Restoring Labour’s reputation on security

A few weeks ago headlines were dominated by the news that yet another young Briton had been killed fighting for ISIS in Syria. Just a few days later, we were warned hundreds of ISIS fighters were being sent all over Europe to rain terror in our cities and on our freedom. Yet, Labour has been utterly silent on the challenges Britain faces when it comes to terrorism.

Under Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, Labour’s commitment to security has been put in doubt through a series of unfortunate and worrying associations. More so, its decision not to tackle violent extremism and terrorism head on is harming our ability to be heard and be trusted for good.

The threats we face are real and it’s time Labour joined the frontline – challenging both the government, who has presided over a disastrous and failing strategy when it comes to counter-radicalisation, and those who should have known better but have instead played a game of political rhetoric and have let both our enemy and the government off the hook.

To counter growing extremism and intolerance at home and abroad we must find a voice that enables us to be trusted to take on the fight against terrorism. To do so Labour must root its rhetoric back in reality, expose the failings of the government’s strategy and have a plan of its own to tackle the very real challenges of terrorism and radicalisation.

Challenging a dangerous rhetoric that aided our enemies

Firstly, on the rhetoric, Labour must distance itself from those who have become apologists for ISIS. It should start by making one thing absolutely clear – our common enemy is ISIS; a barbaric and highly effective force that is engaged in a war against us, and everything we stand for, and is using Britain’s young people as its foot soldiers.

The family of one of the 15 year-old schoolgirls who left from the Bethnal Green Academy, an outstanding school, to be killed in Syria said that her death was “the end that they were expecting” to a story where she had somehow managed to get her hands on thousands of pounds and arrive in the middle of a warzone, on the side of ISIS.

She herself became and died an enemy because ISIS are managing to make their warzone seem like an attractive ‘choice’ – a reason to leave Britain. But let’s finally be honest – this was absolutely no choice at all. This is instead dangerous rhetoric that gave credence to the claims of ISIS.

Because for many the blame is on Britain. They claim we assured this fate for our own citizens, by our own actions. They try and compare and contrast the actions and morals of Britain and ISIS. In doing so, they have simply chosen to turn a blind eye to all that ISIS stands for and the true depths of their barbarity and their tactics.

The rhetoric that blames Britain for the rise of ISIS, and therefore for the many people going to Syria, simply lets ISIS off the hook. It is an absolutely shameful tactic to somehow make out that Syria is an attractive prospect for young people compared to a Britain that “has no place for them”.

It is astounding that so many have fallen into this narrative – claiming the role ISIS has planned for our young people is somehow comparable to the lack of opportunities that they have here, or somehow more patriotic. At such a pivotal time such a narrative ensured that in many cases ISIS’ claims about Britain, the West and themselves were simply legitimised. It emboldened an enemy that were using grim tactics to paint their barbarism as noble cause – and regardless of whether you agree with it or not, using a warped interpretation of religion to appeal to people and motivate them to act.

The rhetoric that blames Britain for the rise of ISIS, and therefore for the many people going to Syria, simply lets ISIS off the hook.

Those who used this narrative created their own muddled interpretation of facts and used “retaliation” to make out that there is some form of justice in joining ISIS or attacking troops at bases or police on the streets in Europe, because of the actions of democratic governments. They say it’s not just for Syria – but for past actions and transgressions by Britain and her allies.

But we must remind ourselves of the fragility of their arguments. They claim Britain’s invasion of Iraq was the seed that sowed such hatred against our islands and yet, France and Germany never stepped foot in Basra and yet both have been targeted by a series of home grown terrorists that were radicalised at home and abroad. To put it simply, ISIS and its equivalents were planning on turning our young people into weapons long before our Tornado’s or Eurofighters took off bound for Baghdad or Raqqa.

That narrative and our pathetic response has led to an absolutely desperate reality where young people, growing up in some of the most free and tolerant societies in the world, are closing in and believing that violence and the killing of innocent people in their own societies or fighting for our enemies abroad is a just cause.

Many people in the world face persecution – and many people in Britain feel hard done by, marginalised, cheated or broken by the system. The vast majority however do not, and never would, turn to violence and killing to solve their problems. To even suggest that this is an understandable decision or choice for young people in Britain today is an utterly shameful position to hold when the fate for them is so blindingly obvious.

Instead of doing everything and anything they could to stop this crisis from growing, too many ignored the reality at hand, left their perspective at the door and instead hijacked a debate to pursue an ideological narrative about Britain and to use this crisis for their own political gain.

Those who claim they have the interests of these young people at heart must stop referring to radicalisation in inverted commas as if it doesn’t really exist or pretending they don’t understand the difference between strong political opinions and aiding violent terrorism. Add to that the mixed messages about what would happen to people if they did leave for Syria and what would be the situation if they tried to return. We simply failed to stem the tide immediately and utterly failed to focus on the facts at hand.

Thankfully the tide has started to turn as the grim realities of life in Syria and Iraq have taken centre stage over the past two or more years.

There is absolutely no excuse for allowing the rhetoric that Syria represented a good 'choice' for our young people to go unchecked
There is absolutely no excuse for allowing the rhetoric that Syria represented a good ‘choice’ for our young people to go unchecked

Britain finally entered the conflict and has successfully taken part in an international coalition that has pushed ISIS back and forced Turkey to live up to its responsibilities in securing more of the border. The horrific scenes of British journalists and aid workers being beheaded and gay people being thrown from towers has acted as a reminder of the barbarity of our enemies and successfully put the claims of British antagonism in the Middle East into perspective.

Had this been the narrative from day one – we might have seen the lure of ISIS burn out much earlier.

Many people in the world face persecution – and many people in Britain feel hard done by, marginalised, cheated or broken by the system. The vast majority however do not, and never would, turn to violence and killing to solve their problems.

Exposing the failings of the government to win the fight on terrorism

But the government must also face facts that its own strategy failed.

That strategy, known as CONTEST, has been at the heart of Britain’s response in attempting to fight the use of radicalisation – namely through a de-radicalisation programme known as Channel and the growing ‘Prevent’ strand which has now been in place for some ten years. The full aims of Prevent, or ‘agenda’ as some call it, is to literally “aim to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.”

Whilst we can and should debate whether the figures of those joining our enemies would be smaller or greater had it not been in place – but at its heart, the failings of Prevent and the rest of the strategy has allowed some 200 or more British citizens to die in Syria – far larger than any terrorist incident in Britain or involving British citizens abroad – and has allowed some 600 to leave and later return as a security risk, and a terror-threat level at its peak. When the majority of current attacks around Europe are being committed by known risks – the fact the government has not got a handle on this crisis is shocking.

On that basis alone, the government has questions to answer on the effectiveness of its response.

But even its wider failings are just as stark.

Our communities are becoming more polarised, we are seeing rampant anti-Semitism and Islamophobic attacks in our society and even mainstream political parties are now being accused of one or both of anti-Semitism or Islamophobia. In short – the strategy is not doing its job in keeping anybody safe from the extremes of the incitement of violence.

That is a shameful record of a government that says its laws would keep us safe.

But, yet again, Labour’s rhetoric has ensured the government has been able to dig its head into the sand and push on regardless. It should be highly worrying, to all of us who want counter-terrorism to succeed, that the government is being given the opportunity to paint all opponents to the failings of Prevent as opposing counter-terrorism.

It is also not a smear by the government to claim this when the failures of the government’s strategy that its opponents highlight are a long way from the story of the 1000 people who have been radicalised and travelled to Syria.

Labour’s rhetoric has ensured the government has been able to dig its head into the sand and push on regardless.

In fact, their opposition is resolutely focused on just a few case studies where students in higher education in some of the most expensive and privileged universities have been dragged in through the wide net cast by Prevent in trying to assess and identify those at risk from radicalisation.

Opponents of Prevent have made friends in the form of organisations like CAGE and Hizb-ut-Tahir who target the police for heavy-handed tactics in arresting and pursuing actual suspected terrorists such as “breaking down a door” and saying that “young men had been criminalised and their lives tarnished through the broad stroke of ‘terrorism’.” In this case, they were in fact referring to Tarik Hassane and Suhaib Majeed, two young people who had the opportunity of a university education and are now in prison facing some twenty years for plotting to murder soldiers, police officers and innocent civilians in French-style drive by-shootings.

We should stand side-by-side with the government when it is undertaking genuine counter-terrorism operations against known suspects. To stand with organisations who conflate this type of urgent and necessary action with other programmes such as Prevent are serving no purpose in the cause to get the government to consider its failings with the latter.

It is obvious that Labour must not allow itself to be sidelined by debating on the fringes with this ramshackle clan who oppose everything the government has to say, but with no policies of their own.

The Conservatives have been able to define Jeremy Corbyn by his associations
The Conservatives have been able to define Jeremy Corbyn by his associations

Putting forward a credible plan to keep people safe from harm

It is therefore vital that Labour puts forward a credible plan that shows it is serious about security.

A few weeks ago Owen Smith, standing for the Labour Leadership, said that if we are to strengthen the resourcing of counter-radicalisation we have to foster better community relations in Britain and stand up for Britain’s rights by investing in our communities.

He was booed and attacked as a ‘supporter’ of Prevent.

To attack Owen as if he is the enemy for daring to use the word ‘Prevent’ is absolutely damning of those who claim to have the interests of those at risk of radicalisation at heart. In the closing days of this leadership contest, Owen should begin by announcing a five point plan that makes it clear Labour is serious about fighting terrorism and challenging the government on its approach – to make it work.

That challenge to the government should therefore be twofold: firstly to ensure that people cannot become targets for radicalisation by building strong communities with the support they need to counter it; and secondly to hunt down known threats, identify violent extremists who are trying to leave Britain to fight for our enemies and prevent terrorist attacks from happening.

Our strategy should;

  1. Challenge Theresa May to begin negotiations with the EU on security – As the reality of Brexit come clear, Labour should respond to the headlines of home-radicalised and foreign fighters in Britain by making it clear the government must not allow any exit from the EU to impact on Britain’s security. We should challenge the Prime Minister to open negotiations on security as her top issue and guarantee Britain’s place in the European Arrest Warrant and joint-operations with Interpol as a top priority for the government.
  1. Call on the government to immediately account for all fighters who have returned from Syria – Known threats and suspects remain a highly significant proportion of the recent terrorist atrocities we have seen in Europe and around the world either where de-radicalisation or disengagement has failed, such as in Canada, or where the security services have failed to track its citizens that have fought or been trained abroad – such as in France and Germany. Labour should call for action to immediately find and pursue those who have returned from Syria and other ISIS areas and enlist them into Channel, the de-radicalisation programme. The government should be held to account on the percentage of these returners that have been enlisted into the programme.
  1. Deliver more resources to counter-terrorism operations – We should ensure counter-terrorism experts focus on counter-terrorism – by bringing more operatives online to counter the direct threats and activities by our enemies and resource more live counter-radicalisation operations by law-enforcement and the security services under the rest of CONTEST – mainly through Pursue and the multi-fronted Channel project. Existing funding awarded from the Home Office through Prevent should either be discontinued or repurposed for clear counter-terrorism operations within the Home and Foreign offices, such as to cyber-security firms to support the aiding of Pursue.
  1. Go further than the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendations and instead disband and replace Prevent – Combining anti-extremism and counter-terrorism operations under CONTEST has failed to give assurances to communities that they are not under suspicion. Labour should call for Prevent to be disbanded from CONTEST and the funding transferred and then used to develop an extensive citizenship and multi-faith programme as the sole responsibility of the Department for Communities and Local Government under Sajid Javid. All externally funded projects by the government to foster community relations, inter-faith work or any other aspects of the citizenship programme should be offered directly and solely to vetted partners from DCLG to provide a firewall between counter-terrorism operations and programmes designed to enhance community relations and citizenship within the UK to end the suspicion and conflation of the two. Labour should stress that whilst the benefits of a cohesive and strong community are obvious to counter terrorism itself, they should be different in focus, scope and principle and that they go wider and further than this aim.
  1. Pledge to restore citizenship education in all schools, no matter what their structure – Finally through the Citizenship and Multi-Faith programme under the leadership and funding of DCLG, Labour should force the government to restore a compulsory citizenship curriculum into all levels of education – including free schools and consider placing pastoral responsibilities onto universities, as opposed to the reporting mechanism to law enforcement that was put in place under Prevent, that is designed to allow debate to flourish in a safe environment. A review of existing pastoral and safeguarding guidelines should then take place and on the introduction of the citizenship curriculum the Prevent Duty should be suspended and replaced by these reviewed guidelines.

With race and faith relations hitting an all-time low, our threat level at an all time high and the challenges we see with security and defence starker and more difficult than we have seen since the start of the 21st century – Labour must take its position seriously and move on from standing on the side-lines of political debate with people who have taken their eyes well off the ball of the mission at hand .

Our goal on this agenda should be crystal clear – defeating ISIS, keeping Britain safe from a barbaric common enemy and strengthening our communities to foster freedom and debate is our first priority.

If the government will not act to ensure that happens, we must show that we can and that we will.

Could the stars be about to align in Stockholm?

The new year and 2016 will mark the end of much for the BBC. With a new deal being struck with the government, it is likely to be another turbulent year for an organisation creaking under its own weight, a majority Conservative government that has never been the Corporation’s main friend and as a broadcaster trying to make its own way in the modern world. Broadcasting has certainly changed dramatically since the BBC was formed and as it rationalises its own service, the British Broadcasting Corporation requires a new trademark, a new stamp, a new brand for itself in the 21st century as it heads towards 2020.

The BBC
The BBC is changing, its role is changing and its approach to entertainment could be about to change too.

Overcoming the scandals, the crises and the financial restraint is costing the BBC – in truth even its product may seem under threat. It must straddle the competition of on-demand drama by moving more of its services online and perhaps lose control over its sellable commercial assets in doing so. Its offering for children too seems slow to have adapted to the vast range of services available for young parents on Netflix and others, as well as acting too late in moving its teenage offerings digital, under the pressure of effective public lobbying which delayed many of the BBC’s decisions, even though it will finally do so with the slim-lining of BBC3. It has lost much government funding to deliver grants for the arts on the ground as part of its talent spotting and supporting work. It too has to cope with defining its public service role that it is twisting and turning into digital training with a focus on young people, but is perhaps being beaten fair and square by Channel 4 in terms of looking like a true public service thought-provoking, educational broadcaster. In truth its offer is also looking increasingly dated, scrapping what should be quite successful new shows, which also wouldn’t look out of place on Channel 4 and catering yet increasingly for its haul of free license fee holders which swallows much of its funding.

“Overcoming the scandals, the crises and the financial restraint is costing the BBC”

The Voice
The BBC is losing some of its biggest audience pullers. Perhaps there is now room for the BBC to evaluate its approach to big entertainment.
Top Gear
The BBC has the big names, it has the big brands. If Eurovision is one it is retaining, why not put it to full effect for the first time in a while?

“What may seem like a broadcaster losing it’s way, is one indeed finding and finally beginning to define and act like it.”

But for all the challenges it faces, the Corporation itself still rules a commanding roost for the consumption of radio, news, comedy and entertainment.

And by the end of 2016, that may well be all the BBC has to offer as part of its terrestrial and ordinary deal. A slimmer, funnier and reliable state broadcaster with the sole aim of informing the public of the latest news and entertaining them. No more teaching kids to code – outsource that elsewhere. No more particularly radical ideas – give more license fee funding to Channel 4 to distribute to small British production firms. Don’t buy in expensive dramas from abroad – leave that to Netflix. End the expensive hoarding of sport in which it cannot compete using taxpayer funds. Instead splash out on big national events; award ceremonies, Sports Personality of the Year, extend the BBC’s lead on Saturday night entertainment, hire the biggest names and keep them. The brand of the BBC as the home of television and radio – family television and music – the only station you put on in the car and the first station you turn on back at home.

The changing face of a national broadcaster in a more austere nation. Perhaps then all these challenges and realities reflects a BBC that is changing before our eyes. Indeed what may seem like a broadcaster losing it’s way, is one indeed finding and finally beginning to define and act like it.

BBC Sport
The BBC is losing its sporting prowess which it will replace with entertainment.

“If they are in the business of entertainment then the BBC may just want to consider hosting the biggest entertainment show in the world.”

2016 marks the turning point for many of these changes; the first visible outing for a new BBC vision. Not necessarily just the words on Tony Hall’s lips – but the decisions and positions of an organisation which has now lost it’s sporting prowess and has been tapered, clipped, by government; Formula 1 and even the Olympics pretty much off-loaded, the uncompetitive bid to rid itself of its expensive and slow growing The Voice to ITV Studios. What then does the BBC do to fill this gap and to make its statement of intent?

It may for one just want to consider hosting the biggest entertainment show in the world.

The BBC’s ill fated relationship with the Eurovision Song Contest however has throughout the ages been full of both honour and glory as well as just pure, dire embarrassment. Having previously laid out my case for the BBC to recognise events like Eurovision as enterprising and entrepreneurial money making opportunities for a smart and adventurous broadcaster, even I recognise that some five years on, this ground is perhaps now lost. Not half due to the strategy of Jon Ola Sand and the European Broadcasting Union to move Eurovision’s brand firmly into the entertainment arena – playing on headlines with the introduction of Australia, SVT’s modernisation, a more Western focus and with the help of a now globally famous winner like Conchita. The drive of the contests’ owners is higher viewing figures in new markets, for sure. They are ruthlessly executing their strategy together with Sweden’s SVT who are extending their domination at the heart of the contest.

Conchita Wurst
Eurovision is changing for good, and the EBU’s new strategy should help convince BBC bosses that cheap European TV doesn’t have to mean trash to get viewers on side.

They have also quietly moved aside and moved on those who seem to exercise authority within their own right – ending with the sacking of the Executive Supervisor of the Junior edition of the contest – despite taking the show from strength to strength in what has been a staggering professionalisation of the show and producing phenomenal recent winners.

“Eurovision’s own austerity drive is over, the spectacle and scale of the contest is only likely to again grow, particularly should Russia secure its likely second win in the next few years”

Those of us therefore arguing for the further ‘musiciasation’ of the show itself it seems are on a losing battle. And therefore eyeing an entrepreneurial focus on chart sales and generating income is now perhaps not the way our BBC is ever going to engage in the contest that is now on a different path itself. Its own austerity drive over, the spectacle and scale of the contest is only likely to again grow, particularly should Russia secure its likely second win in the next few years or Sweden equal Ireland’s 7th victory.

The alternative back in the UK of course was always seen as playing on exactly some of these cards being played by the EBU under Ola Sand. Entertainment. Fraser Nelson has long been a proponent of offloading the contest in the UK to a broadcaster like ITV that ‘gets’ entertainment. However in the last few years we have seen that in fact the BBC does ‘get’ entertainment – pulling in millions more than ITV into Strictly and Bake Off. Family TV is where it is. It just misjudges that where Eurovision is concerned, entertainment has no need to be trashy or lazy.

Eurovision's 60th anniversary
A 60 year love hate relationship ended in celebrating the show with the BBC. Perhaps BBC bosses know the return on their investment could be worthwhile?
Engelbert in Baku
Gone are the days of the internal selection.

For the BBC; to be in play with the EBU’s strategy and to have a chance of wrestling the contest from Scandinavia’s grip, it would mean them coming up with an entry that could, indeed, win the thing. So ditching its relatively unimpressive ratings driving strategy of old timers who could no longer sing was welcome and a lesson in combatting the broadcasters laziness to the contest itself. Now the BBC has hopefully also learned the ‘trashy’ lesson; it doesn’t work.

The horrific outing of ‘Electro Velvet’ in Vienna was enough to doubt the BBC in its entirety. But we, and its own producers, have hopefully seen the message from Molly in Copenhagen, and perhaps earlier from Jade in Moscow, that it can do better when it tries. Though it was perhaps always to be doomed in 2014 with a last position slot in the now producer controlled running order and Molly’s nerves. But it still rings true; entertainment, music, the contest can be fun – particularly when we are good. If the BBC can honestly say it has done its best and drives ratings on an expected return to form, it may be on to a winner.

But why Eurovision?

Firstly the BBC know how to put on a show. The hosting of the 60th anniversary event and putting it on BBC One, in prime time, was perhaps a display of its confidence in growing Eurovision as part of its core offering. The BBC will have fended off other European broadcasters for the rights – so it does show progress, having spurned 2005, and some of its dodgy decisions, including hiring Pete Waterman in 2010.

Secondly, the rights to the main show itself would become an instant money-raiser for the Corporation, which faces further budget savings.  The BBC is still considered to be one of the last broadcasters to make a pure profit hosting the contest, and even with the growth of the contest itself into a week long event, it certainly could break even; with only venue costs being a real driver for a large broadcaster like the BBC and its technical expertise. So if the BBC is in the game of cheap but strong performing entertainment television – what better way than hosting Eurovision itself in 2017 to fill the BBC’s growing profile gap, keep the punters happy and get a return on its output, the promise of higher figures and a glitzy outing for its most expensive hosts and stars.

“The BBC know how to put on a show”

Stockholm
Stockholm’s Globe Arena shines in the spring sunlight. Perhaps Manchester, London, Belfast or Cardiff should be preparing for 2017.

We will have to wait and see what the Beeb issue as their ticket to Stockholm. But if we are to ever have confidence, perhaps it may well be the year that the BBC needs the contest more than it ever has done that may shock it into seizing the moment. The Eurovision brand, its name and its game may just mean that the stars may align for the UK in Stockholm.

That’s if the BBC knows what it’s doing of course…

Game, set and match.

He may have lost to one of the best known politicians for a generation, but Mitt Romney’s name is now worth ten times that of his former rival to candidates on the campaign trail. That certainly won’t change in the run-up to the next Presidential election as Romney, for all his faults, remains popular. And I use the word remains for a reason; he got sixty million people to vote for him two years ago. Half a nation. Nearly fifty percent of a divided America. Yet the politics that defined that election remains ever present, and not just on the other side of the Atlantic. We’re told we hate rich people, yet we carry on voting for them. Why do we carry on putting up with their hypocrisy?

Continue reading “Game, set and match.”

Talking about my generation

Look at you, there. Ha! You, you who says you want change and then walks down to the polling booth with a smile on your face as you voted for Nigel Farage. You, you who said you didn’t like posh boys in suits and then you go and elect one in Clacton even after he’s changed political party. Why are you being really hypocritical and doing really silly things like voting for an ex-city banker whilst also saying you think they should be taxed more? Do you not even know what UKIP stand for? Do you want me to tell you? You – what’s wrong with you? Why are you so fickle? Oh you, you piece of electorate.

Because clearly the voters are the problem.

Continue reading “Talking about my generation”