Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Mandatory reselection will kill Labour. It’s that simple

04/09/2018, 08:36:08 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Not many people will remember David Young, I suspect. He was the Labour MP for Bolton East and subsequently Bolton South East between 1974 and 1997. A rotund Scot with oratorical flair, his conversational style was to adopt the manner and volume appropriate for a public meeting hall. He was my local MP when I joined the party 25 years ago.

As the constituency’s youth officer, I only ever met him on two occasions. The first, at an AGM in one of his infrequent forays north. The second time was at the meeting when we deselected him.

Not to speak ill of the dead, David was a less than assiduous attendee at party meetings and no-one in the constituency even had contact details for him. He was the classic absentee landlord with a job for life. The local party had taken enough. Reluctantly, they withdrew their support.

So I find myself not entirely unsympathetic to calls from Momentum for the mandatory reselection of sitting MPs. I accept that personal contact with some of our elected representatives can be a long way short of overwhelming. Public service is an honour and a duty and there will always be those who coast along and add little value to proceedings.

But let’s face it: this is not about giving a gee-up to a few indolent MPs. It’s about ideologically-cleansing the party. A Momentum spokeswoman, quoted yesterday confirmed as much:

“Recognising the groundswell of support from ordinary Labour members Momentum would like to affirm its commitment to the creation of a more open, inclusive, selection process which would open the door to a new generation of Labour MPs.

“Labour has to nurture the talent of its half a million members and we cannot let an outdated rule book hold back a new generation of MPs.”

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Boris is wrong – and right

09/08/2018, 11:21:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s something especially crass about Boris Johnson as a politician. Childish and superficial, an undoubtedly clever man who enjoys playing the fool.

His comments about the Muslim burqa in the Daily Telegraph the other day, referring to women who adorn it resembling ‘letter boxes’ and ‘bank robbers’ are already subject to much heat and fury. His choice of words was, to put it politely (something he failed to do), poorly chosen and insensitive. His choice of target, however, was entirely warranted.

The burqa and niqab are unnecessary cultural affectations in our society. How Muslim societies operate, and what is deemed acceptable and why, are not matters for me to comment upon – I don’t live in one. But in modern Britain, a liberal democracy, it is not unreasonable to require that some cultural norms are enforced. Some overlap, in order for our society to function properly and develop greater levels of communal interaction and solidarity.

Different groups are at liberty to do pretty much as they please most of the time, but they should cleave towards majority opinion when it comes to how we all live together in a shared space. We have enough language and cultural barriers that remove Muslim women from mainstream society without enveloping them – literally – in even more division and mistrust.

There are times when we cannot and should not accommodate difference, where our cultural assumptions must intertwine. Taken to its logical conclusion, freedom of difference permits me to drive on the right-hand side of the road if I so choose, or to refuse to do jury service, or avoid paying my taxes. Each of us needs to accept we make accommodations for the common good.

This row is not about freedom of religion as much as it is about freedom to be different. We’re not dealing with a clash of civilisations per se, but a clash of liberalism; between those who defend – absolutely – the individual choices of Muslim women to cover their faces; and the liberalism of those of us that seeks to defend our free society, where women are equal and not subjugated.

No-one wants to tell Muslim women what they can and cannot wear, but the burqa and face veil are symbols of a passive-aggressive cultural separation – one that must be engaged with and overcome by our political leaders. But this should be done through dialogue and reason, not by stupid insults or indeed through bans (to be fair, Johnson said he was against one).

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How does this stupid attack on Tom Watson help Corbyn?

06/08/2018, 07:52:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Of all the miscues, own goals and careless steps onto garden rakes in recent Labour Party history, last night’s Twitter campaign under the hashtag #ResignWatson is the most senseless and ludicrous so far.

What’s the message? Well, it’s pretty unequivocal: Tom Watson should resign for warning in an interview with The Observer, that there is an urgent need to address the anti-Semitism row engulfing Labour in order to ever win a general election, ‘or disappear into a vortex of eternal shame and embarrassment.’

His critics – the trolls and fruitcakes of social media – logically believe that a) Labour should not address the problem or that b) There is no problem to address.

Clearly, both points are delusional. What’s more, Jeremy Corbyn thinks there’s a problem with anti-Semitism that needs fixing.

‘People who dish out antisemitic poison need to understand: you do not do it in my name. You are not my supporters and have no place in our movement,’ he wrote in The Guardian as recently as last Friday.

Surely all Watson has done is echo Corbyn?

Yes, the party risks being scarred by the taint of anti-Semitism after months of agonising coverage – courtesy of a Jew-hating lunatic fringe that has attached itself to the party – and something needs doing about it.

This has culminated in two former Labour ministers – both with deep ties to the Jewish community – facing disciplinary action for giving vent to their frustrations about the weakness of dealing with the problem that Jeremy Corbyn fully accepts exists. Indeed, Watson’s remedy is modest enough:

‘I think it is very important that we all work to de-escalate this disagreement,’ Watson said ‘and I think it starts with dropping the investigations into Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin.’

‘Ah, but Tom’s not really talking about anti-Semitism – he’s making a coded attack on Jeremy,’ goes for what passes as a thought process on the hard left.

Surely the smart move from those Corbynistas who felt Watson was in some way being disloyal would have been to chide him for stating the bleeding obvious?

Instead, we get a high-profile, well-organised campaign to undermine the party’s Deputy Leader.

Exactly how does any of this help Jeremy Corbyn?

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Conflict or co-existence: Corbyn must decide

02/08/2018, 08:17:27 AM

by Kevin Meagher

For those of us left fighting for Labour to remain a broad church, these are demoralising times. Never before has the state of the party offered such wildly different and mutually contradictory interpretations.

On the one hand, Labour is well-positioned in the opinion polls, with the stench of decay emanating from Theresa May’s Downing Street. A general election looms into view. What once seemed impossible – Prime Minister Jeremy Corbyn – now seems a plausible outcome following last year’s general election result.

Yet these are also the worst of times.

The leadership remains disconnected from the parliamentary party, which, in turn, is at odds with most of the new grassroots. Now in its eighth year of opposition after losing power at the 2010 general election, Labour finds itself struggling to hold together its disparate and increasingly fractious traditions.

An ugly and unseemly row about anti-Semitism lingers. Chatter about MPs defecting to a new party grows more febrile. The party is balkanised and the mood is sour. Longstanding councillors and activists complain of being outmanoeuvred by a new breed of left-wing member. They, in turn, complain about the lack of radicalism they find.

On one side are the party’s ‘moderates’ – a confederation of Blairites, Brownites, Fabian gradualists, social liberals and old right wing trade union types. They have now lost control of the leadership, the grassroots and the party’s machinery and in doing so, the very direction of the party they once assumed was their birthright.

Opposing them, the ‘Corbynistas’ – an assortment of socialist puritans, young idealists and aged Trotskyites who have, against all expectations (perhaps most of all theirs), found themselves in the ascendant under the unlikely leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

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Theresa May has one last chance to write her epitaph

05/12/2017, 05:53:44 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Theresa May is single-handedly ensuring that the next generation of this country’s brightest and best will never venture near politics as a calling.

What a miserable advertisement she is for reaching the top of the greasy poll.

Her premiership is a pitiful, joyless existence devoid of purpose or conviction.

Yet again, she is the acme of political failure and confusion, assailed on all sides and unable to make a single decisive act.

This week’s unforced error is the Irish border issue.

Granted, it’s only Monday and there is plenty scope to top yesterday’s shambles, where she went to Brussels fully intending to agree a bespoke deal that would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the customs union and single market.

Before she bottled it, allowing Arlene Foster to veto a move that was manifestly in the interests of the British people, in order to keep the DUP leader sweet.

Before she drifts back to Brussels for further talks at the end of the week, Theresa May should take stock.

She has two choices.

Either she can placate the DUP, which means achieving no agreement on the Irish border question, preventing Phase Two talks on trade from beginning and increasing the prospect of a hard Brexit.

Or she can put the country first.

She can stand up to the DUP, agree a deal with the Irish Government, proceed to Phase Two, agree a trade deal and secure a soft Brexit.

Let’s recap. Her spin doctors have spent every day since last Thursday briefing that this deal was in the offing.

Northern Ireland’s economic regulations would stay in ‘alignment’ with the Republic of Ireland, protecting it from the incalculable damage Brexit will cause.

But Theresa May possesses neither the political courage nor sense of history required in a British Prime Minister.

As a result, her indecision has managed to alienate both the DUP and the Irish Government in one fell swoop. In Europe she is a laughing stock. At home, a figure of contempt.

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Irish reunification will land in our next Prime Minister’s in-tray

26/10/2017, 10:34:57 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Given the not inconsiderable amount of flak that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell have both received for their views on Northern Ireland, it is perhaps not surprising that ne’er a pipsqueak has been uttered by either of them on the subject in recent times.

But the prospect of a Labour Government requires some hard thinking about how Labour will approach Northern Ireland. It is no longer enough to coast along issuing bromides about the Good Friday Agreement.

There will be no escaping Northern Ireland in the next parliament, particularly as its shifting demography means it’s now a racing certainty that its constitutional status will be brought into question.

An opinion poll this week asked 18-44 year olds whether they wanted to ‘leave’ and become part of a single Irish state or ‘remain’ in the UK.  Fifty-six per cent wanted to live in a united Ireland and just 34 per cent opted for the status quo. Irish reunification is a medium-term reality.

In response, Labour needs to do three things.

First, the party should do everything possible to help restore the devolved institutions. Government efforts at doing so, following the collapse of the executive back in January, have been faltering – to put it delicately. What has been a problem throughout 2017 is now metastasising into a full-blown crisis.

This follows revelations that Arlene Foster, in her previous role as enterprise minister back in 2012, botched the implemented of a renewable heating subsidy that is set to stack up a £500 million liability for the Northern Ireland Executive. A judge-led inquiry is currently investigating.

The Northern Ireland Secretary, the aptly-named James Brokenshire, lacks credibility and has struggled to set out a convincing way forward. He recently warned Northern Ireland was on a ‘glide path’ back to Direct Rule from Whitehall unless a breakthrough can be made. It’s an epithet that also sums up his dismal tenure in the role.

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Their deal with the Tories is an Indian Summer. Winter is coming for the DUP

16/07/2017, 10:02:43 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘Fashions change but style remains’, Coco Chanel was said to have remarked, (somewhat incongruously for a fashion designer). The point is germane to Northern Ireland. Don’t draw big conclusions from immediate contemporaneous events. Stand back and look at the wider picture. Ignore passing fashions.

There is an emerging narrative that the DUP is on the up after the hiatus of the Renewable Heat Incentive fiasco at the start of the year, the subsequent resignation and untimely death of Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein’s surge in March’s elections to the Northern Ireland assembly.

Arlene Foster is still standing, winning two extra parliamentary seats in the recent general election and has managed to strong-arm a generous financial deal out of Theresa May’s weak and wobbly government in return for backing it on tight votes.

She is on top – so the argument goes – having wrong-footed her opponents, most notably Sinn Fein, whose policy of abstentionism and self-removal from the parliamentary fray contrasts unfavourably with the DUP’s realpolitik in making Westminster bend to its will.

It’s a fashionable argument, by which I mean it is entirely wrong.

Take a step back.

The gap between parties supporting Irish unity and those wishing to maintain the constitutional status quo with Britain was as close as 30,000 votes in elections to the assembly back in March. Unionism is in long-term decline, standing on a burning electoral and demographic platform.

Already, a majority of Northern Ireland’s under-35s are Catholic, providing Unionists with an impossible medium-term challenge in fending off Irish unity. Given Sinn Fein is not calling for a border poll for the next five years, there is ample scope to construct a majority for change by the mid-2020s, now the prospect is truly out in the open and the benefits of reunification are widely discussed.

For Unionism, winter is coming.

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The fight for Labour’s soul is only just beginning

09/07/2017, 11:39:00 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So that’s it then, we’re one big happy family? The outcome of the 2017 general election (assuming there’s just the one) is that the electoral catastrophe every piece of empirical evidence suggested was in the post ahead of polling day did not, in fact, arrive.

There is relief – plenty of it – that a big chunk of Scotland has come back home and that ‘feckless’ young voters are perhaps not that feckless after all. Yet despite noises off from the left, this government has every right to govern, given it won 55 more seats than Labour.

Caution, rather than exuberance, should be the prevailing mood in Labour circles.

The other permissible emotion is, of course, schadenfreude at the appalling mess Theresa May finds herself in. The past few excruciating weeks in the life of the Conservative party have been a sight to behind.

But back to Labour. It is not credible to simply forget about the past two tortuous years. A recent leader column in the New Statesman suggested that’s exactly what we should do:

In spite of his many shortcomings, Mr Corbyn has earned the right to lead the party into the next election, whenever it falls. He has won the Labour civil war.

There’s certainly been a lack of civility, but I’m not sure ‘civil war’ characterises the past 20 months of Jeremy Corbyn’s roller-coaster leadership. The sniping between Corbynistas and moderates (for want of a better term) has never really come to a head in a pitched battle.

Mostly the internal rows have been about the leadership’s lack of a political strategy and the string of unforced errors that has seen Labour branded as anti-Semitic, or just plain incompetent.

To his credit, Jeremy Corbyn has tried not to pick fights since becoming leader. Sure, there have been outriders floating radical ideas about policy and party reform, yet despite the fears among MPs that there would be a period of blood-letting following Owen Smith’s emphatic defeat in the second leadership election last summer, there has been no abuse of the party’s internal processes by Corbyn, evidenced by the failure of his supporters to secure berths in the pre-election carve-up of safe seats.

A row is certainly now brewing over the so-called ‘McDonnell amendment’ to enact a rule change at the party conference, reducing the threshold needed for candidates to stand in a future leadership election, thus making it easier for the left to secure a nominee.

But in a spirit of ‘not meeting trouble halfway’, the focus now should be on how the party can best take things forward in the short term. For starters, it would be wise to develop a series of shared assumptions about the immediate future. Some ground rules, if you like. Here are four suggestions: (more…)

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The breakdown in Northern Ireland’s talks is an avoidable mess

06/07/2017, 06:29:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As they say in Belfast, the dogs in the street could see there was no prospect of a deal to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. The ‘gaps’ between the parties that James Brokenshire, the beleaguered Northern Ireland secretary told the House of Commons on Monday could be bridged have proven to be rather larger than he – and he alone it seems – assumed.

The talks have failed for three reasons. First, the Democratic Unionists’ deal with the Conservatives means there is no leverage exerted by Downing Street or the Northern Ireland Office over the DUP, which is standing four-square against the implementation of an Irish language act – the central bone of contention between them and Sinn Fein – which they claim to oppose on grounds of cost, rather than base prejudice. (Honest).

Having lavished one billion pounds in new money on Northern Ireland just last week  – and guaranteed another £1.5 billion in underwriting the costs of measures like next year’s proposed corporation tax cut – a relatively small amount of funding on the Irish language is a drop in the Irish Sea. Moreover, it’s a perfectly sensible and entirely justifiable proposition given Wales has enjoyed similar legislation since 1993.

Second, the timing was awful. Expecting a deal a week out from the 12th July shows Brokenshire doesn’t even have an elementary grasp of the physics of Northern Ireland. There will be no compromise while loyalists are piling wooden crates 60 feet high with effigies of the Pope and Gerry Adams hanging from nooses. Next week is the high point of the ‘marching season’ where bonfires will be lit in commemoration of the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, where William III defeated King James I. (Nuance is lost of these occasions, as William was backed by the Pope).

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Beware. Labour’s grief may well be post-dated

15/06/2017, 04:23:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As cushions go, the ten seats the Democratic Unionists are likely to put at Theresa May’s disposal still only gives her a working majority of two. It’s a cushion cover, not a cushion.

The obvious threat of potential by-election losses (as well as the awful prospect of ISIS attacking MPs in order to collapse the government), means Theresa May’s control of events is time-limited.

She has weeks to restore equilibrium to her government’s authority and will presumably use the forthcoming Queen’s Speech, the summer recess and the party conference season to get back on the front foot.

But then what? She can’t run the risk of seeing her government collapse due to a defection, a death or because of the duplicity of the DUP. She needs to actively plan for a second general election.

Imagine this scenario.

March 2018. Philip Hammond gets up to deliver the Budget. Austerity is cold in its grave as a political priority. He could kick the whole issue of funding adult social care into the long grass by announcing a Royal Commission. He might put up corporation tax a bit in order to offer a basic rate income tax cut and a reprieve for cash-starved councils and the NHS. He might relent a bit on public sector pay too. And then his big reveal: The Tories are scrapping tuition fees.

‘We recognise,’ he intones gravely ‘that saddling young people with debt at the start of their working lives makes it impossible for them to buy a home. As Conservatives we believe in a home-owning democracy so we want to extend that promise to all young people.’

He might even throw in a big, eye-catching measure like a special ISA to help first-time buyers save for a deposit, with the Government putting in half the cash, or similar.

Then Theresa May calls a general election.

Will that enormous surge in support among young people fall neatly into Labour’s column once more? How many will now break for the Tories? How many, in fact, will turn out at all? Was last Thursday’s surge a blip or a paradigm shift, as political scientists would put it? Did that record number of young voters back Labour for socialism or self-interest?

The jury’s surely out on all counts.

The delirium Labour people felt at 10pm last Thursday was precisely because expectations were so appallingly low. That extends to the leadership, which was as surprised as anyone at how things panned out.

But was it merely a reprieve? Has the party postponed the nutting contest with a wrecking ball until next year – or, perhaps, even sooner?

Labour has not earned the right to breathe easy. You can take it as read the Tories will learn from their mistakes. If it came to it, co-opting the popular parts of Labour’s platform would be, for them, preferable to losing.

The big existential threat may still be in front of Labour.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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