Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

McDonnell pulls off phase one of Operation Foot-rub

28/09/2015, 06:04:52 PM

by Kevin Meagher

What were the odds of John McDonnell becoming shadow chancellor six months ago? Longer than they were of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader, I suspect.

But here he was, a trim 61 year-old with neat white hair and a smart suit, looking every inch the interim finance director of a struggling SME that’s just lost a major contract and needs a new direction.

Given his previous form, it helps that McDonnell doesn’t look like he’s come from central casting as your typical ‘lefty bogeyman’. And neither, to be fair, did he sound it.

His main task today was not to be predictable. Frankly, all he needed to do was not to snarl about nationalising the FTSE-100 and it would turn out better than many on the right of the party had been fearing.

His promise to “force” recalcitrant corporates like Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon and Google to pay their “fair share of taxes” was vintage Margaret Hodge.

His pledge to establish a national investment bank and review the UK’s economic policy-making to ensure it is “fit for purpose” in preventing another recession could have been made by Gordon Brown.


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The anatomy of the modern Labour party

27/09/2015, 11:26:42 AM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s clear from the leadership election that Labour is now a collection of disparate, occasionally overlapping and increasingly rancorous tribes. There is an argument that it has always been like this; that from its earliest moments the party has been a fusion of radicals and moderates, working-class self-interest and middle-class altruism. However the shifting sands in recent years, not to mention over the past few months, requires an updated assessment. So here goes:


The princes have become the paupers, or more specifically, the modernisers have become the traditionalists. Unable to convince the party they once dominated to let them run the show, they instead find themselves rejected, marginalised and unloved, pining for the good old days. Always a White Commonwealth and without deep roots, massed battalions or decent organisation they were always going to struggle post-Blair. Yet the scale of Liz Kendall’s defeat in the leadership contest – a derisory 4 per cent (sorry, 4.5 per cent) – has seen tribe members resort to pinning ‘We are the 4.5’ on their Twitter profiles. Irony or defiance?

‘But why’, they ask, ‘does this ungrateful party not accept we won an unprecedented three election victories?’ Why indeed. Perhaps they assume that left-wing politics is a cool, rational experience. It isn’t, as the Neo-Blairites are finding out. Their lack of emotional connection with the party’s grassroots, avoidable during Blair’s long, hegemonic reign, is now killing them.

They are dealing with a party that wants to believe in something again. Can they find someone gutsy and lucky enough to champion their cause? But who? Liz was too brusque, Tristram’s too posh and Chuka’s an airhead. They also need to pick their moment, as Peter Mandelson warns. Will 18 months of Corbynite shock therapy (and ropey election results) earn them a fresh hearing?


More pragmatic than the Neo-Blairites, the Neo-Brownites are not happy with the drift to the left under Corbyn, but they are prepared to work with the grain. They were evident around the new Shadow Cabinet table the other day: Dugher, Ashworth and Watson.


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Corbyn and McDonnell are finding out why most politicians are all things to all people

25/09/2015, 04:07:32 PM

by Kevin Meagher

John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are a pair of Philips screwdrivers. That’s not meant as a derogatory analogy (‘a pair of spanners’ etc) but merely to point out that, hitherto, during their long years as Members of Parliament, they have performed a single, unique function.

As “campaigning backbench MPs” of a type that Labour has a long tradition of indulging, they champion causes that are outside ‘safe’ political confines. This is not to everyone’s taste, clearly, and from time to time they will say something, or be photographed or share a platform with someone that gets them into trouble with the political mainstream.

But that’s fine; political parties need to be broad churches under first-past-the-post and reach out to as many people as possible. So, every once in a while, an issue that’s deemed to be beyond the pale today graduates into everyone’s favourite cause tomorrow. In this context, MPs of the kind Corbyn and McDonnell were can have a legitimate and sometimes useful role as a conduit to bring those outside in from the cold. (That said, whether they are visionaries, or merely contrarians, is moot).

I say were because a problem arises when you try to use a Philips screwdriver on the more familiar slot-headed screw. It’s an awkward fit. Actually, it doesn’t fit at all.  Like when you take “campaigning backbench MPs” and put them into the top two positions in the Labour party. All their previous views and associations are pored over and thrown back at them. Such is the price for rebels turned statesmen.

The issue has crystallised around John McDonnell’s explanation about why he spoke to a gathering of Irish republicans back in 2003, making the case that it was the IRA’s “bombs and bullets and sacrifice” that brought the British state to the negotiating table. Speaking on last week’s Question Time, he apologised for any offence caused by his remarks, arguing it was a genuine attempt to engage wary republicans and deter them from drifting away from the peace process at a critical time.


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Of course #Piggate is nonsense, but it exposes weaknesses in Cameron’s Tory party

22/09/2015, 10:27:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like most people, I didn’t think I would find myself writing about whether or not a young David Cameron inserted his penis into the severed head of a pig in order to join one of those ghastly upper-crust Oxbridge dinin’n’cavortin’ clubs, but, here we are, having a good giggle at his expense.

But behind the head shaking wonderment at how the other half lives lie some interesting revelations about how Cameron deals with people and how he copes in a crisis.

  1. The first is that a Conservative peer and former political editor of the Conservative-supporting Sunday Times (Isabel Oakeshott) are responsible for bringing the grisly revelation to light. Lord Ashcroft, for it is he, is quite open about his “beef” with Cameron for not apparently honouring a promise of a government job after 2010. So is this his elaborate revenge? If so, it doesn’t say much for Cameron’s people management skills that he cannot handle his dealings with the biggest single donor to his party over the last 15 years and, perhaps, that he cannot honour a deal.

    But what of the source for the story? Ashcroft/Oakeshott insist it was a Conservative MP (and assumed contemporary of Cameron) who repeated the tale to them, on several occasions. Cui bono? And why the alacrity in sticking the knife into their own leader?

  1. Then there’s the handling of the revelation itself. Downing Street initially poured cold water on the story, haughtily refusing to “dignify” the allegation with a response. This avoids the follow-up headline: ‘Cam rejects claim he put his penis in a pig’s mouth,’ but it’s also a classic ‘non-denial denial’. It urges us to move along without actually rubbishing the veracity of the tale.

    Indeed, it’s interesting there has been no retinue of Conservative MPs hitting the airwaves to denounce it. (It comes to something when Toby Young is the ‘go to guy’ to offer Downing Street’s off-the-books counter-spin). Perhaps Tory MPs calculate that being on the right side of Michael Ashcroft is better for their long-term prospects than helping out a Prime Minister who will be gone in the next four years?


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Corbyn won’t be leader into 2020, but he will decide who is

21/09/2015, 09:54:15 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If you don’t like heights, then it’s probably not worth setting your heart on becoming a steeplejack. Given Jeremy Corbyn has never sought a frontbench job in his 32 years as a Labour MP until it was “his turn” to stand for the leadership as the left’s standard bearer, how will he now cope with the demands of the job?

After his first week he will have discovered that leading a political party (and not just any party, but the official opposition) is all-consuming. Wooing people you don’t like (and who may not like you in return). Defusing internal rows. Prepping for PMQs. An endless cycle of trudging around the country on visits. Round after round of media interviews. A big part of the job is trying to get noticed (for the right reasons) and stay relevant to what is going on in the news.

Then there’s the small matter of Corbyn’s track record as a serial rebel, plus an array of causes and radical positions he has spent three decades adopting that will require endless defending and explaining. There is a reason why our successful professional politicians are all things to all people.

To his credit, Corbyn is not a personally ambitious man. There is no yellowing envelope in his jacket pocket plotting each stage of his rise to greatness. He does not covet power and thinks, instead, as part of a collective, “a movement” as he puts it.


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Is our altruistic response to Syria masking bigger public doubts?

08/09/2015, 10:51:59 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As politicians, Bob Geldof and the Catholic Church compete to entreat the British public to give up their spare room for a Syrian family, are we in danger of misreading where the real centre of gravity of British public opinion actually lies?

There’s a strong hint in the Survation poll in last Sunday’s Mail on Sunday that we are. Beneath the headline finding that 51 per cent of Brits would now vote to leave the EU, were a series of, what are, in the current climate, counter-intuitive findings about the migrant crisis.

Presented with a sliding scale of numbers from 0 to 300,000 and asked: ‘How many Syrian refugees should the UK accept’, the biggest response – 29 per cent – said ‘none’.

Half that amount – 15 per cent – said they thought Britain should take up to 10,000 (roughly the ministers are proposing over the next couple of years). Just four per cent were willing to see 30,000 or more.

And only a third of respondents (34 per cent) approved of Yvette Cooper’s plan ‘for each town to take in ten refugee families.’ 42 percent disapproved.

Meanwhile, a fifth (22 per cent) of those who believe we should remain in the EU changed their minds and opted to leave, ‘[i]f the migrant crisis gets worse’.

64 per cent of respondents thought David Cameron was ‘right to refuse to sign up to the EU’s migrant-sharing plan’. Just 22 per cent agreed.

What conclusion do we draw from these figures?

First, it seems apparent that political and media reaction is way ahead of public opinion. This isn’t to say voters aren’t moved by refugees’ plight, but they are experiencing ‘cognitive dissonance’ – holding two mutually exclusive opinions at the same time.

Or, to put it another way, they are responding with their hearts to individual tales of suffering relayed to them on the television news, but they think with their heads on the general issue.

There is no doubting that the public’s outpouring of sadness at the heart-rending pictures of tiny Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on a Turkish beach was utterly genuine, but that doesn’t mean voters have dropped their guard when it comes to worrying about immigration.

Second, it’s clear that the prospect of further mass migration will send voters towards the EU exit in next year’s referendum.

Third, liberal politicians should beware thinking they can transpose individual tales into wider trends.

On the basis of this poll, they can’t.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut 

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How should Labour MPs respond to a Corbyn victory? Stick to the manifesto

04/09/2015, 05:11:45 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Given nine out of ten Labour MPs did not back Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy – and some of those who did only did so to “broaden the debate” – it is hardly surprising that most of them will greet the prospect of his victory with something shorty of alacrity.

So how do they respond if, indeed, he is triumphant next week? Broadly, there is a split between MPs who want to face him down early and those who seek to make the best of things, at least in the short term. A division, if you like, between all-out attack from Day One and retreating to fight another day, like the defeated Jedi in Star Wars.

Tony Blair’s former political secretary, the combative John McTernan is firmly in the former camp. He is urging the PLP to stand their ground against any drift leftwards. In contrast, Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt have formed the ginger group ‘Labour for the Common Good’ to pursue the ‘Dagobah option’.

Which to choose? Behind these competing conflict management strategies lies an altogether easier option for Labour MPs: they should simply stand by the manifesto they were elected on just four months ago.

For those worried about the party’s double-digit deficit on economic credibility – and the prospect of that getting wider with Jeremy Corbyn’s uncosted commitments – the manifesto pledges Labour MPs to a ‘Budget Responsibility Lock’ that guarantees that every Labour policy is paid for without the need for extra borrowing.

The manifesto promises to: ‘[L]egislate to require all major parties to have their manifesto commitments independently audited by the Office for Budget Responsibility.’ Indeed, it goes further: ‘A Labour government will cut the deficit every year. The first line of Labour’s first Budget will be: “This Budget cuts the deficit every year”’.

Again, in response to Corbyn’s equivocations on the EU and Nato, the manifesto couldn’t be clearer: ‘We will protect our national interests, and strengthen our long-standing international alliances, in particular, our membership of NATO and the European Union.’

And given Corbyn’s desire to cut Britain’s military capability, the manifesto is emphatic: ‘We will maintain the best Armed Forces in the world, capable of responding to changing threats in an unpredictable security landscape.’

If any significant changes to these and other measures contained in the manifesto are proposed in coming months, Labour MPs should feel compelled to defend the pledges they were elected on.

Indeed, the Corbyn campaign’s strapline – ‘Straight talking, honest politics’ – should start by honouring the commitments of May’s Labour manifesto.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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The Left doesn’t understand the difference between ‘the people’ and ‘the voters’

26/08/2015, 08:31:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It doesn’t matter how many young people turn up to hear Jeremy Corbyn speak from the top of a fire engine. Or how many ‘likes’ his Facebook page gets. Or how many Macbook revolutionaries follow Russell Brand’s inane ramblings on YouTube. All that matters in the political system we have is winning over a majority of voters. Without accepting this immutable law of electoral politics, all the hopes, aspirations and polemics of activists’ are instantly rendered meaningless.

The Left disagrees. Speaking at a rally for Jeremy Corbyn recently, the musician, Brian Eno, loftily proclaimed that “electability is not the most important thing” for the Labour party, to enthusiastic cheers from the adoring crowd. When it boils down to appealing to the maximum number of voters or Not Selling Out, then it’s a no-brainer. To many on the Left, ideological correctness is more important than political pragmatism. Instead, “changing the conversation” (another Eno-ism) outweighs the importance of actually winning the vote.

The fundamental mistake that Corbyn and his enraptured supporters make is confusing ‘The People’ with ‘The Electorate’.

‘The People’ include the downtrodden masses that don’t vote and aren’t, all too often, even registered to do so. The Left, nobly, wants to help them the most. If they were one and the same as ‘The Voters’ then the likelihood of changing the conversation in British politics – would be much greater than it is. But they’re not the same, so the chances are nil.

Fully a third of people didn’t bother to cast their vote in May’s general election, yet at 66 per cent, turnout was actually the highest since Labour’s 1997 landslide. By failing to stake their democratic claim, as the wealthy surely do, the poor, the dispossessed and the beanbag radicals of the Left keep the dial fixed onto a status quo that simply ignores their issues of concern.


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It’s not all Ed’s fault

13/08/2015, 04:09:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If things had gone differently, Ed Miliband would now be enjoying a well-earned holiday somewhere hot, eagerly pursued by a retinue of security officers and sweaty officials, planning his first Labour conference speech as Prime Minister.

Perhaps, in a parallel universe, that’s precisely where he is, sat at a poolside table in his best long shorts and polo shirt, making awkward small talk with Justine as his sips a non-alcoholic cocktail and laughs nervously for the obligatory photo opportunity.

But it was not to be in this universe.

Instead, Miliband is an election loser. A fallen prophet. The man who broke the Labour party. Marked, forever, as a failure. Johnny No-Mates.

Par for the course, perhaps, when you fail to win what seemed an eminently winnable election, but just as Miliband’s reputation must sink with the ship, so, too, must others who are just as much to blame for Labour’s defeat. The cast of villains does not begin and end with Edward Samuel Miliband.

He was led astray by the polls, we know that much for certain, but that’s only part of the story. The groupthink of his supporters, the hubris, that, despite Miliband’s uninspiring performance and the voters more granular worries about the party’s trustworthiness and competence, especially on the economy, victory seemed, if not inevitable, then highly likely.


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Irascible Liz needs to learn from mellow Jez

31/07/2015, 10:54:24 AM

by Kevin Meagher

If I was Liz Kendall, cast as the uber-pragmatist in this Labour leadership contest and with a difficult message of “wake-up-and-smell-the-coffee” to sell to the party’s suspicious grassroots, I would look across the ideological divide at Jeremy Corbyn and emulate how he’s running his campaign.

Not by suddenly adopting a policy on Bolivian miners, but by observing the quiet and courteous manner with which he pitches unfettered socialism to a bruised party that wants to believe, but in its heart of hearts knows that some accommodations with the electorate are inevitable.

That’s the centre of gravity of the Labour membership. This is a party that wants to know its politics still means something and aren’t going to be endlessly triangulate away by, as it sees them, careerist politicians. However, purists aside, the party also knows that politics is the art of the possible. So members are there to be courted. To be convinced. To have their would-be leaders calmly explain how Labour moves forward from the mess it’s in, while remaining true to its heritage and values.

All of which is to observe that Liz Kendall’s campaign is so utterly tin-eared and so wide of the mark, that it seems to be taking place in a parallel universe. Whereas Corbyn is sweet reason, Kendall’s camp seems intent on adopting the traditional tactic of the hard left: simplistic homilising at 100 decibels.


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