The Michael Meacher I Knew Was A Giant Of Our Movement – And Friend

I first met Michael Meacher in the early 1970s when I was agent for Hornsey Labour Party and he was a newly elected MP.

I was always impressed by his commitment to social justice, his knowledge of inequality and his practical approach to social security law.

The 1970s were a time of fervent political debate and Michael was at the heart of that. Later, as a long-serving member of the national executive, he played a huge role in debates about party democracy and administration.

Meacher with Jeremy Corbyn in 2006 Photo: Eddie Mulholland
Meacher with Jeremy Corbyn in 2006 Photo: Eddie Mulholland

Michael had a very consensual way of speaking that brought complicated issues into the minds of an audience who had not considered these things before.

I remember him once speaking in Hornsey town hall about the levels of inequality in Britain.

He decided to present it as 100 people of different heights reflecting the wealth they had, and described how the poorest would be around two-feet high compared to the wealthiest who would be an 18-foot giant.

It was this bizarre image of an array of 100 human beings of slowly rising height until you reached the last 10 that stuck in my mind.

Michael was part of the huge economic debates of the 1970s and worked with Tony Benn and others from the London School of Economics on how an interventionist investment-led economy could ensure a permanent place for the manufacturing industry in Britain, as well as protecting jobs and skills.

His prescient thought and insight was then later demonstrated in his superb analysis of the nascent banking crisis of 2007-8 and the attempt to introduce an austerity-led solution in Britain.

Had Michael’s calls for banking regulation been properly heeded we might have been in a very different place.

As a newly elected MP in the 1980s when Michael was our shadow social security secretary I enjoyed working with him in opposition to the 1986 Social Security Act which did so much damage to the whole principle of a universal welfare state and pension system in Britain.

I’ve never forgotten the day I took him to the Archway social security office to take part in discussions with a group of homeless men who were waiting to get some kind of support through the then single-payment system.

From 1997 Michael was environment minister in the Labour government and was well ahead of his time in his thinking and in his approach, both to issues of climate change and pollution, but also agricultural systems and sustainability of the natural environment, both in this country and globally.

He cut a big figure and was loved by the environment movement in Britain, and indeed by many from around the world, including those he met at the 2000 Millennium Summit in South Africa.

Michael Meacher along with Pendle MP Gordon Prentice lead out local ramblers onto Boulsworth Moor, West Yorkshire in 1997 Photo: Howard Barlow
Right to Roam: Michael Meacher along with Pendle MP Gordon Prentice lead out local ramblers onto Boulsworth Moor, West Yorkshire in 1997 Photo: Howard Barlow

Michael was absolutely committed to an alternative economic strategy and after the 2010 election, made many thoughtful and detailed contributions to the economic debate in Parliament, and in his many writings and publications.

Early this year after the general election Michael was one of those who urged me to stand in the leadership election and gave huge support, both in nominations, advice and public endorsement of our campaign.

He was a valued friend and commentator utterly committed to democracy both in our party and movement, as well as in the wider community.

His contributions on social justice, equality, environment and economic policy showed a man of enormous breadth and intellectual vision.

I was very sad and very shocked at hearing of his death earlier today and my sympathies and condolences go to his family, many friends, and many admirers who realise that in Michael we have lost someone of fundamental decency and in the very best socialist and labour traditions of this country.

Originally published: Jeremy Corbyn (Morning Star)

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