Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Tenacious, principled, and effective, Jim Dobbin fought for the marginalised and forgotten

07/09/2014, 08:36:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Truly, Jim Dobbin was one of Parliament’s nice guys. A quiet and genial man, he was also a principled and effective Member of Parliament and tireless campaigner. His sad death today at 73, while on a Council of Europe trip to Poland, is a huge loss to a range of issues and causes that could always count on Jim as a reliable supporter.

A coal miner’s son from Fife, Jim was a committed Catholic and, as Ed Miliband has noted, his faith informed every aspect of his politics.

As chairman of the all-party pro-life group, Jim nailed his colours firmly to the mast on all the most contentious issues; abortion, euthanasia and same sex marriage. He pursued what he believed in tenaciously, but respectfully towards those he disagreed with.

The news section of his website tells its own tale: Gaza, better palliative care, audio-visual facilities on buses for blind and partially-sighted people, better cancer awareness, support for those with dementia, help for the disabled. Jim was pro-life is the very widest sense of the term.

Indeed, like all the best backbenchers, he was an active campaigner on overlooked issues. Whether it was championing better polio immunisation for children in Syria, or calling for an annual Windrush Day to remember the contribution of the first-generation Caribbean community, Jim Dobbin took an interest in the marginalised and forgotten.

As a lobbyist, I dealt with him on many occasions and my abiding impression of him was as a wise, kind and unfailing courteous man. But like all softly-spoken Scots in Labour politics, there was steel there too. Quiet and modest, but tough and wily with it.

I once sat in his constituency office trying to persuade Jim to back a controversial wind farm project. He smiled as he explained why there was no chance of him backing it, but helpfully went through how the scheme could be improved. His advice was gratefully received.

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We need a dose of PR to improve our municipal one-party states

04/09/2014, 01:47:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

One of the unremarked parts of Alexis Jay’s shocking report into child sexual exploitation in Rotherham was her finding that the council’s scrutiny function had completely failed to do its job.

As in so many areas where a single party dominates the electoral landscape (Labour has 49 out of 63 seats on Rotherham council), responsibility for keeping tabs on the decisions of the council falls to councillors of the same party. The problem with this arrangement should be obvious enough.

Labour has controlled the town for 80 years. Even a bruising by-election campaign back in 2012, when it’s MP, Denis MacShane, was sent to jail for fiddling his expenses, did little to stop the Labour juggernaut, with current Labour MP, Sarah Champion, slotting in as his replacement.

It’s worth considering, however, that the Conservatives received 9.5 per cent of the votes back in June’s local elections, but won nothing for their trouble. ‘That’s how it works’ comes the unsympathetic reply, but the uncomfortable fact remains that big majorities in politics seldom create better administrations.

Rather than producing strong, outward-looking leaders who need to compete to succeed, stacking-up large majorities can result in fiefs run by complacent, inward-looking political hacks instead.

The effort needed to manage a large group absorbs political energy. Stymieing internal dissent becomes a preoccupation. There are only so many top jobs to gift to people, so cliques form. Back-biting begins. Fixing becomes a necessity.

In the interests of administrative efficiency, electoral fairness and voter engagement, a bit of competition can mix things up.

This is where the impulse of any political party to hoover-up seats and dominate all it surveys intersects messily with the need for good government and political plurality.

However, rather than try to remedy the situation with a move to full-blown proportional representation, which would shatter the valuable link between politician and local community, there is a simple hybrid reform to level the playing field a bit that could be applied to larger, three-member ward unitary councils.

Two seats in each ward should be contested on the usual first-past-the-post system with the remaining third of council seats allotted on the basis of parties’ share of the vote across the borough. (In Rotherham, this would leave the Tories with six seats out of sixty-three).

This would be fairer, energise the local political culture, create some useful political competition and lead to better scrutiny of council decisions. At the very least, it would force governing parties to up their game.

After all, Rotherham shows us what happens when that doesn’t happen.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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“Better Together” is turning into David Miliband’s campaign for the Labour leadership

03/09/2014, 07:00:35 PM

by Kevin Meagher

There’s an air of inevitability about the poll showing Alex Salmond’s Yes campaign is potentially just inches away from victory in the Scottish referendum, hitting a new high of 47 per cent. To those of us watching from the outside, the No team doesn’t seem to have any clear message, other than, well we’re “better together”.

It’s a complacent, technocratic, flat-pack Westminster standard affair. A combination of convoluted arguments about the currency – which must leave most voters cold – and the usual student politics-level stuff looking to exploit perceived gaffes. All sadly predictable and all tragically inadequate, given the way the polls are moving.

Despite their massively lopsided advantages, the No campaign’s money, organisation and establishment support are counting for little against a lesser-equipped but better motivated Yes campaign with a simple proposition.

When have we seen this happen before in our recent political history? Ah yes, the 2010 Labour leadership election. In essence, the No campaign has become a carbon copy of David Miliband’s bid to become Labour leader. An earnest, top-down effort to make the voters listen to sense and political reality, with a brusque appeal to ignore the romantic, siren voices.

Like David Miliband, the Yes campaign has the same air of presumption about the outcome. The same inability to make superior assets count. The same patrician stuffiness. The same underestimation of the opposition.

Just as David Miliband was disastrously pigeon-holed as the “heir to Blair”, so, too, the No campaign can’t seem to shake off the accusation that it’s a front operation for the business-as-usual Westminster elite. This is unfair, but it’s an accusation that sticks, given the leaders of the three main Westminster parties are effectively neutered because of their Englishness and privileged backgrounds.

Meanwhile, Labour is paying the price of fielding a B-team in Scotland for the past decade, allowing Salmond to wipe the floor with the local political class who simply aren’t in his league. Also, the famous (and often parodied) remark that Ed Miliband “speaks human” could equally be applied to Salmond.

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Labour needs to brace itself to deal with other councils that have failed to protect children

02/09/2014, 04:25:44 PM

by Kevin Meagher

By suspending four party members in Rotherham this morning, Labour is showing its intent to get tough with its councillors who, it suspects, have failed to protect vulnerable children in the public roles they held.

The four, Jahangir Akhtar (the council’s former deputy leader) and councillors Roger Stone (the council’s former leader), Gwendoline Russell (Rotherham’s former cabinet member for social services) and Shaukat Ali will now face investigation by the party.

A Labour party spokesman said: “As Ed Miliband made clear last week large numbers of young people in Rotherham were systematically abused and then let down by those who should have protected them. It cannot be allowed to stand.”

So far, so good. But Labour has to be ready to do the same in other local authorities, if the same failings are revealed elsewhere. Rotherham, depressingly, does not seem to be an isolated case.

The Mail on Sunday quoted a Greater Manchester Police source the other day who claimed they were close to a “day of reckoning” with the force poised to make a spate of arrests of gang members involved in child sexual exploitation:

“In Greater Manchester, 180 suspects have emerged from an operation codenamed Doublet, which has ranged across Rochdale, Oldham, Bolton and Bury.

“The operation is understood to cover offences that have taken place in the past six years.

Virtually all of the suspects are expected to face justice in up to a dozen separate trials. They are likely to be held at Manchester Crown Court next year.

“One detective said: ‘A lot of these guys have thought for years that they are above the law. They’re in for a very rude awakening.’”

Even allowing for a degree of hyperbole, the scale of this investigation is staggering. Meanwhile, the four towns named in the Mail piece are all Labour-controlled, yet none of the councils has publicly disowned the story.

The party needs to brace itself to hold any of its representatives – councillors and MPs alike – to account if they have allowed child sexual exploitation to take place, especially if they have done nothing about it, having been told it was going on. Today’s suspensions may just be the start of things.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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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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