because women are less likely to be violent doesn’t mean they are incapable of it.

Angela King is a former neo-Nazi who went to prison for her part in the armed robbery and assault of a Jewish shop owner. She now runs Life After Hate, a non-profit that aims to help former right-wing extremists. While part of a skinhead gang, it was her job to recruit other women to the cause.

“I was well known for the violence I was willing to inflict on others… often times the men would come up to me and say we don’t want to physically hurt a woman so can you take care of this,” King explains. “When I brought other women in I looked for the same qualities in them that I thought I had in myself.”

King's 1999 mugshot

 

These traits, King explains, were anger and a previous history of violence. She was 15 when she became involved with neo-Nazis, and explains that struggles with her sexuality and bullying had made her into a violent teenager.

“I was bullied verbally for years. I didn't fit in, I was socially awkward,” she says. One incident in particular stands out. Aged 12, King was physically bullied for the first time.

“I was humiliated in a way that even today I still am humiliated by this experience,” she says. One day, King made the mistake of sitting at a desk that “belonged” to a bully. “She started a fight with me in front of the entire class… I’ve always struggled with weight so I was a little bit pudgy, I had my little training bra on, and during the fight she ripped my shirt open in front of the entire class.

“At that age, having absolutely no self-confidence, I made the decision that if I became the bully, and took her place, I could never be humiliated like that again.”

Angela King, aged 18

King’s story is important because when it comes to online radicalisation, the cliché is that bullied, “loser” men are drawn to these alt-right and neo-Nazi communities. The most prominent women in the far-right (such as Stewart, and Lauren Southern, a YouTuber) are traditionally attractive and successful, with long blonde hair and flashing smiles. In actuality, women that are drawn to the movement online might be struggling, like King, to be socially accepted. This in no way justifies or excuses extreme behaviour, but can go some way to explaining how and why certain young women are radicalised. 

“At the age of 15 I had been bullied, raped. I had started down a negative path you know, experimenting with drugs, drinking, theft. And I was dealing with what I would call an acute identity crisis and essentially I was a very, very angry young woman who was socially awkward who did not feel like I had a place in the world, that I fit in anywhere. And I had no self-confidence or self-esteem. I hated everything about myself.”

King explains that Life After Hate’s research reveals that there are often non-ideological based precursors that lead people to far right groups. “Individuals don’t go to hate groups because they already hate everyone, they go seeking something. They go to fill some type of void in their lives that they’re not getting.”

None of this, of course, excuses the actions and beliefs of far-right extremists, but it does go some way to explaining how “normal” young people can be radicalised online. I ask Alexandra, the former 4Chan racist, if anything else was going on in her life when she was drawn towards extreme beliefs.

“Yes, I was lonely,” she admits.                                                       

***

That lonely men and women can both be radicalised in the insidious corners of the internet shouldn’t be surprising. For years, Isis has recruited vulnerable young women online, with children as young as 15 becoming "jihadi brides". We have now acknowledged that the cliché of virginal, spotty men being driven to far-right hate excludes the college-educated, clean-cut white men who made up much of the Unite the Right rally last weekend. We now must realise that right-wing women, too, are radicalised online, and they, too, are culpable for radical acts.  

It is often assumed that extremist women are radicalised by their husbands or fathers, which is aided by statements by far-right women themselves. The YouTuber, Southern, for example, once said:  

“Anytime they [the left] talk about the alt-right, they make it sound like it’s just about a bunch of guys in basements. They don’t mention that these guys have wives – supportive wives, who go to these meet-ups and these conferences – who are there – so I think it’s great for right-wing women to show themselves. We are here. You’re wrong.”

Although there is truth in this statement, women don’t have to have far-right husbands, brothers, or fathers in order to be drawn to white supremacist or alt-right movements. Although it doesn’t seem the alt-right are actively preying on young white women the same way they prey on young white men, many women are involved in online spaces that we wrongly assume are male-only. There are other spaces, such as Reddit's r/Hawtschwitz, where neo-Nazi women upload nude and naked selfies, carving a specific space for themselves in the online far-right. 

When we speak of women radicalised by husbands and fathers, we misallocate blame. Alexandra deeply regrets her choices, but she accepts they were her own. “I’m not going to deny that what I did was bad because I have to take responsibility for my actions,” she says.

Alexandra, who was “historically left-wing”, was first drawn to 4Chan when she became frustrated with the “self-righteousness” of the website Tumblr, favoured by liberal teens. Although she frequented the site's board for talking about anime, /a/, not /pol/, she found neo-Nazi and white supremacist beliefs were spread there too. 

“I was just like really fed up with the far left,” she says, “There was a lot of stuff I didn't like, like blaming males for everything.” From this, Alexandra became anti-feminist and this is how she was incrementally exposed to anti-Semitic and racist beliefs. This parallels the story of many radicalised males on 4Chan, who turn to the site from hatred of feminists or indeed, all women. 

 “What I was doing was racist, like I – deep down I didn't really fully believe it in my heart, but the seeds of doubt were sowed again and it was a way to fit in. Like, if you don't regurgitate their opinions exactly they’ll just bully you and run you off.”

King’s life changed in prison, where Jamaican inmates befriended her and she was forced to reassess her worldview. Alexandra now considers herself “basically” free from prejudices, but says trying to rid herself of extreme beliefs is like “detoxing from drugs”. She began questioning 4Chan when she first realised that they genuinely wanted Donald Trump to become president. “I thought that supporting Trump was just a dumb meme on the internet,” she says.

Nowadays, King dedicates her life to helping young people escape from far-right extremism. "Those of us who were involved a few decades ago we did not have this type of technology, cell phones were not the slim white phones we have today, they were giant boxes," she says. "With the younger individuals who contact us who grew up with this technology, we're definitely seeing people who initially stumbled across the violent far-right online and the same holds for men and women.

"Instead of having to be out in public in a giant rally or Klan meeting, individuals find hate online."

* Name has been changed

Amelia Tait is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman.