Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Miliband should learn from Irish Labour’s pains

07/12/2014, 09:10:51 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The dangers of being a junior coalition partner are obvious enough – ask Nick Clegg – but across the Irish Sea, the example is, if anything, even starker.

The Irish Labour party has been the junior coalition partner to Enda Kenny’s Fine Gael since 2011; administering painful austerity measures as Ireland grapples with the horrendous aftermath of its banking and property bubble explosion.

Now, the party has plummeted to just six per cent in the latest poll for the Irish Times, down from a high of 35 per cent in September 2010 before it went into government.

Along the way, Labour has lost one leader, Eamon Gilmore, a former Marxist turned moderate, who resigned as party leader, Tánaiste (deputy prime minister) and minister for foreign affairs and trade, following disastrous local election results earlier this year, narrowly escaping a no confidence motion from his own grassroots.

In a Sir Humphreyish back-handed compliment, Taoiseach Enda Kenney praised the Labour party for being “courageous” in pushing through painful economic reforms, which now include household water charges. This seems to be the measure that has now galvanised the country against austerity.

So much so, that Labour’s new leader, Joan Burton, was trapped in her car for three hours last month, surrounded by slogan-chanting protestors. In echoes of the poll tax in Britain, today’s opinion poll also shows less than half the Irish public (48 per cent) intend to actually pay the charge.

All this has been grist to the mill for Sinn Fein, topping today’s poll as Ireland’s most popular political party, with Gerry Adams also the most popular politician in the republic. The Shinners are now well-placed to form part of the next government at the 2016 general election.

But the Irish Labour party’s problems are not cyclical. A pincer movement between Sinn Fein and left-wing independents has squeezed the electoral life out of them.  Even the Irish Independent, known for its aggressive propagandising against Sinn Fein, warns today that Labour “continues to struggle to avoid a…meltdown” as it loses ground in all directions.

But as Labour lies dead in the water, its coalition partner, Fine Gael, is still deemed to be the best party for managing Ireland’s relations with the EU, growing the economy and keeping spending under control.

The lesson for Ed Miliband is obvious enough: implementing austerity measures kills centre-left parties. So how does he avoid a similar fate? As he peers beyond May 2015, he needs to take a lesson from Enda Kenny instead.

He is navigating a political course through austerity by managing expectations and being realistic about the scale of the task at hand. By setting the ground early that there are no easy choices to be made, Kenny is showing that amid the howls of protest, it is at least possible to avoid cries of betrayal.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Scrapping RDAs has made Osborne’s task harder

06/12/2014, 07:27:27 PM

By Kevin Meagher

As the Tories’ main political strategist, George Osborne knows only too well that winning the next election means convincing people they’re getting better off, or soon will be. In the next six months, his task is to make sure the warm rays of economic prosperity are felt across all parts of the country.

Yet as the dust settles on the Autumn Statement, recovery remains stubbornly uneven and tackling Britain’s asymmetric economy, split between a galloping London and South East and, at best, a cantering North and Midlands, looks as forlorn a prospect as it has for the past three decades.

Yet the bodies set up by Labour in 1998 to narrow these deep economic disparities – the nine English regional development agencies – were in coalition ministers’ crosshairs from day one. To Conservative eyes, RDAs were quintessentially old Labour. The state getting involved in promoting economic growth.

While the concept of “regions” was an unwelcome affectation, dreamt up by John Prescott in all his pomp running the sprawling Department of Environment, Transport and Regions.

In fact, David Cameron used his first major speech as prime minister to herald a different approach to driving local growth. It mattered little that the boards of the RDAs were private sector-led. Or that there was strong business support for retaining the northern agencies in particular. Or, indeed, that they were actually succeeding in their task of boosting growth. (In 2009, PriceWaterhouse Coopers calculated that the economic value they generated was equivalent to £4.50 for every £1 of public money invested).

But the RDAs fate was sealed because the Lib Dems didn’t think much of them either. Business secretary Vince Cable suggested scrapping them himself in a paper for the Reform think tank before the 2010 election. So when the “bonfire of the quangos” was lit, the English RDAs were the Guy Fawkes effigy placed right at the top of the pyre.

Since then, ministers have created a total of 39 local enterprise partnerships – effectively mini-RDAs but without the budgets – or the experienced staff – to drive local growth. This disjointed, stop-start approach, just as the economy was going through the bumpy 2010-12 period, was one of the more politically indulgent things the government has done.

And, potentially, one of the more politically costly.

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Saint and sinner. Genius and villain. The many aspects of Gordon Brown

02/12/2014, 02:35:22 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Much has and will be written about Gordon Brown and about how he divides opinion both in British politics and, not least, in the party he once led. The many contradictions of his complex personality are already well chronicled.

A “moral compass” awkwardly spliced with low cunning. Big-hearted compassion for the poor matched with unrelenting brutality towards opponents. An expansive intellect married to occasional political stupidity.

At the root of it all, however, he was an outstanding social democrat, one of a select few Labour ministers – Bevan and Crosland spring to mind – who have left an indelible mark on British society.

He was undoubtedly Labour’s finest chancellor, using the role to rehydrate key public services, trebling spending on the NHS and doubling it for education. This alone will see his impact echo. But he also, for a time, brought about full employment and presided over the longest continuous period of growth since records began in the late 18th Century. Even his later failings to manage spending, against the vortex of the global banking crisis, will pale against his many achievements.

He was certainly our most political chancellor, using the office to pursue an unrelenting social democratic agenda in a way none of his Labour predecessors ever managed. Snowden, Dalton, Cripps, Gaitskell, Callaghan, Jenkins and Healy. Each of them found themselves at the mercy of events, implementing austerity measures in failing governments, dashing dreams and triggering internecine feuding in the process. Brown, for a good while at least, seemed to have mastered political alchemy.

“No more boom and bust” may seem a hollow boast now, but not when he used to make it. He made the whole of British politics believe it too. His intellectual dominance was, for most of his decade-long tenure as Chancellor, total. This explains why his Conservative opponents hated him so intensely, while admiring Blair.

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Sorry Emily, you had to go

28/11/2014, 12:05:00 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Emily Thornberry is a week late with her spin.

In an interview with the Islington Tribune, her “truck-driving, builder brother,” Ben, refutes accusations that his sister is a snob after infamously tweeting a photograph of a house displaying England flags with a white van in the drive, blaming her demise on “cut-throat and dirty politics”.

Really, when in a hole, stop digging.

Now she has brought her brother into the equation, Ms Thornberry has given license to any national newspaper to crawl around and see if, indeed, Ben Thornberry, is a tradesman (implied but not actually stated in the piece). “Builder” can cover anything from semi-skilled scaffolder, through to millionaire property developer. Expect to find out more in the Mail on Sunday or The Sun.

But none if this alters the fact most people aren’t ex-barristers living in three million pound houses married to high court judges with honorary titles. Moreover, unlike Lady Nugee, most people’s dads don’t go on to become the assistant secretary-general of the United Nations.  She should have known better than to sneer at the voters for her lofty perch.

So, Ed Miliband was entirely right to be furious with her for that stupid tweet. It allowed the government to wriggle off the hook on the day it lost a safe seat in a by-election. It should have been open season on David Cameron. Instead, Labour spent three days defending its credentials as the party of hard-working people.

Emily Thornberry made an unforced error and in this age of political professionalism it was right she got the sack for making it.

The lesson for other Labour MPs is that they should try knocking on doors rather than photographing them.

And if you’re going to display your proletarian credentials, better make sure they’re fireproof.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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How does Miliband respond to UKIP? By embracing Blue Labour

27/11/2014, 05:02:39 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Ed Miliband was probably right to junk his “One Nation” theme from his last Labour conference speech. We aren’t one nation in any meaningful sense. The disintegrative effects of devolution over the past 15 years – most recently the near miss in the Scottish referendum – have massive implications for British politics, which we’re only just beginning to process.

Most obviously, these include the declining share of the vote for the two big parties and the rise of UKIP, the Greens and the SNP. Indeed, as people begin to articulate differing – and sometimes contradictory – demands, the established parties struggle to provide a wrap-around offer that pleases everyone.

In this Brave New World, the elasticity of our two main parties is being sorely tested. It’s right there under our noses. Scottish Labour is looking left to reconnect with lost voters, with Jim Murphy promising to reinstate a 50p top tax rate. In stark contrast, the London party is moving right as MPs like Tessa Jowell – hoping to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor - refuse to back the Mansion Tax, in case it sends the wrong message to aspirational voters.

Then there’s the problem with the base. How does Labour stop its heartlands falling to UKIP? As Michael Merrick argued the other day, “in all too many places it [Labour] has failed to hold its voice at the heart of the communities from which it originally sprung”. He concludes the party is in “no position” to fight UKIP in many of its seats, or even “to speak with authenticity to that social and cultural angst from which UKIP is siphoning support.”

His solution is for Ed Miliband to embrace the Blue Labour agenda, or at least to find space for it in the overall approach. After all, it speaks to a broad constituency of both working-class and middle -voters who cleave to a small ‘c’ conservatism that the liberal-left doesn’t really understand, less still, want to engage with. It’s a politics that values tradition, respect, family, reciprocity, community and has a powerful sense of place.

In his ‘relaunch speech’ the other week, Ed Miliband hit a bum note by scorning UKIP for appealing to precisely these people. Indeed, for many young, liberal-left professionals – rootless, urban modernists with no children – this is all a bit puzzling, backward even.

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Alpha-male Ed, where have you been?

13/11/2014, 04:12:56 PM

by Kevin Meagher

This was the speech Ed Miliband should have made in Manchester at the party conference a few weeks ago.

Actually, this was the speech Ed Miliband should have been making for the past four years.

This was the speech of a leader. He was good. Straight. Urgent. Passionate. And even authoritative too.

In fact, this was probably the best speech Ed Miliband has made.

Partly through what wasn’t in it.

There was no self-deprecating preamble or any of his weak jokes (his timing stinks).

Tellingly, there were none of his passive physical gestures either. You know, that upturned hand thing he does? (Although there were a few of those long blinks as his turns his head).

There was none of his abstract theorising. This seemed to be a speech written by a press officer rather than a policy wonk.

As for “together”, the anaemic theme of his conference speech, there was not a word.

And, blessedly, there were no more of those toe-curling tales of meeting people on Clapham Common.

This was alpha-male stuff. Black-coffee-and-three-shredded-wheat-for-breakfast-Ed.

He wisely abandoned the parlour trick of memorising his speech (which got him into so much trouble in Manchester when he forgot to mention immigration and the deficit).

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Ed needs to earn the public’s respect

11/11/2014, 04:53:07 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The key to a successful political coup, as Mrs. Beeton would probably have pointed out if she wrote about politics instead of household management, is “first find your assassin”. Labour’s chatterers and plotters are as reluctant as ever to plunge the knife. Hands tremble on the hilt. MPs turn to pacifists when it comes to matters of political murder.

Next, find your replacement. Attempts to press-gang Alan Johnson as an alternative to Ed Miliband amounted to nothing. It was lazy, wishful thinking that he would even entertain the idea. As one of our more human politicians, Johnson knows only too well that you need to be crazy to want to lead a political party and, if you’re not, you’ll soon be driven crazy by trying to lead one.

And, so, here we are. Ed Miliband is weakened by cack-handed internal attacks, but remains in situ – and will do until the result of the 2015 general election is settled. But what has this last week been about?

Unlike most other flare-ups in Labour history, it hasn’t been about policy. Slow and sometimes incoherent, policy development under Ed Miliband has thrown up many interesting ideas and a few genuinely head-turning policies. This is not 1983. Labour is not a lost cause ripping itself apart because of pledges to pull out of Europe, scrap our nukes or nationalise the top 100 companies.

No, this is personal. Miliband’s own performance was the reason for this week’s failed putsch. In moving forward, it is important that he and his team accept this. Many MPs and party figures, spooked by the yawning deficits around leadership and economic credibility, wonder how election victory is possible against such a backdrop.  (Add in jitters about Scotland, UKIP and even the rise of the Greens and the mood quickly becomes febrile). Frankly, he should have been expecting trouble.

Many also cite his inconsistent performances. Again, lessons need to be learned here. How on earth do you make a set-piece conference speech and “forget” to mention immigration and the deficit – the two defining issues of our contemporary political debate? It was unforgivably stupid. (He should have made a second speech closing the party conference and rectified the mistake).

Then there are those who think their leader has a tin ear when it comes to courting swing voters in Middle England. Or those who say the same of him when it comes to working class voters in the party’s heartlands. Others are worried about the lack of support coming from the business community. Or southern voters.  Or even, now, Scots.

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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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