Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

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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Why Catholics like Corbyn

01/06/2017, 11:41:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Support among Britain’s Jews for Jeremy Corbyn may be flat-lining – with just 13 per cent planning to vote Labour according to a poll in the Jewish Chronicle – but Britain’s Catholics are set to ride to Labour’s rescue.

In all probability, Labour’s most important demographic, many of Britain’s five million Catholics are habitually loyal to the party, supporting it through thick in thin for generations. This peaked with a 60-19 per cent gap over the Conservatives back in 2001.

Even in 2015, 41 per cent of Catholics voted Labour – 11 per cent higher than the population at large, according to figures from the British Religion in Numbers project at Manchester University. While Muslims also vote Labour is very large numbers, I suspect the wider distribution of Catholic voters across the country has more strategic impact on Labour’s fortunes.

Indeed, much of the party’s meltdown in Scotland at the last general election (where it lost forty seats) was down to Catholics abandoning Labour in droves. Between 2010 and 2015, Labour’s share of the Catholic vote fell from 63 per cent to just 36 per cent. Any way back for Labour in Scotland means retrieving Catholic support that went to the SNP.

Catholic support for Labour is perhaps most pronounced in general political attitudes. After the 2005 election, IpsosMori found that while fewer than a quarter (22 per cent) of the public generally described themselves as ‘Old Labour’, over a third (34 per cent) of Catholics said that description best suited their political outlook.

On questions of distributional justice, many Catholics are reliably left-wing. Perhaps Corbyn’s genuine moral outrage about poverty connects deeply with the Faithful? As does his commitment to peace and dialogue. Even his embroilment in Northern Ireland is potentially a positive here.

Quite apart from his support for Irish republicanism, Corbyn was also involved in campaigns to overturn the miscarriages of justice concerning the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four and has been active on Irish community concerns, from fighting racism to supporting Travellers’ rights throughout his career.

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Campaign frontline: In Weaver Vale, the Tories might outspend Labour but the party won’t be outworked

29/05/2017, 01:00:15 PM

In a series of reports from the frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher visited Weaver Vale, a seat Labour needs to win to form a government

Tidy stone walls and trimmed high hedges in glorious summer colours frame the journey on the road in to Weaver Vale. Interspersed are rows of pretty terraces with brightly-painted doors and big, detached properties with spacious gardens. Every now and then there are hand-written signs hung over gates or staked in the ground advertising ‘New Cheshire Potatoes’ from local farms.

Then the lettering above an old road sign brings it home: ‘Vale Royal Borough’. The previous name for this part of Cheshire, before the old county and district councils were scrapped to create two new unitaries a decade ago.

Cheshire is not ‘the North’ as many would recognise it. A collection of attractive and often very prosperous market towns and villages set in lush farmland and countryside. It is a beautiful part of the country and far more affluent than Greater Manchester to its north and Merseyside to its west, serving as a hinterland for the well-heeled who work in either.

But the county also has odd bits of heavy industry like the giant Ineos chemicals site that seems to take an eternity to pass driving along the M56. And there are still reliable urban redoubts for Labour. Towns like Warrington and Runcorn and Widnes remain safe bets.

Weaver Vale is an amalgam of these two Cheshires, incorporating the smart market towns of Frodsham and Northwich as well as the eastern part of Runcorn. Labour has always had a decent base in Cheshire and held this seat easily enough between 1997 and 2010. Even in 2015, the Conservative majority here was only 806.

I’m here to meet Labour’s candidate, Mike Amesbury, a recent veteran of Andy Burnham’s successful mayoral campaign and a former adviser to Shadow Education Secretary, Angela Rayner.

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Campaign frontline: ‘Gentlemen versus players’ on the election campaign’s fiercest frontline

27/05/2017, 07:29:50 PM

In a series of reports from the frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher visited City of Chester, to see the campaign in Britain’s most marginal constituency

As you drive in on the A56, the scale of Labour’s task becomes clear. ‘Welcome to Chester – International Heritage City’. This is a seat, it is fair to say, where many of the residents are not short of a bob or two.

Indeed, this is the most marginal constituency in the country, with Labour’s Chris Matheson, a former senior Unite official, holding the seat against Tory expectations in 2015 with a majority of just 93. It requires a swing of just 0.1% to fall to the Tories.

Labour’s Christine Russell first took City of Chester in the 1997 landslide, ousting the colourful Gyles Brandreth in the process. It remains a classic Labour/Tory marginal but has stayed red for two decades.

Synonymous with tourism, high-end retail and Hollyoaks, Chester may be outwardly prosperous it also has its fair share of struggling families too. 

Last year, the West Cheshire Poverty Truth Commission found some parts of the borough had a life expectancy gap of a decade and in-work poverty has grown by 40 per cent since 2004.

As I drive down into the city centre there are few election posters to be seen. A sign of the times, perhaps, with online campaigning increasingly coming to dominate elections. Still, all the posters I can see are for Matheson. 

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We’ve been weak in the face of Islamist lunacy for too long

24/05/2017, 10:19:03 AM

by Kevin Meagher

‘It was a monster not a Muslim’ read a message left with some flowers in Manchester yesterday. A well-intentioned sentiment, no doubt, but it’s no slander on ordinary Muslims to point out the killer of 22 people and the maiming of scores more, Salman Abedi, was plainly both.

Islam is more than a religion. ‘Islamism’ – the warped and extreme interpretation of it that drives the hate we saw in Manchester – is a hard line, violent, impossibilist, political ideology. In reducing the gaping risk it poses to our society we must be free to critique it as such.

This requires countering the phoney grievances of its adherents and the pernicious false narrative that all non-Islamists are legitimate targets. The statement from Isis claiming responsibility for the attack referred to those killed as ‘Crusaders.’ Such insanity apparently justifies deliberately targeting a pop concert full of children.

It is adjoined to a twin lunacy; that of the global jihadist’s pipedream of a worldwide Caliphate. If the methods of Islamic terror are appalling enough, the cause they kill and maim for is arguably worse: Global enslavement under an ignorant and brutal despotism. That a reasoning human being could buy into such a dystopian vision makes the attack in Manchester and all those that have taken place before it, even harder to comprehend.

I repeat – as we should – that not all Muslims are Islamists, but all Muslims are on the frontline of this clash within a civilisation, fighting for a correct and just interpretation of their faith. They are the only ones who can win this culture war between a virtuous Islam that is capable of accommodating itself to living and thriving in the West and the nihilism of a minority of their co-religionists who demonstrably cannot.

In the short-term, shock and grief are appropriate responses to the massacre in Manchester. We can talk about ‘bringing everyone together’ in a spirit of solidarity in the immediate aftermath of an atrocity, but in the longer term our public policy responses should be obvious enough: A more sustained and emphatic bid to flush out and destroy Islamism, isolating and prosecuting its demented followers.

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Corbyn’s comments on the IRA are being scandalously overplayed – but he needs to get this behind him

22/05/2017, 10:19:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

What on earth does Jeremy Corbyn think he’s doing? Claiming Sinn Fein showed ‘courage in abundance’ and that Martin McGuinness made an ‘essential and historic contribution’ to peace in Northern Ireland? Does he not understand how that goes down with voters?

Of course Corbyn paid neither compliment. Tony Blair made the first remark and Theresa May the second. The very same people Corbyn is vilified for speaking to when it was unfashionable to do so are exactly the same people lauded by statesman today. C’est la vie.

Corbyn’s interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News on Sunday, in which she repeatedly asked him to condemn the IRA’s bombing campaign, was glib and tried to create a hierarchy of victims. Were those killed by loyalists less important? Or those killed by British Forces? By singling out the IRA’s killings,Sky News appears to think so.

As the New Statesman’s Jonn Elledge has already pointed out, Corbyn did answered Ridge’s question perfectly reasonably (‘I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA’).

Indeed, it was all the more remiss to raise it as last week saw the 43rd anniversary of bombings inDublin and Monaghan which killed 33 people in the Irish Republic – the troubles’ single biggest loss of life. Loyalists admitted the attacks, but the suspicion remains that British state assets colluded with them.

All of which is to say this is complex stuff. Yet given Ridge has just a quarter of the audience of ITV’sPeston on Sunday show, a degree of media hyperbole on these issues is probably inevitable. (Especially when ‘event moments’ from an otherwise run-of-the-mill interview play well on catch-up media).

Of course, it’s fairly disastrous retail politics for the Labour leader to become embroiled in semantic rows about whether his disavowal of the IRA was fulsome enough midway through a general election campaign.

Yet it’s clear this attack line was always coming. The busy bees in the Conservative Research Department and their friends in the right-wing media were always going to see to that.

However, there’s a sense that the public has already priced-in what it thinks of Corbyn and his associations with radical politics and I’d be surprised if this latest hullabaloo has a significant effect on the polls.

With their big personality attack on Corbyn launched we await to see if it has the desired effect. If not, what else have the Tories got left to throw at Jezza?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Labour’s internal democracy is rotten

19/05/2017, 02:28:56 PM

by Kevin Meagher 

You need to cast your mind back quite a bit to remember Liz Davies and the injustice she received at the hands of the Labour party.

She was, all too briefly, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Leeds North East ahead of the 1997 general election. A councillor in Islington, Davies had been properly selected by members for the marginal seat that, in due course, was to fall to Labour.

However, she was accused of disrupting meetings of Islington Council by three other Labour councillors. Their highly-disputed version of events was swallowed wholesale by the National Executive Committee and her candidacy was cancelled.

Handily, she was also barrister and later sued her accusers, who included James Purnell, an adviser to Tony Blair at the time and later and MP himself and Cabinet Minister.

The matter was settled out of court, with the three accused forced to make a donation to the election funds of local Labour MPs (benefitting Jeremy Corbyn).

Why this trip down memory lane?

I was reminded of this injustice after last week’s imposition of Dan Carden, an aide to Unite’s General Secretary, Len McCluskey, as the Labour candidate for Liverpool Walton – the safest Labour seat in the country – vacated by Steve Rotheram, the newly-elected metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region.

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Corbyn was right to give the ITV leaders debate a miss

18/05/2017, 10:41:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Half an hour into ITV’s leaders’ debate and we were bogged down on Europe.

Will it ever end? The efficient but entirely bland Julie Etchingham was treating us to a rerun of the Brexit campaign, minus Conservative and Labour voices.

Theresa and Jeremy had better things to do, but the rest of the band had come back for the reunion. There they all were – Leanne Wood from Plaid, Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP, Caroline Lucas from the Greens and UKIP’s Paul Nuttall.

He was by far the best briefed when it came to locking swords over Brexit and bossed the exchanges. It probably helped he was the only one speaking for majority opinion in the country.

Tim Farron didn’t have a good night. Staring down the barrel of the camera at every opportunity, his small dark eyes were like raisins. With his golden complexion and sandy hair he looked like a pain au chocolat.

‘I have a long term economic plan,’ he intoned. ‘Stay in the single market’. A clap line with no clapping.  Had he not read the memo? Swivel-eyed ‘48 percentism’ is killing his party on the doorstep.

There was a brief rally with Caroline Lucas as she tried to skewer him about the Lib Dems’ support for Andrew Lansley’s NHS reform act. I say ‘skewer’ advisedly. It had all the penetrative efficacy of a piece of wet kitchen roll.

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Three quick points about the Labour manifesto

17/05/2017, 01:51:57 PM

by Kevin Meagher

You campaign in poetry…

Today we’re talking about Labour’s radical plans to scrap tuition fees, nationalise industries deemed to have failed the public, spend more on public services and raise the living wage – while making the dastardly rich pay for it all.

We’re not talking about Brexit and we’re not talking about how Labour wants to scrap nuclear weapons. Or, actually, about Jeremy Corbyn.  This is a tactical victory, of sorts.

Is the manifesto wise or workable? Hmmm. Do the individual measures resonate with voters? Yes. Is Labour credible when it explains how they will be funded? No. But the manifesto peps-up Labour activists who now have meaty, simply-understood things to talk about on the doorstep, other than the merits or demerits of their leader.

The sums don’t add up. Who cares?

Labour has a £57 billion ‘black hole’ in its spending plans, splutter the Conservatives, totting-up Labour’s great Monopoly grab of utilities.

Theresa May and Philip Hammond even called a presser so they could stand there and intone about the Cost of Labour. Stood behind their podiums this morning they looked like the lamest Kraftwerk tribute act ever, or a couple of mismatched contestants on Pointless, with Theresa May fluffing a question about whether she still has confidence in Hammond. (‘Well, we’ve known each other a long time…’)

For weary voters, it boils down to one group of politicians they don’t trust claiming the sums of the other group of politicians they don’t trust don’t add up.

At this stage, nothing matters

Election campaigns don’t fundamentally alter voters’ choices. Nothing that happens is either a dramatic success or failure. You cannot rub out months or years’ worth gradually constructed opinions in a few weeks. Labour famously ‘won’ the 1987 election campaign but lost the election. Ed Miliband had a really good campaign back in 2015. His performance was probably the highpoint of his five year leadership. But, by then, the public had weighed and measured him and found him wanting. Alas, Jeremy Corbyn’s numbers tell the same story.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Campaign frontline: Despite its short term woes, UKIP hopes to bounce back

15/05/2017, 06:54:17 PM

In a series of reports from the campaign frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher was at Little Lever, in Bolton South East to take a look at UKIP’s local campaign

Reversing a coach into the narrow entrance of the car park of the Queens pub in Bradley Fold took some doing. Eventually, though, the driver managed it. Perseverance and a steady hand paying off. Given this was UKIP’s new campaign battle bus, emblazoned with the smiling face of its newish leader, Paul Nuttall, the moment served as a perfect metaphor.

Small steps. Incremental progress. Steady as she goes.

This was certainly the hope as Nuttall arrived in Little Lever, a village in the Bolton South East constituency and the closest thing UKIP has to Ground Zero. The party has all three council seats and intends to build out from here into neighbouring villages.

Amid its difficulties elsewhere, with losses of county council seats and plunging opinion poll levels, Little Lever, a Brexit-voting ‘upper working-class’ enclave, counts as safe ground for the kippers.

Owner occupiers with nice semis. Small business owners. Vans on the driveways. Satellite dishes. Nice gardens. Not Emily Thornberry territory, it is safe to say. This isn’t Middle England though. This is a small town full of classic aspirational Labour voters. Skilled manual workers, not middle class professionals.

It’s also a totem for how UKIP still hopes to replace Labour in its political backyard across the north of England, picking up on working-class disaffection with issues like immigration and the general drift under Jeremy Corbyn.

Defying the stereotype, Nuttall’s advance team are chatty and friendly. There are the obligatory burly security guys, replete with their CIA-style earpieces. A few local activists gather while a pasty young man paces around the car park, his plummy accent and Barbour jacket giving him away as a UKIP staffer.

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