Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Give PCCs a chance

02/09/2014, 12:07:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Okay, it’s not been a good week for police and crime commissioners. The derisory 10.4 per cent turnout in the by-election to elect a new commissioner for the West Midlands was bad enough; but the shambles over South Yorkshire’s commissioner, Shaun Wright, quitting the Labour party in order to hold onto power, after previously being responsible for children’s services in Rotherham, plumbed a new depth.

A gift, then, to those who would happily see the entire model of direct public accountability over the police fail. Unfortunately, this appears to extend to the Labour frontbench. At the weekend, the Sunday Mirror quoted a party source, apparently reading the last rites over PCCs: “They’re finished. The only question now is what we will replace them with.” What indeed?

When the legislation was introduced in 2010, Labour described PCCs as an “unnecessary, unwanted and expensive diversion”. This reflected the view of the police establishment. The then president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, predicted chief constables would quit rather than endure a new layer of democratic accountability. It was an empty threat.

Even so, the police hate police and crime commissioners, hankering for a return to the old system of servile police authorities made up of “invisible” political placemen who were, in reality, little more than ciphers for the chief constable.

Theresa May – the most reforming home secretary in decades – remains unmoved. She has pressed on, smashing the cosy, ineffectual consensus around police accountability. The introduction of PCCs has been accompanied by long overdue reforms to police pay and conditions and she has brought in a tough outsider, Tom Winsor, as chief inspector of constabulary to drive improvements in service standards.

Unfortunately, Labour now finds itself cast as the conservative party when it comes to police reform; willing to do the chief constables’ bidding by focusing on cuts rather than reform, even though this leaves the party on the wrong side of the facts. Police staffing may have reduced since 2010 but there has been no increase in recorded crime.

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Mandatory reporting of child sexual abuse should apply to politicians too

01/09/2014, 11:56:41 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has pledged that a Labour government will bring in a new obligation to report suspected child sexual abuse and to make its concealment a criminal offence. As she told The Observer:

“We are still seeing the same mistakes being made, victims not being listened to. It is now time to have the mandatory duty to report, to make clear that cultural change has to take place in every institution. It will also challenge the idea that any professional should be tempted to think that things can be solved quietly or privately by brushing them under the carpet. A clear signal needs to be put out that people should not put institutional reputation before protecting children.”

Of course, it is depressing that this even needs to be codified in law, but after the sheer scale of institutional failure revealed in Alexis Jay’s report into Rotherham, pledging to enact what most decent people would regard as the bleeding obvious is sadly necessary.

But this new law should stretch beyond social workers, teachers and council officials. Any requirement for mandatory reporting should also apply to councillors and MPs too. They should be made to record, in writing, any approach from a constituent about child sexual exploitation and offer up any third party intelligence they receive, referring the matter on to the police and social services.

They must be included in the new law as they are often the first port of call for families seeking justice and for those trying to tip-off the authorities about an issue. Frankly, good councillors and constituency MPs should already know what is going on in their areas and be perfectly willing to share this with the authorities.

But, unfortunately, they sometimes face other considerations. As Rotherham’s Labour MP (between 1994-2012), Denis MacShane, put it the other day: “I think there was a culture of not wanting to rock the multicultural community boat if I may put it like that.” While maintaining that no-one came to him with details of child abuse, he concedes that he should have “burrowed into” the issue.

Damn right he should have. And so should his colleagues. So as well as being obliged to report abuse, might we also consider a charge of wilful neglect in public office? MPs and councillors who don’t know that their vulnerable constituents are being raped and abused on an industrial scale right under their noses are not fit to represent them and should be drummed out of public office.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Why has Labour been so slow to react to Rotherham?

28/08/2014, 09:04:05 AM

by Kevin Meagher

No-one can plausibly say they didn’t expect Professor Alexis Jay’s report into child sexual abuse in Rotherham to be ground-breaking. The signals have been there all along.

There was the damning Ofsted report into the council’s children’s services in 2009. The conviction of a gang of five Pakistani men for child abuse in 2010. Times’ journalist Andrew Norfolk’s further expose in 2012.  The Home Affairs Committee’s report in 2013. Then Rotherham Council commissioned Professor Jay to investigate and provide recommendations on what went wrong.

So, given it was nigh on inevitable that her report would identify grievous mistakes were made by public agencies in dealing with child sexual abuse, why was Labour not ready this week to dole out suspensions for those who had manifestly failed in their roles as Labour representatives?

Why was Roger Stone, the leader of Rotherham Council, not pushed out as soon as it was clear the scale of the abuse in the town was far worse than previously thought?

Why was South Yorkshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, Shaun Wright, not also told he would have to go, given the gravity of the offences on his watch as cabinet member for children’s services, when key reports alerting the council leadership to the problem were not actioned?

Why were Rotherham’s four MPs not out there from the start, reassuring the town that they too shared the anger of local people? Why were journalists complaining this week that they had to chase them for a reaction to the report?

Indeed, why was it hours before Labour’s frontbench responded? And why does Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper’s statement skate around the central issue: that the main perpetrators of this abuse were Pakistani men?

And in a week when the party announced a new frontbench portfolio for violence against women and girls, why was Seema Malhotra not immediately despatched to Rotherham to show solidarity with the abused young women of the town – and to engage with Pakistani women who told Professor Jay that the problem facing their community was being ignored?

Ultimately, why has Ed Miliband simply not demanded action? To show leadership, reassure core Labour voters, show he is in touch, or even just to defend Labour’s battered reputation?

And so we are left with Shaun Wright quitting the party in order to hang on as police commissioner and ride out his term, trousering £85,000 a year as he does so.

By dawdling, Labour, has now deprived itself of the opportunity to send him packing.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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Shaun Wright should go, but, really, why would he want to?

27/08/2014, 07:20:08 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Of course Shaun Wright won’t resign as the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Yorkshire, why would he? For starters, he’s earning 85k a year and surely knows his political career is shredded. Ed Miliband has no mechanism to remove him, and if he can withstand the personal brickbats, he may think he can hang on in until his term of office ends in 2016. After all, he’s directly-elected so it’s his mandate, even it came courtesy of just 14.9 per cent of the electorate.

Indeed, given the government’s original intention with police and crime commissioners was to encourage independents to stand, Wright may consider that, unencumbered from party allegiance, he is an embodiment of the true spirit of what an elected police and crime commissioner should be.

He may even delude himself that he is the best person to actually fix what he is, in part, responsible for breaking. He was, after all, Rotherham Council’s executive member for children’s services between 2005-2010 when the abuses laid bare in Alexis Jay’s report were first reported to council chiefs but no action was taken.

For South Yorkshire Police, dealing with a snaking line of scandals ranging from Hillsborough to the fact it tasers someone every two weeks, Wright’s predicament represents something of an opportunity. With the commissioner effectively emasculated, power drains away from him and back to the Chief Constable and senior officers.

For South Yorkshire Police, this is the natural order of things. This is the force, let us not forget, that instituted a cover-up so large and mendacious after the Hillsborough disaster that it stretched from the then Chief Constable to frontline officers, who were instructed to fabricate witness statements to lay culpability at the door of innocent Liverpool fans. If ever a police force needed the disinfectant of public accountability, it is South Yorkshire’s.

None of this is to argue that Wright shouldn’t resign, he should. He is a disgrace. A busted flush. An embarrassment. But he is, unfortunately, symptomatic of a municipal political class that takes the money for ostensibly making decisions, but pays no attention, or simply isn’t smart enough, to actually understand the implications of those decisions.

This explains why he didn’t act to protect young girls from gang rape when he should have done.

And it is because of that shaming failure that he should quit today.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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In the face of nihilistic Islamism, there are only bad options and worse ones

21/08/2014, 04:20:53 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Yesterday, four suspects were arrested in the ongoing investigation into parcel bombs sent to army recruitment offices across southern England earlier this year. This is part of a renewed campaign by Republican dissidents in the New IRA.  They are dangerous and uncompromising and believe the mainstream republican movement has sold out its principles by settling for less than full British withdrawal from Ireland and the immediate reunification of the country.

They remain committed to ideals enunciated by Theobold Wolfe Tone in 1798 and transmitted to them via the Irish Declaration of Independence, the War of Independence, the republican side of the Irish Civil War and the Provisional IRA during the Troubles.

Yet theirs is still a creed borne of the Enlightenment; a desire, as they see it, for a sovereign Irish republic where liberty, equality and fraternity for all is realised – once the yoke of the oppressor is cast off.  If minded, they can be engaged with, negotiated with and pacified. None of that is to say they should be, merely to point out there is a basis to do so.

The difference with the Islamic Jihadi violence playing out in Iraq and Syria is that it’s brutality is not only indiscriminate but it’s driven by a politio-religious philosophy that is so doctrinaire, so other-worldly, so unsophisticated, so laughably unrealisable and so totally unamenable to reason, that there is not only no chance of agreement – ever – there is no basis even for dialogue.

Who does John Kerry or Philip Hammond reach out to, even if they wanted to, to avert the horror of the IS beheading another captured Westerner?   Even a consummate dealmaker like the late Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds, happy to talk to anyone in order to rattle the Northern Ireland peace process along, would throw up his hands in despair.

What do we say to the hooded and scarfed figures jabbering on about infidels in Muslim lands?  What appeals to decency, international harmony, respect for human rights or enlightened self-interest can be made to barbarians who want to impoverish and enslave us all in a worldwide Caliphate?

This total lack of options means two things. Either we tiptoe around the false grievances of Jihadists, ignoring the brutality, mass murder and ethnic cleansing of the Islamic State – or whichever lunatic organisation comes next – in order to avoid becoming a target of its exportable evil, or we seek to overcome it.

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If Johnson and Darling return to Labour’s frontbench, two other men are out

18/08/2014, 03:33:16 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The continuing chatter about whether Alan Johnson should return to the shadow cabinet prompts the intriguing question: where would Ed Miliband put him?

In government, Johnson held a number of senior roles including stints as secretary of state for work and pensions, education, health and a final stint as home secretary. As one of Labour’s best known faces, he would surely command a decent perch.

None of his previous postings, however, looks a likely bet. Rising stars Rachel Reeves and Tristram Hunt are making inroads in the welfare and education briefs while Andy Burnham at health and Yvette Cooper at home affairs are too powerful to move without causing Ed Miliband a major headache. Both are solid performers and harbour leadership hopes if Miliband doesn’t manage to cross the threshold of Number Ten next May.

The remaining top roles, shadowing the Treasury and the Foreign Office, are filled by Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander. And they aren’t going anywhere.

Miliband may calculate that he can move anyone he likes in the interests of bringing back a popular figure like Johnson to add weight to his team ahead of the general election. Of course, the dilemma will be doubled if Alastair Darling also returns – assuming the ‘No’ campaign he is leading in Scotland prevails next month.

Johnson’s attributes are obvious enough. A natural communicator, his easy-going, man-in-the-street style contrasts sharply with the crafted but stilted approach of most of the rest of the shadow cabinet. No-one describes him as weird or boring.

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When it comes to minorities, woo, don’t appease

13/08/2014, 04:31:32 PM

by Kevin Meagher

How far should a political party go in trying to win over ethnic minority voters? Baroness Warsi is clear that the Conservatives can’t win next year’s general election without more of them, while senior Labour figures like Sadiq Khan and David Lammy have raised the prospect of all-minority shortlists for parliamentary selections.

If nothing else, demography suggests it is smart politics for all parties to win a commanding share of what is now a growing market. The 2011 Census shows that around eight million people – 14 per cent of the population – are now non-White, (with half of that total – 7.5 per cent – being Asian/ Asian British). Academics at Leeds University reckon this figure will rise to 20 per cent of the UK population by 2051 while the Policy Exchange think tank reckons the figure will be nearer to a third.

But politicians need to be clear that they don’t succumb to a conceptual fallacy. When they talk of “making politics look more like the electorate” they are speaking in code for promoting candidates because of their skin colour. This is hopelessly naïve and horribly tokenistic.

Minority ethnic communities are not simply ‘Black’ or ‘Asian’. Indeed, the impact of large-scale European immigration over the past decade makes that a nonsense. As does the growth in people from mixed-race backgrounds, who are now said to make up the second largest minority ethnic group.

Instead of descending into gesture politics with the promotion of ethnic-only shortlists, or treating minorities like electoral blocs, parties should focus on providing a fair and transparent policy offer to woo them instead.

Despite the diversity, there are often common issues of concern. Take public health. We know that South Asians have a higher propensity towards Type Two diabetes and that Afro-Carribbean people are three to five times more likely than any other group to be diagnosed and admitted to hospital for schizophrenia. Meanwhile the Irish, a predominantly White ethnic group (and, arguably, the UK’s largest), suffer from a higher preponderance to genetic conditions like coeliac disease and haemochromatosis.

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Our MPs are deeply unhappy people. Mark Simmonds just did something about it

12/08/2014, 03:15:46 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Ever since Norman Fowler resigned from Margaret Thatcher’s government claiming he wanted to spend more time with his family (although he didn’t quite use that phrase) resigning from ministerial office for reasons other than sexual exposure, financial corruption or manifest incompetence has been something of a curiosity in Westminster.

Yesterday, foreign office minister Mark Simmonds “did a Fowler,” quitting the government in the pursuit of a happier life. At just 50 and with a desirable job and safe seat (from which he had previously announced he was retiring at the next election), Simmonds seemed to have it all going for him. Yet his farewell to politics is evidence that he does not have it all; certainly not the balanced existence he craves.

For him, the ephemeral buzz of high office gave way to the practicalities of family life. Explaining his move, Simmonds said:

“The allowances that enable Members of Parliament to stay in London while they are away from their families – my family lives in Lincolnshire in my constituency – does not allow me to rent a flat which can accommodate my family, so I very rarely see my family and I have to put family life first.”

“Mr Simmonds” reported the BBC “said the idea of spending another five years rarely seeing his children and staying in a different hotel room each night “’fills me with horror’”.

It’s easy to mock his decision – 90k minister can’t rent a plush London crash pad – but Simmonds has exposed an unsayable aspect at the heart of life in Westminster – that so many MPs, on all sides, are deeply unhappy people.

Many feel they are trying to juggle an important job that doesn’t pay particularly well (sorry, it doesn’t) while clinging on to some kind of a family life and, usually, running two homes (or, in Simmonds’s case a home and a procession of hotel rooms). To this add in the perennial demands of constituents, party workers, and whips, the nagging worry of electoral defeat and the glare of unrelenting media scrutiny.

Of course, MPs will never say any of this for two perfectly understandable reasons. The first is that a hundred other people would happily crawl across broken glass (and much worse besides) to replace them. The second is that the public simply doesn’t give a stuff about how miserable their MPs are. In fact, the more disconsolate they are, the better.

Forget about work-life balance; the political life is all-consuming. It’s a wonder that any MPs’ marriages hold together or that there kids even recognise them. This is why so many compensate by having spouses and children work for them. (This, in turn, earns them a bucket of ordure for milking the expenses system and turning their office into a family business).

Sunday’s Observer reported that 15 per cent of the Parliamentary Labour Party will resign at next year’s election – twice the rate that retired before Labour’s 1997 landslide. There will of course be a range of individual reasons, but more and more MPs seem to be realising that the all-too-common experience of resentful partners and distant children are sacrifices that are not, in the final analysis, worth making.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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If we can’t access GPs, do we really have a health service at all?

11/08/2014, 10:54:08 AM

by Kevin Meagher

As I sit here nursing a nasty chest infection that I can’t seem to shake off, the crisis in the NHS is brought home to me all too clearly. I can’t get an appointment to see my GP before the end of next week, begging the question that if I cannot access basic healthcare at the point of need, do we in fact have a National Health Service in any meaningful sense at all?

As Shadow Health Secretary Andy Burnham has pointed out, the slump in service standards “is more marked in general practice than anywhere else in the NHS: in 2009/10, four out of five people said they saw a GP within 48 hours; now it is just two in five.”

And it’s set to get worse. A recent poll of GPs suggests average waiting times for a basic appointment are going to stretch to 13 days by next April. Apparently, I should have had the forethought to make an appointment after the first cough.

In response, the government’s NHS Choices website (“Your health, your choices”) suggests that people like me should “consider the alternatives” before bothering their GP. Thankfully, this is just a range of staggeringly inane and nannying ‘advice’ rather than an invitation to seek out a consultation with the village wise woman or medicine man.

Instead of seeing the doctor, “[t]he pharmacist behind the counter at your local chemist may be able to give you the help you need, so you won’t have to spend time waiting for an appointment.” Discussing your medical history within earshot of the queue in Boots certainly offers an interesting approach to patient confidentiality.

If, however, you feel compelled to seek out the kind of informed medical support that we pay our taxes to access when we are ill, the advice is not to forget your manners, especially to the support staff. “Be polite to receptionists. They are busy people who often have to deal with unhappy patients. Being polite to them will encourage them to help you.”

What is the corollary of this extraordinary statement? Patients are not busy people and if some receptionist does not consider a patient to be sufficiently ‘polite’ they will not help them?

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More fizzle than sizzle, Obama is yesterday’s man

23/07/2014, 04:37:40 PM

by Kevin Meagher

The central assumption underpinning Ed Miliband’s 25 minute meeting with Barack Obama the other day is that an audience with the US President makes a British politician walk taller in the eyes of the voters.

Indeed, it sometimes works the other way too. When candidate Obama was seeking to burnish his credentials as a nascent international statesman he met with Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Tony Blair. He is later said to have described, Brown as having “substance”, while Cameron was all “sizzle” but Blair was “sizzle and substance”.

But Obama himself has turned out to be more fizzle than sizzle. The 44th US president is now a busted flush. A let-down. A talker, not a do-er. Even his flagship achievement in office – state-subsidised healthcare – hit the legal buffers yesterday.

It may be recoverable, but the failure to implement Obamacare effectively is just the latest in a string of flops that have bedevilled his presidency. His famous campaign mantra of “yes we can” has been reduced to, “no we can’t”. Certainly when it comes to closing down Guantanamo Bay, making headway in the Middle East, protecting Christians from Genocide in Iraq and Syria or even, nearer to home, raising US living standards. Obama simply hasn’t delivered.

In fact, if Ed Miliband wanted to visit a world leader to learn about paying the price of promising big and delivering small, then he could have taken the Eurostar to Paris and met with Francois Hollande and saved himself the air fare to Washington.

The most maddening aspect about Obama – habitué of the golf course these days – is that he is content to just coast along, a second term bed-blocker. Like his infamous drones, he seems to operate on auto-pilot, presiding over an unprecedented retrenchment in US influence around the globe and a sluggish economy at home. (Indeed, a brutal editorial in this week’s Economist describes him as the least business-friendly president in decades).

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