Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

A win on second preferences is second-rate victory

28/07/2015, 03:22:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Why would a Labour leader, elected as the second or third preference of party members, go on to become the first choice of voters?

After all, coming second in the British parliamentary system usually means you’ve lost. Winning the contest by default would surely represent an inauspicious start to the leadership of an organisation that seeks to win the hearts and minds of millions of people.  

The question arises for two reasons. First, because of the unpredictability of the Labour leadership contest. The main evidence about who will win (opinion polls and the share of constituency party nominations) offers only a partial guide and shows no candidate commanding a clear majority. As a result, the mechanics of the process – which candidates come third and fourth and thus see their support transfer to the two frontrunners – may become all-important and is the current preoccupation of all camps.

The second reason is that Yvette Cooper’s campaign (third in the number of constituency party nominations) is said to basing her strategy on precisely this scenario, assiduously targeting the second preferences of Labour members in a bid to “come through the middle” as other candidates are winnowed out.


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Ten hard truths for Labour

27/07/2015, 06:16:26 PM

Following Tristram Hunt’s call for “a summer of hard truths” Labour Uncut is running a short series laying them out. Here’s Kevin Meagher with his top ten.

1. Fundraising must be the next leader’s top priority. The party is broke and its funding base in the affiliated trade unions looks increasingly precarious. Miliband hated raising money and avoided doing so. The next leader will find it occupies more of their time than anything else. That’s if they’re serious about running a political party.

2. Manage effectively. No-one in politics can line-manage. They really can’t. Decisions are subject to constant change because competing courtiers love sticking their oar in. And no-one takes responsibility for things because no-one wants to be left holding a problem when the music stops. (That’s why the “Edstone” passed through ten planning meetings without anyone pointing out how mental it was). And because virtually no-one in politics has ever worked anywhere else, they think this dysfunctional way of operating is normal. Blair, Brown and Miliband were all hopeless managers in their own ways. The next leader needs to learn to delegate and performance-manage his or her team. Let the general-secretary run the party machine and if they’re crap, sack them. Oh, and stop hiring inexperienced kids for important roles that they then guff up. Radical idea: advertise key jobs and hire the best applicants.

3. Avoid expensive US consultants. The hero worship of US politics by seemingly everyone who works for the party is actually closer to a creepy infatuation. Its staggering no-one on the NEC had the decency to demand that “Obama guru” David Axelrod repay the £300,000 he was paid for contributing nothing of value to the election campaign he was supposed to be masterminding. It could have funded another dozen organisers on the ground. (Members should remember this and take it out on the dozy NEC reps responsible for agreeing to hire him). For future reference, the party has enough talent and experience to run its own campaigns and doesn’t need any more Yank snake oil salesmen. (more…)

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If moderates want to stop Corbyn, they need to back Burnham

22/07/2015, 12:01:47 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The most obvious point about the Yougov poll for The Times showing Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour leadership race on 43 per cent, is that 57 per cent of members are not backing him. A clear majority of Labour’s members do not support taking the party sharply to the left.

The other obvious point is that Corbyn’s wild card status in this contest, ostensibly to “broaden the debate” has spectacularly revealed just how little the parliamentary party and the professional class around Labour politics actually now understands the grassroots.

Corbyn was seen, to be brutally honest, as lefty ballast. A bit-part player to be politely tolerated while the serious professional politicians got on with it.

So how do party moderates now respond, having made what looks like a gigantic miscalculation?

If these polling figures bear any relation to the actual result, there is no room for complacency.

No-one thought a Granita-style pact was necessary in order to give the centrist, social democratic perspective in the party a clear run in this contest, but this is precisely what is needed.

It’s probably too late and too messy for anyone to drop out at this stage, but the Burnham, Cooper and Kendall camps need to appreciate the risk of a Corbyn victory and maximise the chances of a centrist winning.

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Labour should have vaulted the welfare trap

21/07/2015, 02:29:22 PM

by Kevin Meagher 

Conventional wisdom has it that you either fall headlong into a political trap or you carefully inch around it. This is said to have been the choice presented to Labour MPs at the Second Reading vote of the government’s welfare bill last night.

The measures contained in it represent a Daily Mail leader writer’s bingo card of populist welfare-bashing themes. £12 billion worth of cuts. A four-year benefits freeze. A reduced benefits cap. Scrapping child tax credits for working families. And restrictions on some benefits for families with more than two children.

The choice presented to Labour MPs was to vote against the bill and look flaky about welfare reform. Or to vote for it and risk the ire of the party’s core voters.

But there was a third option in overcoming this particular political trap: the party could have tried to vault over it. Labour’s frontbench should have focused on countering the callow game-playing of a government misusing the parliamentary process for its own ends by changing the conversation.

Instead of arriving at the position of either backing the government’s welfare bill or forever being depicted as the friend of the scrounger, shadow ministers should have been making a big argument about the regressive nature of the Budget, the lamentable symbolism of effectively scrapping child poverty targets and the removal of in-work benefits to those eponymous hard-working families.

The party could have welcomed measures in the bill to boost apprenticeships but laid the ground for opposing the egregious parts, which will do little to meet the bill’s stated intentions of promoting social mobility and tackling joblessness and will simply increase poverty among working families.


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Rationally, it shouldn’t matter that Liz Kendall has no kids. But it does.

08/07/2015, 03:18:08 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of all the reasons to support the admirable Yvette Cooper’s Labour leadership bid, her domestic arrangements seem one of the more trivial. Yet, this is apparently enough to seal the deal for Bishop Auckland MP, Helen Goodman.

She wrote an article the other day suggesting she was backing Cooper because “as a working mum, she understands the pressures on modern family life.” (Apparently this is the same Helen Goodman who wrote this passionate feminist critique of the Blue Labour traditional view of women’s roles, criticising its adherents for “harking back to a Janet and John 1950’s era”. But I digress…)

Her piece and its sentiment have been replayed as a coded attack on the childless Liz Kendall, who, ergo, cannot understand ‘the pressures on modern family life.’

Does it matter whether the next Labour leader has children or not? Most reasonable people would suggest not, but Labour politics is awash with identity politics. The party has all-women shortlists for selecting all its political representatives because it is said to matter that ‘our politics looks like the electorate’.

Indeed, not content with addressing the shortfall in female public representation, there are now growing calls for the introduction of BME shortlists for the same reason. (And not content with representation on the grounds of gender and race, Andy Burnham has even raised the issue of the Labour frontbench not having enough regional accents).

And as this leadership contest wends its way through a long, bored summer, there is a strong prospect that two men – Burnham and Tom Watson – will become leader and deputy leader in September, a prospect that bothers some, who see it as a step backwards in terms of gender balance.


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Picking the right shadow chancellor is more important than the deputy leadership race

12/06/2015, 11:03:31 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Being deputy leader of the Labour party is a bit like being president of a golf club. The role is largely honorary, conferring on its incumbent a level of artificial seniority, safely removed from the actual running of things. At least with the golf club, you might get a few free rounds. The reward for being deputy leader of the Labour party is the graveyard slot on Thursday morning at the party conference.

Historically, it’s been used to bring balance to the leadership, so, in essence, the post-holder represents the losing wing of the party. So it was with Denis Healey and, later, with John Prescott. Occasionally, a bone is thrown to show the party’s progressive tendencies. So working-class Ted Short replaced snooty Roy Jenkins and Margaret Beckett became the first woman deputy leader (and interim leader following John Smith’s death).

The only interesting pitch in recent years, from someone hoping to become the rear portion of this particular pantomime horse, came from Jon Cruddas when he went for the job back in 2007. He promised to forego a frontbench role and instead concentrate on the unglamorous task of developing the party’s organisation. Most other contenders are happy to inherit this pitcher of warm spit on the basis that an upturned bucket offers the chance to step-up.

But it doesn’t. Labour’s next shadow chancellor is an altogether more important appointment for the future of the party. Whatever analysis is eventually settled on to explain the party’s dire election defeat, routinely finding itself 20 points behind David Cameron and George Osborne on questions of economic credibility and who voters trust to manage their money was surely a huge part of it.


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Let’s drop Harriet from PMQs and give the leadership hopefuls a go

03/06/2015, 04:06:21 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Everyone makes mistakes in politics. Some are minor, some are whoppers. Some never get noticed and some, like Harriet Harman’s woeful performance at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, are public and totemic.

For a party accused of pointing a tin-ear towards the aspirational, it was ill-advised for the party’s ‘interim leader’ to lead her attack on the government’s plans for home ownership. .

Don’t get me wrong, there are many sound criticisms about the government’s plan to flog off housing association homes at knock-down prices and no shortage of venerable voices to point them out.

But by majoring on it in her exchanges with David Cameron Harriet walked onto the punch. She allowed the Prime Minister to claim Labour are “the enemies of aspiration” and turn the rest of the session into a post-election victory lap.

Referring to the two Eds, Cameron sneered: “The messengers have changed, but the message is still the same”.

The encounter was a total disaster for Labour. Yet it’s really not that difficult. Harriet could have played it safe by focusing on foreign affairs, or by goading the Tories about Europe. She could have jumped on the back of moving news stories as a means of cutting into the day’s broadcast coverage. She could have been funny, or serious.

But, instead, she was Harriet: Predictable and wobbly.

Here’s a suggestion. Rather than allow her to flounder on for the next six weeks until the summer recess, demoralising the Labour benches in the process, why not give each of Labour’s leadership contenders the chance to stand in for her at PMQs on a rota system?

Let’s see how Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh and Yvette Cooper fare against David Cameron in the afterglow of his unexpected election triumph. If they can land a telling blow on him at this point in the political cycle they will show they have the skill and heft to take him on full-time.

Rather than sinking even further into the mire of political irrelevance, let’s use PMQs for the next few weeks as a live-fire exercise to see what our candidates are made of.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Moderation and competence – the building blocks of political credibility

02/06/2015, 09:43:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Asked to sum-up his personal credo, the late political theorist Bernard Crick described himself as a moderate socialist. “Small ‘m’ capital ‘S’.  Clever and apt, especially as moderation has always been a useful ally for the democratic socialist.

All the more so given the sceptical British distrust political grandiosity and anything that sounds too fancy, which is why Lord Woolton, the post-war Conservative party chairman, insisted on referring to Labour as “the socialists” during the 1950s in order to make the party seem alien and doctrinaire.

Yet here we are again, with Labour cast as dirigiste meddlers with their price freezes, rent controls and nationalisation in an era where people are, broadly, comfortable with consumer choice and free enterprise. Tread softly if you are to venture into this field. Alas, clod-hopping Labour chose to insert its size 12s into the bear trap clearly marked “anti-business”. It is a crude charge for a party, which, on closer examination, is equally committed to “maintaining the most competitive Corporation Tax rate in the G7,” but such characterisations are the stuff of election campaigns and the party should have known better.

Allied with the desirability for political moderation is the need to be credible. If Labour has spent the past five years carelessly forfeiting its reputation for prudence and restraint, it was actively reckless in disregarding the need to be seen as basically competent and trustworthy.‘Don’t Do Stupid S***, warns Barack Obama, yet the party did. Repeatedly.


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As usual, the Blairites bring a knife to a gunfight

20/05/2015, 05:44:50 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not fair. That seems to be the message from Blairite veterans at how the nascent Labour leadership contest is shaping up. A seemingly co-ordinated attempt to appeal for offside is underway, with complaints about the leading candidates’ campaigning efforts and the role of the trade unions in the process.

Former health secretary, Alan Milburn, was at it on Newsnight the other day, saying that for “one or two candidates being assumed to be the font of all wisdom in this race is just not right.” He wants an open field, which is code for anyone but Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper.

Lady Sally Morgan, Tony Blair’s former political secretary, also weighed in, claiming it’s both “arrogant and plain wrong” for there to be only two candidates in the frame.

Barry Sheerman, the Huddersfield sage, has come over all Inspector Renault and is shocked – shocked – that “Unite’s merry men” have the temerity, as an affiliated organisation for the past 100 years, to have their say in the process.

Meanwhile John Hutton, former DWP secretary, is equally sniffy about union involvement, pointing out that only a  ”tiny proportion of the population are in trade unions.” (Not, though, in the Barrow shipyard he used to represent in Parliament, presumably?)

Moaning that Labour MPs – who are free to back whomsoever they wish –  are currently breaking cover in greater numbers for either Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham is like complaining that rain is wet. Indeed, for a wing of the party committed to consumer choice, it’s a strange gripe to have.

The Blairites – if, indeed, such a description still has any coherence – should perhaps have been better prepared for the possibility that Labour might have ended-up having a leadership contest in the latter half of 2015.


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Burnham the healer casts himself as ‘someone people can relate to’

13/05/2015, 10:39:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Andy Burnham has become the third candidate to launch a bid for the Labour leadership in a video message released this evening.

In a noticeably slicker message than the one Chuka Ummuna used to launch his campaign earlier this week, Burnham said last week’s election result had seen Labour lose “its emotional connection with millions of people.”

“The way to get it back,” he said, “can’t possibly be to choose one group of voters over another – to speak only to people on zero-hours contracts or only to shoppers at John Lewis.”

This was a dig at potential rival Tristram Hunt who earlier this week said the party needed to appeal to people who shop at the upmarket retailer.

“Our challenge,” Burnham claimed, “is not to go left or right, to focus on one part of the country above another, but to rediscover the beating heart of Labour.”

He argued that the party needed to meet “the aspirations of everyone, speaking to them like we did in 1997.”

He defined aspiration – quickly becoming the buzz phrase de jour of this nascent campaign – as “the dream of a better life.”

He added that it was about “helping all of our businesses, small and large, to get on and grow.”

Casting himself as a unifier with broad appeal, Burnham argued that Labour wins “when it speaks to everyone and for the whole country, for Middle England but also Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.”


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