Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Incompetence, not internal plotting, is damaging Jeremy Corbyn

27/03/2016, 10:10:31 PM

by Kevin Meagher

‘Infamy, infamy, the PLP have all got in it for me!’ This seems to sum up the mood in the Corbyn inner circle, certainly judging by the leadership’s now infamous list ranking Labour MPs on their relative loyalty and disloyalty.

The author – still unconfirmed but reported to be Corbyn’s political secretary Katy Clark – really shouldn’t have bothered. There’s really no need for lists of friends and foes because Labour MPs are utterly rubbish at coups.

Unless all his detractors can agree on who should replace him (which they can’t) it’s hard to see how the mechanics of a successful insurgency against Jeremy Corbyn will ever come about. John Woodcock’s plaintive cry to his colleagues that ‘We can’t go on like this,’ will remain unheeded.

The initial thought was that May’s elections would see Corbyn’s Labour crash to the ground once electoral gravity hit his ‘straight-talking honest politics’. Yes, there will be a collision, but the fall will not be as precipitous as first thought.

May’s elections to the Scottish Parliament are already factored-in as a wash-out. Labour will win both the Brightside and Hillsborough and Ogmore by-elections without breaking sweat, while Sadiq Khan will romp home in London.

Plus, the party will do well enough in his heartlands in the local elections to please activists and reassure most Labour MPs they are not facing electoral oblivion in 2020. Labour will struggle in battleground seats, particularly in the south of England, but ‘not winning’ is much less damaging than ‘actually losing.’

So, yes, there is feverish plotting, but most Labour MPs are the political equivalent of Adele fans. They will settle for lowest common denominator mush. They will go with the flow and offer no threat to Jeremy Corbyn out of a mixture of reasonableness and indolence and dare not fall out with their local activists. They will put loyalty to the party ahead of intellectual principle (assuming they have any) every single time.

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If Osborne still wants to be PM, he should get out of the Treasury

23/03/2016, 05:42:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Harold Wilson’s often tritely-invoked dictum that a week is a long time in politics certainly does seem to sum-up George Osborne’s terribilis autem sabbati (if my Latin for ‘terrible week’ is indeed accurate).

From all-conquering chancellor with a ‘long-term economic plan’ to yesterday’s man, forced into a screeching U-turn over disability payment cuts. Will he survive? It’s fashionable to write-off the Chancellor’s prospects of succeeding David Cameron as Prime Minister, but he is resilient, and come the Armageddon, its likely Osborne will ride out of the nuclear shelter atop a giant mutant cockroach, the last two species to survive.

More prosaically, it’s worth looking at the batting averages of previous post-war prime ministers who took over from their predecessors while in government. What did they do immediately beforehand?

Tellingly, each of them either served as foreign secretary or chancellor of the exchequer.

Foreign secretary Anthony Eden replaced Churchill in 1955. Chancellor Harold MacMillan succeeded Eden in 1957. While Alec Douglas-Home, another foreign secretary, followed on from MacMillan.

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The campaign to keep Britain in the EU is predictable, condescending and by-the-numbers

10/02/2016, 03:27:13 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Those hoping that Britain remains a member of the European Union following June’s expected referendum unquestionably now have a fight on their hands. The polls are jittery, with most showing the country is finely balanced over the question of whether or not to quit the EU. It’s all to play for.

Unfortunately, the campaign to galvanise the country behind the simple proposition that our best bet for a stable and prosperous future is to remain a member of the EU hardly seems equal to the challenge.

Or, to be more specific, the official ‘remain’ campaign, Britain Stronger In Europe, is a predictable, condescending, by-the-numbers, flat-pack, top-down, Westminster-standard, one-size-fits-all affair that risks ushering Britain out of the EU due to its all-purpose dreariness.

I enter into evidence its chairman, Lord Stuart Rose. The Tory peer and former CEO of Marks and Spencer was caught out the other week, unable to correctly remember the name of the campaign group he’s supposed to be leading.

All rather embarrassing but hardly surprising given ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ is the kind of instantly forgettable blandishment we have come to expect from the pro-European aisle in British politics.

He may be business class royalty, but Lord Rose has little feel for political campaigning, grandly claiming he is set to win “by a substantial margin” while describing the EU as “maddening…bureaucratic…and sluggish.”

With such a ringing endorsement it’s a good job he used to sell knickers and not holidays.

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Harry Harpham, a working class hero

05/02/2016, 09:03:23 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Betty Boothroyd famously said she was Labour because she was born with coal dust under her fingernails. It wasn’t a metaphor with Harry Harpham, the Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough, who sadly died yesterday.

Harry was a proud former coal miner, an all-too-rare breed in the modern Labour party, and had participated in the Miner’s Strike of 1984-5. An MP for the first time at 61 when he was elected last May, Harry was about as far from the identikit modern Labour MP as it was possible to be.

As a mature student, he graduated from the University of Sheffield and was elected to Sheffield Council in 2004. By the time he stood down last year, he had become one of the city’s civic fathers, ending up as deputy leader of the council.

As the cabinet lead for housing, Harry oversaw the implementation of the £700 million Decent Homes programme in the city, a massive undertaking as Sheffield has twice the national average number of council homes, and successfully brought council housing back under municipal control from an arm’s length company.

Loyal, hard-working and well-liked, Harry was a natural fit to succeed his friend and mentor, David Blunkett, when he stood down from the Commons last May. For Brightside and Hillsborough, the quintessential northern working class constituency, Harry was a round peg in a round hole if ever there was one and his victory was widely welcomed.

The shock of his death is amplified because of the matter-of-fact way he continued working after receiving a diagnosis of cancer shortly after last year’s Labour conference. Harry threw himself into his new responsibilities and most people simply had no idea how poorly he was.

When he did confirm his illness before Christmas, he was typically understated, not wanting to make “a big song and dance about it”. He was full of praise for the NHS treatment he was receiving.

The additional tragedy of his untimely death is that he would have certainly gone on to play a bigger role in the Westminster party. He literally personified the party’s working class roots.

Never forgetting where he came from, or the struggles he and people like him had overcome, Harry was also intensely practical and had quickly been appointed parliamentary private secretary to Lisa Nandy as shadow energy secretary, despite his illness.

Harry died peacefully surrounded by his family and his friend and colleague, Councillor Bob Johnson, described him as a “brave working class man to the end.”

He leaves a wife, Gill, herself a Labour councillor in Sheffield, and children Annie, Kieran, Dan, Emily and Victoria and grand-daughter Layla Grace.

Harry Harpham, Labour MP for Brightside and Hillsborough (21 February 1954 – 4 February 2016)

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No-one wants nukes, but unilateralism remains a naïve and dangerous pipedream

03/02/2016, 09:24:14 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The hashtag meme #earliestpoliticalmemory, doing the rounds on Twitter the other day, got me thinking. Mine was probably my mother taking me on a ‘Women Against the Bomb’ sit-down protest on the steps of Bolton Town Hall when I was five or six.

Since then, I’ve held a pretty mainstream view that abhors the existence of nuclear weapons, but like most political pragmatists, I cleave towards multilateralism as a response; that is to say: ‘We’ll scrap ours when you scrap yours’.

The obvious flaw, of course, is that no-one wants to make the first move. And, so, nearly thirty years after the Cold War ended, nuclear weapons endure.

But if we scrap ours first, will the Russians, Chinese, Americans, Israelis, Pakistanis, Indians and others be equally willing to bash their missiles into ploughshares?

Anyone who thinks they would should reflect on how hard it is to get buy-in from many of the same countries for concerted action on global warming, or dealing with terrorism. The moral clarity with which unilateralists see the issue simply is not shared by the hard men of Russia and China. Gesture politics counts for little alongside realpolitik.

Unilateralism is therefore a well-meant but hopelessly naïve position. A quixotic non-engagement with hard reality.

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Labour’s NEC needs to stop being an echo chamber and stand up for members’ interests

26/01/2016, 09:41:15 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Labour’s National Executive Committee meets today to discuss, among other things, Margaret Beckett’s anaemic report into why the party lost the last election so comprehensively.

It promises to be a courtly affair, reflecting the rarefied world at the top of Labour politics where there is little, ever, in the way of transparency or plain-speaking.

This is because the NEC serves as a proxy of the leadership, or the unions, or as a symbolic battleground about who controls the party at any one time.

Yet it’s high time it started acting like any other non-executive committee in any other organisation and properly scrutinised how the party is managed and financed.

Take two recent examples.

Last week, the Electoral Commission detailed the general election spending of the main parties. While the Tories spent somewhere in the region of £3.5 million more than Labour, its revealing how and where the parties deployed their limited resources.

While the Tories made canny use of Facebook advertising, Labour relied on planting magic beans.

The party spent a small fortune – of party members’ money – hiring US election guru, David Axelrod, the man who ran Barack Obama’s campaigns, to sprinkle some of his magic dust.

Nearly quarter of a million pounds was spent retaining his services, (which seemed to amount to the odd sojourn to this side of the pond, expounding the bleeding obvious to the slavering US fan-boys that abound in Labour politics) only for him to prove a complete dud.

An NEC doing its job properly would be urging the party’s officers to recoup costs for his manifestly unsuccessful advice.

Then there’s the amount spent on a debating coach for Ed Miliband. The princely sum of £184,609.67 went on yet another US consultant, Michael Sheehan.

Putting aside questions of why a professional politician should need such advice, or, indeed, why perfectly experienced Labour staff couldn’t provide the service, the sheer scale of what was spent is staggering.

It’s enough to make the £7,700 the party spent on Cherie Blair’s hairdresser back in 2005 seem like a good deal.

The NEC needs to stop being either an echo chamber or a gladiatorial arena and concentrate on its more prosaic role in overseeing the management of the party. It could start by ensuring the party leader – any leader – isn’t able to fritter away money like this again.

The cash misspent on US consultants would have paid for an extra dozen party organisers working on the ground for 12 months in marginal seats.

Nearly half a million pounds spent on comfort blanket appointments that contributed nothing to Labour’s chances. Is it any wonder the country didn’t trust the party to run the economy?

Labour’s NEC needs to bare its teeth and stand up for members’ interests – and basic financial probity.

It could start by sinking them into the next US guru that appears in HQ.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Sorry Jeremy, foreign policy doesn’t win elections

08/01/2016, 06:09:02 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The weeks of speculation over Hilary Benn’s sacking/non-sacking/neutering as shadow foreign secretary obscures the fact that Jeremy Corbyn clearly wants to make foreign policy a priority under his leadership.

Why else make such a fuss about ensuring there are no further policy divisions, following their very public ‘difference of emphasis’ (as a diplomat would put it), over last month’s vote on bombing Syria.

At one remove, we shouldn’t be surprised. Jeremy Corbyn is intensely committed to his foreign policy positions, especially in support of the Palestinians and anti-imperialist/ workerist causes more generally.

But elections are not won, to put it bluntly, on where Labour stands in relation to the plight of Columbian miners, however virtuous a subject that might be.

Polling on the public’s main concerns repeatedly makes this clear. An Ipsos-MORI poll during the election campaign showed the future of the NHS (47%), immigration (36%) and the economy (36%) were the top issues exercising voters’ minds.

A cocktail of ‘defence/foreign affairs/terrorism’ came in at 13% (which is why foreign policy was squirreled away on Page 74 of the Labour manifesto and Page 75 of the Conservatives).

Its lack of salience, especially to an opposition party, usually means the role of shadow foreign secretary is a gilded cage, a sinecure for an elder statesman like Jack Cunningham (under John Smith) or Gerald Kaufman (under Neil Kinnock).

Before 1997, Tony Blair ostensibly promoted Robin Cook from shadow secretary for state for trade and industry to shadow foreign secretary in a bid to sideline him from shaping economic policy.

Cook saw it as a demotion.

Was the delay in confirming that Benn would stay in his role a result of he and Corbyn twirling a globe to see where their beliefs matched up?

There’s certainly an awful lot going on in the world to be concerned about. But it simply doesn’t decide how people vote

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Careful, if we break the Labour party we might not be able to fix it

06/01/2016, 06:56:15 PM

by Kevin Meagher

As 2016 begins, could Labour be in worse shape? The party lies listless in the water, utterly riven, from stem to stern. Not just by personalities and policy, but by basic questions of what it is and what it is for.

Is it a professional political party, seeking to appeal to the largest number of voters needed to secure a parliamentary majority, or a movement of disparate radicals interested in “making the case” for change? The former requires compromise and hard-headed-realism, the latter, though, refuses to be cowed by the accommodations and reversals of electoral politics.

Behind in the polls, untrusted on pretty much every major measure of public opinion, the party is behaving as though the 2015 election never happened. The basic calculation that you need Tory voters to switch in sufficient numbers in order to have any chance of winning an election, questioned by the Millibandites with their 35% strategy, has now been entirely abandoned by the Corbynites.

‘If you build a socialist alternative, they will come’ is their new approach. But they aren’t, and they won’t. certainly not in sufficient numbers to stand a chance in 2020, once the Conservatives have finished loading the deck against Labour, with everything from individual electoral registration and boundary changes, through to the financing of the opposition front bench, sharpened to a fine point in order to stab the Labour party to death.

This comes as the pollsters settle on an explanation as to why they got May’s result so calamitously wrong. It seems they were polling too many young people and not enough older ones. In other words, they systematically underscored the impact of those who crave stability and moderation, not agitation and radicalism.

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Doesn’t anyone check what Cameron says?

02/01/2016, 08:00:36 AM

by Kevin Meagher

David Cameron famously doesn’t believe in “green crap”, but that didn’t stop him recycling his New Year message slogan.

His pledge to focus on knotty social problems in order to build a ‘Greater Britain’ is a neat enough line, until you remember its unfortunate antecedents.

It was the title of Oswald Mosley’s 1932 tome extolling his vision of a British fascist state.

Meanwhile, the campaign group formed in the early 1960s by Britain’s most notorious post-war Nazi agitator, John Tyndall, was called the Greater Britain Movement.

Okay, it’s a small gaffe in the grand scheme of things. But it’s emblematic too of just how slack Cameron’s Downing Street ‘chumocracy’ is. It’s the kind of mistake that would never have been made under Blair or Brown (or, indeed, Thatcher).

It reemphasises how Cameron is beatable, but also how Jeremy Corbyn’s team should be much sharper in exploiting these kinds of miscues.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Thatcher’s rotten government was only interested in discord and division

31/12/2015, 10:29:17 AM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not just the low-fi racism of Oliver Letwin’s 1985 memo to Margaret Thatcher that appalls. His dismissal of the “bad moral attitudes” of young Black men following the Broadwater Farm riots also reflects ministerial contempt towards so many other groups throughout that dismal decade.

Conservative politics in the mid-1980s was about as far from the ‘One Nation’ variant as it was possible to be. This was a government at war with large parts of the country it ran. Truly, an elective dictatorship, openly contemptuous of those that did not yield to its will.

So the “pampered Scots” were to be pitched against the “envious” north of England when it came to funding allocations. Black people were only interested in the “disco and drug trade”. Northern Ireland’s border towns should be bombed to stop republican suspects escaping to Southern Ireland.

As we well know, the miners were regarded as “the enemy within”. The entire city of Liverpool was to be subject to “managed decline” following the Toxteth riots, while the local football club’s fans were smeared in a vile cover-up over the deaths of 96 of their number at Hillsborough.

As the hapless Lewtin, possessor of an eager mind but dull wits, currently resides in political no-man’s land, waiting to see if his perfunctory apology is enough to sate the reaction against his comments, Tory strategists should perhaps ponder what other toxic memo-bombs he penned during his time running Thatcher’s policy unit. After all, this was the mid-80s, when she was at her wildest and the New Right policy wonks that fuelled her insurgency were unencumbered.

But aside from the trickle of released government papers of that time, we now also have Lowell Goddard’s wide-ranging inquiry into historic child abuse allegations. Just what will she unearth in the next few years about what ministers did or did not know in relation to the slew of allegations about that period?

What we do know is that all the invective and moral outrage directed towards Margaret Thatcher and her ministers during the 1980s was not wasted. We thought the Tories were a heartless, sneering bunch at the time.

Yesterday’s revelations now make that an evidence-based assessment.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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