Michael Hugh Meacher (4 November 1939 – 21 October 2015) was a British academic and Labour Party politician. Before entering politics, he was a lecturer in social administration at the University of Essex and the University of York. He was a Member of Parliament (MP) from 1970 until his death, for Oldham West and Oldham West and Royton.
Meacher was born in Hemel Hempstead in Hertfordshire on 4 November 1939, a descendant of a brewing and farming family. He was the only child of Hubert Meacher and his wife Doris (née Foxwell). His father had trained as an accountant, but following a breakdown, worked on the family farm. With the family having little money, his mother took in lodgers and worked for a local doctor; she had aspirations for Michael to become an Anglican priest.
Meacher was educated at Berkhamsted School, at the time an all-boys independent school, to which he won a scholarship. He then studied at New College, Oxford where he graduated with a first-class honours degree in classics and divinity, and at the London School of Economics, where he gained a Diploma in Social Administration.
Meacher became a researcher and lecturer in social administration at the Essex and York universities and wrote a book about elderly people's treatment in mental hospitals. He was the Labour Party candidate for Colchester at the 1966 general election, and fought the 1968 Oldham West by-election after the resignation of Labour MP Leslie Hale but lost to Conservative candidate Bruce Campbell.
Meacher was first elected to Parliament in 1970 for Oldham West, reversing his previous defeat, and served as a junior minister under Harold Wilson and James Callaghan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Industry, 1974–75; Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Security, 1975–79).
During Labour's time in opposition, he was in the Shadow Cabinet for fourteen years, and concurrently lectured at the LSE. He was seen as a figure on the left and an ally of Tony Benn, and stood as the left's candidate against Roy Hattersley in the 1983 deputy leadership election.
Meacher was an elected member of the Shadow Cabinet from 1983 to 1997, but Tony Blair refused to appoint him to the Cabinet, and instead made him Minister of State for the Environment, first at the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (1997–2001), then at the renamed Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2001–2003).
Despite Blair's hostility, Meacher gained a reputation for being a politician who was on top of a complex brief and was one of the longest serving ministers in the same job in the Labour Government, from 1997 to 2003. He was criticised for hypocrisy when he condemned second home owners; according to the BBC and Channel 4's The Mark Thomas Comedy Product, he and his wife owned more than five homes themselves.
Meacher was sacked in June 2003, to be replaced by Elliot Morley. He subsequently attacked the Labour government on a number of issues, particularly over genetically modified food and the 2003 Iraq War, though in the run up to the invasion he had accepted reports by the intelligence services and government, saying that Iraq had chemical weapons.
Meacher claimed that a supposed absence of prevention by United States authorities of the hijackings on 11 September 2001 was suspicious and "offered an extremely convenient pretext" for subsequent military action in Afghanistan and Iraq. This was seen as giving "credence to conspiracy theories" as claimed by the Daily Mail and The Guardian. Michael Meacher also wrote a foreword for David Ray Griffin's book The New Pearl Harbor.
In June 2006 various articles appeared in the British media claiming Meacher would stand as a stalking horse against Tony Blair in order to initiate a leadership contest; others suggested, especially after Gordon Brown came out in support of the Trident missile programme and nuclear energy, that Meacher would challenge Brown from the left.
On 23 September 2006, Meacher became the sixth Labour MP to start a blog. Meacher also wrote articles for ePolitix.com, which included criticism of Blair and Brown for perceived right-wing policies, including privatisation. He also called for a more conciliatory policy in the Middle East, attempts to tackle income inequality, and a greater commitment to reducing energy use.
On 22 February 2007, Meacher declared that he would be standing, challenging Brown and John McDonnell. However, on 14 May, after talks with McDonnell, he announced he would stand aside in order to back McDonnell as the "candidate of the left".
In December 2013, Meacher attacked the firm Atos and its Work Capability Assessments of disabled people carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, in a sustained campaign documented through his blog. Meacher was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate Jeremy Corbyn as a candidate in the leadership election of 2015.
On 22 February 2007, Meacher declared his intention to stand for the leadership of the Labour Party. The decisions of both Meacher and John McDonnell to run for the leadership were controversial with many others accusing Meacher of trying to split the nominations and keep McDonnell off the ballot paper, although neither candidate was thought by many to have any chance of winning the contest.
On 21 April 2007, The Guardian claimed that Meacher had the support of no more than three MPs and that his campaign was "virtually dead in the water".
On 27 April 2007, it was reported that Meacher had reached an agreement with John McDonnell that on the day Tony Blair announced his resignation, whichever of the two had fewer nominations would step aside and allow the other to challenge Gordon Brown.
On 14 May 2007, Meacher agreed to stand aside to allow John McDonnell to be the sole leadership candidate of the left. Subsequent articles reported that Meacher had 21 declarations of support while McDonnell had 24. In the Labour Party's leadership nomination process, McDonnell received nominations from 29 MPs.
Meacher appeared briefly as himself in the BBC drama serial Edge of Darkness (1985).
In June 1988, Meacher lost a libel action against journalist Alan Watkins, who had written an article in November 1984 which included the remark that Meacher "likes to claim that he is the son of an agricultural labourer, though I understand that his father was an accountant who retired to work on the family farm because the life suited him better."
Meacher was a member of Political Leaders for 9/11 Truth, which petitioned the US President for an independent investigation into the September 11 attacks not led by "individuals closely aligned with, or even employed by, the Bush-Cheney administration."
Meacher was a member of the Fabian Society.
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament
for Oldham West and Royton
Oldham West (1970–1997)
|Minister of State for the Environment