Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

If Cameron was smart, he’d recapitalise the food banks

16/04/2014, 08:32:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Britain’s food banks are doing a brisk trade. And unlike their commercial namesakes, they’re doing it without a bean of government cash.

The Trussell Trust, which runs the largest network of food banks, today reports that 913,138 adults and children were provided with food parcels last year, up from just 61,468 in 2010.

David Cameron should love food banks. Well, perhaps not love, but he should recognise their existence is proof that the Big Society, that concept we thought had been buried under 20 tonnes of concrete, has something going for it.

After all, food banks are examples of well-meaning, civic-minded people and organisations stepping up to the mark to provide a volunteer-led response to make a difference in their local communities.

In pretty much every other instance, the Big Society simply exposes the utter naiveté of ministers in glibly assuming that by removing public provision we would see a flourishing of voluntary effort instead. It hasn’t. It won’t. It never was going to.

But because of the shock value of what they do – feeding the absolute poor in one of the richest countries in the world – every time food banks are mentioned in earshot, Cameron has the good grace to squirm.

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Chilcot will wag a long bony finger at Labour, but his report may miss the general election

14/04/2014, 03:50:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like scorpions, official inquiries are unpredictable, require careful handling and invariably come with a sting in the tail.

The news that Sir John Chilcot’s much-anticipated Iraq inquiry will not now report until at least next year causes Labour some obvious difficulties. Clearly, reminiscing about why the country went to war at the start of the general election campaign wouldn’t be much fun.

Then there’s the question of how all those fickle Lib Dem switchers Labour is relying on will react when the report finds fault – as surely it will – in the case made for war and its subsequent prosecution.

Before the last election, the timing of Lord Justice Saville’s inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings was a cause of similar consternation after officials in the Northern Ireland Office realised that his mammoth report would have to be stored while Parliament was prorogued during the election campaign.

The families of the victims were not happy at the thought of ministers or officials having access to it during the interregnum, preparing their defences or leaking extracts to the newspapers.

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Labour’s real divisions are between “Would-ers” and “Could-ers”

31/03/2014, 03:22:53 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Andrew Rawnsley’s guide to modern divisions in the Labour party in yesterday’s Observer makes a great political parlour game, identifying, as he does, five new fissures in the party in how it approaches strategy, policy and winning next year’s election.

Yet, it’s much simpler than that: Labour’s sedimentary rock cracks neatly into two main groups.

The first, is the ‘Would If We Could’ camp. They want to make as much difference as possible while never losing sight of the fact that the British people are instinctively cautious and even suspicious of political grandiosity. “We would back X policy if we could get it past the public, but we don’t think we can” goes the theory.

For the Would-ers, winning power is their main preoccupation. There are no silver medals in politics and no point remaining ideologically chaste but losing in the process. So splitting the difference becomes second nature, or “shrinking the offer” in current parlance.

Then there’s the ‘Could If We Would’ group. They argue that Ed Miliband needs to be bold and present a big offer to voters. If he does, Labour will swing millions of people who are disenfranchised with politics and want something to believe in behind the party. “We could win, if only we would back X policy.” This isn’t a view confined to the old Left; it strikes a chord with many people on the party’s centre-left too who yearn to have their idealism validated.

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Big and bold? How about hard-headed and realistic?

25/03/2014, 08:50:13 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The most surprising thing about yesterday’s letter to the Guardian from a wide collection of august Labour thinkocrats is that there was nothing surprising in it at all.

Unfortunately, in setting out what Labour needs to do to address the “unprecedented challenges” of dealing with austerity, tacking inequality, sorting out climate change and fixing our clapped-out political system, the authors avoided making the hard choices that Ed Miliband and Labour’s frontbench are confronted with.

Granted, it was just a 250-word letter, but we’re now at the stage where anything less than hard, practical suggestions are pretty worthless. In urging Miliband to be less cautious they in turn were taciturn about what, specifically, he should do that he’s not already doing to rebalance our economy away from over-mighty finance, lift up those who are ground down by poverty and refloat our scuttled public services.

But the next Labour government has to make good on issues like these with little money to do it. The New Labour model of avoiding tough spending challenges – the ‘spend, don’t offend’ approach – has had it. This means Labour has now to be much clearer on prioritisation, which in turn means squeezing more out of existing public spending, which in turn means making very hard choices that some people – many in the party’s own ranks – will not like.

Yet in arguing for Labour to embark on “a transformative change in direction” and to earn “a mandate for such change” the signatories still frame their argument in the abstract.

Talk of “accountability of all powerful institutions, whether the state or market, to all stakeholders” could mean for want of a better phrase, regulatory capitalism, making markets work better with stronger disincentives and penalties for abusing market position. In seeking to make capitalism work more efficiently in the interests of consumers, will the same ambition be set for the public sector too?

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day. As they say in Montserrat

17/03/2014, 09:34:16 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There are only two countries in the world where St. Patrick’s Day is a recognised public holiday, the Republic of Ireland (obviously enough) and Montserrat. Yes, that Montserrat, the tiny Caribbean island where, by the mid-1600s, Irish slaves made up two thirds of the island’s population.

Yes, you read that right: Irish slaves. The practice began in the first decades of the 17th Century with the ‘sale’ of 30,000 Irish political prisoners, in what would become a depressingly recurrent theme in Irish history. Between the start of the English Civil War and Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, around 300,000 Irish were sold into slavery, men, women and children alike.

Men at arms went first, then their wives and children were sold separately never to be reunited again. A further half a million Irish were killed during this period, with the country’s population falling from 1.6 million in 1641 to just 600,000 by 1652. It’s hard to determine who were the less fortunate, the dead or the enslaved.

Irish children were stripped not only of their families and liberty, but also their faith and ethnic identity, with many having their names changed for good measure. During the 1650s, over 100,000 of them between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England.

Many young girls were sold into what we would now term sex slavery. Plantation masters bred them with more expensive African slaves to save themselves the transit costs of importing new African slaves from greater distances. This heart-breaking and inhuman practice was eventually outlawed, but it’s fair to say this is a tale we’re not used to hearing.

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Benn and Thatcher will be remembered long after their colourless contemporaries

15/03/2014, 08:00:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Passing away at eighty-eight years of age represents a good innings in anyone’s book. Indeed, it’s a score the late Tony Benn also shares with Margaret Thatcher, which may, on the face of it, seem a provocative comparison.

After all, the two of them were on opposite sides of every major issue of the 1980s: the miners’ strike, nuclear disarmament, Ireland, South Africa, monetarism. But their personalities and approaches to politics were strikingly similar.

They were both driven, uncompromising characters; self-confident in what they said and thought. Equally, they were divisive, impulsive and reckless figures. Yes, they stuck to their guns, but often long after it was sensible to do so.

Both believed in the sovereignty of Parliament. Both were instinctively Eurosceptic. And both were adored by the radical sections of their parties, to the cold fury of the pragmatists.

On a personal level, Benn, like Thatcher, enjoyed a happy marriage and both were noted for the small personal kindnesses that so many other leading politicians are seemingly incapable of offering. Likewise, they exuded that other-worldy quality that surely served to insulate them from the brickbats that were thrown at both of them for so long.

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Brown’s call for greater devolution to Scotland should apply to the English regions too

11/03/2014, 02:23:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The only thing better than a five-point plan is, of course, a ten-point plan. However, on this occasion, Gordon Brown can be forgiven for only making it to six with his interesting ideas for modernising the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In a bid to flesh out what a ‘devo max’ agenda might mean (or perhaps that should be ‘indy lite?’) the former Prime Minister recommends beefing-up the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers, enshrining in law the settlement between Scotland and the UK and establishing a new division of powers that gives Holyrood more clout over employment, regeneration, health and transport.

But why stop at Scotland? So welcome are Brown’s suggestions that they should also be replicated between Westminster and Whitehall (‘WaW’) and the midlands and north of England. This is because the concentration of all major decision-making power in WaW entrenches the asymmetrical way power is exercised in Britain (particularly England) leading to the soaraway success of London and the less certain progress of pretty much everywhere else.

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There can be no Oprah-ification of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. Some things are better left bottled up

06/03/2014, 08:29:54 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Sabres are the only weapons that have never been decommissioned in Northern Ireland. The reward for Peter Robinson rattling his, has been the creation of a “judge-led” review of how the British Government has been dealing with Irish republican “On-The-Runs” for the past decade.

This follows the collapse of the Old Bailey trial last month against John Downey, charged with the IRA’s Hyde Park bombing in 1982 in which four soldiers were killed. It brought to light the scheme by which 180 or so republicans like Downey who had evaded the authorities were sent letters confirming, in effect, that they would not be prosecuted on returning home to Northern Ireland.

For republicans, this is merely an extension of the prisoner release programme which took place after the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 and no big deal. For Robinson, it amounts to a secret deal letting untried killers off the hook – and Ulster unionism doesn’t let any chance to yell “sell out” pass it by.

Yet what the government has conceded is a long way short of the “full judicial review” (a la Lord Saville’s inquiry into Bloody Sunday) that Robinson initially called for last Wednesday. According to the published terms of reference, the as yet unnamed judge will be tasked with producing “a full public account of the operation and extent” of the policy for dealing with On the Runs and to “determine whether any letters sent through the scheme contained errors”.

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Can Ed and Nigel do a coalition deal?

28/02/2014, 01:52:39 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Did I hear that right? Nigel Farage is offering to form a coalition with Labour after the next general election. He referred to it as “doing a deal with the devil” to be sure, but I’m still ringing out my lug ‘ole in disbelief.

But hold on a minute. Think about it. UKIP only have two policies, both of which Labour half supports already. The first is a referendum on the EU (which might seem a no-brainer if May’s European elections are a bit icky) and a reduction in immigration (which, again, Labour can live with).

Beyond that, well, there’s not much else. There’s a great big purple haze where there should be ideas. As a political party, UKIP are the equivalent of an empty pint glass.

Whisper it, but they’re absolutely ideal coalition partners. I know, there would be the occasional bit of eye-rolling in Cabinet at some of their loopy suggestions, but they’re not really interested in policy.

And for that matter, they’re not much good at politics either. I know the Tories are quaking at the prospect of what they’ll do to them next May, but take the recent Wythenshawe by-election. Nigel Farage said it was “as dirty as they come” because some people on a poor Manchester council estate had a go at them and Labour got in early with the postal vote sign-ups while Farage’s troops were still trying to find somewhere to park their Range Rovers.

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Never mind Brooks, Chilcot is set to make 2014 Blair’s annus horibilis

26/02/2014, 10:49:37 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Last week’s row over his telephone conversation with Rebekah Brooks and the alleged offer of behind-the scenes help doesn’t really tell us anything we did not already know about Tony Blair.

Even in retirement, he moves in rarefied circles and the lure of being at the centre of the action, (albeit in what he thought was a private capacity), helps dull the boredom of being just 60 and having his best political days long behind him.

Of course, there is no post-career plan that will ever satisfy someone like Tony Blair. The most accomplished political communicator of his generation and a figure who has single-handedly defined our understanding of the modern-day Premiership, his life after Number 10 was always going to be a long, protracted anti-climax.

What do you do when there are no more 4am moments, or press conferences to prep for, or crises in the Northern Ireland peace process that require your personal intervention?

Indeed, who actually made the phone call that Rebekah Brooks so assiduously took notes from? Did Blair himself phone and offer his services to her and the Murdochs? Or did he eagerly take Brooks’ call, knowing it was unlikely she was phoning for a catch-up to see how his role as the Quartet’s under-employed negotiator on the Middle East was shaping up?

Blair’s advice to her – establish a credible independent investigation with the aim of establishing wrong-doing, but hopefully not serious criminality – was smart and cynical, but pretty sound counsel nonetheless. He has a big future as a public affairs consultant.

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