Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

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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Chilcot will wag a long bony finger at Labour, but his report may miss the general election

14/04/2014, 03:50:25 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like scorpions, official inquiries are unpredictable, require careful handling and invariably come with a sting in the tail.

The news that Sir John Chilcot’s much-anticipated Iraq inquiry will not now report until at least next year causes Labour some obvious difficulties. Clearly, reminiscing about why the country went to war at the start of the general election campaign wouldn’t be much fun.

Then there’s the question of how all those fickle Lib Dem switchers Labour is relying on will react when the report finds fault – as surely it will – in the case made for war and its subsequent prosecution.

Before the last election, the timing of Lord Justice Saville’s inquiry into the Bloody Sunday killings was a cause of similar consternation after officials in the Northern Ireland Office realised that his mammoth report would have to be stored while Parliament was prorogued during the election campaign.

The families of the victims were not happy at the thought of ministers or officials having access to it during the interregnum, preparing their defences or leaking extracts to the newspapers.

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Labour’s real divisions are between “Would-ers” and “Could-ers”

31/03/2014, 03:22:53 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Andrew Rawnsley’s guide to modern divisions in the Labour party in yesterday’s Observer makes a great political parlour game, identifying, as he does, five new fissures in the party in how it approaches strategy, policy and winning next year’s election.

Yet, it’s much simpler than that: Labour’s sedimentary rock cracks neatly into two main groups.

The first, is the ‘Would If We Could’ camp. They want to make as much difference as possible while never losing sight of the fact that the British people are instinctively cautious and even suspicious of political grandiosity. “We would back X policy if we could get it past the public, but we don’t think we can” goes the theory.

For the Would-ers, winning power is their main preoccupation. There are no silver medals in politics and no point remaining ideologically chaste but losing in the process. So splitting the difference becomes second nature, or “shrinking the offer” in current parlance.

Then there’s the ‘Could If We Would’ group. They argue that Ed Miliband needs to be bold and present a big offer to voters. If he does, Labour will swing millions of people who are disenfranchised with politics and want something to believe in behind the party. “We could win, if only we would back X policy.” This isn’t a view confined to the old Left; it strikes a chord with many people on the party’s centre-left too who yearn to have their idealism validated.

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Big and bold? How about hard-headed and realistic?

25/03/2014, 08:50:13 AM

by Kevin Meagher

The most surprising thing about yesterday’s letter to the Guardian from a wide collection of august Labour thinkocrats is that there was nothing surprising in it at all.

Unfortunately, in setting out what Labour needs to do to address the “unprecedented challenges” of dealing with austerity, tacking inequality, sorting out climate change and fixing our clapped-out political system, the authors avoided making the hard choices that Ed Miliband and Labour’s frontbench are confronted with.

Granted, it was just a 250-word letter, but we’re now at the stage where anything less than hard, practical suggestions are pretty worthless. In urging Miliband to be less cautious they in turn were taciturn about what, specifically, he should do that he’s not already doing to rebalance our economy away from over-mighty finance, lift up those who are ground down by poverty and refloat our scuttled public services.

But the next Labour government has to make good on issues like these with little money to do it. The New Labour model of avoiding tough spending challenges – the ‘spend, don’t offend’ approach – has had it. This means Labour has now to be much clearer on prioritisation, which in turn means squeezing more out of existing public spending, which in turn means making very hard choices that some people – many in the party’s own ranks – will not like.

Yet in arguing for Labour to embark on “a transformative change in direction” and to earn “a mandate for such change” the signatories still frame their argument in the abstract.

Talk of “accountability of all powerful institutions, whether the state or market, to all stakeholders” could mean for want of a better phrase, regulatory capitalism, making markets work better with stronger disincentives and penalties for abusing market position. In seeking to make capitalism work more efficiently in the interests of consumers, will the same ambition be set for the public sector too?

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Happy St. Patrick’s Day. As they say in Montserrat

17/03/2014, 09:34:16 AM

by Kevin Meagher

There are only two countries in the world where St. Patrick’s Day is a recognised public holiday, the Republic of Ireland (obviously enough) and Montserrat. Yes, that Montserrat, the tiny Caribbean island where, by the mid-1600s, Irish slaves made up two thirds of the island’s population.

Yes, you read that right: Irish slaves. The practice began in the first decades of the 17th Century with the ‘sale’ of 30,000 Irish political prisoners, in what would become a depressingly recurrent theme in Irish history. Between the start of the English Civil War and Cromwell’s conquest of Ireland, around 300,000 Irish were sold into slavery, men, women and children alike.

Men at arms went first, then their wives and children were sold separately never to be reunited again. A further half a million Irish were killed during this period, with the country’s population falling from 1.6 million in 1641 to just 600,000 by 1652. It’s hard to determine who were the less fortunate, the dead or the enslaved.

Irish children were stripped not only of their families and liberty, but also their faith and ethnic identity, with many having their names changed for good measure. During the 1650s, over 100,000 of them between the ages of 10 and 14 were taken from their parents and sold as slaves in the West Indies, Virginia and New England.

Many young girls were sold into what we would now term sex slavery. Plantation masters bred them with more expensive African slaves to save themselves the transit costs of importing new African slaves from greater distances. This heart-breaking and inhuman practice was eventually outlawed, but it’s fair to say this is a tale we’re not used to hearing.

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Benn and Thatcher will be remembered long after their colourless contemporaries

15/03/2014, 08:00:56 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Passing away at eighty-eight years of age represents a good innings in anyone’s book. Indeed, it’s a score the late Tony Benn also shares with Margaret Thatcher, which may, on the face of it, seem a provocative comparison.

After all, the two of them were on opposite sides of every major issue of the 1980s: the miners’ strike, nuclear disarmament, Ireland, South Africa, monetarism. But their personalities and approaches to politics were strikingly similar.

They were both driven, uncompromising characters; self-confident in what they said and thought. Equally, they were divisive, impulsive and reckless figures. Yes, they stuck to their guns, but often long after it was sensible to do so.

Both believed in the sovereignty of Parliament. Both were instinctively Eurosceptic. And both were adored by the radical sections of their parties, to the cold fury of the pragmatists.

On a personal level, Benn, like Thatcher, enjoyed a happy marriage and both were noted for the small personal kindnesses that so many other leading politicians are seemingly incapable of offering. Likewise, they exuded that other-worldy quality that surely served to insulate them from the brickbats that were thrown at both of them for so long.

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Brown’s call for greater devolution to Scotland should apply to the English regions too

11/03/2014, 02:23:38 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The only thing better than a five-point plan is, of course, a ten-point plan. However, on this occasion, Gordon Brown can be forgiven for only making it to six with his interesting ideas for modernising the relationship between Scotland and the rest of the UK.

In a bid to flesh out what a ‘devo max’ agenda might mean (or perhaps that should be ‘indy lite?’) the former Prime Minister recommends beefing-up the Scottish Parliament’s tax-raising powers, enshrining in law the settlement between Scotland and the UK and establishing a new division of powers that gives Holyrood more clout over employment, regeneration, health and transport.

But why stop at Scotland? So welcome are Brown’s suggestions that they should also be replicated between Westminster and Whitehall (‘WaW’) and the midlands and north of England. This is because the concentration of all major decision-making power in WaW entrenches the asymmetrical way power is exercised in Britain (particularly England) leading to the soaraway success of London and the less certain progress of pretty much everywhere else.

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