Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Our politicians are impotent in the face of events they cannot control

12/02/2014, 06:34:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It must feel like Groundhog Day in Whitehall. Ministers are now obliged to pay homage to the residents of Somerset on a daily basis. So they come, all wellies and wax jackets, with suitably solemn faces for the now perfunctory photo opportunity.

There they stand, knee deep in stagnant water, to receive their ritual ear-bashing from angry flood victims, unable to offer any reassurances about when normality will resume or even give a guarantee that the same thing will not happen again. As David Cameron put it at his press conference yesterday, these are the worst floods in that part of the country for 250 years. Translation: ‘I’m at the mercy of events, what can I be expected to do?’

But at least David Cameron can venture out to the flooded south-west of England. He dared not visit Scotland to deliver a keynote speech making the case for the Union last Friday, such is the toxicity of the Conservative brand north of the border. Instead, the Prime Minister delivered his call to “save the most extraordinary country in history” from the velodrome of the Olympic Park in London. A place, then, where people whizz round and round but don’t actually get anywhere.

Apt, perhaps, given the impotence of our politicians this week.

Despite their Canute-like assurances, even small changes in our climate pattern quickly overpower both our flood defences – and ministers’ good intentions. Adapting our infrastructure to meet this challenge is horrendously costly, which is why it has never been adequately done.


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Smoking ban brings out Labour’s worst instincts

11/02/2014, 10:19:08 AM

by Kevin Meagher

So how will the new ban on smoking in a car while children are passengers actually work? Will traffic cameras scour the motorway lanes for the odd plume of cigarette smoke? Will there be spot checks on ashtray contents? Will under-18s be expected to give evidence against their nicotine-addicted parents? And why, if smoking in front of your children in a car is now deemed so heinous, does the ban not extend to the home?

Last night, MPs from all parties enthusiastically queued up to vote the measure through by 376 to 107, as they once did to push through legislation banning dangerous dogs and creating the Child Support Agency. That’s how received opinion works.

For Labour, support – unquestioning support – for this measure sends out the signal that big government, primary legislation and encroaching personal freedom remain, all too often, the first, second and third instincts of the party. Labour has, quite frankly – and entirely justifiably – a lousy reputation when it comes to defending personal liberty.

Left to its own devices, the last Labour government would have forced each of us to carry identity cards around to prove we are who we say we are at the whim of every enquiring public official, while allowing the authorities to lock-up someone without charge or trial for up to three months.

Worse, it shows yet again that any gesture cause or pressure group can overwhelm the party’s critical faculties (in this case, in the august shape of the Royal College of Physicians). Whatever happened to persuasion, or good old-fashioned Fabian gradualism as a means to bringing about change?


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Reverse the child benefit cut and the politics of the 50p rate become irrelevant

29/01/2014, 12:46:12 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of all Gordon Brown’s decisions – both good and bad – the most questionable, perhaps the oddest, and certainly the most irritating, was to award a peerage to Digby Jones and invite him into his government as trade minister.

What on earth was Gordon thinking? Jones – a corporate lawyer and former head of the CBI – is also a blowhard’s blowhard and has snapped at the hand that once fed him ever since. He can be relied upon as a rent-a-quote Labour basher these days and was at it again, jowls a-quivering, at Ed Balls’ pledge to restore the 50p top tax band for those earning over £150,000 a year. Reaching new heights of self-parody, he claimed:

“In the last few months we’ve got, oh, ‘if it creates wealth let’s kick it’ – really go for energy companies, really go for house-building, bankers, this time it’s going to be the high-earners.

“I am amazed he’s going to keep it at 50[p]. I’d expect if he [Balls] becomes Chancellor of the Exchequer we could be looking at 55, 60 on the excuse he gave today.”

But the outriders for the wealthy like Diggers can’t have it both ways. If raising the 45p rate to 50p is an inefficient way of raising revenue, the contention of august institutions like the Institute for Fiscal Studies, then the well-heeled clearly aren’t losing out very much, so it can hardly be catastrophic.

The economics of making those with the broadest shoulders pay the most to reduce the deficit, Ed Miliband’s phrase to describe the move, is sound enough, but the politics of tax rates are, of course, tortuous stuff for Labour.


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Like Cameron,Enda Kenny hopes economic adversity can translate into electoral credibility

26/01/2014, 07:00:44 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There was a glimpse on show at the World Economic Forum in Davos over the weekend of how David Cameron intends to fight next year’s general election. It wasn’t so much to do with anything Cameron was announcing, it was more what Enda Kenny, the Irish Taoiseach was saying.

Batting aside rumours that he is set to replace Jose Manuel Barroso as EU Commission President or, indeed, Herman Van Rompuy as President of the European Council later this year, Kenny was instead eager to confirm he would be leading his Fine Gael party into the next Irish general election in 2016, to continue the task of “fixing” Ireland’s economy. Speaking to Bloomberg television, Kenny said:

“The mandate given to me [in 2011] was to take our country out of an unholy economic mess that we had inherited and sort out the public finances and get our country working.

“I’m very happy that our people have moved to a point where we had a clear plan and strategy to exit the bailout. We now have a strategy to follow through on that with the publication of a medium-term economic strategy.”

He added: “That’s my mandate. That’s the trust the people placed in us, that’s what we’ve got to do.”

The message is obvious:-”We took the right decisions, hard decisions, and now things are getting better. Give us credit for that and give me another five years.” Wary of predicting those infamous ‘green shoots of recovery’ too early, it could nevertheless be Cameron and Osborne speaking after another couple of quarters of UK growth.


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In defence of political fixing

23/01/2014, 07:00:27 AM

by Kevin Meagher

If the glamorous world of political power is an aphrodisiac, the grubby underbelly of politics is probably something like a retching motion. That’s to say, it isn’t pretty, as a cast load of dubious characters are coughed forward into our midst. A few crooks. Quite a few oddballs. Plenty of lechers. Mostly, they are men (although there are a few are women too). They are all part and parcel of our political life.

So nothing about the allegations swirling around Lib Dem peer Lord Rennard is particularly unusual or new and no-one, in any party, should react too smugly as this sorry state of affairs unfurls.

And I say that from the start, allegations. I don’t know what Rennard did or didn’t do. Neither does the police, it seems, who found there was no case to answer after investigating complaints from several women Lib Dem activists about unwanted moves they say he made on them.

Neither, did the party’s internal investigation, conducted by Alistair Webster QC, which has triggered this latest crisis. That’s because while he concurs with the earlier police investigation, Webster concludes, in a frankly brilliant circumlocution, that Rennard should still apologise:

“I viewed Lord Rennard, from the weight of the evidence submitted, as being someone who would wish to apologise to those whom he had made to feel uncomfortable, even if he had done so inadvertently.”


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Osborne’s tank tries to churn up Ed’s lawn

17/01/2014, 08:24:49 AM

by Kevin Meagher

He would bristle at the comparison, but George Osborne’s raid on Labour’s turf – promising to support an above inflation rise in the minimum wage – is straight out of the Gordon Brown book of political tradecraft.

The two most political bean-counters British politics has ever produced are both fans of ‘weaponising’ policy to suit their ends; laying clever traps for their enemies to fall into and using the Treasury’s tanks to churn up the opposition’s lawn.

“I want to make sure we are all in it together” said Osborne yesterday, to a chorus of generally disbelieving gasps. The minimum wage should increase “because the British economy can now afford that.”

The Tories used to be “on the wrong side of the argument” about the merits of the minimum wage, but that was all a misunderstanding. Now it’s a shiny, happy, modern party “in touch with the country,” he added.

ITV’s Chris Ship said the Lib Dems were “spitting tacks” as Osborne had veered over the coalition’s central reservation, cutting them out of the equation on a major good news story.

“He’s effectively endorsing the advice I gave to the Low Pay Commission” said Vince Cable on Newsnight last night, trying to sound nonchalant at the very effrontery of it all. Labour people too were miffed at Osborne’s naked opportunism. How dare a Tory Chancellor say anything positive about the minimum wage!

In a funny sort of way, Ed Miliband should take all this as a compliment. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. That Osborne felt compelled to try and spike today’s big speech on the economy and banking reform shows the Tories are irked about headlines proclaiming “I can save the middle class”.

So in the best traditions of “you send one of my guys to the hospital, I’ll send one of yours to the morgue” Osborne’s instinct is to wield his home-made shiv. It’s not pretty, but it is effective.

Gordon would approve.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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It’s not a new politics we need, it’s a new electorate

13/01/2014, 10:32:35 AM

by Kevin Meagher

I wrote a piece a while ago criticising the Welsh Assembly’s controversial proposal to introduce “presumed consent” for organ donations. In the comments section, without it seemed a hint of irony, someone wrote “Let’s start harvesting the organs of MPs”. It’s not clear whether they meant while they were still alive (I suspect they did) and probably with a rusty butter knife.

An all-too-familiar vignette from the dysfunctional frontline between the governed and the governing in our cynical, sour, clapped-out democracy? Alas so. It seems we’ve now moved beyond mere suspicion of our MPs. Frankly, we’ve moved beyond despair. We now want to cut them up for spare parts.

A recent ICM poll found 47 per cent of us are “angry” with politicians and a further 25 per cent of us are “bored” with them. A derisory two per cent are “inspired” by what’s on offer; hardly a blueprint for a system of popular legitimacy. The elastic has snapped and this sorry state of affairs – all cold-blooded contempt and disinterest – now seems to be permanent; the default setting of a mistrustful, disappointed public.

For optimists like Ed Miliband, the answer is to create “a new politics”. But what if we’ve got this totally wrong? What if we’re looking through the wrong end of the telescope? What if what’s needed is, in fact, a new electorate?

The one we’ve got isn’t fit for purpose any more. We’ve become a nation of the wilfully ignorant, not borne from a lack of opportunity, but from too much of it. We no longer read enough proper newspapers or watch or listen to enough news. Despite the infinite opportunities to do so, we simply don’t follow current affairs like previous generations did. Ignorance isn’t so much bliss, as standard.

That same ICM poll shows that 86 per cent of us recognise that politicians’ decisions are “fairly important” or “very important” to our lives, but we have simply lost interest in following how and why they are made. More precisely, we have abdicated our responsibility for knowing. We’ve opted out.

We don’t ‘do’ big ideas any more. We don’t understand what’s being done in our name or the alternatives on offer; and, it seems, we don’t really want to. And what we don’t understand we discount. We’re a people hiding our deficiencies as citizens behind our worship of sport and celebrity trivia. Most under 25s couldn’t tell George Osborne from Sharon Osbourne.


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Ed Miliband’s simply trying to end “brutish jobs for British workers”

06/01/2014, 07:00:48 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Every mention of immigration is pored over for what the person raising it really means.

Ed Miliband’s piece in yesterday’s Independent on Sunday is pretty clear. A Labour government will close the loophole in the EU’s Agency Workers Directive that allows some companies to undercut British workers by employing agency staff on less favourable terms. This is particularly an issue in sectors like food production and hospitality which use a lot of foreign workers, resulting in 300,000 people being paid less than the minimum wage.

Miliband’s is firmly a critique of neo-liberalism, not immigration per se. His ire is reserved for the excessive effects of labour market deregulation on people in the foothills of the economy. He isn’t saying British jobs for British workers in a chauvinistic way, he’s saying that for too many it’s a case of “brutish jobs for British workers” as a race to the bottom in terms of pay and conditions for the least protected undermines everything Labour should stand for.

As he put it yesterday:

“What chance of rising living standards for all when unscrupulous firms can exploit workers from abroad to get around the minimum wage?

What chance of giving everyone a fair shot when recruitment agencies are allowed to recruit only from overseas, excluding locals from even hearing about jobs?

What chance of skills for the next generation when too many employers can just import them without having to train people here? Who would have predicted that just 14 years into the 21st century IT apprenticeships would be falling? Not because we don’t need IT skills but because they are too often just brought in from overseas.”


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A party preparing for government forgets gesture politics and focuses on what really matters

01/01/2014, 02:13:01 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The relative lack of female train drivers may well be an issue that could do with rectifying, but is it really a “national scandal?”

Mary Creagh thinks it is. The Shadow Transport Secretary gave a quixotic interview with the Daily Telegraph over the Christmas break where she blamed children’s television programme Thomas the Tank Engine for “negative stereotypes,” arising from the lack of women choo-choos.

“The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of the railway” she said, as the internet rocked with mirth.

When passengers are ruing New Year fare increases while enduring the misery of another year of overcrowded trains it seems indulgent – and unfocused – to alight on gender stereotyping – if indeed it is such a thing –  in a single kids television show (a period one at that) as the top issue for Labour’s frontbench transport team to bother about.

And, it would seem, pointless too. Has the decision of haulage giant Eddie Stobart to name its entire fleet of wagons after women had any appreciable effect on female recruitment into long-distance lorry driving? (Answer: only 0.5% of the UK’s 300,000 truck drivers are women, so, no).

In fairness, Creagh was simply backing a campaign led by train drivers’ union, Aslef. It’s not that the general point about the lack of women in the rail industry is not a worthy one, but it is an undeniably marginal one when Labour is so flaky on the big transport issues like HS2.


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If Labour really wants more working class MPs, it should insist more candidates are local

31/12/2013, 10:25:05 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The Labour party has always been a strange brew. Intellectual leftists have rubbed up alongside middle-class progressives and gesture politics poseurs. But the party’s strength remains the support it draws from the industrial, urban working-class of the north and midlands.

Yet while the former groups remain heavily in evidence in today’s party, there are now a decreasing number of people on the Labour benches in parliament that look and sound like the majority of working class people who actually vote Labour.

It’s part of a wider problem. A recent report by the Policy Exchange think tank looking into the public appointments system found that “socio-economic background…is neglected by most governmental bodies responsible for public appointments and for equality policies” and recommends addressing the “forgotten dimensions of diversity”.

The report cites the example of magistrates who, as volunteers, “do not need to achieve legal qualifications or a particular career level” before being appointed and yet are still overwhelmingly drawn from a narrow middle-class professional elite. In Manchester and Salford, nearly nine out of ten lay magistrates are from higher managerial and professional backgrounds. Justice, like politics, fails to look like the people it serves.

Plus ça change. The party of working-class heroes Ernest Bevin and Nye Bevan was still led by public schoolboys like Clement Attlee (Haileybury) and Stafford Cripps (Winchester College), Hugh Gaitskell (ditto) and Hugh Dalton (Eton).

At this point it’s important to caveat the whole line of argument about Labour and its diminishing working class-ness (as Eric Joyce recently pointed out). Rather than a single group, ‘working class’ vis-à-vis Labour politics, now has two meanings.

The first definition covers the sons and daughters of manual workers who have gone on to university and if not a career in our most august professions, (which remain defiantly nepotistic) at least had office jobs (often, courtesy of politics) before becoming MPs.


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