Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

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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McDonnell pulls off phase one of Operation Foot-rub

28/09/2015, 06:04:52 PM

by Kevin Meagher

What were the odds of John McDonnell becoming shadow chancellor six months ago? Longer than they were of Jeremy Corbyn becoming Labour leader, I suspect.

But here he was, a trim 61 year-old with neat white hair and a smart suit, looking every inch the interim finance director of a struggling SME that’s just lost a major contract and needs a new direction.

Given his previous form, it helps that McDonnell doesn’t look like he’s come from central casting as your typical ‘lefty bogeyman’. And neither, to be fair, did he sound it.

His main task today was not to be predictable. Frankly, all he needed to do was not to snarl about nationalising the FTSE-100 and it would turn out better than many on the right of the party had been fearing.

His promise to “force” recalcitrant corporates like Starbucks, Vodafone, Amazon and Google to pay their “fair share of taxes” was vintage Margaret Hodge.

His pledge to establish a national investment bank and review the UK’s economic policy-making to ensure it is “fit for purpose” in preventing another recession could have been made by Gordon Brown.

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The anatomy of the modern Labour party

27/09/2015, 11:26:42 AM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s clear from the leadership election that Labour is now a collection of disparate, occasionally overlapping and increasingly rancorous tribes. There is an argument that it has always been like this; that from its earliest moments the party has been a fusion of radicals and moderates, working-class self-interest and middle-class altruism. However the shifting sands in recent years, not to mention over the past few months, requires an updated assessment. So here goes:

Neo-Blairites

The princes have become the paupers, or more specifically, the modernisers have become the traditionalists. Unable to convince the party they once dominated to let them run the show, they instead find themselves rejected, marginalised and unloved, pining for the good old days. Always a White Commonwealth and without deep roots, massed battalions or decent organisation they were always going to struggle post-Blair. Yet the scale of Liz Kendall’s defeat in the leadership contest – a derisory 4 per cent (sorry, 4.5 per cent) – has seen tribe members resort to pinning ‘We are the 4.5’ on their Twitter profiles. Irony or defiance?

‘But why’, they ask, ‘does this ungrateful party not accept we won an unprecedented three election victories?’ Why indeed. Perhaps they assume that left-wing politics is a cool, rational experience. It isn’t, as the Neo-Blairites are finding out. Their lack of emotional connection with the party’s grassroots, avoidable during Blair’s long, hegemonic reign, is now killing them.

They are dealing with a party that wants to believe in something again. Can they find someone gutsy and lucky enough to champion their cause? But who? Liz was too brusque, Tristram’s too posh and Chuka’s an airhead. They also need to pick their moment, as Peter Mandelson warns. Will 18 months of Corbynite shock therapy (and ropey election results) earn them a fresh hearing?

Neo-Brownites

More pragmatic than the Neo-Blairites, the Neo-Brownites are not happy with the drift to the left under Corbyn, but they are prepared to work with the grain. They were evident around the new Shadow Cabinet table the other day: Dugher, Ashworth and Watson.

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Corbyn and McDonnell are finding out why most politicians are all things to all people

25/09/2015, 04:07:32 PM

by Kevin Meagher

John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are a pair of Philips screwdrivers. That’s not meant as a derogatory analogy (‘a pair of spanners’ etc) but merely to point out that, hitherto, during their long years as Members of Parliament, they have performed a single, unique function.

As “campaigning backbench MPs” of a type that Labour has a long tradition of indulging, they champion causes that are outside ‘safe’ political confines. This is not to everyone’s taste, clearly, and from time to time they will say something, or be photographed or share a platform with someone that gets them into trouble with the political mainstream.

But that’s fine; political parties need to be broad churches under first-past-the-post and reach out to as many people as possible. So, every once in a while, an issue that’s deemed to be beyond the pale today graduates into everyone’s favourite cause tomorrow. In this context, MPs of the kind Corbyn and McDonnell were can have a legitimate and sometimes useful role as a conduit to bring those outside in from the cold. (That said, whether they are visionaries, or merely contrarians, is moot).

I say were because a problem arises when you try to use a Philips screwdriver on the more familiar slot-headed screw. It’s an awkward fit. Actually, it doesn’t fit at all.  Like when you take “campaigning backbench MPs” and put them into the top two positions in the Labour party. All their previous views and associations are pored over and thrown back at them. Such is the price for rebels turned statesmen.

The issue has crystallised around John McDonnell’s explanation about why he spoke to a gathering of Irish republicans back in 2003, making the case that it was the IRA’s “bombs and bullets and sacrifice” that brought the British state to the negotiating table. Speaking on last week’s Question Time, he apologised for any offence caused by his remarks, arguing it was a genuine attempt to engage wary republicans and deter them from drifting away from the peace process at a critical time.

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Of course #Piggate is nonsense, but it exposes weaknesses in Cameron’s Tory party

22/09/2015, 10:27:09 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Like most people, I didn’t think I would find myself writing about whether or not a young David Cameron inserted his penis into the severed head of a pig in order to join one of those ghastly upper-crust Oxbridge dinin’n’cavortin’ clubs, but, here we are, having a good giggle at his expense.

But behind the head shaking wonderment at how the other half lives lie some interesting revelations about how Cameron deals with people and how he copes in a crisis.

  1. The first is that a Conservative peer and former political editor of the Conservative-supporting Sunday Times (Isabel Oakeshott) are responsible for bringing the grisly revelation to light. Lord Ashcroft, for it is he, is quite open about his “beef” with Cameron for not apparently honouring a promise of a government job after 2010. So is this his elaborate revenge? If so, it doesn’t say much for Cameron’s people management skills that he cannot handle his dealings with the biggest single donor to his party over the last 15 years and, perhaps, that he cannot honour a deal.

    But what of the source for the story? Ashcroft/Oakeshott insist it was a Conservative MP (and assumed contemporary of Cameron) who repeated the tale to them, on several occasions. Cui bono? And why the alacrity in sticking the knife into their own leader?

  1. Then there’s the handling of the revelation itself. Downing Street initially poured cold water on the story, haughtily refusing to “dignify” the allegation with a response. This avoids the follow-up headline: ‘Cam rejects claim he put his penis in a pig’s mouth,’ but it’s also a classic ‘non-denial denial’. It urges us to move along without actually rubbishing the veracity of the tale.

    Indeed, it’s interesting there has been no retinue of Conservative MPs hitting the airwaves to denounce it. (It comes to something when Toby Young is the ‘go to guy’ to offer Downing Street’s off-the-books counter-spin). Perhaps Tory MPs calculate that being on the right side of Michael Ashcroft is better for their long-term prospects than helping out a Prime Minister who will be gone in the next four years?

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Corbyn won’t be leader into 2020, but he will decide who is

21/09/2015, 09:54:15 PM

by Kevin Meagher

If you don’t like heights, then it’s probably not worth setting your heart on becoming a steeplejack. Given Jeremy Corbyn has never sought a frontbench job in his 32 years as a Labour MP until it was “his turn” to stand for the leadership as the left’s standard bearer, how will he now cope with the demands of the job?

After his first week he will have discovered that leading a political party (and not just any party, but the official opposition) is all-consuming. Wooing people you don’t like (and who may not like you in return). Defusing internal rows. Prepping for PMQs. An endless cycle of trudging around the country on visits. Round after round of media interviews. A big part of the job is trying to get noticed (for the right reasons) and stay relevant to what is going on in the news.

Then there’s the small matter of Corbyn’s track record as a serial rebel, plus an array of causes and radical positions he has spent three decades adopting that will require endless defending and explaining. There is a reason why our successful professional politicians are all things to all people.

To his credit, Corbyn is not a personally ambitious man. There is no yellowing envelope in his jacket pocket plotting each stage of his rise to greatness. He does not covet power and thinks, instead, as part of a collective, “a movement” as he puts it.

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