Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Trouble in Court

Normally, I tend not to get too over-excited by events in the courtroom, mainly because of a shameful lack of interest which probably stems from a shameful lack of knowledge over how the system actually works. But a few issues this week really made my blood boil.

The battle for the 'soul of America' (something I'm not entirely sure exists anyway) looks set to be fought across the courtroom. No two issues divide America more than abortion and same-sex marriage. And in the same week, cases crucial to both issues have reached the courtroom. In Wichita, Kansas, Scott Roeder is set to stand trial for the murder of Dr George Tiller. All very normal, you might think. A crazy American with a gun, what's new? Except Dr Tiller was one of the few doctors in the U.S. to perform late-term abortions, and this was the very reason why Roeder shot him. He readily admits doing so, but he and his legal team claim that he should be tried for voluntary manslaughter as he performed the act to save the lives of unborn children. There have been the inevitable difficulties in selecting neutral jurors for the trial. It does not need explaining what a dangerous precedent this would set if the court found in Roeder's favour. We must hope that this first battle for America's soul does not put doctors who perform abortions in danger.

The second battle, over same-sex marriage, is taking place in a California courtroom. The notorious Proposition 8, the California referendum against gay marriage, is being challenged at the U.S. Supreme Court in San Francisco. The court will have to decide whether same-sex unions are protected by the constitution. Supporters of Proposition 8 have outright claimed that this is a 'battle for the soul of America'. With same-sex marriage suffering setbacks in New York and New Jersey recently, let us hope that the battle is won by the forces of progress rather than the darker, reactionary half of America. Those that argue that this is not the latest American civil rights case are wrong. It is, simple as that. And in both these cases, the American courtroom, its judges and its jurors, must come to the right decision, to prevent both anarchy and reaction.

So, the courtroom is set to be crucial in America, but apparently us Brits no longer have a need for it. Today, the first criminal trial to take place without a jury in 400 years began, with four defendants accused of an attempted robbery at Heathrow airport in 2004. The Court of Appeal's ruling that "the danger of jury tampering and the subversion of the process of trial by jury is very significant" means that Mr Justice Treacy will be both judge and jury in the case. The lives of these four men, innocent until proven guilty, are in the hands of just one. And all this without the evidence of jury tampering ever being presented to the accused's lawyers, but presented in court by the police under 'public interest immunity'. Hardly a brilliant example of democracy, is it? I am part of the public, and my interest is in making sure a fellow citizen gets a fair trial.

A crucial week in the courtroom on both sides of the pond, then, with 'America's soul' at stake on one side and the fair hearing of John Twomey and his associates at stake on the other. And never before have I had quite so little faith in the Western courts of law to make the right decision.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Owen Coyle: Hypocrite

Before I start getting angry and ranting, I must just say one thing. What Owen Coyle achieved in little over two years in charge of Burnley Football Club was nothing short of remarkable. When he took over in November 2007, Burnley were languishing mid-table in the second tier of English football and had been doing so for nearly a decade. He reinvented the side's style of play, instilled belief into the players and the fans that something could be achieved and, against all odds, achieved what had previously been unthinkable. A brilliant run to the semi-finals of the Carling Cup was followed in May by victory over Sheffield United at Wembley which ensured a return to the top flight for the first time in 33 years. It was the best of times. Burnley have coped well in the Premier League, with excellent home form in sharp contrast to dire results on their travels, and Coyle had obtained god-like status with the supporters.

Until now. Owen Coyle is the new manager of Bolton Wanderers, having joined the club this week. Every Burnley fan with a brain knew that he would one day move on to bigger and better things, his ability certainly deserves it. We didn't think for a minute that he would stay at Burnley for years to come. Clearly an ambitious man, Coyle is capable of managing at a much higher level. But the manner of his departure leaves a bitter taste in the mouth, and has lead to the freefall of Coyle's reputation amongst fans that used to idolise him and, dare I say, football fans in general. Burnley supporters could have accepted him moving upwards, to an Everton or Aston Villa for example, but the sideways move he has made to join Bolton Wanderers is stunning. Bolton, in spite of their greater funds, are two points below Burnley in the Premiership table and play a horrendous brand of football that Coyle will have his work cut out to change. They are in huge debt, and have unloyal supporters who, as was proved with the unfortunate Gary Megson, will turn on their manager at the first opportunity. Nobody other than Bolton fans, and apparently Owen Coyle, believes this is a good move for a manager with such talent and reputation. I do not buy the idea that Coyle is a Bolton man through-and-through. He played for the club for two seasons, not even as a first team regular, in a career that saw him play for many clubs. He was in a win-win situation at Burnley. Relegation would not have damaged his reputation, and he could have departed in the summer with our best wishes. If he had masterminded a survival, he would have had his name etched into BFC folklore even more than it had been already, and his reputation would have been increased tenfold. At Bolton, he must keep them up. It is as simple as that. Relegation would deal a tremendous blow to his reputation.

The timing of the move is another issue. To leave the club at the start of the January transfer window- a crucial time for any club, particularly one looking for reinforcements to help stave off the threat of relegation- is cruel, and extremely damaging. Best-laid plans will have to be re-thought, and the new manager, whoever he will be, will have very little time to get to grips with the current squad and add to it. And to leave for a relegation rival, a club in direct competition, doubles the blow. Coyle has, on the face of it, boosted Bolton's season, while at the same time potentially crippling Burnley's. That is inexcusable.

But more than anything, what niggles at Burnley the fans the most is that we never expected this of Owen 'God' Coyle. Coyle was a man who appeared to buy into the history of the club. He built a rapport with the fans. He railed against footballers motivated by money. He described himself as an honest, loyal, family man. He spoke of the 'project' he was involved in at Burnley. And, ridiculously, he said a few days prior to his move that he was focused on his job at Burnley.

One Owen Coyle quote that really stands out for me is this: "As soon as a player mentions money my interest in them has gone. What kind of man would I be if I sold this club to a young player when signing him, offering him the chance to progress into a Premier League-quality footballer, if I jumped ship as soon as a better offer came along?". I'd like to put that question to Owen Coyle now, if he is ever good enough to discuss the way in which he has handled this situation without going through his faithful stooge, Mirror journalist Alan Nixon. What kind of man do I think it makes him? A lying man. A fraud. A hypocrite.

Owen Coyle gave Burnley supporters some of the best times in leaving memory. And we loved him for it. But to leave in this manner, at this time, for this destination, after all that he had said, is nothing short of betrayal. If he is moving to Bolton to prolong his Premiership career, as some have claimed, then he is a quitter, a man who did not trust his own ability to finish what he had started and keep Burnley in the big time. And if he left for the money, then he is a liar and a hypocrite, dumping on Burnley from a great height at a crucial time.

What is certain is that the supporters won't forgive. Most of us will now look out for Bolton results in the hope that Coyle makes a fool of himself. Burnley surviving at the end of the season would mean that little bit more if it meant we consigned Coyle and his new side to the Championship. Some Burnley fans have already started labelling him 'Judas'. I personally think this is unfair. Judas at least waited until Easter to take his thirty pieces of silver.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

More airbrushing, David?

How embarrassing for David Cameron! His ugly mug needs some airbrushing to make him look presentable for the British public. What's next? A wig to hide his receding hairline?

I find it strange how everybody seems to have picked up on the fact that Cameron's face has been airbrushed, everybody seems to have missed the fact that for years he and his party have been airbrushing their policies, to hide how muddled and reactionary they actually are

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Labour shooting itself in the foot (again)

So yet another 'coup' against Gordon Brown appears to be underway. What is the point? This one was destined to fail, due in part that the ministerial careers of Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon are over due to their own failings, and in part to the fact that nobody in the Labour Party really thinks this is the right time for such a ballot.

Lo and behold, the people that actually matter within this government have backed Brown. He's not an ideal leader, and he will most likely lead the party into an electoral defeat. It is my view that a hung parliament is the best that he, and indeed the rest of us that fear the effects of a Cameron government, can hope for. This latest challenge to his leadership, feeble as it was, only confirms the public's negative opinions of the party, and hinders Brown as he attempts to claw back at the Conservative Party's lead in the polls. Is it sabotage from Hewitt and Hoon? Perhaps, only they will know. It is certainly stupid. Regardless of differences of opinion and squabbles over leadership, now is the time for the party to shut up and give as good an account of itself as possible in the election. Otherwise, it is doomed, and who knows what damage a reactionary and inexperienced Tory government will do.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Mud-slinging over Iraq

Predictably, the Chilcot inquiry has descended into a farcical escapade where everybody blames everybody else for the disaster that was the war in Iraq. Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Viggers has called the people running the war 'amateurs', appparently oblivious to the fact that he was, erm, one of them. It doesn't take a genius to realise that the planning for the war was very poor, and though the responsibility for this must ultimately rest at the very top, people lower down the pecking order must take a portion of the blame. They did not question what was happening, and engaged in their task with gusto.

Even John Prescott is breaking ranks, wondering how he went along with it in the first place. A pervasive 'Blame Blair' atmosphere has even affected the former Deputy PM, it seems. In implicitly suggesting that he was conned, noting the attorney general being 'troubled' (note that Lord Goldsmith kept his opposition to himself) and distancing himself from Blair, Prescott tries to lay the blame for the war elsewhere. Tony Blair must indeed take a huge amount of responsibility (and I pray for the day that will surely never come where he and George Bush are up before a war crimes tribunal), but other people were culpable too. Prescott, in the position he held at the time, certainly was, and so too was the attorney general. But it goes beyond even that. Parliament voted for the war, afterall, even though many MPs are doing their best to convince us otherwise. And the fiasco that the occupation has turned into must be due in part to errors within the leadership of the armed forces.

Plenty of people are to blame. And though I welcome the inquiry, I just wish it could actually achieve something genuine and worthwhile in the future rather than degenerate into chorus of "Not me, guv!" from people to whom we have entrusted British and Iraqi lives.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Tory Bloggers

An illuminating discussion with the Mirror’s Kevin Maguire last week, during which he referred to how the blogging world has become dominated by right-wingers. He attributed this to the fact that the internet in general, and the act of blogging in particular, has grown-up at a time when a supposedly left-wing Labour government is in power. Hence the opportunity offered by the internet as a means of expressing opposition has been used mainly by the Conservatives and other right-wing parties. The likes of Iain Dale and Paul Staines (ak.a. Guido Fawkes) have used the internet to great effect, and left-wing bloggers have remained incapable of catching up.

Fair enough, perhaps Labour activists have before now not deemed the avenues of the new media important to them, given that they have been in power for 12 years. Now, with the party in disarray and a Conservative government seemingly inevitable, a demoralised left-wing doesn’t seem to have the energy to establish a powerful online presence of its own. Labour List was controversial from the off, due to the Damian McBride scandal, and is fairly poor anyway. Liberal Conspiracy has its plus points, but any real influence has eluded it so far. The right-wing continues to dominate the online debate, both in terms of the size of its online presence and the quality of its platforms.

Twitter is one site that appears to have retained a liberal nature. Yet it remains weak in terms of influence. Much has been made of Labour’s Twitter tsar Kerry McCarthy, but how great can her influence be when she only has 3,570 followers? It seems the left has really missed the boat on this one. For what use is a progressive, modern tool like the internet when it is only utilised to its full effect by parties who have historically been opposed to such progress?

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Obama, China and the Internet

It will be a long time before the people of China have democracy, but how long will it be before they can gain uncensored access to at least a small bit of it, the internet. Some form of dissent on the internet does take place, but nowhere near enough. And it is good news to see that Barack Obama has called on the Chinese government to put this right.

Obama hasn't been the amazing success most progressives wanted and expected him to be, and this could possibly be another example of talk rather than action from a president who still has much to prove. But these words at least chime with Obama's own actions at home, where he has used the internet to go straight to the voters. He has been able, in this way, to set a context and frame an argument without having to go through journalists. By talking straight to the people, Obama has been able to ditch the soundbites that characterised the New Labour spin operation and swing public opinion before he goes to Congress.

The other great strength of the internet is that it allows people to hear primary sources for themselves, meaning it is harder for politicians or even the media to distort the facts. I just hope that one day the people of China will be able to experience the full benefit of this.