Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Could Labour lose the South Yorkshire police commissioner by-election?

29/10/2014, 10:58:25 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Tomorrow, Labour faces a massive electoral test that hasn’t, so far, garnered much publicity. Forget Heywood and Middleton, if Labour loses the by-election for a new Police and Crime Commissioner in South Yorkshire, deepest red Labour territory and the political backyard of Ed Miliband and a swathe of the shadow cabinet, the fallout will be immense.

Twelve months ago, the concept of Labour faring badly here would have been unthinkable. In the 2012 Rotherham by-election, caused by the resignation of Denis MacShane for fiddling his expenses, Labour held on comfortably, with more than double the share of the vote of second-placed UKIP.

That was then. Now, with the Rotherham child grooming scandal still reverberating – in all its three-dimensional awfulness – bookies have UKIP hot on Labour’s heels as we enter the last day of campaigning.

As I wrote at the time, the party’s initial response to the Rotherham scandal was slow and uncertain. Not much has changed since. Indeed, there have not been, as far as I am aware, any visits by Ed Miliband to reassure people there that this bleak episode in the party’s management of the town will not be repeated. Contrition has been thin on the ground.

Let’s be clear: the systematic abuse of children and young girls by gangs of Pakistani-heritage men in the town was unforgivable. Girls in care were thrown to the wolves by inept council officials who put political correctness ahead of decency and common sense. Grooming was seen as girls making “informed choices”. The police couldn’t have cared less. There is no other way of dressing it up. There is no missing context. This was a vile episode. Some heads have rolled – and deservedly so. Others should follow.

Professor Alexis Jay’s report made clear that there were at least 1,400 victims. This is her conservative estimate, as young Pakistani girls and boys were also abused, but are less like to report it for cultural reasons.

And the shame for it rests squarely at Labour’s door. The ‘wicked’ Tories weren’t to blame. Neither were the Lib Dems or UKIP. Between them, a Labour council and Labour-controlled police force created this mess. Meanwhile, the town’s MPs were apparently blissfully unaware.

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There’s a big electoral win on trains without renationalising the railways

28/10/2014, 10:40:54 AM

by Kevin Meagher

I must confess to being entirely unfamiliar with the concept of a “super off-peak ticket” until the other day when the attendant at St. Pancras Station pointed out that I had one and, given it was after 3.15pm, I was ineligible to travel on the train I was just about to hop on to.

If I’d had the forethought to buy an off-peak ticket (which I thought I had), I could have travelled until 4.00pm. That’s the point when the cheapo riff-raff (like me) are chucked off the system altogether for the full fare brigade and have to wait until 7.00pm.

And what pleasure lay in store!

All I can say is “thank you” East Midlands Trains. Thank you for the ancient, rattling rolling stock.

Thanks, also, for the uncomfortable seats, with spongy cushions and itchy coverings.

For the fixed armrests and legroom designed for Snow White’s pals.

For the hair-trigger vestibule doors, which fling open with every gust of wind.

For the depleted buffet trolley, with its cold tea and warm beer.

For the blocked toilets and lack of running water.

And, perhaps most of all, thank you for the unmistakable aroma of stale food and bodily gasses, that seems to permeate from the carriages of all of your services.

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If working class apathy with Labour becomes permanent, then the party’s over

24/10/2014, 03:00:29 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Twenty years ago, I took my father to hear John Prescott speak at Bolton Town Hall as part of his Red Rose tour. This was one of those “ra-ra” events on the road to the triumph of 1997. Optimism was high. Promises were easy. The Tories were a shower and New Labour had the answers.

In his inimitable podium-thumping style, Prescott told the packed hall that the capital receipts from council house sales of the 1980s – that local authorities were banned from spending – would be released in order to build new houses.

This was one of the party’s big policy promises at the time. It would address housing shortages, (that were already apparent), as well as putting hundreds of thousands of building workers, like my dad, back to work after the deep recession of the early 1990s, which had hit construction particularly hard.

It was the kind of rooted, common-sense measure that spoke directly to millions of voters like him at the sharp end of a Thatcherite economy that had left the North in the deep freeze. Now, it was our turn. Fast forward a decade though and things didn’t quite work out as planned.

By then, Prescott’s capital receipts pledge had turned into the Decent Homes Programme. A £19 billion pound effort to renovate dilapidated social houses with new bathrooms, kitchens and roofs.

In reality, it saw expensive contractors soaking up oodles of public cash. According to the House of Commons’ Public Accounts Committee, costs of the programme doubled to £38 billion by 2010, without creating extra new homes or the scale of jobs that sort of public investment should have done – (or, indeed, that Prescott had promised would happen that night in Bolton).

What the last Labour government did deliver was the lowest rates of new house-building since the Second World War. Unfathomably, Labour ministers were more concerned about helping Middle England’s property values to appreciate than they were in tackling housing shortages for first-time buyers or putting construction workers back to work.

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Blind defenders of ‘free movement’ sound like US gun nuts

20/10/2014, 02:18:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

“When the facts change” John Maynard-Keynes famously remarked, “I change my mind”. No such intellectual pragmatism informs the thinking of outgoing EU Commission President, Jose Manuel Barroso.

He has been in valedictory mood, telling a gathering at Chatham House today that David Cameron’s wish to reform the EU’s provision for the free movement of people – partly responsible for Britain’s three million extra immigrants over the past decade or so – is “illegal”. Moreover, an arbitrary cap on EU migrant workers coming to Britain “can never be accepted.”

Given all political change involves altering laws, he is technically correct on the legality point; but he’s also being obtuse. For Eurocrats like Barroso, free movement is an inviolable principle and he will brook no dissent. His mind is closed to the possibility of change – and that there is even a problem to address at all. (Although I dare say it helps that he comes from a country like Portugal, not particularly noted as an economic powerhouse sucking in migrant workers).

It certainly used to be a benign enough principle, in the days when it meant handfuls of Belgian architects could go and work on French hydro-electric projects. It was an affordable sop to Euro-integrationists in a union of 12 or 15 countries with economies that, while different, were not wildly so.

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Labour’s strategy for dealing with The Sun is ludicrous

29/09/2014, 12:15:05 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Last week, The Sun newspaper ran a feature inviting each party leader to wear a wristband showing their support for the Help for Heroes charity. David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Nigel Farage featured. Ed Miliband did not.

There are conflicting accounts about exactly what happened, with the paper maintaining it made several attempts to secure the Labour Leader’s buy-in; while party sources claim they weren’t given enough time to comply with the request. In the event, the paper ran its front page piece, with a blank space reserved for Miliband, blaming his no-show on a “fear of offending Labour lefties.”

Amid the accusations and counter-accusations, what is clear is that the party’s explanation for not co-operating – citing Ed Miliband’s prior diary commitments – was disingenuous nonsense. It would have taken a press officer five seconds to grab a quick photo. But worse than being disingenuous, it was stupid, too, given the paper would inevitably “empty chair” Miliband for refusing to participate.

In fact, it was so obvious how things would turn out that there must have been a deeper motive. Indeed, there remain many voices in the party that want to boycott the paper as punishment for its coverage of the Hillsborough tragedy as well as the illegal phone-hacking scandal; and the party’s strategy is clearly driven by these considerations.

But boycotting The Sun is a disastrous tactic, the worst form of gesture politics. What’s the desired result? To make a principled stand against the quality of its journalism? To hurt Rupert Murdoch commercially? Of course, if anyone’s serious about punishing Murdoch or boycotting The Sun, then why not its News UK stablemate, The Times, as well? Or, better still, cancel your Sky subscription.

Worse, Labour’s approach is unevenly implemented. Ed Miliband was content to pose with a World Cup edition of the paper back in June before u-turning and apologising for doing so after ruffling the feathers of some within the party.

Disgusting though The Sun’s coverage of Hillsborough was, many other papers at the time published similar slurs against Liverpool football fans, egged on by media briefings given by South Yorkshire Police. And now the Mirror Group has conceded that some if its staff were also eavesdropping on private voicemails, so will Labour figures shun The Mirror, too?

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Labour shouldn’t stand a candidate against Mark Reckless

28/09/2014, 08:30:51 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Everything about politics is relative and after a stinker of a week for Labour, it’s clear the Tories’ conference this week is going to be even worse after the shock defection of Rochester and Strood MP, Mark Reckless, to Ukip.

All those sneering gags about Ed Miliband that David Cameron had planned for this week will fall flat as the edges of the Prime Minister’s authority over his own party continue to fray and his future now firmly lies in the hands of Ukip’s “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists”.

In saying that, it is only fair to concede that by resigning his seat as part of his defection, Reckless is allowing the electorate to determine what they make of his decision. It takes bravado, and, frankly, some measure of integrity to do so. Defecting Labour and Tory MPs have never taken the risk of triggering a by-election in such circumstances.

So this is a high-wire act for Ukip and if they fail to win Clacton in two weeks’ time and now Rochester and Strood, then they will land hard. But if they win, the political pay-off will be enormous, and their insurgency will quicken.

How should Labour react? Party chiefs need to make a quick calculation about whether they can benefit from a Conservative-Ukip dog-fight and sneak through the middle. Conversely, the risk is that failing to win this by-election will serve to dampen expectations about Labour’s ability to win southern English seats more generally.

In 2010, Labour came second in Rochester and Strood with 28.5 per cent of the vote. This belies the fact that the seat (or most of it before boundary changes) was represented between 1997 and 2010 by maverick Labour MP, Bob Marshall-Andrews.

But if not now deemed winnable, Labour should move quickly to rule out standing a candidate. Ukip didn’t field anyone against Reckless in 2010 because of his strong Eurosceptic credentials. Labour should recycle the tactic for its own benefit.

This has two effects. First, it guarantees the race turns into a slugfest between Reckless and the Tories and, just as importantly, it insulates Labour from the charge that it isn’t making headway in seats it once used to hold. (A stark reminder is Newark, which Labour held between 1997 and 2001, yet could only manage a dismal third place in last June’s by-election).

In fact, putting up token resistance could see Labour aid the Tories in holding the seat, with Anthony Wells from UK Polling Report cautioning that it won’t be a “walk in the park” for Ukip. Better to give Cameron a few more of those sleepness nights about Ukip that Ed Miliband joked about last week.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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What we need to hear from Ed

23/09/2014, 11:13:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Given the tumultuous events in Scotland, Ed Miliband can be forgiven if he’s already ripped-up several drafts of his leader’s speech as he still works out how to respond. But putting that to one side, what is today about? What do we need to hear from Ed and what should he be looking to get out of his annual address to his party?

Ed needs to galvanise the Labour tribe. After all, that is technically why we are all here this week. Yet there’s a flat feeling to this conference. While many express cautious optimism that Labour will win next May, the next conversation comes with predictions of electoral doom, as Lib Dem floaters return home and Cameron rallies. Ed needs to convey, if not vision, then optimism about next year and transmit a sense of confidence that his troops can buy into.

He needs to transcend the party and speak to the electorate at large. This is now the real purpose of a leader’s conference speech. For one day a year, the spotlight falls on the Labour leader, who is given an opportunity to try and set the political agenda, and, even more importantly, show us what kind of person he is. Dog breeders would call it temperament. And while you can train yourself to recite a speech without notes, (a skill that’s frankly lost on a television audience) being likeable and spontaneous is a tad more difficult. But that’s what most non-committed voters will be looking for. This conference, the last before the general election, is, essentially, a job interview for becoming prime minister. So no pressure then.

Show Labour gets the need for further devolution. Calling for a constitutional convention – hitherto Labour’s response to the Scottish devolution result and demands for similar moves for England – is all very well, but it lacks urgency. Ed needs to use his speech to set out the principles that will inform his approach in coming months. Positioning Labour against the ridiculous idea of an English parliament is a start, but Ed needs to go further today and set out the conceptual framework for how power is devolved in England. If he doesn’t, he risks letting Cameron frame the agenda in his conference speech. So is it regions, city regions, strengthened local government or something else?

Do something to address the issue around leadership and economic credibility. Although the party maintains a steady opinion poll lead, the deficits the party continues to run on leadership and economic credibility makes many nervous that the headline poll lead will hold water the closer we get to next May. Let’s be clear: this is a legacy that anyone leading the Labour party would face, but it is, ultimately, Ed Miliband’s problem to fix. And, to put it bluntly, nowhere near enough has been done over the last four years. No-one in their heart of hearts will truly believe the party is set to win next year until these gaps narrow. (more…)

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If Labour’s serious about devolution, why not enshrine the commitment in a new Clause Four?

21/09/2014, 04:14:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s quite feasible that the Scottish independence referendum may be seen, in time, as merely a prelude to a much bigger reconfiguration where power sits and how it is used in Britain. For now, at least, the battle is on to grab the commanding heights of the debate about how we devolve power from Westminster and Whitehall to English localities.

Yet, the pursuit of English devolution, or localism, (or whatever we’re calling it these days) does not fit neatly on either the right or left of British politics. Both parties have had their moments. Labour introduced regional development agencies and planning strategies while the Tories have given councils more economic freedom through their city deals.

Equally, both have black marks against them. The last Labour government loved its top-down targets, while the Tories have always been happiest governing from the centre, stripping councils of their powers (particularly with the introduction of compulsory competitive tendering in the 1980s) and even going as far as abolishing the Greater London Council.

For Labour to fend off siren calls for an English Parliament, Ed Miliband needs to embrace devolution from first principles, accepting that in future the centre should not be able to dictate to local and devolved authorities and this may, in turn, lead to postcode lotteries in service provision.

Yet, the very thought of not being able to use the machinery of the state to drive micro-outcomes offends the Fabianist impulses of many Labour politicians. After all, it was Labour minister Douglas Jay who remarked that “the gentleman in Whitehall is usually right”.

Its twenty years ago since Tony Blair stood before the Labour party conference and signalled his intention to rewrite Labour’s constitution to “say what we mean and mean what we say.” Ed Miliband needs to do something similar this week. He could use his leader’s speech on Tuesday to make the case that Labour ‘s default impulse is now to devolve power from the centre to the lowest practicable level.

The revised version of Clause Four that was finally agreed by the party in 1995 pledged to create a society where “…power, wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few”. Miliband could propose an alteration, committing his government to building a country where:

“…wealth and opportunity are in the hands of the many, not the few, and where power is exercised at the lowest possible level at all times.”

A political race is now on to make sense of our lopsided devolution settlement and symbolism matters. If Labour is serious about winning it, then, once again, it needs to say what it means and mean what it says.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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The No campaign will squeak home, but, really, it shouldn’t have been this close

18/09/2014, 07:00:12 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There are no perfect campaigns and while it’s a tad premature to start the post-mortem, you have to ask why Better Together ends this race wheezing and red-faced.

At the start of August it was leading Yes Scotland by 20 points. Yet despite superior assets in terms of money and foot soldiers, as well as existing relationships with the electorate, the multi-party No campaign has not been able to make these structural advantages count and that lead has melted away.  So it’s not just Gordon Brown biting his nails to the stump.

Majoring on technocratic arguments, Better Together has lacked emotional punch as well as good basic organisation. The evidence? Brown’s last-minute rescue operation promising “devo-max” after postal ballots had been sent to a fifth of the electorate. A panicked move that, to be properly effective, should have come weeks before. (As, indeed, should Brown, who was left on the subs bench for too long. His speech yesterday is described by Steve Richards in The Guardian as “mesmerising”).

So, in a spirit of evaluating why we are where we are and positing why we shouldn’t actually be here, let me offer the following:

1) It should never have been this close. Alistair Darling is fond of saying that he warned people it would go “down to the wire”. If, indeed, Darling was planning for a tight race then he has got this campaign wrong, strategically, from the very start. The aim should have been a thumping victory to close the issue down for good and avoid the so-called “neverendum”. If devolution in 1998 has given nearly half of Scots a taste for full independence just 15 years later, what sort of ratchet effect will “devo max” have on Scottish voters’ identity and sense of otherness in a few years’ time? If as many as 45 per cent of them vote for independence today, the matter will not rest. Make no mistake; we’ll be back here again within a decade.

2) Westminster should have been alive to the danger much earlier. Since 2010, there have been three secretaries of state for Scotland. Each of them, Danny Alexander, Michael Moore and Alistair Carmichael are Liberal Democrats. And each of them has been asleep at the wheel. The role should have been used to help counter the SNP’s advance in the Scottish Parliament. (It would be fascinating to see the Secretary of State’s diary entries between 2010 and 2014 because so little of value to this campaign seems to have been achieved in that time). Carmichael, especially, should have been galvanising the Cabinet to tee-up a more considered “devo max” offer much earlier, or, indeed, have that option put on the ballot paper.

3) The Tories have not delivered. Despite David Cameron’s heartfelt please to Scots in recent days, his party’s meltdown in Scotland in recent decades has meant that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has, incongruously, had limited purchase in this debate. That said, despite only having a single MP, half a million Scots still voted Conservative at the 2011 Scottish parliamentary elections. Tory strategists should have spent the last few years cultivating this base and their party’s organisation for this very moment. Unfortunately, David Cameron’s detoxification of his party never included a meaningful attempt to regain a foothold in Scotland. (This is presumably why he surrendered the Scottish Office to the Lib Dems). (more…)

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The shadow of Northern Ireland looms over the last days of the referendum campaign

09/09/2014, 07:55:52 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a fascinating essay in the current Demos Quarterly that looks at the various ethnicities in modern Scotland and how these cultural identities may impact on next Thursday’s vote on independence.

The study, written by Richard Webber from the Department of Geography at Kings College London and former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Philips, draws particular attention to the reaction of ethnically Irish Catholics in Scotland.

The authors reveal that it was much to their “surprise” that “the strongest majority support for independence was not among ‘pure’ historic Scots, but among people of Irish Catholic descent”.

Given Irish Catholic-heritage voters support Labour “more consistently than any other group in Scotland” why are many of them ignoring the party’s entreaties that we’re “Better Together” and opting for independence? As the authors point out:

“When one considers that electors from the same cultural heritage form the backbone of the Sinn Fein vote in West Belfast, this rejection of Labour’s position can be interpreted as a visceral opposition to the Union, to the Tory establishment and to Westminster. Thus ‘Yes’ voters among this group are likely to have very different motivations and to be expressing very different identities than the typical voter with an English or Welsh name; in fact they are supporting independence for the same reasons that they support Labour, a historic sense of oppression. What is significant is that the appeal of independence is driven more strongly by cultural and political considerations than socio-economic ones.”

Our middle class Westminster political and media elite, so utterly bewildered at the turn of events in recent days, simply don’t understand the power of identity and historical grievance in driving working class politics north of the border. (This is, of course, why none of them cares much about what goes on in Northern Ireland).

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