Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Why our governing economic model is at a tipping point

Alfie Stirling, Laurie Laybourn-Langton

It is widely accepted that macroeconomic policy in the UK and the USA has experienced two major periods of breakdown and significant transition since the start of the twentieth century. But has a third period of comparable change in the UK already begun?

To answer this, it is important to place the UK's present economic ‘moment’ in historical context.

The first period took place between the financial shock and global depression at the end of the 1920s, which led to the forty-year period of economic and policy approaches generally described as the ‘post-war consensus’, in the UK.

The second period came between the currency and oil shocks during the 1960s and 1970s, leading to the development of ‘Thatcherite’, or free market economic policies from the 1980s onwards.

Over the course of the decade since the 2007 financial crisis, it has increasingly been acknowledged that a cyclical crisis has become a structural crisis. Many western economies are exhibiting significant structural weaknesses, particularly the stalling of productivity growth and stagnation of average earnings.

We argue that we are currently experiencing a third period of faster than normal transition, with significant change in economic ideas and policy. Notable features of this include the 2007 financial crisis itself, as well as the failure of economic theory to predict it; the unprecedented deviation from historical productivity and earnings growth; and the challenge of setting monetary policy in a world where interest rates are already at their effective lower bound.

It remains to be seen whether the current acceleration in economic change proves to be the beginning of something akin to previous eras. There is not currently a credible candidate for an alternative programme, partly because heterodox theories, such as in complexity economics, necessarily present an existential threat to the very institutions—for example, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Bank of England or private sector forecasters—that they would need to influence in order to enter mainstream policy.

And yet, powerful, normative demands for an alternative to mainstream economic practice already exist and have been expressed through democratic process in many countries. The conditions are apparent for considerable change in economics and on an historically significant scale, but as yet the missing ingredient is an alternative with the power to displace the existing ‘world view’.

Alfie Stirling is Senior Economic Analyst at the IPPR. Laurie Laybourn-Langton is a Senior Reearch Fellow at the IPPR.

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Mixed communities or missed opportunities?

Bert Provan

Large social housing estates – often high-rise post war blocks – are common in Europe. Frequently seen as problem neighbourhoods, these estates have become unpopular and hard to let, fallen into disrepair, gained reputations for crime and poverty, and from time to time been the scene of riots.
In both England and France these problems have led to major programmes run by both local and national government agencies. In recent years there has been a move towards the policy of ‘mixed communities’ – the idea that in order to improve these neighbourhoods, an influx of middle class working families is needed, to improve not only the income base but also the social and moral capital of the area.

But does this work? And who benefits, even if it does work? The evidence suggests that this is not a magic bullet, despite the political popularity of the approach.

In the period after 1945, there was a crisis of housing due to the very high levels of need created by bomb damage and the pre-war legacy of inner city slum housing. Driven by this housing crisis, and informed by architectural and welfare state notions of modernity and state provision, high rise system built estates were rapidly constructed. Apart from anything else, their pre-fabricated structure mitigated the need for skilled building workers, who were in very short supply.

In many cases the initial reaction of residents was very positive – they had new, light and airy flats with central heating, indoor plumbing, and separate rooms for their children, which was a great improvement from what they had before.

The problems emerged after only a few years – buildings were poorly constructed and damp, estates were isolated and poorly served by transport, and design problems led to high crime rates.
With these problems came difficulties in letting the flats, not least as other housing options were becoming available with continuing high rates of construction. The estates could only be let to households with few other options, including homeless people and people with very low incomes, and a cycle of decline let to the entrenchment of these problems.

Government intervention and mixed communities

Government intervention started in the early 1970s in both England and France. Programmes were invented, implemented, inspected, interrupted, and re-invented every few years, dealing with a variety of factors from the quality of the buildings to attempts to build community identity and social capital. There was very mixed progress in significantly improving the outcomes for residents. Although decline was halted and the neighbourhoods mainly stabilised, they remained pockets of poverty within their wider city framework.

The arrival of ‘mixed communities’ as a new putative solution came in the early 2000s. The proposal was to transform these estates into areas where there was a mix of all classes, ethnicities, and capacities to engender higher social capital and community cohesion.

Part of the implementation of this approach can be seen in planning frameworks in England and France, where there are strict (if not entirely watertight) regulations around the need to achieve a specified level of ‘mix’ of what are now termed ‘affordable’ homes within any new housing and community developments or area renewal projects. In France this laudable aim is covered by the “law of city solidarity and renewal” indicating the egalitarian impulse behind it.

When social ‘mixing’ becomes problematic

However, this aim of ‘mixing’ becomes much more problematic when applied retrospectively to existing neighbourhoods with concentrated poverty and dense social housing. The first problem is the underlying objectives of the programme.

One way to look at it is as a means to bring new families, businesses, finance for better housing, social capital, and a better image to the neighbourhood.

Another way is to see it as a morally driven imposition of ‘middle class morals of hard work and good living’ on an estate mainly inhabited by some kind of ‘criminal classes’ or benefit cheats, and expect that the overall standard of behaviour can be raised.

This rather exaggerated sounding second option reflects many more historic characterisations of the residents of poor neighbourhoods (for example in England, Booth’s poverty maps). But in fact even today these attitudes often form part of political rhetoric about poor areas - and for evidence of this we can recall ex-President Sarkozy’s 2005 characterisation of the residents of these areas as “racailles et voyous“ (scum and hooligans).

Experiences of the residents

For residents, things may appear and be different. One key element emerging from some of the many varied programmes mentioned above is the existence of strong local communities, with high social capital and levels of self-help and cooperation on these estates.

Many programmes have worked to develop the existing capacities of residents, driving improvement from the inside and building on existing strengths. Not only do large scale demolitions and rebuilding with middle class housing undermine this, they also very often result in the forced or inevitable eviction of existing residents from the neighbourhood.

Where ex-residents go is also seldom studied, but the limited evidence suggests that they often go to neighbourhoods or to housing conditions which are no better than those on the estate they left. Evidence from the slightly different and more systematically studied US experience of moving families from similar neighbourhoods of ‘project’ housing had clearly shown that even if they move to better (more ‘mixed’) neighbourhoods, the outcomes in terms of levels of achievement of the families are little changed, or poorer, compared to families remaining in their original homes.
There is also a version of this poor outcome in existing attempts to create ‘mixed communities’ which often quickly morph into areas of gated middle-class households who go to different schools, shops, and clubs, and seldom if ever mix with the original residents.

Beyond the ‘mixed communities’ approach

But if the ‘mixed communities’ approach does not work for existing problem neighbourhoods, what should we do?

This is not a problem that can be ignored, and good social policy and city governance considerations suggest that better solutions to tackle these pockets of poverty and disadvantage should continue to be developed, despite the patchy results of past programmes.

Perhaps we should start by accepting that mass displacement of poor residents undermines existing capacities and social capital. We can also recognise that many of these programmes are driven by the unfounded fears of more affluent parts of a city rather than a real desire to address the concerns of residents on these areas.

One key thing that the range of original improvement programmes have shown is that stability and progress can be made not by exporting the residents to unknown and unsupported places. Instead, these poor neighbourhoods need to receive not only their fair equal share of economic and social investment in jobs, schools, hospitals, transport and training, but also require high quality housing improvements, local management and control, and specific attention to the needs of the vulnerable residents.

Bert Provan is an Occasional Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

This article is adapted from a piece in The Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Friday, 10 November 2017

Understanding the post-liberal centre ground

Adrian Pabst

Much of the post-2017 general election analysis has focused on Theresa May’s spectacular fall from grace and the surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn. What is lacking is a reflection on the fundamentals of British politics.

A decade of financial disruption, austerity and stagnant wages has produced a popular rejection of market fundamentalism. Weaker civic ties have left many people feeling dispossessed and ignored. In an age of economic and cultural insecurity, the task of politics is more than ever to rebuild accountability to people and democratic participation in the polity.

The liberal centre is in retreat

In my article for The Political Quarterly, I conceptualised the double demand for greater economic justice and more social cohesion in terms of ‘post-liberalism’ – moving beyond the free market dogma of the liberal right since Margaret Thatcher and the identity politics of the liberal left since Harold Wilson. These two liberalisms converged in Tony Blair’s ‘third way’ and David Cameron’s ‘compassionate conservatism’, and the liberal centre that has dominated British politics for nearly four decades is now in retreat.

After the Brexit referendum and the 2017 election, we are seeing a series of paradoxes that cannot be mapped according to the old binaries of either left vs. right or liberalism against the rest.

The first paradox is the return to a two-party contest where neither commands a majority. The Tories ran one of their worst campaigns in living memory, but still managed to get 318 seats on a vote share of 42.4 per cent, up 5.5 per cent from 2015. Corbyn’s lively campaign and popular policies galvanised Labour, which increased its share of the vote by 9.6 per cent to 40 per cent, but the party’s achievement of securing 262 seats remains over sixty seats short of a working majority of 323. Despite the Corbyn surge, Labour lost for a third consecutive time against the backdrop of the slowest economic recovery in 70 years and a government that is anything but ‘strong and stable’.

The second paradox is that the Conservatives lost their majority even as they broadened their electoral coalition, while Labour has built a platform for victory next time based on a narrower electoral coalition. Although the Tories lost support among middle-class Remainers and especially young voters, they are at about 40 per cent among manual workers (same as Labour) and at nearly 50 per cent among people with no educational qualifications (compared with Labour’s 35 per cent).

Labour won 21 extra seats in England, but it lacks support among the over 55-year old voters and in large swathes of the country – especially suburban places, coastal regions and rural communities. The traditional working class are switching to the Tories, while Labour is now the party of the affluent and the university-educated. For now, neither party is building a cross-class and cross-cultural coalition that can win a stable majority.

The third paradox is politics is moving both left and right at the same time, but not in a liberal direction. Since Thatcher’s victory in 1979, parties had to move right on the economy and left on social issues in order to win. Now parties are moving left on the economy and right on some social issues (like controlling immigration). 2017 defied the conventional law that British elections are not won on a left-wing economic manifesto. Both parties promised an active industrial strategy and central state intervention in energy and other markets. And both committed themselves to ending the free movement of people after Britain leaves the EU in 2019.

The fourth paradox is that after the election both parties are retreating into their ideological comfort zones just when the country needs a national popular politics. At first, Theresa May seemed to articulate a more economically egalitarian and socially communitarian politics. She denounced both the libertarian right and the socialist left while promising greater economic fairness and more social stability. The narrative of the much-maligned 2017 Tory manifesto was in fact a fusion of Burke, Beveridge and Blue Labour, as I argued in a blog piece for the New Statesman.

Missing: A politics of the common good

But all the talk about breaking with Thatcherism – “we do not believe in untrammelled free markets. We reject the cult of selfish individualism” – came to nothing. Already in her first year as Prime Minister, May’s initially ambitious proposals for corporate governance reform were watered down and the government’s industrial policy provided nothing of substance. Now the Tory arch-Brexiteers want ‘more neo-liberalism in one country’ as they make plans for a low-regulation, low-tax economy boosted by free trade deals with the other countries of Anglo-Saxondom.

Corbyn’s opposition to austerity continues to be very popular and he has been vindicated for his consistent critique of capitalism. But his utopia of ‘socialism in one country’ is fusing twentieth century-style statism with twenty-first century digital platforms. It offers a future for the new, networked generation of globally mobile cosmopolitans. The rest will subsist on a universal basic income funded by taxing tech companies. Automation and artificial intelligence promise to create a post-capitalist economy without work or workers.

Neither party is currently offering a national popular politics of the common good that can build new alliances across the deepening divides of rich vs. poor, young vs. old, north vs. south, urban vs. rural, university-educated vs. no qualification, and so on.

Post-liberalism may not be the right word, not least because it accords too much significance to the economic liberalism that has lost support. But it does name the ‘new times’ we inhabit – the search for political purpose in an age of upheaval.

Adrian Pabst is Reader in Politics at the University of Kent and co-author of The Politics of Virtue: Post-liberalism and the Human Future (Rowman & Littlefield International, 2016)

This article is adapted from a piece in the Political Quarterly journal. You can read the full article here.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

Where next for long-term care?

Deborah Mabbett

The Conservatives expected to win in 2017, and the manifesto was written accordingly. For the small team in Number 10, it was an opportunity to fix policies where there could be internal dissent and backsliding. The House of Lords observes a convention of not opposing policies that are based on clear manifesto commitments by the winning party, and May’s team evidently hoped that dissidents in the Commons could be subjected to a similar discipline. The manifesto was taken as an opportunity to reorient the party towards a new social and egalitarian vision of conservatism in which the instincts of middle England were identified and distinguished from the interests of the cosmopolitan elite.

Apart from the obvious problem of managing a party packed with representatives of the cosmopolitan enemy, the image of middle England was always vulnerable to deconstruction once policy details emerged. General and rhetorical appeals gave way to the calculus of interests, and therein lay a problem for long-term care policy in particular. Middle England may believe itself to be only ‘just about managing’, but it still enjoys or aspires to home ownership. But a goodly share of future long-term care finance will have to come out of housing equity, and the Prime Minister’s advisers took the plunge and said so. In a policy area riddled with complexity, their answer was crystalline in its simplicity: people should pay for their own care unless they could not afford to do so. Housing wealth, released if necessary by Deferred Payment Agreements, would count in what could be afforded, while the means-test threshold that delineates those who can afford care from those who cannot would be raised to £100,000.

Critics were quick to point out that this scheme offered no insurance against the lottery of long-term care costs for anyone but the worst off, for whom the £100,000 threshold provided protection. And long-term care costs really are a lottery: while many people will spend something on care in their old age, a crippling burden of high costs falls on about 10% of the elderly. It seems an ideal case for insurance, especially as the burden is genuinely difficult to predict. Wealth and education do not guard the privileged against dementia: the disease where the costs can be highest and most prolonged.

The argument that there should be insurance against very high costs, and that the state should provide it, was accepted in the Dilnot report. It proposed that there should be a cap on the amount anyone should have to pay towards their own care. The amount up to the cap can be thought of as an insurance ‘excess’. Economic theory (specifically, ‘Arrow’s theorem of the deductible’) suggests that it is efficient to have a certain amount of excess or self-insurance, although, somewhat confusingly, Dilnot thought that the private sector might provide insurance for the capped amount. Beyond that, the public sector would step in, effectively providing the ‘stop loss’ insurance. Thus the idea of a cap on the amount that anyone should have to spend on care became established, having received the imprimatur of economic expertise.

In 2015, the cap on care costs seemed to be a done deal: the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos referred to it as if it was already in force, and Labour indicated that it supported the measure. Thus there was an outcry when the Conservatives did not include a cap in their 2017 proposals. But, as often happens when economic theorems are applied to public policy, the underlying arguments are far from straightforward. Dilnot proposed a cap but gave little guidance on the vexed question of how it should be set. A moment’s reflection tells us that setting the cap will always bring political torment. Set it low, and the state will have to meet the bulk of long-term care costs, which it is already failing to do, so the policy problem will not be solved. Set it high, and more and more people will find their wealth is not protected. Not only will the number of prospective beneficiaries of the cap fall, but also the beneficiary group has an undesirable feature: it consists of wealthy people. The higher the cap, the more it will be that only the wealthiest benefit from it.

In short, the cap is the policy instrument from hell. How did public policy on long-term care get into this predicament? We return to the Dilnot report on ‘Fairer care funding’ and its conception of ‘fairness’. Fairness, for Dilnot, meant finding a way to protect housing capital against care costs. Having to sell your home to pay for care, the report argued, was widely regarded by the public as unfair. The report gave no hint that there are vast inequalities in housing wealth; instead it claimed that ‘everyone’ faces a significant risk from care costs. This is patently untrue. Only those who have assets above the means-test threshold face a financial risk, and the scale of the risk increases with wealth. Estimates contained in the report showed that, if its proposals were adopted, the largest increases in public expenditure on care would accrue to those with the highest incomes, but this failed to ring alarm bells.

Dilnot also advanced a more prosaic defence of the cap, evaluated against the alternative of universal social insurance. Requiring a private contribution would restrain the cost to the public sector. Public schemes, Dilnot noted, tend to be, or become, underfunded. But the cap was really a limited gesture towards solving the problem of public underfunding. While dismissing a general insurance scheme, the Dilnot proposal envisaged the maintenance of public insurance beyond the cap. There was no discussion of the structure of this insurance: implicitly it was assumed that it would be the familiar British kind, whereby the premiums are collected through general taxation. This approach to insurance has many admirable features. Without the capped excess, it is the basis of the NHS: we pay in according to our income and use the services according to our needs. It is in a way a ‘double’ insurance, providing protection against health care costs and against having a low income. The Dilnot report is not to be faulted for planning on the continuation and augmentation of this insurance, but the report was silent on how that money might be found. That, apparently, was a problem for politicians to solve.

There is plenty of discussion in the report on how households could ensure that they could pay the capped amount: suitable private insurance products might be developed, or provision might be linked to pensions or savings plans. A private model was not seen as viable for the whole amount of care costs: private long-term care insurance has failed to get established anywhere. But insurance for a capped amount would be possible, as the cap would remove uncertainty about the potential cost of care. Thus Dilnot proposed a sort of ‘public-private partnership’ but, as so often with these wizard schemes, the government would have to find more money, and spend it on relatively wealthy recipients, in order to fulfil its role as partner.

In the face of Dilnot’s deafening silence about how to raise more public money, Labour and the Liberal Democrats ventured forth with their proposals. The Lib Dems proposed a 1p rise in income tax and the eventual introduction of a hypothecated health and care tax. In 2015, Labour proposed instead to create a new source of revenue, based on wealth rather than income, aiming particularly at those who have enjoyed large windfall capital gains from their home ownership. But this proposal came under intense criticism and was evidently deemed a vote loser, because in 2017 the party hedged its bets, keeping a wealth tax on the agenda but saying it would seek a cross-party consensus on how to raise the necessary revenue.

In proposing that a significant contribution to long-term care costs would have to come out of (a tax on) housing wealth, Labour tacitly challenged Dilnot’s peculiar definition of fairness, which is that housing wealth should be protected. Labour’s challenge is different to that posed by the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto proposal, which failed to address the problem that some unlucky people would lose the capital in their homes, and have nothing to pass on to their children. A wealth tax would mean that the risk would be pooled: everyone with housing wealth would pay something, and they would all have a little less to pass on to their children.

Given that Labour’s proposal for a wealth tax in 2015 fell heavily on its face, it seems to be time for a bit of lateral thinking. The party is right to insist that new sources of revenue need to be opened up: in particular, that some sort of charge on wealth is needed if public services are to be sustained without an undue burden on the working age generation. The problem with the care proposal in the Conservatives’ 2017 manifesto was that it was a charge on an unlucky few, rather than a general levy on all those facing the risk of losing housing wealth. The solution to this problem is not to design the whole system of long-term care finance around the protection of housing wealth, as Dilnot did. The missing item in the Conservative manifesto was not the cap, but an insurance scheme for those who want to protect their equity in their homes.

The logic of housing equity insurance is quite simple. The main beneficiaries of the expansion of public long-term care provision are those with something to lose: the equity in their homes. Who do we want to tax to fund long-term care? Wealthy people: meaning, by and large, people with substantial equity in their homes. These dots can be joined up. If the problem with the Conservatives’ proposal was that unlucky people would lose their equity, the solution is to offer protection against that risk with housing equity insurance. Such a scheme is not difficult to devise, and it could have the useful feature that, since the insurance is of housing equity rather than care itself, those with more valuable houses to protect should pay a higher premium. The scheme can be voluntary: those who don’t believe in inherited wealth can reap a reward for their enlightened views.

No doubt this idea has snags that I have not thought of. But it has one great merit, which is to tackle the underlying politics of the long-term care debate. There are good arguments for turning to housing wealth to provide funding for care, but as the debate is currently structured, housing wealth seems untouchable. The cap has become firmly lodged in the policy debate even though it is fundamentally iniquitous. If the argument could be reframed, a solution is possible.

Some years ago, David Runciman dissected the politics of inheritance tax reduction in the US [1]. He pointed out that the wealthiest people, who would benefit the most, had proved skilful in finding frames and slogans which deceived the middle classes into thinking that their interests lay with the rich. Progressive politics has to learn to play this game too. ‘Tax breaks for rich murderers’ was Runciman’s suggestion for pushing back against the ‘death tax’. Unfortunately, some well-meaning people were suckered into talking about the ‘dementia tax’ at the last election, and these things are difficult to row back on. ‘Caps for rich home-owners’ does not have the same ring to it, but that is the policy we seem to be locked into now.

[1] Runciman, D (2005) 'Tax Breaks for Rich Murderers', London Review of Books Vol. 27 No. 11, 2 June.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Proscribing National Action: considering the impact of banning the British far-right group

Chris Allen

Chris Allen
Following the news that West Midlands Police have arrested five serving members of the British army on suspicion of being members of the proscribed neo-Nazi group National Action, we should consider the extent to which the British Government’s approach to banning extremist groups has been successful.

Over the past two decades, the British Government has adopted a range of different legislative and policy measures in trying to address extremism and radicalisation, one of which is proscription. While the majority of those banned have typically adhered to extreme Islamist ideologies, those adhering to extreme far-right ideologies have begun to increasingly concern politicians and others alike. In this respect, the arrests will be far from surprising for some.

Prior to proscription under the Terrorism Act 2000 in December 2016, little was known about National Action. While those such as Britain First and the English Defence League (EDL) had courted media attention and thereby public and political reach, National Action was growing in confidence and numbers. Most concerning, however, was that as Hope Not Hate noted, its supporters were becoming increasingly provocative, ever more erratic and wholly unpredictable to the extent that its greatest threat was physical rather than political. There were also very real concerns about the group’s link with Thomas Mair, the convicted murderer of the former Labour Member of Parliament for Batley and Spen, Jo Cox. At his trial, he spoke only to say was “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”, a slogan that featured prominently on the group’s now defunct official website.

On the decision to proscribe, Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, said that National Action “is a racist, Antisemitic and homophobic organisation which stirs up hatred, glorifies violence and promotes a vile ideology. It has absolutely no place in a Britain that works for everyone” before adding that it was “concerned in terrorism”. In doing so, it was the first time in British history that membership of a far-right group had been outlawed. Consequently, it became a criminal offence to be a member of the group, to invite support for it or help organise any meetings. Likewise also to wear clothing or insignia linked to the group or carry symbols. It would appear to be the former upon which the recent arrests have been made.

As before, little is known about National Action. Prior to proscription, it self-identified as Britain’s premier Nationalist Socialist street movement. Its founders – Alex Davies and Ben Raymond – were originally members of the youth wing of the now largely defunct British National Party (BNP). Having become acquainted via social media they agreed that a newly revitalised nationalist youth movement was now necessary in Britain. Recognising the need to be different and distinct from existing groups and movements, the two began to demarcate between ‘good’ forms of nationalism – including the British Democratic Party and Blood & Honour – and ‘bad’ – for instance, the BNP and EDL. From this process emerged the impetus for National Action. Publishing a manifesto in 2012, the group was formed the following year and quickly began to orchestrate direct action campaigns that largely targeted university campuses and mobilising supporters to demonstrate in city centres.

Its ideology was unequivocally traditionalist and sought to offer Britain’s youth an authentic interpretation of Nazism. In doing so it broke with a number of recent trends evident within the British far-right milieu. This would appear to have been a deliberate ploy, decrying other far-right and neo-Nazi groups as being cowards for being populist in preference to traditionalist. As such, National Action’s ideology was one that included overt expressions of ultra-nationalism, racism, Antisemitism, disablism, homophobia, anti-liberalism and anti-capitalism among others. In doing so, it routinely expressed both an admiration and glorification of Hitler and what it believed were the great achievements of the Third Reich. It argued that such was needed to ‘save’ Britain, ‘our’ race and ‘our’ generation. As part of this, it aspired to establishing a ‘white homeland’ in Britain.

It was clear that National Action knew that it was likely to be banned. As such, it used its now defunct website to deny that it was in any way extremist. Citing the legislation, it argued that an extremist organisation was required to use or encourage illegal violence or terrorism to achieve its goals. Countering this, the group asserted that it was instead radical rather than extreme, adding that to achieve its goal of establishing a white Britain it could only do so through state power and so it was – and always would be – fully complicit with the state’s institutions, including the police, army and intelligence services. While so, there was always an underpinning threat of violence in much of what National Action said and did. This was evident in how it regularly spoke about the need for its members to prepare for ‘self-defence’; likewise for them to undergo combat training. But most overt was its bold statement that as a group, it was “not afraid to swing the bat at the enemy”.

While banning was as unprecedented as it was unsurprising, a lack of clarity remains about the specific and long term impact of doing so; something that is given further emphasis in the wake of the recent arrests. Given these were intelligence-led, it would seem that the mere act of banning has not countered the group’s extremist ideology, stopped the group from functioning or prevented its members from being active. On one level this too is unsurprising in that many of the groups banned under the same legislation have continued to operate by instantly regrouping albeit with the mere adoption of a different name. That is how easy it is to circumnavigate the legislation. A good illustration of this is the Islamist group Al-Muhajiroun which was banned in 2005. Between the initial ban in 2005 and 2014 when the last ban was imposed, the group, its members and its Islamist-inspired extreme ideology continued to function via groups named the Saved Sect, Call to Submission, Islam4UK, Islamic Path, London School of Sharia and Need4Khilafah. Given that it was recently claimed that affiliates to Al-Muhajiroun were linked with over half of all Islamist-inspired terror in the UK, the frailties and weaknesses of banning become apparent.

What would appear to be different here is that National Action and its members have apparently continued to use its name. At the moment, it is unclear why this might be so: could it be that the group were unconcerned with the ban or was it that they did not believe that they would be arrested? At this stage it would be wrong to speculate. Nonetheless, irrespective of whether the group and its members had chosen to continue to use the name its ideology would not have been destroyed on the basis of the ban alone. Also of grave concern is the prospect of National Action – and possibly other far-right and neo-Nazi groups – actively seeking to recruit servicemen to their rank and file. Again, while it would be wrong to speculate about this now it was alleged earlier this year that something similar was happening in the United States via the 4Chan website. It will be interesting to see how the situation develops.

You can read the full article here.