Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Sorry Harriet, you weren’t entitled to become Deputy PM

09/07/2014, 07:05:44 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Was Gordon Brown a sexist for not making Harriet Harman deputy prime minister? Harriet seems to think so.  Last night, in a well-trailed speech about sexism in Westminster,she said:

“The truth is that even getting to the top of the political structures is no guarantee of equality. Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as deputy prime minister.

“If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened? Would they have put up with it?”

It’s hard for this line of argument not to sound self-serving – and indeed it is. However way you stack it up, this is a case of special pleading.

There is no constitutional convention or Labour party rule that means the deputy leader of the party should automatically become deputy prime minister. Indeed, Harriet Harman was not even serving as a cabinet minister before she became deputy leader.

Would it not have been wiser, therefore, for her to have focused her speech on the lack of working-class and ethnic minority women among Labour’s ranks and offer some practical remedy? There was precious little of that in the sections of her speech she leaked to the press yesterday.

Jon Cruddas, the first round ballot winner in the 2007 deputy leadership contest (and who, under first past the post, would currently serve as deputy leader, not Harman) actually stood on a platform of rejecting a cabinet seat so he could instead devote his time to party development.

Of Labour’s sixteen deputy leaders since the role was created in 1922, only two, Herbert Morrison and John Prescott, have actually become deputy prime minister. Prescott is instructive because he is the precedent that Harman cites.

But the comparison is unwarranted.

Prescott had a Unique Selling Point, bringing balance to Labour’s top team as a working-class Northener to Tony Blair’s middle-class Southener. Between them, they provided, respectively, an offer to Labour’s heartland voters and the Middle England ‘enemy territory’ the party needed to occupy in order to win.

It is less clear who Harman represents. Clearly her gender adds some balance to the higher echelons of politics which are still male-dominated. But as the privately-educated daughter of a Harley Street consultant and niece of a hereditary peer, she hardly came up the hard way.

So it wasn’t sexism. The reason Harriet wasn’t made deputy PM is that, unlike Prescott, she simply didn’t serve a useful enough purpose.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Hyperbole is becoming a bad habit for our political class

30/06/2014, 07:29:35 AM

by Kevin Meagher

If the Scottish referendum on independence is ‘lost’ in September it may be a tad late to reflect that apocalyptic warnings of Caledonia dystopia didn’t exactly help win the case.

Claims in February that Scotland wouldn’t be able to keep the pound – a “masterstroke” concocted by the three main Westminster parties’ frontbenches – were silly enough, leaving the electorate unmoved while playing into the SNP’s hands, showing-up the Westminster elite up as a cosy club.

Last week, however, the ‘hyper’ was well and truly put into ‘hyperbole’ when Ed Miliband floated the idea of border checkpoints if Scots opt for independence. The supplementary question are obvious enough.

Will these checkpoints come with watch towers and Alsatians? Will we see miles of unfurled razorwire stretched across the countryside, just like in The Great Escape?

Hell, why not just rebuild Hadrian’s Wall.

Why can’t we treat the Scots as rational adults?

“Sorry you’re thinking of going. We’ll miss you. There’s nothing at all wrong in embracing your nationhood, but there are a few serious practical downsides. We’ll respect your wishes, but, out of friendship, we want to discuss these and try to persuade you to stay.”

Surely that’s better than threatening them with Checkpoint Charlie?

Alas, too many Westminster politicians, schooled in that ghastly student union habit of painting debates into tiny corners in order to make broader points, think this is how you shape public opinion.

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Khan’s reaction to new lags’ bedtime is tone deaf

28/06/2014, 02:41:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As campaign slogans go: “Soft on criminals, soft on the bedtime of criminals” is hardly a winner.

But it nevertheless appears to be Labour party policy after Shadow Justice Secretary Sadiq Khan today described the government’s bid to introduce a new 10.30pm “lights out” policy in young offender institutions as a “gimmick”.

Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, believes the move will help inmates (“most of whom have had chaotic and troubled lives”) by setting clearer boundaries and instilling some much-needed self-discipline.

According to today’s Independent, prison governors have been told to enforce the new policy from August. After 10.30, watching television – or reading under the covers – will be strictly banned and staff patrols will enforce the measure, including removing privileges from anyone breaking the new rules.

At the same time, however, Grayling also proposes to “more than double” the hours of education and training that under-18s in custody receive each week.

Khan’s – and Labour’s – response?

“Routine is crucial for those with chaotic lives, but to think that turning the lights off at the same time in every youth prison is all that’s needed to turn them all into law-abiding citizens is a joke,” he said.

“This looks like a gimmick to cover the cracks caused by Grayling’s cuts.”

“A joke?” Really? “A gimmick?” Was this response off-the-cuff? And who was Khan aiming it at?

Why did he not say something more balanced like: “Setting boundaries for young offenders is sensible and helps provide structure and encourage self-discipline; however Chris Grayling’s cuts to prison budgets means there are concerns about staffing these new arrangements.”

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If coalitions are to work, they need to be time-limited

17/06/2014, 05:04:39 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The fallout from Dominic Cummings’ salvo against David Cameron and the coalition government received a less histrionic response from former Cameron special adviser Sean Worth this morning.

Writing in Public Affairs News, the adviser turned lobbyist wrote that:

“Future coalitions will be formed by parties demanding explicit control of distinct areas of policy, rather than simply sharing power. The principal powers, notably tax and spend, and defence decisions, must be shared, but governing leaders will carve out defining areas of political territory on which to build the personal crusades needed to push radical reforms that really get them noticed.”

The current model of zipping ministerial appointments in departments between Conservatives and Lib Dem and vice versa, has seen the creation of internal departmental hand breaks. Think Gove and Sarah Teather, or Vince Cable and Michael Fallon. (Of course, one place it has worked all too well is the Treasury between George Osborne and Danny Alexander – but that underlines a different problem, certainly for the Lib Dems).

Reform-minded ministers like Michael Gove are frustrated by the need to co-operate and seek consensus. For politicians (and advisers like Cummings) who are sure of themselves and are keen to make their mark – or who simply want to please their party and implement the manifesto they stood on – the current coalition experience is clearly a massive anti-climax.

But creating party fiefs across Whitehall – Worth’s alternative suggestion – is a recipe for disaster. How do you deal with cross-cutting issues in this model? Take the recent spat between Gove and Theresa May on tacking extremism. How much more loaded will rows like that become when they are not just between different departments, but different departments controlled by different parties?

If inconclusive election results are to become the norm, then our political system needs a clearer way of responding. Coalitions may indeed be here to stay, but rather than staggering on for five years, descending into bickering and drift in the process, it would be better to limit their lifespan to 12-18 months instead.

This focuses the attentions and energies of both parties. It creates an incentive to co-operate on areas of agreement and on issues that require immediate attention in the national interest. Larger changes should be put before the electorate at the subsequent election.

This sort of arrangement would show that sensible co-operation between parties in the national interest is indeed possible, but it also challenges voters to accept that our model of government works best when a single party has a mandate to govern.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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If you don’t support religious freedom, then you don’t support freedom

16/06/2014, 04:29:31 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Given we’re constantly told we live in an age of evidence-based policy-making, the reaction to the so-called Trojan Horse case in Birmingham owes more to Medieval peasant superstition.

What has warranted the blanket media coverage of recent weeks? No organised conspiracy to ‘Islamify’ state schools in Birmingham has been uncovered. No evidence of criminality has been produced. No charges are pending.

All that has happened so far, despite almost daily media attention and a series of top-level investigations, is that a handful of schools in one if the poorest parts of the city are to be placed in special measures at the behest of schools inspectors.

Yes, there are suspicions about what might have gone on, however much of the reporting has been little more than conjecture – more heat than light – blackening the reputation of Birmingham’s Muslim community in the process.

But that didn’t stop yesterday’s Observer. With no substantive news from Birmingham to report, the paper fell back on the old tactic of producing an opinion poll which showed:

“70% [of the public] said the taxpayer should not be funding the promotion of religion in schools, 60% said such schools promoted division and segregation, and 41% said they were contrary to the promotion of a multicultural society.”

Of course it’s worth pointing out, for the avoidance of doubt, that parents who want to send their children to faith schools are still taxpayers. Just as it’s worth noting that none of the schools involved in the Trojan Horse ‘scandal’ are, in fact, faith schools at all.

Nevertheless, shadow education secretary, Tristram Hunt, was enjoined to comment. He thought the case “raised questions” about “how we manage potential tensions” around “faith, multiculturalism and state education”.

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Northern Ireland can’t afford another week like that

05/05/2014, 02:00:55 PM

by Kevin Meagher

By now, you’ve probably heard of Jean McConville, the Belfast mother of ten who was brutally murdered and “disappeared” by the IRA in 1972. You’ve probably not, however, heard of Joan Connelly.

She was another Belfast woman, a mother of eight, who was also brutally killed back in the early 1970s. She went to aid a young man who had just been shot in the street before the same British soldiers turned their rifles on her, shooting her in the head and body.

Her injuries were so serious that half her face was blown off. Joan’s husband could only identify her, on the third attempt, as he recognised her red hair.

This was in August 1971 during Operation Demetrius when internment without trial was brought in to target “IRA ringleaders”. Weak intelligence and the sectarianism of the Stormont government instead saw hundreds of ordinary Catholics arrested and jailed, (but not a single loyalist).

Northern Ireland erupted and in the ensuing tumult, eleven people were killed by the British army over a two-day period in the Ballymurphy area of Belfast. As well as Connelly, soldiers also shot dead a Catholic priest.

Although the Police Service of Northern Ireland has just spent 96 hours grilling Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams about Jean McConville’s heinous murder, there will be no similar effort expended investigating Joan Connelly’s.

We know this because Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers last week ruled out setting up an inquiry into the Ballymurphy killings.

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Farage fears UKIP can’t win a ground war

30/04/2014, 03:23:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

So Nigel Farage has decided to act strategically rather than tactically by not putting himself forward for the Newark by-election.

He knows two things only too well. The first and most obvious is that because he’s so publicly the face of UKIP, he cannot damage his own brand – and by extension the party’s – by standing and losing.

Second, he knows his party’s organisation isn’t yet strong enough to take on the other parties polished by-election operations in a tough fight.

Announcing his decision on Radio Four’s Today programme this morning to accusations he was “frit”, Farage described himself as “a fighter and a warrior but I am determined to pick my battles”.

To continue the military analogies, Farage knows that he’s successful at hit-and-run tactical opportunism and runs a good air war, using his media profile to good effect to rain down rhetorical bombs on the Tories’ crumbling fortifications.

But when it comes to the ground war – where elections are won and lost – Farage’s troops are still raw recruits, while his boots are more used to treading the manicured lawn of College Green than Newark High Street.

UKIP seemed genuinely put out at Labour’s postal vote operation in the Wythenshawe by-election in February, with Farage claiming: “I have been on benders for longer than the opening of the nominations and the start of the postal ballots. This has been a farce.”

If he doesn’t understand how the postal vote system works in elections, then he really isn’t ready for close electoral combat.

But UKIP is learning.  Building membership and organisation, getting tough with errant candidates, learning political tradecraft and raising enough cash to keep the show on the road is the boring bit of politics. But without it, UKIP has no chance of making a breakthrough.

Farage knows this. He is biding his time, hoping that he turns his barmy army into crack shots in time for next year’s general election.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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British politics is in a panic over UKIP. It deserves to be

28/04/2014, 09:53:49 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The sound of flapping emanating from SW1 is the panicky reaction to yesterday’s YouGov poll for the Sunday Times which has UKIP set to win next month’s European elections, leading the pack on 31 per cent.

But that noise is also the sound of Westminster’s chickens coming home to roost.

The threat from UKIP seems to mystify many, but probably gets clearer the further away you are from the bubble. As identity becomes more important in our politics, voters seek out those who look and sound like them and stand for the things they feel are important.

As both the Tories and Labour have coalesced around a new centre-ground consensus in recent years, leaving millions of their traditional supporters behind in the process, space has been opened up on both the right and left flanks of politics, with UKIP successfully fusing together elements of the traditionalist Tory Middle England and the disgruntled working-class.

There is nothing startling about UKIP’s advance, indeed it might have come a decade ago but for the fact the BNP exercised first option on becoming Britain’s reactionary, anti- politics movement of choice.

Of course, the BNP could never shake off its associations with neo-fascism and skin-headed thuggery. UKIP has no such baggage, despite the fact that some of its local election candidates are currently being exposed as crackpots.

For a new party with a skeleton structure, it’s hardly surprising they’ve picked up a few misfits along the way, even those with repulsive views like William Henwood, a council candidate in Enfield who urged Lenny Henry to “go and live in a black country.”

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Its Labour’s fault there’s no-one as good as Salmond

24/04/2014, 10:08:10 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Alastair Darling has many qualities. He was an effective minister, a mainstay throughout Labour’s years in power and as Chancellor, he steered the economy through the worst recession since the 1930s, leaving behind a growing economy in 2010. He is widely respected and admired. But as a campaigner, he makes David Moyes look like Jose Mourinho.

He is so ill-suited to leading the cross-party campaign to galvanise Scots behind the simple proposition that they are “Better Together” with their kith and kin in the rest of the union that the No campaign against Scottish independence looks set to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should, on paper, be an easy victory.

Yet a vote for independence is now a real possibility – with a poll last weekend putting the Yes campaign just three per cent behind the No campaign, a once unthinkable prospect. (To put this in context, a poll last November had the No camp leading by a margin of 29 per cent).

This is a calamitous situation with the polling numbers now starting to reflect what is all too evident to anyone watching this referendum battle unfold: The Westminster class has badly underestimated Alex Salmond.

Frankly, it has paid too little attention to Caledonian affairs in general in recent years, wrongly assuming the devolution settlement of 1998 was the end of the line as far as Scottish nationhood goes. This has left opponents of independence with a strategic problem. There is simply no equivalent Scottish figure now able to make the case for retaining the Union with the same panache Salmond displays in trying to break it up.

David Cameron, the Prime Minister of the UK and leader of the most swivel-eyed pro-Union party in British politics, can barely open his mouth on the subject without sending undecided voters flocking towards the independence camp.

Ed Miliband and Nick Clegg, southern English and middle-class are clearly deemed surplus to requirements and have the good sense to stay out of it. Labour’s Scottish Leader, Johann Lamont, is tough and said to get under Salmond’s skin, but she is a provincial figure in comparison.

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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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