Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

When we were giants

22/01/2020, 10:27:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The year is 1976. Harold Wilson has just resigned as prime minister and Labour leader. The race is on to replace him. Step forward the strongest field of candidates to ever seek the leadership.

A veritable ‘who’s who’ of Labour greats. Serious, heavyweight figures from every section of the party.

James Callaghan, currently foreign secretary, but also a former home secretary and chancellor. The eventual winner, he is still the only person to have occupied the four great offices of state.

Next, Roy Jenkins, home secretary and another former chancellor. He would go on to become the President of the European Commission and eventually split off to form the SDP.

Denis Healey, current chancellor and former defence secretary. A future deputy leader, he would lend vital credibility to the party’s fightback through the long, fruitless years of the 1980s.

Then there was Anthony Crosland. A reforming education secretary who pioneered comprehensive schooling, (after the NHS and benefits system, the greatest Labour achievement in office). While his book, ‘The Future of Socialism’ became the bible of moderate reformers in the post-war era.

From the left of the party came Michael Foot. Employment secretary at the time and a renowned orator and journalist. (He became deputy leader under Callaghan and later succeeded him as leader).

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Is Keir Starmer the man to reconnect with Labour’s base?

06/01/2020, 05:46:33 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The video put out by Keir Starmer yesterday, as he officially launched his bid for the Labour leadership, was brilliantly affecting, with a series of talking heads reflecting on the legal support he gave to striking miners, environmental activists and other worthy causes throughout his long legal career, which culminated in him heading in the Crown Prosecution Service.

He is clearly an admirable man, self-effacing and well-liked by those who know him. A quiet radical, he has used his legal skills to fight the good fight. The video is quiet and sensible, qualities presumably, his team want to associate with him over coming weeks.

The problem for Starmer is not his illustrious legal career but what he has done in politics since first being elected to the Commons in 2015. Creditably, he stayed on the frontbench under Jeremy Corbyn, while other moderates ripped up their tent pegs and went to sulk, to no obvious effect, on the backbenches.

Starmer has been at the centre of Labour politics as the party’s Brexit spokesman, but it’s not clear what effect he has had. I cannot help but wonder what Robin Cook might have done in the same role. Nor can I recall Starmer skewering ministers for the multiplicity of failings throughout the Brexit imbroglio. Or, for that matter, a particularly memorable speech or media performance from him.

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Let’s be clear from the start: Labour’s next leader is never going to be PM

03/01/2020, 05:58:17 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Sorry to start the New Year with an Eeyorish warning, but it needs saying from the outset. Labour has zero chance – absolutely no hope whatsoever – of winning the next election in 2024 or thereabouts. The glass is definitely half empty – with a crack in the bottom. Short of an almighty calamity – bigger in magnitude to Brexit – Boris Johnson is going nowhere for the next few years.

Forget the permanent revolution nonsense emanating from Dominic Cummings. Boris’s instinct will be to cut an early deal with the EU on our future trading arrangements and then consolidate his position. He would much rather govern as a benign figure that a malevolent force. He will prove formidable if he does. His victory is already seeing the Tories mobilise their tanks on what remains of Labour’s front lawn, in what may become a strategic realignment of British politics.

Rewriting Treasury rules to favour the North? Check. Inflation-busting increase in the National Living Wage? Check. Renationalising Northern Rail? Check. The new political battleground in British politics cuts across large chunks of what used to be safe Labour territory. The Tories already know this and are wasting no time in preparing their fortifications.

Last month’s result was no fluke. It was a long time coming.

So many of the seats Labour lost in unfashionable towns in the north and midlands were places that underwent 20 years of Thatcherite deindustrialisation, followed by a decade of New Labour pumping money into the public sector, but not replenishing decent jobs in lost industries. This was book-ended by ten more years of Tory austerity. Four decades of misery and disappointment. It just so happens that the timeline corresponds perfectly with our membership of the EU, so, for many, their unhappy experience of politics, which only ever seems to disappoint and frustrate, was taken out in the Brexit referendum.

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Rebecca Long-Bailey is not ‘continuity Corbyn.’ She’s just been a good sport

31/12/2019, 08:00:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As campaign launches go, it was inauspicious. Rebecca Long-Bailey’s piece in yesterday’s Guardian was her first public attempt to flesh out both an analysis of the party’s disastrous election defeat and to tentatively suggest why she is the person to repair the damage.

How did it go? As I say, inauspicious. There was some stuff about upending ‘the broken political system’ and uniting communities ‘in all their diversity’ through ‘progressive patriotism.’

But she is still ‘considering’ whether to stand for leader. (It might have been wiser, then, for those advising her to set some clearer expectations about her strategy and timeline?)

Hey-ho.

What was interesting, however, amid the bromides about having an ‘honest discussion about why we lost and how we can win,’ is what she didn’t say.

There wasn’t a single reference to Jeremy Corbyn in the piece, less still to him having ‘won the argument,’ if not the actual, you know, election.

There was no attempt to justify the party’s manifesto, widely seen, to misquote Mario Cuomo, as an attempt to ‘govern in poetry’ with a string of unaffordable and outdated commitments.

‘There are many lessons to learn from the defeat,’ she said, ‘but it’s clear we didn’t lose because of our commitments to scrap universal credit, invest in public services or abolish tuition fees.’ (Code for ‘our expensive programme of nationalisation was a disaster?’)

Creditably, there was nothing that sought to gloss over the failings of the election defeat.

What she did say is that Labour cannot ‘blame Brexit alone’ (code, presumably, for ‘yes, Jeremy was an issue on the doorstep’) and the party ‘must recognise that it’s no good having the right solutions if people don’t believe you can deliver them.’ (Translation: ‘No-one believed our grandiose policies could be paid for’).

(One interesting footnote is that she didn’t use the word ‘socialism’ once – a de rigour affectation in Labour politics since the 2010 defeat).

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Labour’s manifesto needs to support a referendum on Irish unity

15/11/2019, 07:45:07 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As the midwife to the Good Friday Agreement back in 1998, Labour is, quite rightly, immensely proud of book-ending 30 years of the troubles with a political deal, that while not perfect, has delivered the prospect of peace, reconciliation and progress in Northern Ireland.

Ever since its signing, Labour conference speeches have been replete with references to it. As soon as Tony Blair mentioned her in his leader’s speech at the 1998 conference, the hall rose to applaud Mo Mowlam, the Northern Ireland Secretary who did so much to bring about the agreement.

As recently as the 2017 manifesto, there was a customary reference:

‘The Good Friday Agreement, which Labour helped to negotiate, is one of the greatest achievements of Labour in office…and we remain committed to working with all sides to deliver real peace and greater prosperity to Northern Ireland.’

As party grandees gather this weekend to thrash out the contents of Labour’s next manifesto during its Clause Five meeting, they need to include some specific provisions in relation to Northern Ireland, recognising the tectonic plates are shifting and Labour can’t rely on past glories.

Let’s start with the obvious. As well as a deal securing a devolved power-sharing assembly and all-Ireland institutions, the Good Friday Agreement is also something else. It is – and was always meant to be – a blueprint for bringing about Irish unity through exclusively peaceful and democratic means.

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Remainers need to accept they lost. Make the argument for re-joining instead

23/05/2019, 07:00:35 AM

by Kevin Meagher

On Thursday night, Nigel Farage’s Brexit party will comfortably win more votes than the Labour and Conservative parties put together. This is the price we will pay as a country – and a political system – for the failure to deliver on the public’s vote to leave the EU in June 2016.

The European elections will represent a second people’s vote and an undeniable rejection of Remainer politics. Surprise is the very last reaction that is warranted. Over the past three years, there has been scant interest from the Remain camp in listening or reflecting on why they lost the referendum, let alone an attempt at persuading and winning round voters who backed Brexit.

For nearly three years, their actions have been condescending, tone deaf, incompetent and foolish. They resemble British tourists in a Spanish hotel in the 1970s shouting louder at the waiter in order to be understood.

British politics has changed, but there are those who still cling to the old certainties. No amount of sophistry about messages on buses or Russian interference has had any effect. Voters are wise to the tactics of the political class. When they hear Remainer politicians talk of a second referendum they simply hear, ‘We’re giving you another chance to give us the right answer.’

Am I a Leaver? No, I’m a democrat. When you’ve lost, you’ve lost. Accept it, learn from it and come back stronger. I’m also a rejoiner. I want Britain’s long-term interest to be served by being part of the European Union. I simply recognise that the short-term position is now lost.

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Chuka’s missed a trick. He should have set up a London party instead

20/05/2019, 09:55:11 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘I love it when a plan comes together,’ a grinning George Peppard used to say in The A-Team when the gang had yet again outfoxed the bad guys and won the day.

Not a phrase that’s used much over at Change UK, I suspect. Things aren’t exactly going swimmingly for the intrepid band of Labour and Tory escapees. They’re finding out the hard way just how limited the market is for soggy centrism and that the tribal nature of British politics is, well, tribal.

They’re encountering the cognitive dissonance of the British public too. Everyone says they want a new kind of politics, but the problem, for anyone who takes this claim seriously, is that hardly anyone ever votes for it. Perhaps the bigger snag, though, is that no-one much likes defectors. Least of all the voters, judging by the latest polls.

Change UK is already scuttled. Latest polling has them on 2 per cent. Break the mould? They haven’t even dented it.

Whatever anyone thinks of the SDP’s Gang of Four, they were household names, seasoned Cabinet Ministers who had run the country. If it wasn’t for first-past-the-post, they would have become a permanent presence in British politics, coming within a whisker of Labour’s share of the vote in 1983.

Of course, that same system that has so successfully stymied new entrants for so long is still in place. Which is why Change UK needed to do well in the European elections, where proportional representation gave them a chance of making a breakthrough.

Sadly (for them) that isn’t going to happen.

To be fair to Chuka Umunna and his moon-sized ego, his ambition was clearly to establish a new, national political party, subsuming the Lib Dems and drawing in enough like minds from the Labour and Tory ranks to build enough heft and momentum to shatter our existing model.

He hasn’t been able to achieve anything close to that because he’s just not a compelling enough figure and doesn’t stand for anything distinctive. Fluent, yes, but an empty vessel. All sizzle and no substance, as Barack Obama once noted of David Cameron.

Actually, there’s not much sizzle either.

As The Guardian’s John Crace put it the other day: ‘Change UK is dying before it even learned to walk. Its MPs know it. Its candidates know it. The public knows it.’

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The case for Remaining needs saving from Remainers

17/01/2019, 10:02:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a fabulous scene in the recent Channel Four drama, ‘Brexit: The Uncivil War,’ where Rory Kinnear, playing David Cameron’s director of communications, Craig Oliver, storms into a focus group meeting of average voters and starts arguing with them in sheer frustration that the Remain campaign’s message just isn’t getting through.

As metaphors go, it’s just about perfect.

Stupid people don’t understand the issues or what’s at stake, so the swells need to barge in, shouting and finger-jabbing until the plebs acquiesce.

There’s no real mystery as to why the Brexiteers triumphed in 2016.

Remainers fluffed it.

Through the combination of a truly terrible campaign and their own unjustified sense of providence, they ‘lost’ Europe.

On the wrong end of a fair fight, Remainers have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from the experience.

All we have had for the past two years is incessant moaning about the manner of the loss, which, boiled down, usually amounts to “their lies were better than our lies.” Not to mention the daily epistles on Twitter from people like Andrew Adonis which long ago scaled the heights of self-parody.

We’ve had carping about the Leave campaign’s infamous bus and the hooky pledge to redirect the £350 million a week we contribute to EU coffers to the NHS instead. As though it’s the first porkie told in a political campaign.

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Put your legs away Jeremy and come up with a convincing Brexit policy

09/12/2018, 08:00:03 AM

by Kevin Meagher

I shudder to imagine what Jeremy Corbyn’s pins look like – pale and scrawny, if I’m pushed to conjure up a mental picture.

He must think they look alright though. Patrick Maguire over at the New Statesman quotes a DUP source saying the Labour Leader is “showing a bit of leg” in a bid to woo the DUP and its ten MPs, ahead of a make-or-break week for Theresa May.

Yesterday Corbyn told Sky News the DUP opposed the Northern Ireland backstop for “very good and sensible reasons.” He said Labour was ready to “step in and negotiate seriously with the EU to put up a serious alternative which is a proper customs union – a customs union – with the EU in which we have a say in what goes on”.

Things are clearly getting weird in Westminster, but this is off the charts strange.

Corbyn is, we are frequently reminded by his detractors, a lifelong Irish republican. Suddenly, however, the political troglodytes of the DUP are people of honour whose barmpot politics are “good” and “sensible.”

So what’s he playing at?

It seems this courtship ritual is a crude attempt to drive a wedge between Theresa May and her erstwhile unionist allies. Fair enough, opposition parties are meant to oppose and all that.

But there’s no pathway to Number Ten that involves him courting the DUP. Neither are they crazy enough to assume ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ in the frenetic calculus of who wants what over Brexit.

They’re on the rebound, granted, but they’re not desperate enough to put Sinn Fein allies like Corbyn and McDonnell in government. No, Nigel Dodds, the DUP’s Westminster leader, is still trying to catch Theresa’s eye.

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Self-definition is the first task of Labour moderates

07/11/2018, 10:44:37 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of all the problems facing the sensible wing of Labour politics, perhaps the most elementary is how it refers to itself.

Whoever let the dial settle on ‘moderates?’ The term is a counsel of despair. It summons up a drab, middle-of-the-road minimalism, perennially splitting the difference. Not so much a political vision as an anti-vision. An abdication of belief.

As Antonio Gramsci pointed out, if you control the language you control the debate. So this is where the reinvention of sensible Labour politics must begin: self-definition.

‘Social democrat’ would perhaps be the technical description, but it’s a bit jaded and abstract.

‘Democratic socialist?’ I’ve always thought this a slightly jarring phrase, meant to distinguish us from the undemocratic variety? (Although that great social democrat, Tony Crosland, was said to prefer it).

‘Right-wing’ is problematic for obvious reasons. While ‘centrist’ just conjures-up Roy Jenkins’ smug countenance.

He famously described his politics as the ‘radical centre.’ The times we’re in demand firm, concerted action, just not the impossibilism offered by the hard left. So what about dropping the ‘centre’ bit and embracing radicalism?

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