Friday, October 23, 2015

Michael Meacher and the Oldham West and Royton by-election

Michael Meacher enjoyed a remarkable 45 year career as an MP. The most generous tribute to him was that by John Vidal in the Guardian:
Michael Meacher was a remarkable environment minister because for six years, at the start of the Blair government, he almost single-handedly fought to defend the natural world from road-building, the first generation of GM crops and rampant industrialisation. 
While junior environment ministers usually accept the Treasury or No 10 line without question, "the Meach", as he was widely known, stood up to Tony Blair and Gordon Brown and possibly saved the administration from political embarrassment by urging caution at key moments.
Julia Langdon, in the same newspaper, was more measured:
He sat on Labour’s frontbench in government and opposition for a total of 29 years, but his misfortune was that he was never greatly favoured or particularly trusted by the six party leaders under whom he served.
At least he died under a leader with whom he was perfectly in tune.

Meacher was also known for losing a celebrated libel action against the journalist Alan Watkins, who had questioned his working class credentials.

In fact, Meacher had attended a public school - Berkhamsted. The late Robin Totten, who was the leader of Harborough District Council in the days when the Liberal Democrats ran it, once told me that Meacher had been his fag there.

I suggested to him that this is what had made Meacher a socialist, but I am sure it was not as Robin was a lovely man.

But politics, as Alan Watkins, used to observe, is a rough old game and already thoughts are turning to the forthcoming by-election in Oldham West and Royton.

On Lib Dem Voice Jonathan Fryer is absolutely right when he argues the Lib Dems must take it seriously:
During the Coalition government the Liberal Democrat powers that be took what I believed to be a misguided decision to virtually ignore northern parliamentary by-elections, with predictably disastrous results. In a couple of cases there was, however, a tremendous surge towards UKIP, almost causing shock Labour defeats. 
We lost our deposits spectacularly, despite the hard efforts of by-election candidates and mainly local party support. The impression given to the wider public, however, was that in the North of England the LibDems are rubbish, even irrelevant. We must not allow that to happen again.
By-elections campaigns are important for raising party morale, learning new campaigning techniques and making and renewing useful friendships.

But the strongest challenge to Labour in Oldham will almost certainly come from Ukip. Both Guido Fawkes and Sebastian Payne claim to have the inside on their likely candidate and campaign strategy.

After 45 years of Michael Meacher, who used to be called 'Tony Benn's representative on Earth, the Labour voters of Oldham are unlikely to be spooked by the leftward turn the party has taken by electing Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn should, however, be very worried about how they will react to a three weeks of being exposed to the views of his newly appointed lieutenants.

I cannot see John McDonnell's take on the Provisional IRA or Seamus Milne's view of the death of Lee Rigby going down at all well.

Which is why, like Nick Tyrone, I believe Labour needs to take the Ukip challenge extremely seriously.

 Ukip's fortunes seem to be in decline at the moment, but we shall have a clearer idea of their future, and of how the Corbyn leadership will play with Labour voters, after this by-election.

1 comment:

James said...

We haven't had a proper LibDem by-election push for some years now. It would be nice to see a serious effort being made now...