Posts Tagged ‘Kevin Meagher’

Corbyn was right to give the ITV leaders debate a miss

18/05/2017, 10:41:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Half an hour into ITV’s leaders’ debate and we were bogged down on Europe.

Will it ever end? The efficient but entirely bland Julie Etchingham was treating us to a rerun of the Brexit campaign, minus Conservative and Labour voices.

Theresa and Jeremy had better things to do, but the rest of the band had come back for the reunion. There they all were – Leanne Wood from Plaid, Nicola Sturgeon from the SNP, Caroline Lucas from the Greens and UKIP’s Paul Nuttall.

He was by far the best briefed when it came to locking swords over Brexit and bossed the exchanges. It probably helped he was the only one speaking for majority opinion in the country.

Tim Farron didn’t have a good night. Staring down the barrel of the camera at every opportunity, his small dark eyes were like raisins. With his golden complexion and sandy hair he looked like a pain au chocolat.

‘I have a long term economic plan,’ he intoned. ‘Stay in the single market’. A clap line with no clapping.  Had he not read the memo? Swivel-eyed ‘48 percentism’ is killing his party on the doorstep.

There was a brief rally with Caroline Lucas as she tried to skewer him about the Lib Dems’ support for Andrew Lansley’s NHS reform act. I say ‘skewer’ advisedly. It had all the penetrative efficacy of a piece of wet kitchen roll.

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Three quick points about the Labour manifesto

17/05/2017, 01:51:57 PM

by Kevin Meagher

You campaign in poetry…

Today we’re talking about Labour’s radical plans to scrap tuition fees, nationalise industries deemed to have failed the public, spend more on public services and raise the living wage – while making the dastardly rich pay for it all.

We’re not talking about Brexit and we’re not talking about how Labour wants to scrap nuclear weapons. Or, actually, about Jeremy Corbyn.  This is a tactical victory, of sorts.

Is the manifesto wise or workable? Hmmm. Do the individual measures resonate with voters? Yes. Is Labour credible when it explains how they will be funded? No. But the manifesto peps-up Labour activists who now have meaty, simply-understood things to talk about on the doorstep, other than the merits or demerits of their leader.

The sums don’t add up. Who cares?

Labour has a £57 billion ‘black hole’ in its spending plans, splutter the Conservatives, totting-up Labour’s great Monopoly grab of utilities.

Theresa May and Philip Hammond even called a presser so they could stand there and intone about the Cost of Labour. Stood behind their podiums this morning they looked like the lamest Kraftwerk tribute act ever, or a couple of mismatched contestants on Pointless, with Theresa May fluffing a question about whether she still has confidence in Hammond. (‘Well, we’ve known each other a long time…’)

For weary voters, it boils down to one group of politicians they don’t trust claiming the sums of the other group of politicians they don’t trust don’t add up.

At this stage, nothing matters

Election campaigns don’t fundamentally alter voters’ choices. Nothing that happens is either a dramatic success or failure. You cannot rub out months or years’ worth gradually constructed opinions in a few weeks. Labour famously ‘won’ the 1987 election campaign but lost the election. Ed Miliband had a really good campaign back in 2015. His performance was probably the highpoint of his five year leadership. But, by then, the public had weighed and measured him and found him wanting. Alas, Jeremy Corbyn’s numbers tell the same story.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Campaign frontline: Despite its short term woes, UKIP hopes to bounce back

15/05/2017, 06:54:17 PM

In a series of reports from the campaign frontline, Uncut looks at what’s happening on the ground. Kevin Meagher was at Little Lever, in Bolton South East to take a look at UKIP’s local campaign

Reversing a coach into the narrow entrance of the car park of the Queens pub in Bradley Fold took some doing. Eventually, though, the driver managed it. Perseverance and a steady hand paying off. Given this was UKIP’s new campaign battle bus, emblazoned with the smiling face of its newish leader, Paul Nuttall, the moment served as a perfect metaphor.

Small steps. Incremental progress. Steady as she goes.

This was certainly the hope as Nuttall arrived in Little Lever, a village in the Bolton South East constituency and the closest thing UKIP has to Ground Zero. The party has all three council seats and intends to build out from here into neighbouring villages.

Amid its difficulties elsewhere, with losses of county council seats and plunging opinion poll levels, Little Lever, a Brexit-voting ‘upper working-class’ enclave, counts as safe ground for the kippers.

Owner occupiers with nice semis. Small business owners. Vans on the driveways. Satellite dishes. Nice gardens. Not Emily Thornberry territory, it is safe to say. This isn’t Middle England though. This is a small town full of classic aspirational Labour voters. Skilled manual workers, not middle class professionals.

It’s also a totem for how UKIP still hopes to replace Labour in its political backyard across the north of England, picking up on working-class disaffection with issues like immigration and the general drift under Jeremy Corbyn.

Defying the stereotype, Nuttall’s advance team are chatty and friendly. There are the obligatory burly security guys, replete with their CIA-style earpieces. A few local activists gather while a pasty young man paces around the car park, his plummy accent and Barbour jacket giving him away as a UKIP staffer.

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Three quick thoughts on the Labour manifesto leak

11/05/2017, 03:33:23 PM

by Kevin Meagher

1. The butler did it…Or perhaps he didn’t

So who leaked it? Who benefits from Labour’s policy commitments spilling out over the evening news bulletins in one big, tangled heap? No-one, is the answer. It’s unlikely too many of Jeremy Corbyn’s internal opponents (is ‘enemies’ too strong?) would have been privy to the working draft and just as unlikely they would deliberately sabotage the campaign. The mood on the right of the party is ‘let Corbyn fail on his own terms.’

Did someone in his team think it was a useful tactical ruse? Perhaps to strong arm critics who would prefer a more hard-headed manifesto with fewer uncosted commitments? (The idea being that if they’re in the public domain there can be no rowing back in today’s Clause V meeting of party grandees that agrees the final cut). Again, what we see doesn’t bear that out. The contents are, frankly, much less swivel-eyed than many expected.

Was the document leaked to cover-up something more damaging? Again, that doesn’t ring true. There was nothing going do disastrously wrong yesterday that warranted slapping the proverbial ‘dead cat’ on the table. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn’s cancelled appearance at a poster launch this morning, gives the clear impression the leadership knew nothing of the leak.

As ever, never overlook bog-standard, garden variety incompetence, either because it’s innate to a surprisingly large number of people working in politics, or, quite possibly, through fatigue. In his book on the 1997 election, ‘The Unfinished Revolution’ the late Philip Gould recounts leaving a set of poster designs in Euston station before catching a train. When the horror of what he’d done dawned on him, a party staffer was hurriedly despatched to retrieve them. Luckily, they were still where he’d left them.  Sometimes in politics you’re lucky and your mistakes aren’t realised. And sometimes you’re not.

2. Whisper it, it’s not that mad
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The state of Labour: Post-anger, pre-recrimination

08/05/2017, 07:12:10 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Anger towards Jeremy Corbyn – and the blind alley into which he has led Labour – is probably futile at this point. The party was going to lose this general election whenever it was called. It was inevitable the moment Corbyn became leader 20 long months ago. There is a modicum of relief, perhaps, that the process of rebuilding can now begin in 2017 rather than 2020.

After a gruelling week, the scale of the challenge is now agonisingly clear. Glasgow. Tees Valley. Lancashire. The West Midlands. With its heartlands deserting it, there is nowhere in the country where Labour can’t lose at the moment. Much worse is, of course, to come in a few weeks’ time.

Actually, it feels slightly macabre to speculate about Labour’s short term future. So many decent MPs – servants of their community, country and party – are set to have the ground cut from beneath them.

The immediate issue is what do the party’s campaign managers do about Corbyn himself? His penance, such as it is, is to spend the next five weeks campaigning around the country observing the pretence that he is on course to be our next Prime Minister. But where do they take him where he adds any value to Labour’s campaign?

Just wait for the old soldier to accost him on a walkabout. Or the teenager to come up to him and call him a ‘loser’. Or the Jewish granny who gives him a dressing down for soft-pedalling on anti-Semitism.

No party leader who trails amongst every main demographic group is going to win an election. The voters’ basic, crippling assumption that he is not up to the job is not going to change now. In his heart of hearts Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t believe he is winning either. He knows he is squandering the moment.

But here’s the thing. There is little point railing against Corbyn. Better to accept that he is a victim of circumstance. Others created the opening for him and the hard left to make this extraordinary breakthrough. He never wanted this job. It was, infamously, his ‘turn’ to stand for the Labour leadership, as John McDonnell had done before him in 2007 and Diane Abbott did in 2010.

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Why Diane’s bungling matters

03/05/2017, 01:37:42 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s often said, usually pejoratively, that Tony Blair and New Labour represented the ‘professionalisation’ of Labour politics.

An obsession with presentation. Style over substance. Spin.

What a contrast, then, to today’s unprofessional Labour party.

Diane Abbott’s interview yesterday with LBC’s Nick Ferrari, as she announced Labour’s pledge to recruit 10,000 extra police officers, was invariably described as a ‘car crash’.

Actually, it was more like a plane slamming into a mountain. The scale of calamity was of an altogether greater magnitude.

Pieces of smouldering fuselage were scattered across television and radio studios. Diane’s reputation as a ‘serious’ politician was utterly incinerated.

She clearly had no idea how the policing pledge was to be funded, initially suggesting it would cost £300,000. The actual figure is apparently £300 million. 1000 times her original estimate.

Of course, Jeremy Corbyn was ‘not embarrassed in the slightest’ by her blundering.

He should be.

Corbyn can do himself a lot of favours by running a basically competent, functioning election campaign.

I’ve mentioned before that his easy manner contrasts well with the stage-managed hysterics of Theresa May’s campaign.

The obvious caveat is that he is going to lose; but it’s the manner and scale of the defeat that’s in his hands.

Bluntly, he can lose badly or he can lose catastrophically.

The only card he has to play is to confound the low expectations voters, the media and his own colleagues have of him.

That requires using every opportunity, straining every sinew, to at least offer a semblance of coherence.

Alas, that’s too much for Diane.

She is an experienced broadcaster but she is used to spouting her opinion on television and radio.

It requires a higher level of skill and preparation to defend the party line, something she is simply not used to doing.

Did she think she could bluster past the entirely predictable line of questioning about how she was going to pay for 10,000 extra coppers? Is she really that inept?

I guess so.

The upshot is that she has made Jeremy Corbyn’s life a lot harder.

So catastrophic it is then?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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Election 1997 20th anniversary: Euphoria for political anoraks, but many were indifferent

01/05/2017, 05:09:02 PM

In a series of pieces, Uncut writers look back at election day 1997. Kevin Meagher was the campaign co-ordinator in Bolton South East

I have a very specific recollection of the morning after Labour’s 1997 election victory.

Back then, I was working as a hod-carrier for my dad during the day and studying for my Master’s at night. (Campaigning for Labour took up every other waking minute).

Like every other political anorak, I’d stayed up for Portillo – and long after.

But I had work the next day.

We arrived at the site and parked up. It was only 8am, but the sun was already beating down and the sky was clear blue. The road were were working on was a haze of fine dust with a gentle breeze blowing towards us.

We took the tools out of the car and set off towards our block.

Brian, a ground worker in his mid-50s, (whose misanthropy was already well-established), was walking towards us, chuntering away to himself.

“So what do you make of the election result then?” my dad asked him cheerily.

Brian screwed up his face and without pausing simply said: “They’re all the fucking same.”

They’re all the fucking same.

The point, I guess, is never to be carried away with the euphoria of the political moment.

To misquote WB Yeats: the best were full of passionate intensity while the worst lacked all conviction.

Yes, May 1st 1997 was a joyous and thrilling experience for Labour supporters. The end of an appalling 18-year losing streak. A moment laden with opportunity.

Millions, however, were not enthused.

After all, John Major still won more votes in 1992 than Tony Blair managed in 1997: 14,093,007 to 13,518,167.

As a psephological factoid, it should throw a pale of cold water over our selective memories. Yes, it was a tremendous, landmark victory, but turnout fell from 77.7 per cent in 1992 to 71.4 per cent in 1997.

In office, competence and moderation were Blair’s guiding principles. Britain is a small ‘c’ conservative country. He instinctively recognised that. He knew his mandate was for ‘Labour men and Tory measures.’ But the hope was that once your bona fides are established you can bend the consensus your way.

Like all governments, positive things were achieved and some opportunities were missed.

In 2001, turnout fell to just 59 per cent. By 2005, Tony Blair won 4.5 million fewer votes than Neil Kinnock managed in 1992.

This accounts for the ‘missing’ five million Labour voters that Ed Miliband used to talk about. They remain lost. Missing in Inaction, so to speak.

The challenge for Labour’s next leader is to find them and rebuild a similar consensus to the one Blair and Brown first managed to assemble in 1997.

Something tells me I should not hold my breath.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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British politics needs to start planning for the day Northern Ireland ceases to exist

11/04/2017, 09:44:48 PM

by Kevin Meagher

Nineteen years ago this week, Tony Blair, Mo Mowlam, Bertie Ahern the Irish Taoiseach and the various political parties were in the final stages of agreeing what became the Belfast Agreement, better known, given the day it was finalised, as the Good Friday Agreement.

It was a triumph for all involved and, whatever else his critics point to, Blair’s crowning achievement; a superb piece of leadership and political tradecraft.

It was a deal that ensured cross-community power-sharing and a devolved assembly.

The end of the British Army’s presence in Northern Ireland and the release of paramilitary prisoners.

Strengthened east-west links between the Irish and British governments and north-south bodies to create all-Ireland institutions.

It is a deal that has provided two decades of relative peace and normality and become a lodestar in the field of conflict resolution.

But the Good Friday Agreement settlement is now faltering.

The collapse of the power-sharing executive in January, (following Arlene Foster’s woeful handling of a £500m heating subsidy), Sinn Fein’s strengthened mandate in the subsequent assembly elections and the current difficulty with restoring the executive are testing its resilience as a model.

The broader truth is that the Good Friday Agreement was never meant to last. It was always a stop-gap solution. An interregnum. A transition space between the conflict of the Troubles and the advent, eventually, of a unified Irish state.

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Labour’s cognitive dissonance over Syria

08/04/2017, 08:00:30 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It seems Labour is so full of policy ideas at the moment that it can afford to have not one but two foreign policies.

Backing President Trump’s missile attack on the Syrian airfield from which Bashir al-Assad’s warplanes bombed the town of Khan Sheikhoun with chemical weapons earlier this week, Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, described it as ‘a direct and proportionate response to a clear violation of international law by the Syrian regime.’

While agreeing this week’s attack was ‘a war crime’, Jeremy Corbyn instead emphasised that US military action ‘without legal authorisation or independent verification’ could make matters worse and risked intensifying ‘a multi-sided conflict that has already killed hundreds of thousands of people’.

This fault line between the leader and deputy leader of the Labour party is conspicuous.

And, so, the party is left suffering yet another damaging public bout of cognitive dissonance – holding two mutually exclusive opinions – while huddled in the political shop window rocking backwards and forwards, muttering to itself in front of the voters.

That’s the politics of it.

However, questions about military action – and whether or not to back it – obviously override domestic political concerns. Syria is not as straightforward as having ‘a line.’

And, so, in their way, both men are right, albeit for totally different reasons.

Watson spoke for many when he said that chemical weapons attacks on civilians ‘can never be tolerated and must have consequences.’

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Trump’s air strike took out domestic targets as well

07/04/2017, 03:08:23 PM

by Kevin Meagher

It’s not often an international leader gets to achieve their domestic political goals while making a bold foreign policy move.

But this is what Donald Trump has just managed.

In bombing the Syrian airstrip that was used to launch what seems to have been a chemical attack by Assad’s forces on the town of Khan Sheikhoun, earlier this week, killing at least 80 people, Trump has achieved three things.

First, he compares favourably with Barrack Obama, who dithered and backed down from a response to Assad’s sarin attack on east Damascus in 2013, outplayed at the time by Putin who offered to broker a deal whereby the regime would surrender its chemical and biological weapons.

Trump, the inveterate dealmaker, is clearly not prepared to give Assad wiggle-room. Especially as he plainly lied about dismantling his arsenal.

Second, he has immediately wrong-footed his home-grown critics who question his elliptical relationship with Vladimir Putin.

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