Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

If Starmer wants to end Labour’s infighting, then ban Momentum and Progress

16/06/2020, 10:37:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There is something fratricidal about the Labour party. Its innate. Division comes naturally, with tribes of left and right, eyeing each other suspiciously. If they did not have to work together in a first-past-the-post system, they wouldn’t. A loveless arrangement and, alas, as old as the party itself; explaining Labour’s uneven electoral record, governing for just 34 out of the last 100 years.

Bevanites. Gaitskellites. Bennites. Tribunites. Blairites. Corbynistas. The list goes on. And even when one faction or other is in control, there is still an irresistible urge to do down the other side. Indeed, there is often a gleeful intensity to this one-upmanship. ‘It’s not enough that I succeed,’ as Gore Vidal put it, ‘others must fail.’

Thankfully, one of Keir Starmer’s key promises in the leadership contest was to end the feuding. ‘Too often,’ he argued. ‘we find ourselves focusing on our differences rather than the values and principles that brought us together, and that comes at a cost. Our party is divided, and unity requires reconciliation.’

So, in a bid to transcend what are often petty, internecine squabbles, he has woven together a frontbench that unites various strands of opinion in the party and elevated basic competence above sectional loyalty. It is a good start, but he needs to go further to show that factionalism will no longer be tolerated.

The best way he can do that? Banish Momentum – and Progress, too.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Is a London lawyer the right person to fix a Northern wall?

13/04/2020, 09:45:04 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Rifling through the thick piles of paperwork on my desk just now, I happened across Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign leaflet. Evidently, I had secreted it away for further inspection at some stage, but given the events of the past week, it perhaps bears early re-examination.

On the front there’s a moody black and white picture of the new Labour Leader. A side-profile shot of him looking pensive. No tie (a depressing affectation of modern Labour politics) and the message: ‘Another future is possible.’ A serious man for serious times, no doubt.

When you unfold it, there he is again! Much bigger this time. A3. (Presumably the hope was that members would stick his image in their windows?) Still tieless, alas, but smiling this time, head slightly askew. The words ‘Integrity, authority, unity’ hang in the bottom corner – underlined – so you get the point.

Keir Starmer’s abiding message is that he’s a grown-up.

He’s already a knight of the realm and has had a proper job as director of public prosecutions. The hope is that he’s a return to the likes of John Smith, people of gravity who resonate beyond the Labour tribe. He certainly looks the part. Tidy hair and a decent suit. Not charismatic, per se, but reliable. Competent. Efficient. Ready for the task ahead.

But what is that task?

To become Labour prime minister in 2024? Surely that is beyond anyone. Of course, you can never say never in politics and the legacy of coronavirus might well be to shift the political centre leftwards. But it might just as readily be to pull it the opposite direction. Either way, Labour’s task is epic.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Why did the hard left fail?

10/04/2020, 09:30:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption governing Labour politics for the past five years was that the shift leftwards under Jeremy Corbyn was unassailable. So overwhelming were the numbers of new members, encouraged, enthused and loyal to their man, following his unexpected election as leader in 2015, that control of the party had irrevocably decamped to the left.

Indeed, something had changed at the molecular level.

The creation of Momentum – a left-wing standing army within the party, numbered in the hundreds of thousands and solely dedicated to preserving the Corbyn insurgency – terrified moderate MPs who feared mandatory reselection was coming and with it the invitation to walk the plank, with hard-left activists jeering them on to a watery grave.

Party decision-making and policy formulation would fall into the clutches of a cabal of activists and far left trade unionists, who would then foist a shopping list of doctrinaire policies on the party. Unilateral nuclear disarmament – which had been the pivotal issue in party splits both in the 1950s and 1980s – would again incinerate Labour’s credibility as a party of government.

But the real story of the past five years is that barely a fraction of this supposed horror story ever came true.

Like Gordon Brown in 2007, Jeremy Corbyn had no real idea what he wanted to do with power. Yes, he had a few causes that drove him. Plenty of rhetoric, too. But there was no burning ambition. Still less a grand plan.

Rather than force through mandatory reselection and use his grassroots shock troops to unseat his opponents in the parliamentary party, the reselection process before the last election resulted in few victims.

Yes, Chuka and a few other disgruntled Blairite MPs who had fallen out with their local parties flounced off, but nothing like as serious as the 28 who fled to set up the SDP in 1981. And Corbyn was perfectly within his rights to try and bring some of his own supporters through. All leaders do it.

Whiny Labour MPs who simply didn’t respect his mandate and would never serve on his frontbench, just made a difficult situation worse. Credit therefore goes to the Jon Ashworth’s and John Healey’s and Andrew Gwynne’s for rolling-up their sleeves and serving the party’s broader interest.

Nor did policy drift too far to the fringes.

The cause of nuclear disarmament – once so totemic – seemed to just fall by the wayside. While the manifesto put forward at the 2017 election was merely a dialled-up version of Labour’s position from the early 1990s. A bit of nationalisation here. A bit more spending there. It was a dose of the old religion, but still recognisably social democratic stuff.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

How are we going to refer to Starmer’s approach and its followers?

08/04/2020, 06:02:26 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So, after the rapture of his victory on Saturday with a 56% share of the vote, followers of Labour’s new leader can be forgiven for indulging in a bout of Starmerama, but how are we to describe his credo and what are we going to call his disciples?

This mania for suffixing ‘ism’ and ‘ite’ to the names of political leaders or factions started in the 1950s with the Bevanites and the Gaitskellites – the Crip(p)s and the Bloods of post-war Labour politics.

You can’t imagine Clement Attlee going in for such nonsense and there were never really any Wilsonites either, although, like Peter Mandelson, things were done in a Wilsonian way. (And it’s not meant to be complementary).

Of course, we had Thatcherism and Thatcherites. Fair enough, given it was a distinct ideology and had a set of adherents. As were the Bennites at the opposite end of the spectrum.

So, not to be outdone and given it was then de rigeur in British politics by then, we had Blairism and Blairites.

We didn’t really have Brownism, but there were certainly Brownites.

During his five years at the helm, we had neither Milibandism, nor Milibandites. He was too much the intellectual gadfly, never settling on a coherent approach above and beyond ‘moving on from New Labour.’

Of course, there was Corbynism and Corbynites. Lots of them.

So, are we entering a bright new dawn of Starmerism? Or perhaps it will be Keirism?

Starmerite sounds like a household adhesive.

And Starmite doesn’t work because it could mean you either love him or hate him.

How to sum-up his approach?

Well, if the job of Opposition Leader is to benefit from the multifarious failings of the government of the day, then there’s only one term for his approach: Steer karma.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour’s problems are not all down to Corbyn

04/04/2020, 10:34:11 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of course, the temptation is to grind Corbynista faces into the dirt.

After all, aren’t they responsible for the party’s drubbing in December, the worst performance in a general election since 1935?

Yes, but only to a point. Culpability for the state Labour finds itself in should be shared more widely.

The party has been in decline for at least the past 15 years and there has never been an inquest into why the Corbyn insurgency ignited in the first place.

Plainly, Jeremy Corbyn should never have been leader.

He was a classic campaigning backbencher, pulled out of position and kept in the leadership because the parliamentary party would never have nominated a replacement candidate from the left in any subsequent leadership contest.

So, there he stayed.

To his credit, he never even wanted the role, merely standing in 2015 as the left’s candidate on the cab-rank principle that it was his turn to fly the flag in a leadership contest and lose heavily, as McDonnell did in 2007 and Abbott in 2010.

Yet, as we know, Ed Miliband’s disastrous party reforms opened the door for the ‘three quid trots’ to sweep into the party and turbo-charge Corbyn’s vote. The rest is history.

Labour MPs are to blame, too, for making a bad situation worse. Their precipitous leadership challenge in 2016 played straight into the hands of left-wing activists who yelled ‘betrayal,’ galvanising them into returning Corbyn in even greater numbers.

From that point, he was unmovable.

The trade unions – representing only a sliver of the modern workforce – are to blame for indulging their fantasy politics.

The fact the main three affiliates: Unite, Unison and the GMB broke three ways for, respectively, Long-Bailey, Starmer and Nandy, is proof they are slowly coming back to the centre, but they bear responsibility for dragging the party into shallow water in the first place.

(Indeed, the hidden story in this election is just how quiet Unite and Len McCloskey have been, leaving the hapless Rebecca Long-Bailey to her own devices to run one of the poorest campaigns I can remember).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

Labour’s leadership contest is a disaster

20/02/2020, 09:44:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Does the Labour party ever want to win an election again? I ask in all seriousness because its acting to all intents and purposes as though the answer is, to invert Ed Miliband’s maxim, ‘Hell, no!’

This pained, drawn-out saga – which will not see a new Labour leader announced until April 4 – would better be described as a ‘lack of leadership contest.’ It long ago descended into a dreary, insular and circular exchange. Platitudes are issued, hands are wrung and virtues and signalled.

But are voters convinced?

Hardly. The whole thing serves as a rolling reminder of why Labour was trounced for the fourth time back in December and unless something radical changes the script for a fifth defeat will already have been written.

Broadly, there are three problems with Labour’s leadership contest.

The first and most obvious is that candidates are playing to the gallery. It almost goes without saying, but Labour members are not representative of the country. This much was true enough in the Blair years, but in the Age of Corbyn the gap has become cavernous.

As a result, the internal discussion skews towards pleasing activists rather than talking to the country at large. No-one in the real-world cares about mandatory selection of MPs or any of the other obscure preoccupations of activists.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

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).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

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.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

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.

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon

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).

(more…)

Facebook Twitter Digg Delicious StumbleUpon