Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

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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Modernising Chuka is so hard to please

15/12/2015, 05:28:41 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Is there anything about British politics that Chuka Umunna likes?

Hardly a month goes by without a pronouncement from him about how some institution or part of our political fabric is not hopelessly outdated and in need of massive reform – or scrapping entirely.

He was at it again yesterday, arguing that our first-past-the-post electoral system leaves voters “remote and unrepresented” and should be replaced with the Additional Member system used in the Scottish Parliament.

It follows his call in the summer for a federal UK, predicting, with a hyperbolic flourish that we are witnessing “the end of British electoral politics as we know it.”

Modernisation is Chuka’s favourite riff. In case we hadn’t noticed.

Prime Minister’s Questions is a “circus” while the Palace of Westminster is Ground Zero for everything that’s wrong with our political culture: “It’s a beautiful building and it often feels like you are in a museum. So why don’t we turn it into a museum?” he suggested back in July.

Pimp my parliament, so to speak.

But it’s not just the décor that so offends: “How can we continue with a chamber that nurtures the ridiculous tribalism that switches so many people off?” His solution? Introduce a passion-sapping horseshoe design instead.

Political partisanship is a regular target of Chuka’s exasperation. “I am not the most tribal politician” he once told GQ magazine (the kind of publication he seems to like appearing in).  “Party affiliation among the public is not what it was, so just putting on an old party label or old-style tribalism will not win you elections.” (Apart from the small fact that it so clearly does. Ask Mr. Cameron – he’s just won one!)

Political debate, meanwhile, is usually “ridiculously adversarial” and parties “urgently need to move with the times.” Yet tribalism is what binds politicians to their parties. It’s just another term for loyalty and shared assumptions. While seeking to stand apart from the party he (briefly) wanted to lead in the summer, is a strange signal to keep sending out.

It explains, though, his proposal back in 2012 to fast-track business executives into parliament. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging more people from business to play a part in politics, but to elevate their interests over those who have earned their spurs with years of campaigning for the party shows how little feel he has for the  grassroots or Labour’s traditions.

And reveals how unlike Tony Blair he is, despite the superficial comparisons. For all his modernising zeal, Blair took care to regularly touch base with the party he led. (His emotional final conference speech as leader being a case in point).

Chuka is certainly fluent and thrusting, but he is also impatient and rootless. If he ever hopes to stand for leader again, he needs to show he understands ordinary people, (beyond the rarefied circles where his tetchy hyper-modernism is lauded). Perhaps he would now be better off finding a few things about politics and the Labour tribe that he does like?

But if his quest to modernise all he surveys must continue, perhaps he could start a bit closer to home.

The ‘latest news’ section of his website hasn’t been updated since March.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Why did Labour do so well in Oldham?

04/12/2015, 02:12:10 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Well, no-one quite saw that coming. Labour’s better-than-expected win in Oldham West and Royton last night defied doom-mongers (myself included) who thought it would be a close-run thing.

In the end, Labour’s Jim McMahon romped home impressively, winning 62 per cent of the vote and a fulsome 10,722 majority.

Part of the reason lies with McMahon himself, the leader of the council and a working-class son of the town. The campaign played heavily on his local connections and credibility, pointedly avoiding Jeremy Corbyn and Westminster controversies.

The scale of the result highlights two abiding truisms for Labour.

First, the party’s ethnic support simply won’t touch UKIP and with the Conservatives and Lib Dems out of contention (despite the fact they ran the council a decade ago), it stays loyal. However, the same goes for many traditional White working-class voters too. Electoral traditional is engrained in places like Oldham.

Yes, many were flirting with UKIP, or agreed with them on issues like immigration, (a sentiment confirmed by Labour canvassers), but they didn’t make the switch in the numbers UKIP and many commentators thought they would.

That’s not to say there aren’t lots of disgruntled Labour voters in Oldham. There are, and many of the journalists predicting a tight result will have met many of them. But tribal loyalties run deep here.

Perhaps there was also something wrong with the tone of UKIP’s campaign. Northern working-class voters have a different temperament to the Southern English. (Perhaps they are less jingoistic?) This is a gut feel rather than anything empirical, but the sour tone of UKIP’s campaign against Jeremy Corbyn probably didn’t chime with them.

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It’s time for Ken to call it a day

02/12/2015, 04:41:24 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Ken Livingstone used to be that rarest of things on the left of Labour politics: a popular populist.

The left is full of unpopular would-be populists, who, while capable of galvanising a following of the liker-minded, cannot translate that appeal into actual votes at election time. Even Tony Benn was hopeless at convincing actual voters, (famously losing his own seat in 1983’s electoral calamity).

Other left-wing firebrands like Nye Bevan, recognised the limits of protest and put away such childish things, going on to make their peace with high office. The NHS is his abiding epitaph for so doing. (Benn’s ministerial career left us with Concorde).

So Ken has been afforded incredible latitude by successive Labour leaders. Even after he quit the party to stand as London Mayor in 2000 (following, admittedly, some of the most cack-handed fixing of the New Labour years) Tony Blair was still more than willing to bend party rules to readmit him early and allow him to run for re-election in 2004 wearing Labour’s colours. He was a winner, pure and simple.

Blair, ever the pragmatist, recognised that Ken was a round peg in a round hole when it came to London. He was the perfect fit for a role that was two-parts cheerleader to one-part executive leader.  So Ken could safely dial-up his rhetoric, implement his signature policy on congestion charging and campaign for the Olympics. It was all low-risk, consequence-free stuff.

But the electorate’s patience eventually wanes and in 2008 he was well-beaten by Boris Johnson. Ed Miliband, in a characteristic misjudgement, then gave him another go at fluffing it in 2012, which he duly did.

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We need to hear Corbyn say: ‘Isil must be defeated’

01/12/2015, 11:17:08 AM

by Kevin Meagher

Outlining his reluctance to back air strikes against Isil in Syria, Jeremy Corbyn wrote in the Morning Star the other day, that:

 “Amid all the debate and emotion expended over Syria last week, there remains a terrible sense of déjà vu pervading this most difficult of problems. It is the sense of a government – and a nation – repeating previous errors by committing to air strikes without a comprehensive, long-term strategy involving regional powers and allies…

[I]n the absence of a proper strategy informed by better on-the-ground knowledge and intelligence, there is a real danger that any military intervention goes the same way of Iraq, Afghanistan post-2006, and Libya.”

Actually, these aren’t Jeremy Corbyn’s words; it’s an excerpt from a piece by Conservative MP John Baron, a former soldier and member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, writing in the Mail on Sunday.

The subterfuge is merely to highlight that fact there are real reasons to proceed cautiously in joining US-led efforts to bomb Isil strongholds in Syria and these reservations stretch across British politics.

Indeed, there’s a decent argument to made that the case for military action will only prevail when we are prepared to wage war on the ground, winning and holding territory  (as Baron eloquently and persuasively argues). There is also a potent argument that David Cameron’s faith in the Free Syrian Army as the instrument to achieve this aim is seriously misplaced, as Jeremy Corbyn has pointed out.

Yet, even when Corbyn is right, as he is in pointing out that bombing is no panacea, he has no bigger argument to make. Where is the moral outrage about the fascistic, throat-slitting, mass-murdering rapist psychopaths of Islamic State? Or, indeed, the moral imperative in vanquishing them?

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