Cutting Knife Crime – the way forward

By William Morris, Secretary General of the Next Century Foundation, formerly candidate for Police Commissioner, Devon and Cornwall

Knife crime is the scourge of British cities. Violent crime in general, including rape and family abuse, and knife crime in particular, has had a steady year on year increase since 2014 and is now at previously unimagined levels. Never at any time in our modern history has cruel, brute violence been such a feature of British society. And much of it is perpetrated by young people, some of whom are disadvantaged by poverty and poor levels of education. Our children need hope, and their lack of a sense of belonging in our modern multi-faceted world is a disease we have all allowed to fester. We have nobody to blame but ourselves.

The solutions to the symptoms of societal breakdown reflected in greater knife crime are:

  • Reduced school exclusions
  • Community Service delivered in place of arrest
  • Targeted zero tolerance policing

Then there is the catalyst that alcohol represents which is an issue that also must be addressed. But knife crime can be stopped. Of course, much knife and gun crime, especially in London, is often gang related rather than specifically alcohol related. However the culture of violence must be addressed as a whole.

Could we reduce school exclusions, and would doing so matter, would it impact knife crime levels and the “school to jail pipeline”? Here the evidence is simple. Just compare cities. A mere ten years ago Glasgow was the murder capital of Europe.  Now the famous Glasgow Violence Reduction Unit has slashed these levels of violence with measures which range from better police liaison with hospitals to placing chalk outlines of bodies in streets where knife crime was prevalent. And note that effective liaison between the emergency services means real liaison in which the emergency services meet – not a mere instruction to report incidents as per the latest UK government instruction. There is another factor however. A quarter of those who commit knife crimes have been excluded from school. Scotland had its fair share of school exclusions. But through concerted effort by all concerned these have dropped from a high of 292 in 2003 to a mere seven pupils in 2017. Compare England with its ongoing exponential rise to 7,720 school exclusions in 2017. Why for heaven’s sake? Well much of the blame rests on the shoulders of “academies” who can improve their rankings if they get rid of unruly pupils. How to deal with that? Simple. Regard academies that exclude pupils as failed schools. Reduce their ranking by 10% for every child permanently excluded. They would soon change their current practice. And knife crime figures would fall. Especially if we also deal severely with the associated and abysmal practice of ‘off-rolling’ where secondary schools use measures other than exclusion (e.g. encouraging children to “home school”) to try to remove pupils with challenging behaviour, or whose poor exam results might damage league table performances.

We next need community service dealt out at grass roots level – a very different sort of restorative justice. Countries like Holland and Bahrain, nations not noted for the most harmonious community relations, have made giant strides by adopting this approach. Indeed, Holland’s jails are so empty now that they rent space to neighbouring Belgium. We have experimented with this approach in Britain but have never adopted it fully. There was a little-known experiment conducted by a woman police constable in Brixham for a year or two. She coordinated with a local community project. Her approach was to say to the tearaway caught making mischief, “OK, your choice. Go and serve in the community project for a fortnight and we’ll say no more about it. But if you fail to turn up you will be charged and proceed through the criminal justice system.” And it worked. Youth crime was reduced.

Essentially, that is much the approach being adopted in Holland. And it has worked. Note the difference here. We have community service in the UK but it is doled out by the courts. What we need to see is community service given before and in place of entering the mainstream criminal justice system.

And what about Targeted Zero Tolerance Policing? Distasteful? Too American? Well it has worked where it has been applied. And surely if it works elsewhere it needs trying here. This is a way forward. In cities like Birmingham, paramedics are going to the same areas, the same streets, the same estates, day after day and night after night. The same applies to London, as highlighted by a group of Cambridge criminologists who have recently released a study confirming this is the case. As a consequence there are moves to target police resources to statistically more vulnerable areas. However, I want to suggest a very slightly different approach here. I would suggest increased levels of saturation zero tolerance policing in areas with the highest levels of all violent crime, that includes rapes, domestic violence, knife crime, everything. And zero tolerance means zero tolerance, yes including very high levels of stop and search under section sixty of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act – but not just targeting minorities as has been the case in the past. Or else you can end up criminalizing a social issue. Zero tolerance in a high violent crime area means zero tolerance of all criminal behavior, right down to the city slicker that cycles through a red light – the lot. The policy has to be seen to be nondiscriminatory. Would it help? Of course it would.

Then there is the alcohol issue. As a young man I served for more years than I can remember as a volunteer prison visitor in Swansea jail. The prisoners I visited were Category C prisoners in for violent crime (category C prisoners being those held in closed prisons who do not need maximum security). I would go in every Wednesday night and visit half a dozen prisoners in their cells. Rapists, people in for GBH, all sorts. And in all the years I visited, I never visited one prisoner who had not been tanked up on alcohol when they beat someone to a pulp – not once. Dr Christine Goodall of Medics Against Violence claims that more than 80% of assault victims in hospital emergency departments have been drinking, as have the people who assault them. You may dispute those figures. But that alcohol fuels violence including knife crime to some degree is a given. What can be done? Well minimum pricing for alcohol would be a start. These days a pint of beer costs about the same as a double whisky in many a pub. When I was a boy – Ok that’s a long time ago – drinking shorts in a round was severely anti-social because it was so blooming expensive. Another thing that needs dealing with is preloading. Kids tank up with cheap drink at home before their night on the town. One approach that has been piloted in parts of Devon is the breathalysing of people before they enter clubs and the refusal of admission to those over the limit (the #RU2Drunk scheme). At least some of the clubs seemed happy to cooperate. After all – more revenue for them if the drinking was done in the club rather than before people arrive. More thought must be given to the alcohol issue.

Does the above address drug and gang rivalry related knife crime which is often though not invariably conducted by people who are stone cold sober? Yes. Reducing our culture of violence does help. And alongside targeted zero tolerance policing, it makes life difficult for the gangs that are the scourge of some of our major cities. There is more to do. But we have to make a start.

Calling for an end to the “Pervasive horror” of knife crime as Prince Charles has done is exemplary. But now action is needed to respond to that call. We must give the next generation greater hope. We can do so. And to fail to do so is nothing short of a crime in itself.

Is Corbyn an anti-Semite?

The following comes from Dr Neil Partrick, one of the Senior Fellows at the Next Century Foundation. Neil’s article is contentious but interesting. You may find the original on his blog at

Anti-Semitism is not as big a problem in the UK Labour Party as it appears to be, judging by the amount of British media coverage of the issue. Nor is anti-Semitism as widespread in the party as some allege. It is true that the accusation of it against some on the pro-Corbyn left of the party, made most strongly by anti-Corbyn MPs, is in part a politically-motivated attempt to damage Mr Corbyn and his leadership. This can have the effect on the Corbynite Left of encouraging them to defensively kick against the hostility of the Labour ‘Right’, and maybe, just maybe….repeat, maybe….this explains the comments of pro-Corbyn MP Chris Williamson, for which he has today partially apologised.

To some it might seem that anti-Semitism is simply being confused with anti-Zionism. Sometimes it is, and that I too have a problem with. However it is actually, and increasingly, hard to separate the two issues. If Zionism is always unacceptable, in any form, to some on the Left, then it should be no more a concern to them than any kind of nationalism/national aspiration that is ethnically or religiously exclusive e.g. the aspiration for ethnic Kurdish nationhood (very popular among Kurds in parts of Iraq, Syria and Turkey, and supported by some in the west); the agitation for, creation of and maintenance of Pakistan, a self-defined exclusivist Muslim state. Or Arab nationalism, a banner that Nasser and others got behind in the ambition to mobilise one ethnicity, ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians, against Israel (or rather ‘the Jews’ as their propaganda referred to) and in the process disregarding a whole host of Middle Eastern, non-Arab, minorities.

The same could be said of the official ‘Arab Ba’ath’ ideology of present day Syria and of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq: Arab chauvinism expressed via an ethnically exclusivist politics i.e. ethno-nationalism. The Muslim Brotherhood – recently in power in Egypt and still popular throughout the Middle East and North Africa, including in Palestine – is committed solely to establishing a form of political rule that unites Muslims under Islamic law (regardless of Christian Arabs et al). However I never hear people on the Far Left, or Jeremy Corbyn specifically, talk critically about them. In fact he has praised and shared platforms with the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas (whose charter still contains reference to the widely recognised anti-Semitic forgery, ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’), and shared platforms and praised Hizbollah (a Lebanese pro-Iranian group solely interested in advancing the interests of Shia Muslims, in Lebanon, Syria etc).
OK. Maybe this is just inconsistency, or (wilful) ignorance, or both. Maybe this isn’t cast iron proof of anti-Semitism. I really cannot see Jeremy Corbyn going home at night and sticking pins in a doll depicting a pot-bellied, bespectacled, gold chain-wearing, big-bearded, big-nosed, archetypal ‘Yid’. Yet he praised and defended an infamous mural with more or less this exact depiction of a Jew on it, even when this specific aspect was pointed out to him. In response to criticism of some young Leftist Labour activists who had referred to the power of ‘Jewish capitalists’/’Jewish capital’, he said that they’d let their anti-capitalist enthusiasm run away with them. Perhaps he would be as indulgent of Ernst Rohm and his anti-capitalist Nazi Brownshirts whom Hitler had purged. In a fairly recently unearthed clip of Jeremy speaking (prior to him becoming party leader) on a pro-Palestinian platform about Israel, he was found to respond to a critical question put to him by a British Jew, whom he presumably recognised, by saying that ‘they’ should have more of a sense of humour, and that ‘by now’ ‘they’ should know this country better. When some his followers in the party target anti-Corbyn Labour Jewish MPs and councillors with strongly pro-Palestinian messages on social media, they are choosing to focus on their ethnicity and to link that to a foreign issue. In doing so they are in effect portraying these British politicians as foreigners in their own country, just as Corbyn did when responding to an audience member in the clip I refer to above. Would they – do they – ever target non-Jewish political opponents (who’ve sympathised with Israel) in this manner?
The hostility to Israel easily overlaps on the left with hostility to US foreign policy and perceived disproportionate US armed action on Arab/Muslim states/targets. If Israel and the US are deemed to be wrong, then some on the Labour Left find it hard to be critical of a Middle Eastern enemy of Israel and the US. In the case of Iran, which in its most senior office of state institutionalises exclusive Shia political and spiritual authority, this reluctance even applies when some of the Iranian working class are striking over pay and conditions. It should also be noted that the Labour Party has long had a significant representation among Muslim Asians in the UK, usually, but not exclusively, of Pakistani heritage, among whom strong and sometimes highly conservative Islamic assertions can sometimes be found that hardly fit with the apparent politics of middle class socialists enthused about Corbyn.
Anti-Semitism, perhaps ironically, literally means to be an anti-Semite, a loose ethnic term, using perhaps spurious ethno-genetic classifications, that includes Arabs as well as Jews. In common and widespread parlance however, it means to be anti-Jewish. What is it to be ‘Jewish’? It is ostensibly an adherent of a particular monotheistic religion. However Jewishness plainly has a wide set of cultural identifiers, and to some extent ethnic identifiers, that apply to Jewish atheists too. It obviously isn’t the same thing as being ‘Israeli’, which is actually not a totally ethnically exclusive nationality, even if political and constitutional realities mean that it is very close to being so.

So, are Jeremy Corbyn and some of his allies anti-Semites? Well, the blithe and knowing disregard for causing collective offence, the prioritisation of factional political advantage over addressing such offence, and hostility to any territorial expression of Jewish national identity, but acceptance of other ethno or religious nationalisms, comes pretty close.



Countries urged not to strip terror suspects of citizenship

THE HAGUE – Stripping terror suspects of citizenship does not increase national security and may even make it worse, legal experts told a conference on ending statelessness.

They are particularly concerned over the increasing use of the measure by Britain which this year revoked the nationality of “Jihadi bride” Shamima Begum who left London to join Islamic State (IS) in 2015 at the age of 15.

Britain is also considering the case of British-Canadian Muslim convert Jack Letts who joined IS as a teenager and is now being held in a Kurdish-run jail in northern Syria.

“Stripping nationality is a completely ineffective measure – and an arbitrary measure,” said Amal de Chickera, co-founder of the Institute on Statelessness, which is hosting the conference in The Hague.

He said countries should retain responsibility for nationals accused of supporting IS and ensure they are prosecuted.

“Stripping nationality when people are abroad merely exports the problem to other countries,” he said, adding such measures were also likely to have a serious impact on families back home.

Countries should recognize that women married to IS fighters, and their children, may have been victimized, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation’s conference.

The conference heard that Britain stripped nationality from more than 100 people in 2017, compared to a total of 12 people between 1950 and 2002, but most cases were done quietly.

De Chickera said it was crucial that all countries’ counter-terrorism policies should not result in more people becoming stateless – which means someone is not recognized as a national by any country in the world.

To avoid making people stateless, Britain has focused on dual nationals. But Audrey Macklin, a human rights law professor at the University of Toronto, said if all countries had laws to revoke citizenship from dual nationals then you would get a race to see who could do it first “and to the loser goes the citizen”.

“Is this a policy that makes sense as a global practice directed at making the world more secure, at reducing the risk of terrorism? To my mind, not so much,” she said.

She said citizenship was a right rather than a privilege, and described citizenship deprivation followed by expulsion as the “political equivalent of the death penalty”.

The conference comes midway through a U.N. campaign to end statelessness in a decade. An estimated 10 to 15 million people are stateless worldwide, often deprived of basic rights.

UK Foreign Office promoting Media Freedom again

Jack Pearson of the UK’s Foreign Office shares this with the NCF as part of their new Media Freedom campaign. They are being selective though – criticising countries who are perceived as enemies or who can’t hit back. Some of the worst offenders in the world – like Turkey – seem to escape the FCO’s criticism. Still, the NCF backs this British government initiative for which we are grateful:

Extinction Rebellion: a new form of governance?

This comes to the Next Century Foundation from Evelyn Hull:

Extinction Rebellion, a civil disobedience group, demanding immediate action to address our climate emergency, has gained both attention and support over the last few weeks. Starting on the 15th of April, the group organised 10 days of protest in London, causing disruption through, marching, blocking roads and even gluing themselves to the entrance of the London Stock Exchange. Their extreme measures have sparked debate and some have condemned their actions as causing too much disruption, and even as counter-productive. However, the group’s message that the real disruption will come if we fail to make drastic changes to address climate change, is compelling. Extinction Rebellion, by name, comments on a seemingly taboo subject; the reality of climate change and, as one of their demands, challenges politicians to face the facts and tell the truth.

Indeed, the group has shifted the boundaries of debate, demanding representation and forcing politicians to engage in the conversation. Serving as a wake-up call, the protests have, for the very least, sparked unprecedented levels of discussion about climate change. In a very short period of time, their first demand, has on paper, been met. After deliberations in parliament, led by the Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, the UK Government has declared a climate emergency. This could be seen as a ceremonial response and is not legally binding, thus its significance depends on sustained political will. However, the progress made is impressive and discussions with Michael Gove, the Environmental Secretary, even suggest a relative openness to the idea of developing citizen assemblies, the second demand of the group.

Perhaps the most interesting impact of Extinction Rebellion is the way in which it is questioning the legitimacy of our current democracy. The movement calls for democratic evolution through the creation of collective decision making facilitated by citizen assemblies. The group uses a crowdsourced strategy to brainstorm ideas and offers an environment to promote open and inclusive discussion. Many have commented on the way in which the group has served as an emotional outlet, giving legitimacy and empathy to their concerns and further providing practical means of initiating change. The group has engaged many people because it offers a feeling of hope and allows citizens to feel the importance of action. This feels particularly pertinent at a time when political disillusion is high.

UK government backs Media Freedom – genuinely?

Can a government that imprisons Julian Assange really claim that it backs Media Freedom when this amounts to the bludgeoning of freedom of expression in one fell swoop? That said let’s hope the FCO’s forthcoming media conference actually makes some real difference beyond merely punishing failed third world governments:





World Press Freedom Day gets UK government backing

This has just been sent us for World Press Freedom day from Sue Breeze at the UK Foreign Office. We share it with you given that today is indeed Press Freedom Day:




Threats and Challenges in Post Brexit Britain

The following text is of a speech by Sir Mark Justin Lyall Grant GCMG, previously the United Kingdom’s National Security Adviser and Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the United Nations. It was given to us by Lady Olga Maitland, President of the Defence and Security Forum and was delivered to the DSF yesterday:

I saw my Dad at the weekend. He is 103. He still reads the paper every day and said ‘Mark, I am very worried about the state of the country and the state of the world’. I wanted to cheer him up, so I replied: ‘Dad, you were born in 1915, one year into the Great war – compared to that, surely 2019 does not look so bad!’ I am not sure that he was convinced.

With you this evening, I can be more honest. In many respects, the world is in a bad state. For a start, all the major threats to the UK identified in the 2015 National Security Strategy that I oversaw have become more acute in the intervening 4 years.

Take State based threats and instability. Russia has become more aggressive and nationalistic – and Putin sees his aim to ‘make Russia great again’ in purely zero-sum terms – that the only way to compensate for Russia’s relative decline is to weaken his neighbours and perceived enemies, whether that is NATO, EU or UK. In the absence of soft power and allies, Putin uses the hard power tools he knows best. Hence the destabilisation of Ukraine and Georgia, the almost-daily testing of NATO’s air and sea defences, the cyber attacks on Estonia and Denmark, the interference in Western elections and the targeting of individuals who fall foul of the Kremlin, such as Alexandr Litvinenko and Sergei Skripal.

There is also conflict and state instability in every region of the world from Venezuela in South America, Sudan, Somalia and Algeria in Africa, India/Pakistan in South Asia, North Korea in the Far East, not to mention all the conflicts in the Middle East – which Binyamin Netanyahu’s return as Israel’s PM is unlikely to dampen.

And, despite the defeat of ISIS on the battlefields of Syria and Iraq, the terrorism threat remains ever present – as last weekend’s horrendous attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka demonstrates. Who now doubts that Christianity, not Judaism or Islam, is the most persecuted religion worldwide. But there is an increasing threat from right wing extremism too, fuelled by Islamophobia – most recently the deadly attack on worshippers at 2 mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. And Lyra Mckee’s killing in Londonderry is a reminder that there is still a residual threat from dissident republicans in Northern Ireland.

In one sense, the terrorist threat is not strategic – 10 times as many people have been killed by lawnmowers in America as by terrorists in the last 10 years, not to mention the 10s of thousands killed by other forms of gun crime. But terrorism has increased our sense of personal insecurity – not to mention significantly affected the way we travel – with the enhanced security measures at airports and other public buildings, restrictions on liquids, special treatment for laptops all resulting directly from past terrorist plots.

Terrorism is of course not a new threat, but Cyber certainly is. The internet did not exist 40 years ago – today every country, business and individual is dependent on it. That dependence has opened up huge opportunities for both hostile states and criminals to exploit. The scale is enormous: More than 200 billion emails sent every day, of which more than 1bn contain malware. Lloyds of London reported this year that the potential cost of a global cyber attack could be as high as 190bn dollars. Russia, China, North Korea and Iran have all aggressively used offensive cyber capabilities for everything from stealing money, secrets and intellectual property to damaging critical national infrastructure of another country, and sowing divisions through misinformation campaigns.

There are two interesting aspects that the terrorist and cyber threats have in common. The first is that, in both cases, offence is much easier and cheaper than defence, and this imbalance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The second is that (partly for that reason) Governments alone cannot keep their citizens safe from either threat – even though that is often said to be the first duty of government. Yes, there is a lot they can do, with the right resources, law enforcement and intelligence assets.

But, take terrorism for instance. The harsh reality is that the simpler the attack and the fewer the number of attackers involved, the more difficult it is to prevent. If a terrorist takes a knife and attacks innocent bystanders in a public place; or hires a car and runs down pedestrians, there is little Governments can do to prevent that. But if there is a wider conspiracy, and terrorists talk or communicate with each other, the opportunities to detect and disrupt become much greater.

Individual vigilance is therefore increasingly important – from the simple ‘see it, say it, sorted’ on the underground to tip offs of suspicious behaviour, families/friends – or doctors/teachers through the PREVENT programme reporting on individuals at risk of radicalisation. Governments are also relying on the big American tech companies to prevent their platforms being used by terrorists to communicate, or to spread extremism (as the terrorist in Christchurch was clearly trying to do by live-streaming his attack). You won’t be surprised to hear that some of the tech companies are rather more willing to cooperate with Government agencies than others.

The same limitation in the Government’s ability to protect applies to the cyber threat. Government systems are of course targeted by hostile states – when I was Ambassador to the UN, all 15 members of the Security Council had their communications networks attacked – but (wikileaks not withstanding) Government systems are relatively well defended. Companies and individuals are much more vulnerable. Technology and data are so business critical these days that companies have to spend hundreds of millions on their own cyber security. And it is up to individuals to look after their own passwords and avoid being taken in by scam emails. Governments cannot do that for them.

And this sense of greater personal insecurity will only increase the more that we rely on technology in our daily lives – the 4th industrial revolution that Sir Christopher referred to. Smart devices in our homes, commercial use of drones in our skies and driverless cars on our roads will all make us more vulnerable to cyber attack in the future.

Threat to RBIO
In my view, however, the biggest strategic security risk we face today is not the threat from military conflict, terrorism or cyber attack – it is the erosion of the international rules-based order that was built up after WW2.

It is worth recalling that, when the victors of WW2 set up new organisations and norms in the 1940s/1950s such as the UN, NATO, IMF/World Bank, WTO, the universal declaration of human rights, they did so – we did so – in our own image. It was therefore a liberal vision based on values of open trade, the rule of law and human rights. It is hard to overestimate the benefit that the UK – as a medium sized, democratic, open trading nation – gets from that rules based order. It is the sea in which we swim and we have invested more heavily than most in it.

But that order is now under severe threat. After a short 25 year ‘golden period’ from the end of the cold war, we have seen a systematic push back against this liberal international order. Why is that? A number of reasons, but I would highlight 3 in particular:

With the military interventions in Iraq and Libya, some nations felt that the West exploited new concepts such as humanitarian intervention and R2P to encroach on sovereignty and even to promote regime change;
The Financial crisis in 2008 undermined faith in the elite’s ability to manage global capitalism;
More fundamentally, geopolitical shifts have been significant, especially the rise of China.
Now, in addition to blatant violations of the international order, such as Russian annexation of Crimea and China’s militarisation of disputed islands in the South China Sea, we are seeing a rise in populism and authoritarian governance in every region of the world from Argentina and Tanzania to Turkey and the Philippines – indeed Freedom House reports that 2018 was the 13th year in a row where democratic norms have been going backwards – and it is worth recalling that, at a time when India, the world’s largest democracy, goes to the polls, only 39% of the world’s population lives in a democracy. So far from the end of history, as Francis Fukuyama put it 30 years ago, we are entering a period of great uncertainty. Indeed, I would argue that, for the first time since the end of WW2, the ultimate triumph of democracy and economic liberalism cannot be taken for granted.

At this critical time, it is therefore very unfortunate that the traditional champion of the liberal international order (POTUS) does not himself believe in it. When he spoke at the UN in September last year, President Trump attacked what he called the ‘ideology of globalisation’. He has pulled America out of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the Paris agreement on Climate Change, the INF treaty and the Iran nuclear deal; he has blocked the appointment of judges to the World Trade Organisation and now recognised Israel’s illegal occupation of the Golan heights – not to mention pull out of various UN bodies.

At a strategic level, Trump has made clear that he plans to challenge China on the military, economic and technological fronts – the last is important because China has set itself the aim of becoming the dominant player in emerging technologies, such as Artificial intelligence, robotics, genetic engineering, and other bio technologies; not to mention space exploration. Technology is therefore likely to be a key battleground of the future. But a trade war (or at least a trade skirmish) has already started, and some US generals predict a hot war within 15 years. If there were such a conflict, it would certainly push all the other threats I have mentioned into the background.

So, if we want to preserve the RBIO, then those who believe in it will need to champion it – that means in the short term pushing back against the most egregious violations of the international order, while mitigating the current US administration’s disruptive approach; and in the longer term finding a way to adapt the international governance structures in a way that accommodates China and other geopolitical shifts, without undermining the core UN and Bretton Woods institutions. To my mind, this means not compromising on the key values that underpin our own democratic traditions, whilst recognising the fact that there are limits on our ability to impose those values on others. We have to win the struggle by positive example, not by force.

The UK needs to play its part in this vital endeavour. Brexit (whenever it happens) should not prevent us from doing so. Many commentators have argued that the UK will be a diminished force in the world after Brexit. Unfortunately, that is indeed the case during the tortuous process of Brexit (one reason why a lengthy extension is undesirable) but I see no reason why it should be the case thereafter.

Britain’s international standing in the world does not depend on our membership of the EU. It is a factor of our economic weight, history, democracy, culture, English language, the excellence of our institutions, including armed forces and universities, the royal family and other aspects of our position – confirmed once again in the latest Softpower30 index – as the number 1 soft power nation in the world. Recent polling undertaken by the British Council of young people around the world confirms that those outside Europe do not see EU membership as being a key part of the UK’s identity. Even after Brexit, the UK will be a member of more international organisations than any other country.

Indeed, it was clear to me as Ambassador to the UN that Scottish Independence would have been much more damaging to our international status than leaving the EU. Quite apart from reducing our economic and political weight, that would have required changing the name of the country and called into question our permanent seat on the UN security council.

But that influence and standing cannot be taken for granted. It needs to be nurtured now more than ever. The slogan of ‘global Britain’ needs to be backed up with resource and action. Some positive decisions have been taken since the 2016 referendum: to extend our nuclear deterrence into the next generation, maintain the 2% commitment on defence and 0.7% commitment on overseas aid, double the number of British UN peacekeeping troops, deploy forces to Eastern Europe to help deter the Russian threat, increase the number of training troops in Iraq and Afghanistan and extend our diplomatic network.
But a lot more will be required to strengthen our international links. We should make more use of other key international groupings such as the Quad, NATO, the G7 and the 5 eyes community; we need a major effort to reinvigorate the Commonwealth.

But we must also establish the closest possible links to key European partners after Brexit. No amount of global blue-sea linkages can substitute for that. On the security side, despite all the media froth, I am confident that agreement will be reached – even in the event of a no-deal scenario – which will ensure that neither UK nor European security is endangered by Brexit, including by negotiating UK access and input to practical enablers and key information data bases owned by the EU, such as EUROPOL, the European Arrest warrant and Schengen information system.

That is because our EU partners have at least as great an interest as us in continuing to benefit from UK defence and security cooperation. Our intelligence services are recognised as the best in Europe, we have the largest defence budget, our military engagement is highly prized and we arrest and send back to their own countries 8 times as many EU nationals under the EAW as we get back from the continent. In that sense, we are in credit on national security – which is not the case for many other areas of the Brexit negotiations. I know from my own time as NSA that this reality is fully recognised by key European leaders.

I hope, however, that, in addition to agreement on maintaining these current close links, the Government will look to develop new joint projects with our closest European allies, France and Germany. There is already a productive Lancaster House Treaty with France, which covers defence cooperation on nuclear issues, joint project work on air to air missiles and a future unmanned fighter aircraft. But something more iconic on the scale of Concorde, the channel tunnel or the Eurofighter would send a signal of our intention to remain joined to the European continent long into the future. We need to use the latest 6-month Brexit extension to come up with some concrete ideas to put to our European partners.

So whatever we think of the wisdom of leaving the European Union – I personally think it a strategic mistake for economic reasons – we should be confident that, with the right ambition and leadership, neither our security nor our influence in the world need be adversely affected.

Knife Crime in Birmingham

Knife crime is the most critical issue to face modern Britain (despite the UK media’s obsession with parliament’s embarrassing shenanigans on Brexit). The following has been written for us by Birmingham based Maariyah Rashid:

Birmingham has seen three teenage boys being stabbed to death in the space of a few days, which is in line with a general increase in knife crime in recent years (Labhart, 2019). The moral panic of knife crime has been spreading in British media in recent times with the discussion centred around race, police cuts and a sense there is an unprecedented amount of knife violence. These narratives for the most part have missed a more nuanced discussion regarding knife crime: rather knife crime sits in a broader discussion of systemic inequality and disadvantage in the UK.

The killings of Hazrat Umar, Abdullah Muhammed and Sidali Mohammed all took place in areas of Birmingham which are densely populated with people from minority backgrounds. This is not a coincidence. These killings demonstrate an intersection of race, class and inequality. Therefore, to really understand the ‘why’ of these deaths a discussion cannot happen in disjuncture with the context surrounding the lives of these young men. Thus, we cannot discuss violence and social inequality in isolation, as they work simultaneously to disempower people and communities.

Contrary to popular belief the social indicators of violence have remained the same across time. The social indicators remain – poverty, lack of education and lack of youth services to name a few. There are lived consequences of systemic inequality and disadvantage such as the average household earnings of a Bangladeshi family is £238 per week, compared to a national average of £393: household wealth of a Bangladeshi family is around £15,000 compared to £200,000 of White British households. That half of Pakistani and Bangladeshi households, and over two-thirds of their children, live below the poverty line; BME students are overrepresented in Higher Education (46%) but remain concentrated in post-1992 universities with only 8% at Russell Group institutions (compared with 24% of white students) (Alexander, 2014). Research shows pupils excluded from school at 12 are four times more likely compared to other children to be jailed as adults (Crawley and Hirschfield, 2018). The term ‘school to jail pipeline’ has emerged, explaining the link between schools failing children and expelling them to these expelled children ending in prison. Thus, the criminal justice system is systematically punishing poverty and socially marginalised vulnerable individuals.

The government’s response to knife crime illustrates the gap between real issues on the ground and research versus government policy. Sajid Javed’s new policies include, an extension of stop and search powers and calls on social media companies to do more to rid the web of violent gang content (Cueller and Markowitz, 2015). Firstly, extending stop and search power is often thrown about as a serious solution but this policy aims to further criminalise a social issue. Furthermore, this policy has been proven to be racially biased with stop and search eight times more likely to target black people (Dodd 2017). By extending these powers the government is punishing rather than rehabilitating people and it disproportionately affects ethnic minorities building further distrust and disenfranchisement.

To successfully tackle this issue there needs to be a shift in understanding of the root causes of the problem and therefore, what a durable solution might look like. This is not an alien concept or a radical one, it is a very real solution that Scotland has employed. Glasgow was one of the most violent cities but they took the decision to treat knife crime as a public health issue – rather than simply a police matter. (Younge and Barr, 2017). This has led to decreased crime rates and a better understanding of root causes of crime. It is abundantly clear we cannot continue to tinker around the edges of the system and introduce superficial policies. Social reform is necessary to change the way community functions to see real change

Brexit problems for Europe’s Students?

A substantial proportion of Britain’s younger generation feel strongly in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union (or certainly did so prior to recent events). The opportunity Europe presented for study abroad is just one of the many reasons why:

With just months to go until the UK is set to leave the EU, the possibility of a ‘No Deal Brexit’ seems increasingly likely. With the UK’s involvement in many EU institutions set to diminish, what will Brexit mean for the UK’s place in the Erasmus+ programme?

Erasmus+ is an EU initiative which provides grants for participants to study, work, volunteer, teach and train in Europe. In the past four years the programme has awarded 677 million euros to UK participants, with 128,097 British students taking part from 2014-2016. The UK will remain a part of the current scheme until its end in 2020. Although after that what happens is unclear.

Since its creation in 1987, the Erasmus scheme has improved economic outcomes, with unemployment rates 23% lower for participants.

After 2020, Britain may be forced to leave the scheme.

Will it be replaced?

The European Commission has proposed a new form of Erasmus+ from 2021-27 which would see it doubling its budget and opening to “third countries” from outside the EU, such as, presumably, the UK after Brexit.

Even if such a proposal did not go through, in theory Britain could still adopt the Swiss model. Under this model, British universities would set up their own agreements with EU universities and provide their own funding. Savings made from payments to the EU could even be used to fund it.

Would people use a new scheme?

No one should underestimate the ideological sentiment of Brexit. Fewer Europeans may want to study in the UK and vice versa. Already there’s been a 19% increase in departures of European staff from UK universities in 2017 compared to before the Brexit vote. Though many left due to fears surrounding research grant eligibility and visa concerns, many also also left for ideological reasons.

Some schools have reported that Brexit has led to a decrease in students wanting to learn languages, further reinforced by their parents’ attitudes.

Regardless of whether we want to see less immigration or “take back control”, we still need confident, open-minded and adaptable young people who can survive and prosper in an increasingly globalised world. With Brexit, they will not.

The Anti-Semitism Row

Tim Pendry responds to our intern’s blog on the Labour Anti-Semitism row, which he views as a little naive politically. He writes as an independent observer sympathetic to Corbyn’s position on this particular matter. We would view his perspective as being similar to that of a mainstream Labour activist, though not a viewpoint universally held:

We can start with two propositions which are uncomfortable for some activists.

The first is that free speech, as an Enlightenment Project, should be as close to absolute as possible in any political movement that purports to represent the Left and yet it is clear that there has been increasing pressure, mostly from authoritarian elements in society, to restrict that freedom so that defence of free speech has largely and unfortunately fallen into the hands of conservatives and then populists.

The second is that a British political party should be primarily concerned with the welfare of the British people (of all faiths) and should not become the plaything of struggles in foreign lands or allow itself to be directly or indirectly influenced by the interests of a foreign power. The Labour Party got itself into this mess originally by permitting far too much influence to activists more concerned with Middle Eastern politics than social change because it was greedy for votes from new immigrant communities.

This opened the door to Jewish activists whose primary interest (in this debate) was undoubtedly the protection of political support for the state of Israel which was pretty well taken for granted in the higher ranks of the Party until Corbyn was elected Leader. This is all a matter of indifference to most working people who are actually not in the least antisemitic but commit the crime of utter indifference to both sides in this tiresome and eternal squabble.

In this atmosphere of political warfare, it is naive to think that the IHRA guidelines came out of some objective analysis of antisemitism above and beyond these politics. They did not. They are the culmination of a process of linking the narrative of antisemitism and the holocaust to the existence of Israel and then making the definition of antisemitism implicitly include criticism of Israel. So let us take the four guidelines and give another interpretation (since the author’s interpretation is actually fair if one wishes to interpret them that way but there are other interpretations).

  1. “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” Unfortunately, this is actually a fair criticism from many Jewish activists who do place loyalty to Israel and to the Jewish community ahead of the interests of their own nation. The ‘soft’ version is an unspoken and unthinking assumption that the interests of the UK and Israel are identical. They are not necessarily so. We must be free to call out any community within the country, including Muslims of course, who place their original homeland or their community’s interests or even (in extremis) their faith ahead of the interests of the UK as a whole and certainly of the British working population.
  2. “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour.” This is fair since it is clear that Judaism is not racist. However, Zionism is. by definition, ethnicist. There is a slippery slope here given the inability of many modern liberals not to be able to draw the distinction between ethnicity and racism. The existence of the State of Israel is very much an ethnicist endeavour and we must be free to say so.
  3. “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This is a fair concern but, again, we have to consider context. Israel claims to be a Western democratic outpost and it is surrounded by non-democratic illiberal countries. There is no comparison. However, Israel’s conduct can and should be compared (even if there may be sound security reasons for the differences) with the way, say, Sweden or Ireland may conduct matters. The clause is clear – it is not ‘of any other nation’ but ‘of any other democratic nation’. While recognising that Israel is largely democratic (though only so because most Palestinians have left), we must be free to compare it if we so wish to the other democratic nations of which it claims kinship.
  4. “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This is a difficult one but free speech is not about sensitivity, it is about freedom. There is no fair way of claiming the State of Israel behaves like the Nazi State but this should be dealt with in terms of the facts and not sensitivity when, seventy years after the event and with more knowledge of the general scale of man’s inhumanity to man, under conditions where a nation owns the nuclear bomb and has a preparedness to use it, we all know in our hearts that the holocaust narrative has two aspects – as tragic history and as propaganda. What we must be free to say is that there are similarities perhaps between some aspects of national socialism and some aspects of all forms of ethnicist nationalism and perhaps, if evidence can be provided, even in military techniques against settlement or in ‘lebensraum’. An intelligent person would only make the lightest of historical comparisons if they believed them to be true because there is no evidence of the racial politics or chaotics of the German dictatorship but he or she must be allowed to make these comparisons in good faith as a matter of free speech.

The ‘Zionist’ or Jewish activist pressure on the Labour Leadership is purely political, a continuation by other means of a project to recover an influence over the British Left taken for granted over many decades. It is the wrong struggle. The right struggle would have been to ask why the worst sort of faith-based obscurantism has been imported into the Party’s inner city wards without sufficient challenge. Any antisemitism arising from poorly educated Islamists is a mere symptom of something infinitely more concerning – the steady unravelling of Enlightenment values for contingent political advantage across a wide front.

As to ‘feelings’ this represents the decadence of our politics. Politics should be about principle and not pandering to ‘feelings’. The crisis certainly cannot be averted by pandering to a demand that a few inappropriate clauses of the IHRA guidelines are accepted just to defuse the crisis – it simply creates a new crisis, one of the ‘chilling effect’ on free speech. The crisis can be averted by staying strong on the principle of free speech but taking a tough line on antisemitism (as opposed to criticism of Israel) where it appears alongside all other forms of racial or ethnicist politics including perhaps aspects of Corbyn’s treasured Irish republicanism and the clan politics of the migrant inner cities.

Labour must find better ways to criticise Israel’s Government

Labour has strong reason to criticise the Israel’s government and to speak up for the rights of Palestinians. Although they are going about it in completely the wrong way. On Tuesday, Labour finally adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism with its full eleven working examples. Adding the four of which they had previously left out of their code of conduct. Labour also added a caveat expressing the need for freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians. However, the lateness of this seems to be out of as much out of a need to alleviate the mounting pressure in the media as it is an action to fight anti-Semitism.

The adoption of the internationally recognised IHRA definitions represent for many in the Jewish community a key symbolic step in the fight against anti-Semitism. By viewing these guidelines as contentious, Labour has put themselves in a tricky position. This position conflates their rightly founded criticism of policies of Israel’s government and advocacy of Palestinian rights with anti-Semitism.

By not initially accepting the full IHRA definitions, they have shown a lack of understanding of the views of many in the Jewish community. Many in Labour say agreeing to the guidelines puts them in a position where they cannot criticise the acts of the Israeli government. However, the IHRA does still allow for this criticism. The four previously omitted examples of anti-Semitism include:

  • “Accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel, or to the alleged priorities of Jews worldwide, than to the interests of their own nations.” This example does not mean that the Israel’s government cannot be criticised
  • “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination e.g. by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavour. This does not mean that Palestine doesn’t have the right to self-determination and does not define any specific land boundaries.
  • “Applying double standards by requiring of Israel a behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.” This does not mean we should stop criticising Israel’s government but perhaps does signal the need to further criticise the current and past behaviour of many democratic nations.
  • “Drawing comparisons of contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis.” This does not mean Israel’s policy is exempt from strong criticism but calls for criticism of Israel’s policy towards Palestinians in a way which still respects sensitivity to the issue of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Although Labour did agree to add these four examples on Tuesday, it also added a caveat that states: “this does not in any way undermine the freedom of expression on Israel and the rights of Palestinians”. It is not necessarily the content of the caveat which is the problem, but its symbolic placement. This undermines the IHRA definitions by suggesting that they do not allow for strong criticism of the Israeli state’s policies and the expression of Palestinian rights.

The effect of Labour’s poor management

Labour’s handling of this situation has had two key negative effects. Firstly, it has shown disregard for the feelings of many Jewish people inside and outside of the party. Secondly, it has significantly reduced Labour’s ability to pragmatically criticise the government of Israel and improve the rights of Palestinians. It has done this by distracting from the actual actions of the Israeli government against Palestinians; and by weakening the credibility of Labour as and when it chooses to criticise them.

Some have argued that those wishing to oust Corbyn have put him in a difficult position by deliberately conflating criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Whether this is true or not, Labour cannot move forward unless they separate the two issues.

What can Labour do now?

To make any advances in effectively criticising Israel and upholding the rights of the Palestinians, Labour must separate the two conflated points. They can deliver a strong message against anti-Semitism by fully supporting the IHRA definitions as well as by combatting anti-Semitism in the party. Whilst doing this, they can separately give strong criticism of the Israeli state and advocate for the rights of the Palestinians. But confusing the two issues will get them nowhere.