Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

More fizzle than sizzle, Obama is yesterday’s man

23/07/2014, 04:37:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption underpinning Ed Miliband’s 25 minute meeting with Barack Obama the other day is that an audience with the US President makes a British politician walk taller in the eyes of the voters.

Indeed, it sometimes works the other way too. When candidate Obama was seeking to burnish his credentials as a nascent international statesman he met with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Tony Blair. He is later said to have described, Brown as having “substance”, while Cameron was all “sizzle” but Blair was “sizzle and substance”.

But Obama himself has turned out to be more fizzle than sizzle. The 44th US president is now a busted flush. A let-down. A talker, not a do-er. Even his flagship achievement in office – state-subsidised healthcare – hit the legal buffers yesterday.

It may be recoverable, but the failure to implement Obamacare effectively is just the latest in a string of flops that have bedevilled his presidency. His famous campaign mantra of “yes we can” has been reduced to, “no we can’t”. Certainly when it comes to closing down Guantanamo Bay, making headway in the Middle East, protecting Christians from Genocide in Iraq and Syria or even, nearer to home, raising US living standards. Obama simply hasn’t delivered.

In fact, if Ed Miliband wanted to visit a world leader to learn about paying the price of promising big and delivering small, then he could have taken the Eurostar to Paris and met with Francois Hollande and saved himself the air fare to Washington.

The most maddening aspect about Obama – habitué of the golf course these days – is that he is content to just coast along, a second term bed-blocker. Like his infamous drones, he seems to operate on auto-pilot, presiding over an unprecedented retrenchment in US influence around the globe and a sluggish economy at home. (Indeed, a brutal editorial in this week’s Economist describes him as the least business-friendly president in decades).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Harriet should know better. Loose lips sink ships – and election prospects

17/07/2014, 09:51:16 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Is Harriet Harman the victim of an unfair Tory attack for seeming to suggesting that middle-income earners should pay more tax?

No, she is not. Neither, for that matter, has she been misquoted. She did say that middle-income earners should pay more tax. Labour’s deputy leader was guilty of a clumsy circumlocution, telling LBC radio on Monday that:

 “I think people on middle incomes should contribute more through their taxes”.

Let’s be clear, if she was making a general point about the desirability of a progressive taxation system, then fine. Indeed, she seems to have meant:

“I think people on middle incomes should contribute through their taxes”.

But that’s not what she said. She is guilty of committing an unforced error, using unforgivably loose terminology in a broadcast interview. For a senior frontbencher of her experience it was an amateurish thing to do and has played straight into the Tories’ gleeful hands.

Last night she wrote to David Cameron accusing him of telling fibs:

“You claimed at Prime Minister’s Questions today that ‘yesterday Labour announced – in an important announcement – that it is now their policy to put up taxes on middle income people’. This is not true. It is a lie.”

Tory party chairman Grant Schapps has also been busy. He has written to everyone he has an email address for, launching a poster campaign that the Tories must have been itching to release.

Tory poster

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Has Cameron passed the peace pipe to teachers, or raised the white flag?

15/07/2014, 02:15:11 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last night the big news was William Hague’s exit as foreign secretary, but the real significance of this reshuffle is Michael Gove being moved out of education.

Gove is a bell-weather for the Government’s intellectual self-confidence in a way Hague isn’t. It is in schools policy where the Tories have been truly radical (for good or ill, depending on preference).

Free schools and the acceleration of the academies programme were totemic for Cameron in opposition, providing a solid direction of travel in an area of policy where the Tories struggle to convince people they are on their side.

But Gove’s central problem is that he governs like he’s still a newspaper columnist; dividing opinion with something approaching reckless abandon. Little wonder, then, that in term of teachers’ voting intentions, Labour leads the Conservatives by 43 per cent to 12.

This figure is actually not bad for the government given that a YouGov poll found that just 6 per cent of teachers think that academies and free schools are taking education in ‘the right direction’.

David Cameron may be belatedly recognising that the teaching profession is an area where he can quickly mend fences after Michael Gove has – perhaps too gleefully – spent four years kicking them down. With his education reforms embedded in the system, the scope is there to now pass the peace pipe to the profession and narrow the gap with Labour.

One thing will be certain, his new chief whip will be watching to make sure his boss doesn’t instead wave the white flag on his cherished reforms.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

In bashing trade unions, the Tories are looking a gift horse in the mouth

10/07/2014, 01:54:18 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As part of his efforts in opposition to detoxify the Tories’ brand, David Cameron appointed a turncoat former Labour MEP, Richard Balfe, to build bridges with the trade union movement. There was even feverish talk of a “Clause Four moment” with the hope that Cameron might address the annual conference of the TUC – the only Tory leader in 144 to do so.

It never came to pass and Balfe is long forgotten; but in government, Cameron has pretty much left alone the settlement bequeathed by Labour. There is no love for trade unions, but there has been no return to the malicious nonsense of the 1980s, when trade unionists were dismissed as “the enemy within” and staff at GCHQ were banned from even joining a union.

However, writing in today’s Daily Express, Tory Party Chairman, Grant Schapps, retreats to old habits, scolding “trade union barons” for using today’s one-day stoppage to “disrupt families and schools whenever and wherever they feel like it.” And in a bid to throw red meat to his core vote, Cameron is now floating the idea of applying turnout thresholds to trade union strike ballots.

If fewer than half of union members vote to strike, then it cannot go ahead. To be sure, this is generated by regular RMT action on London Underground which invariably sees a relatively low turnout in strike ballots. (Boris Johnson, in particular, has been rattling his sabre on this issue for ages).

Of course, the double standard – hypocrisy – of a coalition government admonishing trade unions for not achieving a 50 per cent threshold for industrial action, is obvious enough. (For that matter, hardly a single councillor in the UK would be able to take up their seat).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Sorry Harriet, you weren’t entitled to become Deputy PM

09/07/2014, 07:05:44 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Was Gordon Brown a sexist for not making Harriet Harman deputy prime minister? Harriet seems to think so.  Last night, in a well-trailed speech about sexism in Westminster,she said:

“The truth is that even getting to the top of the political structures is no guarantee of equality. Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as deputy prime minister.

“If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened? Would they have put up with it?”

It’s hard for this line of argument not to sound self-serving – and indeed it is. However way you stack it up, this is a case of special pleading.

There is no constitutional convention or Labour party rule that means the deputy leader of the party should automatically become deputy prime minister. Indeed, Harriet Harman was not even serving as a cabinet minister before she became deputy leader.

Would it not have been wiser, therefore, for her to have focused her speech on the lack of working-class and ethnic minority women among Labour’s ranks and offer some practical remedy? There was precious little of that in the sections of her speech she leaked to the press yesterday.

Jon Cruddas, the first round ballot winner in the 2007 deputy leadership contest (and who, under first past the post, would currently serve as deputy leader, not Harman) actually stood on a platform of rejecting a cabinet seat so he could instead devote his time to party development.

Of Labour’s sixteen deputy leaders since the role was created in 1922, only two, Herbert Morrison and John Prescott, have actually become deputy prime minister. Prescott is instructive because he is the precedent that Harman cites.

But the comparison is unwarranted.

Prescott had a Unique Selling Point, bringing balance to Labour’s top team as a working-class Northener to Tony Blair’s middle-class Southener. Between them, they provided, respectively, an offer to Labour’s heartland voters and the Middle England ‘enemy territory’ the party needed to occupy in order to win.

It is less clear who Harman represents. Clearly her gender adds some balance to the higher echelons of politics which are still male-dominated. But as the privately-educated daughter of a Harley Street consultant and niece of a hereditary peer, she hardly came up the hard way.

So it wasn’t sexism. The reason Harriet wasn’t made deputy PM is that, unlike Prescott, she simply didn’t serve a useful enough purpose.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Hyperbole is becoming a bad habit for our political class

30/06/2014, 07:29:35 AM

by Kevin Meagher

If the Scottish referendum on independence is ‘lost’ in September it may be a tad late to reflect that apocalyptic warnings of Caledonia dystopia didn’t exactly help win the case.

Claims in February that Scotland wouldn’t be able to keep the pound – a “masterstroke” concocted by the three main Westminster parties’ frontbenches – were silly enough, leaving the electorate unmoved while playing into the SNP’s hands, showing-up the Westminster elite up as a cosy club.

Last week, however, the ‘hyper’ was well and truly put into ‘hyperbole’ when Ed Miliband floated the idea of border checkpoints if Scots opt for independence. The supplementary question are obvious enough.

Will these checkpoints come with watch towers and Alsatians? Will we see miles of unfurled razorwire stretched across the countryside, just like in The Great Escape?

Hell, why not just rebuild Hadrian’s Wall.

Why can’t we treat the Scots as rational adults?

“Sorry you’re thinking of going. We’ll miss you. There’s nothing at all wrong in embracing your nationhood, but there are a few serious practical downsides. We’ll respect your wishes, but, out of friendship, we want to discuss these and try to persuade you to stay.”

Surely that’s better than threatening them with Checkpoint Charlie?

Alas, too many Westminster politicians, schooled in that ghastly student union habit of painting debates into tiny corners in order to make broader points, think this is how you shape public opinion.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Khan’s reaction to new lags’ bedtime is tone deaf

28/06/2014, 02:41:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As campaign slogans go: “Soft on criminals, soft on the bedtime of criminals” is hardly a winner.

But it nevertheless appears to be Labour party policy after Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan today described the government’s bid to introduce a new 10.30pm “lights out” policy in young offender institutions as a “gimmick”.

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, believes the move will help inmates (“most of whom have had chaotic and troubled lives”) by setting clearer boundaries and instilling some much-needed self-discipline.

According to today’s Independent, prison governors have been told to enforce the new policy from August. After 10.30, watching television – or reading under the covers – will be strictly banned and staff patrols will enforce the measure, including removing privileges from anyone breaking the new rules.

At the same time, however, Grayling also proposes to “more than double” the hours of education and training that under-18s in custody receive each week.

Khan’s – and Labour’s – response?

“Routine is crucial for those with chaotic lives, but to think that turning the lights off at the same time in every youth prison is all that’s needed to turn them all into law-abiding citizens is a joke,” he said.

“This looks like a gimmick to cover the cracks caused by Grayling’s cuts.”

“A joke?” Really? “A gimmick?” Was this response off-the-cuff? And who was Khan aiming it at?

Why did he not say something more balanced like: “Setting boundaries for young offenders is sensible and helps provide structure and encourage self-discipline; however Chris Grayling’s cuts to prison budgets means there are concerns about staffing these new arrangements.”

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

If coalitions are to work, they need to be time-limited

17/06/2014, 05:04:39 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The fallout from Dominic Cummings’ salvo against David Cameron and the coalition government received a less histrionic response from former Cameron special adviser Sean Worth this morning.

Writing in Public Affairs News, the adviser turned lobbyist wrote that:

“Future coalitions will be formed by parties demanding explicit control of distinct areas of policy, rather than simply sharing power. The principal powers, notably tax and spend, and defence decisions, must be shared, but governing leaders will carve out defining areas of political territory on which to build the personal crusades needed to push radical reforms that really get them noticed.”

The current model of zipping ministerial appointments in departments between Conservatives and Lib Dem and vice versa, has seen the creation of internal departmental hand breaks. Think Gove and Sarah Teather, or Vince Cable and Michael Fallon. (Of course, one place it has worked all too well is the Treasury between George Osborne and Danny Alexander – but that underlines a different problem, certainly for the Lib Dems).

Reform-minded ministers like Michael Gove are frustrated by the need to co-operate and seek consensus. For politicians (and advisers like Cummings) who are sure of themselves and are keen to make their mark – or who simply want to please their party and implement the manifesto they stood on – the current coalition experience is clearly a massive anti-climax.

But creating party fiefs across Whitehall – Worth’s alternative suggestion – is a recipe for disaster. How do you deal with cross-cutting issues in this model? Take the recent spat between Gove and Theresa May on tacking extremism. How much more loaded will rows like that become when they are not just between different departments, but different departments controlled by different parties?

If inconclusive election results are to become the norm, then our political system needs a clearer way of responding. Coalitions may indeed be here to stay, but rather than staggering on for five years, descending into bickering and drift in the process, it would be better to limit their lifespan to 12-18 months instead.

This focuses the attentions and energies of both parties. It creates an incentive to co-operate on areas of agreement and on issues that require immediate attention in the national interest. Larger changes should be put before the electorate at the subsequent election.

This sort of arrangement would show that sensible co-operation between parties in the national interest is indeed possible, but it also challenges voters to accept that our model of government works best when a single party has a mandate to govern.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

If you don’t support religious freedom, then you don’t support freedom

16/06/2014, 04:29:31 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Given we’re constantly told we live in an age of evidence-based policy-making, the reaction to the so-called Trojan Horse case in Birmingham owes more to Medieval peasant superstition.

What has warranted the blanket media coverage of recent weeks? No organised conspiracy to ‘Islamify’ state schools in Birmingham has been uncovered. No evidence of criminality has been produced. No charges are pending.

All that has happened so far, despite almost daily media attention and a series of top-level investigations, is that a handful of schools in one if the poorest parts of the city are to be placed in special measures at the behest of schools inspectors.

Yes, there are suspicions about what might have gone on, however much of the reporting has been little more than conjecture – more heat than light – blackening the reputation of Birmingham’s Muslim community in the process.

But that didn’t stop yesterday’s Observer. With no substantive news from Birmingham to report, the paper fell back on the old tactic of producing an opinion poll which showed:

“70% [of the public] said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society.”

Of course it’s worth pointing out, for the avoidance of doubt, that parents who want to send their children to faith schools are still taxpayers. Just as it’s worth noting that none of the schools involved in the Trojan Horse ‘scandal’ are, in fact, faith schools at all.

Nevertheless, shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, was enjoined to comment. He thought the case “raised questions” about “how we manage potential tensions” around “faith, multiculturalism and state education”.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Northern Ireland can’t afford another week like that

05/05/2014, 02:00:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

By now, you’ve probably heard of Jean McConville, the Belfast mother of ten who was brutally murdered and “disappeared” by the IRA in 1972. You’ve probably not, however, heard of Joan Connelly.

She was another Belfast woman, a mother of eight, who was also brutally killed back in the early 1970s. She went to aid a young man who had just been shot in the street before the same British soldiers turned their rifles on her, shooting her in the head and body.

Her injuries were so serious that half her face was blown off. Joan’s husband could only identify her, on the third attempt, as he recognised her red hair.

This was in August 1971 during Operation Demetrius when internment without trial was brought in to target “IRA ringleaders”. Weak intelligence and the sectarianism of the Stormont government instead saw hundreds of ordinary Catholics arrested and jailed, (but not a single loyalist).

Northern Ireland erupted and in the ensuing tumult, eleven people were killed by the British army over a two-day period in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. As well as Connelly, soldiers also shot dead a Catholic priest.

Although the Police Service of Northern Ireland has just spent 96 hours grilling Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams about Jean McConville’s heinous murder, there will be no similar effort expended investigating Joan Connelly’s.

We know this because Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers last week ruled out setting up an inquiry into the Ballymurphy killings.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon