Wednesday, 9 December 2009
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
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 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.
Sunday, 15 November 2009
He suggests that blogs and Twitter are the new purveyors of ‘mob violence’, and complains of the difficulties in distinguishing between spontaneity and co-ordination through this medium. Admitting that many people would have been offended by Jan Moir and her thoughts on the death of Stephen Gately- the stock example for many at the moment, it seems- he asks the question: “But how many read her column only after they had heard about it on Twitter, and how many complained only after they had read the Guardian’s Charlie Brooker?”
So what? If the internet allows social networking sites and commentators to highlight ignorance and prejudice and quash it, then I for one am pleased. I have gone into this before, and do not intend to again. Sandbrook, Cohen et al should give the public some credit, and allow them to make up their own minds, rather than demonise the circulation of news and opinions on the internet as a chance for troublemakers to whip up a stir about irrelevant things. In aiding the spread of information and opinions, and offering people the chance to make up their own mind, the internet is a valuable democratic asset. It is tenuous at best to compare it to the ‘blood-hungry mob of ancient Rome’. Calm down, man.
Saturday, 14 November 2009
Well, not so inexplicably, as it happens. Inheritance tax is not a vote winner, and the self-serving politicians of today, just like the self-serving politicians of yesterday, are far more concerned with prolonging their own political careers than tackling in earnest the problems facing this country. This applies to this Labour government in particular, under whose watch the inequality gap has widened further than even Margaret Thatcher could have imagined and the taxing of estates has declined. In 1997, when Tony Blair’s brave new era began, the inheritance tax threshold was £215,000. It is now £325,000. The inheriting of money, however much or little, has become one of the major causes of economic and social inequality in this country.
This idea is undoubtedly radical. It would also undoubtedly be seen as an assault on the rich. This is why my proposal is that this tax would apply to all, regardless of the size of their estate. The idea that a person’s incentive to work would be diminished by the fact that they would not be able to pass their accumulated wealth on to their children is, in my view, untrue. The incentive would still be there- to do the best you can for yourself and your family while you are still alive. The 100% tax rate on the estates of deceased citizens would merely be a method of levelling the playing field. No more would unskilled or lazy people be able to stay ahead of the more deserving and capable simply as a result of their inherited wealth and status. A person’s incentive to work would be increased: with the ability to fall back on inheritance removed, one would have to work harder to succeed. Government’s role, in my eyes, is much like that of a ruling body for sporting competition: to set the rules of the game and make sure that nobody manages a head start due to artificial means. A 100% tax on inheritance would go a long way in denying anybody an unfair advantage, resulting in a fairer, more equal and meritocratic society.
The benefits to the Government would be immense. With less incentive to save, people would spend more, thus reigniting a stagnated economy. Revenues would be significant, and allow for large scale investment in public services as well as, yes, cutting the budget. Clearly safeguards would have to be put in place to ensure that this money was used for such positive ends, rather than unwinnable wars and lining the pockets of our elected representatives. The public would not stand for anything else. The move is unlikely to be popular- nothing regarding increased taxation ever is- but it would be easier to implement and provide more of an incentive to work than increasing income tax would. To put it crudely, it is an awful lot easier to prise tax dues from the fingers of the dead. It is also easier to enforce, with rigid rules regarding the ‘unloading’ of wealth as a person’s death appears imminent.
This appeal will almost certainly fall on deaf ears. But current taxation methods are not satisfactory. The 40% rate of taxation of estates worth £325,000 and over is not enough. A brave move on inheritance tax goes some way to realigning our divided society while providing much-needed revenue to a Government brought to its knees by economic mismanagement. It’s a pity none of our political leaders, primarily drawn from the middle and upper classes, have the gumption to do it.
Tuesday, 10 November 2009
Cohen has managed to come to the conclusion that the opportunity offered by the internet to protest and express dissatisfaction is, somehow, bad. I agree with his initial thoughts on the taking of offence. I remember once hearing an obscure comedian remark (his name escapes me): "So what if you're offended? Nothing happens". People that actively choose to take offence are, again I agree, infuriating and wholly pointless. But if Cohen genuinely cannot see why people might be offended by Andrew Neil's reference to Diane Abbot as a chocolate HobNob or Jan Moir's hateful comments regarding Stephen Gately, then he is clearly missing the point. Cohen may not be black or homosexual, in fact I'm pretty sure he's neither, but plenty of people are, and may well have, believe it or not, taken offence at remarks such as those from Neil or Moir.
Cohen recognises some of the positive aspects of the internet, but the suggestion that protesting through the internet could impede free speech is erroneous. Neil and Moir, along with countless others, had their right to speak, and then the rest of us had our chance to respond. That opportunity was provided by the internet. Cohen claims that "a mob fighting a good cause is still a mob". Fair enough, but so what? So what if the internet has made it easier to protest and raise complaints? People with lives to be getting on with, by which I mean those who have jobs other than sitting at a computer and blogging about whatever takes their fancy, have too much time on their hands to express their views about something that they are offended by (Apologies, the heinous phrase again!). If the internet lets these people express their views- and remember, those views can be positive as well as negative- then it gets my vote every day.
Now, I'm off to resume my retirement from anything written, uttered or farted by Nick Cohen.
Thursday, 29 October 2009
Gordon Brown is ready to back his old colleague, and David Miliband has been particularly vocal today in stressing the positives of 'President Blair', should such a thing come to pass. The idea that Blair would not be a divisive choice, however, is frankly absurd. Blair's war in Iraq has certainly divided Europe, and his campaign now hangs on whether or not he can obtain the support of Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, with Merkel in particular believed to be doubtful over the sense of the appointment. These two leaders have the power to make or break Blair's chances of obtaining the position.
The prospective role for the former prime minister has also proved divisive domestically, with Conservative opposition well-known. Even within the Labour Party itself the idea of Blair returning to full-scale public life in this way has provoked some disquiet. Charles Clarke's opposition was perhaps predictable, but there are undoubtedly serious doubts amongst backbenchers over whether or not this appointment makes sense. The very name 'Blair' provokes a plethora of reactions in this country now, and it is unlikely that his face returning to television screens and his voice to debates on policy would be any different.
Nile Gardner's blog on why Blair should not become President is incoherent and comes at the issue from an angle of staunch Euro-skepticism, something which I am not prepared to indulge in here. But I do find myself in agreement with the right-wing press, even the Daily Mail, in thinking that a Blair presidency would be too contentious and divisive for the man himself to ever be able to make a decent fist of his new job. Europe needs a less controversial figure with a lower profile. In any case, with Merkel and Sarkozy meeting to potentially jetison his hopes, and Blair not doing himself any favours by remaining quiet on the issue, the possibility might not even threaten to become a reality.
Monday, 19 October 2009
So why is this bad? Well, clearly there are some people out there who share Moir's ridiculous views, and who read the piece with relish. There would have been others who had not really thought about the subject in any great detail or within the larger context and found themselves convinced by her one-sided arguments. The possibilities of the internet are endless when it comes to propagating views that would, without it, not achieve anywhere near as big an audience as Moir was able to achieve without even really trying. So difficult is it to police the internet in the way that Ofcom and the Press Complaints Commission do with broadcast and print respectively, that undesirable views can find an arena in which they can go unchecked. The internet is the domain where the racist, homophobic and fundamentalist can spread whatever evil they desire without facing much condemnation from a higher authority.
Except this isn't totally true. For the other side of the coin is that though the internet allows henious positions such as Moir's a platform from which they can be vocalised, it also allows such positions to be tackled, in a variety of ways from a variety of different angles. There is no 'higher authority' than public opinion, and as a bastion of free speech the web allows public opinion to be expressed vehemently. Moir was immediately subjected to immediate condemnation, on other news websites, in numerous blogs and in thousands of tweets. Though bloggers and tweeters allowed Moir's crude rubbish to reach people it could never have dreamed off had it merely been published in a newspaper, these same people were able to react more quickly and more forcefully to the article than had they been forced to wait until the newspapers the next day. The vast majority of those in the blogosphere would never have had a chance to challenge Moir without access to the internet and the opportunities it opens up. Thus Penny Red was able to hit back at Moir in much the same way Charlie Brooker was.
As a supporter of free speech, I feel the online response to Moir's piece vindicates me. She was given a platform to exhibit wild homophobia, yes, but the same platform then enabled her to be shot down in a much more effective way. The reaction has been one of widespread condemnation, with the PCC receiving more complaints in one weekend than it ever had previously. In a perfect world Jan Moir would not feel the need to ramble so outrageously and falsely in such a way. But she was able to, and her remarks become widely known very quickly due to the internet. But this same tool allowed her to be quickly challenged by a chorus of angry voices, and it is my view that the fact that the internet allows this to happen makes up for the sad fact that people like Moir find it easier to disperse their rubbish in the first place.
Saturday, 10 October 2009
Will this latest gaff halt Cameron's long march to Number 10? Doubtful, the press are so loved-up with the Conservatives and the public so sick of Brown and his sellout party that even repeated displays of incompetence won't be enough to stop Osborne from being elected to incompetently 'serve' his country next Spring.
Sunday, 4 October 2009
The conference will be important, as whether or not the party can remain united in the face of the eternal 'Europe question' will determine the future of the party in the next few months. A Tory pie-fight in Brighton is surely too much to ask for, but we can always hope. I just hope the IoS has now raised the bar for press coverage of the Conservatives, as the British public need to know a lot more about the backgrounds, motivations and, above all, policies of the people that currently look most likely to form our next government.
Thursday, 1 October 2009
Wednesday, 30 September 2009
1997 saw the Sun Rupert Murdoch has always been a clever man, and a brilliant throw its support behind Tony Blair and his New Labour project, the very project that it today ditched in favour of cuddly Cameron and his 'new' Tory party. Do not be fooled, however. Rupert Murdoch is an extraordinarily clever businessman. Switching support between the two major parties is not a case of genuine national interest from Murdoch and his paper, but rather a cynical attempt to get onside with the party he feels will form the next government. He did it with Labour, and was rewarded with unparallelled influence in Downing Street over the next twelve years as his business escapades, questionable in terms of press ownership, went largely untouched by Blair and then Brown.
This new change of policy is no different. The coverage in today's paper was crude and self-serving. But it worked. Brown is on the backfoot after a decent display at the party conference. The Tories are jubilant. Sales of the paper went through the roof. But nobody will be able to claim come May, or whenever the next election is, that it was the Sun 'what won it'. Today's move was purely cynical. Murdoch and his cronies do not shape public opinion, they follow it in the hope of establishing the Murdoch empire with the next administration so that his ventures can continue to go unchecked. Part of me hopes for a Labour victory in the spring, if only so that this odious man's influence on British politics and the media worldwide can be debated and criticised at a higher level in a way that has not happened as yet. I doubt that will happen, and it is my bet that the Sun and the greedy opportunists who run it will continue to trumpet their own importance for decades to come.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
I've always admired Jon Cruddas, for his principled deputy leadership campaign and his continued pressure from the backbenches for Labour to return to its grassroots. Yet a glance at his voting record is illuminating, with his credentials not as impressive as I thought they would be. Support for the Iraq war and opposition to an investigation into it are dipleasing, as is his strong support for Labour's anti-terrorism laws. His fence-hopping exploits on the climate change front are inexplicable.
On the other hand, the pin-up boy of progressive politics, Vince Cable seems to justify his current popularity with a voting record that would please many on the left. Maybe the Lib Dems, with a figure like Cable leading the policy debate, really are the best of a bad lot at the current time.
Saturday, 19 September 2009
Thursday, 17 September 2009
I have now come to a conclusion, eight years in the making. I oppose the war in Afghanistan for the following reasons.
1. The argument that we are fighting in Afghanistan to make Britain a safer place has lost all its legitimacy. Recent events show that terrorists are just as likely to come from Luton or Walthamstow as they are from the mountainous areas of Afghanistan. Indeed, our presence as 'infadels' is perhaps serving to radicalise people to the point that they consider terrorist action. The fact that neighbouring Pakistan is as much, if not more, responsible for the harbouring of terrorists makes the continued focus solely on Afghanistan nonsensical.
2. Another argument for forcing the Taliban out of power was that it would herald a new era of democracy and human rights in Afghanistan. The puppet President Hamid Karzai has recently passed anti-women laws reminiscient of those of the Taliban, suggesting that the new regime is less focused on bringing Afghanistan into the twenty-first century than previously intimated. The current elections, it is agreed, are unreliable, and Karzai and his people have been accused of corruption. Our government, so vocal in its condemnation of similarly flawed elections in Iran, has until recently stayed quiet. If Karzai and his regime is what we are fighting for, then it seems lives are being needlessly wasted.
3. Public opinion is against the war, and animosity towards it is only increasing. A mere glance at the history of military intervention in Afghanistan, both British and Soviet, demonstrates that victory is neither inevitable or swift.
4. The danger of intervening in sovereign nations to establish democracy is difficult, in that there is then an issue over which country is most 'deserving' of such intervention. If we are in Afghanistan, why not Burma?
For these reasons, I have now decided to set my stall against the war in Afghanistan. I will, therefore, be attending the national demonstration against the war on 24 October, and I suggest you do too.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Well done Gordon. As a leftie I have a natural aversion to cutting public spending, and would much prefer continued investment. But the nation's debts are massive, and the three major parties now appear unanimous as to the need for cuts, if not for what exactly will face them.
For my part, I would like to make three suggestions, and welcome any more.
1. Trident: Billions of pounds to maintain, and even renew, a missile system that we have never used and are unlikely ever to use. Scrapping it would save extraordinary amounts of money. The Liberal Democrats, and Vince Cable in particular, are spot on in arguing for this. It would also give us bthe opportunity to reopen the debate on scrapping nuclear weapons altogether, relieving ourselves of the hypocrisy we exhibit when criticising the likes of Iran and North Korea for seeking such weapons.
2. Pull our troops out of Afghanistan: Costly both in terms of money and human lives, the war in Afghanistan has lost its justification. Pakistan seems as fertile a breeding ground for terrorists, Karzai's government are corrupt, and anti-women legislation similar to the Taliban era has returned.
3. Scrap plans for ID Cards: Hideously unpopular, ID cards are totalitarian in nature and a threaten our civil liberties. Also very expensive, Brown should take this opportunity to ditch the unpopular scheme while he has a valid excuse that would not embarrass him further (if such a thing were possible).
Now, I'm no economist, but I'm guessing that that lot would save a few quid. Leave the NHS and school systems alone for now, and let's take this opportunity to get rid of the truly pointless wastage that this 'Labour' government has accumulated.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
My personal view has always been that immigration is vital to this country's economy, a view shared by Philippe Legrain. And I am in full agreements with this blogger, particularly with regard to his comments regarding his being a migrant labourer himself, moving from Leicester to London.
There's an awful lot of hysteria when it comes to immigration. I'm not going to go down the well-trodden route to accusing all those who advocate stricter immigration controls of racism. Yet a greater attachment to reality is needed. A housemate of mine once suggested to me that Morrissey, who I usually respect, was correct when he argued that immigration was responsible for the erosion of the British identity. Yet she was unable to give me a coherent response when I asked her what 'British identity' actually involved.
What do I think the British identity is? It's a pretty hard concept to pin down, but I would argue that a major part of it is multiculturalism.
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
About time, Dave. This comes after a month of waiting about and seeing what way public opinion would swing. And after you had previously been adamant that you would not be sacking him.
Very decisive. Just what we want from our future Prime Minister.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
The whole 'No Platform' idea, for me, needs a rethink. The BNP have now achieved some level of electoral success, suggesting that the previous tactic of relegating it to the sidestream of British politics was not working. The BBC invitation recognises this new status quo, and is a brave move from the under-pressure corporation.
Maybe it is better to think of the invitation not as giving the BNP a platform, but giving other parties the opportunity to argue against them on national television. 'Lenin' disagrees, but I believe that the way to defeat the BNP is not to act like fascists ourselves, but to challenge them in free debate.
Double-pay on Sundays has recently ended, and with it the impetus for drivers working on that day. This seems to me yet another example of customers suffering because the firms in charge of the railways are more concerned with cutting expenses and making maximum profit. Surely Britain's rail system should be geared towards providing a good service rather than making as much money as possible for those to whom the government has given up the responsibility of running them.
Saturday, 5 September 2009
It is a little harsh, however, that it is only Chelsea that have been singled out. There is little doubt that most of the bigger clubs engage in such illegal activity, using their greater reputation and financial muscle to tempt players away from smaller clubs. If Chelsea are facing such sanctions, then surely the likes of Manchester United and Liverpool must also expect recriminations? It remains to be seen whether this will be the case.
I suspect that Chelsea's ban will be lifted upon appeal. Football's governing bodies will not want to risk offending such a major side. Sanctions seem like a good idea to me, though. Maybe the richer teams should all be banned from adding to their squads and give everyone else a chance to catch up. If the Big Four all get banned from signing players, the Premier League might actually get interesting within the next year or so.
Thursday, 3 September 2009
Both articles are, to my mind, excellent. Freedland highlights the extraordinary nerve displayed by James Murdoch in arguing against state interference in the media as if he were not somebody that stood to gain to the tune of billions should the BBC be privatised. Murdoch's father, media mogul Rupert, has been a constant critic of the BBC, and it seems that his son is a chip off the old block. Freedland, though, notes that Murdoch junior is destined to fail where his father also failed. The BBC will survive, regardless of whatever David Cameron claims he will subject it to upon his likely accession to power. It is popular and respected in the eyes of the public enough to withstand the attack of any politician.
The free market has already shown itself to be unsatisfactory in giving people what they need, and the recent recession has further demonstarted its incapabilities. Further extending it into areas such as health and the media, therefore, would be nonsensical and deeply unpopular. Institutions such as the NHS and the BBC are welded onto this country's soul, and rightly so. We should be tremendously proud of them. Yet the BBC must do more to help itself stand up to attacks from the right, as Freedland notes. Director General Mark Thompson and his colleagues cannot possibly justify their astronomical salaries. The BBC needs to reconnect with licence-fee payers, whom it is there to serve. It will survive rightist attempts to dismantle it, but it needs to work harder in order to justify its survival.
On a slightly different note, a common rightist bleat with regards to the BBC is that it has a Liberal bias. I myself have read a book on the subject, the interesting but fatally flawed Can We Trust The BBC? by Robin Aitken. As a leftie myself, a left-leaning BBC is by no means repulsive to me. But that is not the point. The BBC is supposed to be neutral, and it is important it fulfils its remit in order to justify the continuation of the licence fee. Yet the fact that the continued complaints of numerous right-wingers tend to obscure (though perhaps this is the point) is that, if anything, the BBC has a bias towards the right. I will restrict myself to quoting the following from Hasan's article, but reading it in full is extremely illuminating:
'Can you imagine, for example, the hysterical reaction on the right if the BBC's political editor had been unmasked as the former chair of Labour Students? He wasn't - but Nick Robinson was chair of the Young Conservatives, in the mid-1980s, at the height of Thatcherism. Can you imagine the shrieks from the Telegraph and the Mail if the BBC's editor of live programmes had been deputy chair of the Labour Party Young Socialists? He wasn't - but Robbie Gibb was deputy chair of the Federation of Conservative Students in the 1980s, before it was wound up by Norman Tebbit for being too right-wing. Can you imagine the howls from the Conservatives if the BBC's chief political correspondent had left the corporation to work for Ken Livingstone? He didn't - but Guto Harri did become communications director for Boris Johnson within months of resigning from the Beeb.'
The BBC must improve, of this there is no doubt. Like Parliament, its purpose is to serve the country. Ridiculous salaries and unnecessary ventures do not fulfil this remit. But it is also time that the left started standing up for the BBC, both by defending it from claims of bias that are so palpably untrue and by helping it find itself a constructive role in modern society. Like the NHS, it is a great institution that retains the support and affection of the general public. It will take more than support and affection, however, to protect the Beeb from the greedy fingers of capitalism and conservatism.
Wednesday, 2 September 2009
Those hoping for some phoenix to rise from the ashes will no doubt be disappointed. Liam was for long parts of his career carried by his more-talented brother, who in any case seems creatively spent these days. More likely is yet another kiss-and-make-up session, followed by a 'renunion tour' that will further fill the pockets of the brothers and whoever the rest of the band is.
I say they should just leave it at that. The attention-seeking brothers have finally parted in the most public way possible. Brit-pop was oevr years ago, and the Oasis of recent years was a pale imitation of what went before. Thanks for the memories boys, but go and stay gone.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
I, like many, have my doubts as to whether or not al-Megrahi is in fact the one responsible for the reprehensible events of 1988. There are many that share these doubts. What is clear, however, is that he was found guilty, and therefore must be treated as a guilty man. To release him after serving so little of his sentence so he can die in his own country seems to me a slur on the memories of those he was found guilty of murdering.
The reaction of our government is equally as disappointing as the decision by the Scots to release him. In attempting to avoid responsibility for the decision and refusing to express agreement or disagreement, Brown and Shaw have acted in a cowardly manner that does not befit their positions. It could be that this is all a ploy to discredit the Scottish Nationalist Party. If so, politicising such a matter is shameful in the extreme. To suggest that anyone involved in this decision was unaware of the welcome al-Megrahi would receive in Libya is frankly absurd. Libya may now be considered 'friendly', but for years Colonel Gaddafi has been a tyrant who supported terrorist efforts abroad. The return of Libya's most famous export only serves to increase his prestige on the 40th anniversary of his rise to power, and further cover up the shameful human rights abuses of which he is guilty.
I hate, in most circumstances, being on the same political side of David Cameron. Here, though, I agree that the release is "completely nonsensical". Not because I do not beiieve in compassion, and not because I fear the disapproval of the Americans, who I feel long ago forfeited any right to the moral high ground. It is because I fear that this decision was motivated in part by the lingering feeling that the bomber was in fact innocent. Though I myself have my doubts, other means should have been pursued of securing his release by those who share them. I also regret any continuing appeasement of Colonel Gaddafi's regime, which may now be considered 'friendly' to Western interests but is certainly not considered to be so by many Libyans.
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Well, no, actually. Firstly, the drop will be a tiny 0.4%, though Transport Secretary Lord Adonis has done his best to put a bit of Labour spin on it. This reduction is by no means enough, as train prices remain astronomical unless tickets are booked a long way in advance. The prospect of getting a £60 train ticket from London to Leeds 0.4% cheaper is unlikely to persuade people to revert back to travelling by train.
Secondly, the private companies in charge of the trains will look to recoup their loss, such as it is, and thus unregulated rail fares will no doubt increase, meaning that savings made by booking tickets in advance will be wiped out. The problem with privatised rail travel is that the service providers are always unwilling to risk a loss of profits and will therefore find new ways to milk the travelling public for all it is worth.
Train prices have increased significantly since the railways were fully privatised, though this has occurred at the same time as a great improvement in services. Delays, cancellations and woefully inadequate trains are still as commonplace as they were when the system was under state control. The only change is that services are infinitely more expensive. If the government is really serious about encouraging people to use the trains, and therefore about cutting carbon emissions, then they should stop attempting to portray mediocre price cuts like this as a great step forward, and instead go for greater regulation, or preferably, though I realise this is very unlikely under the current government or a Conservative one, renationalise the networks.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
The BDO Output Index for the UK has predicted that the recession will end sooner here than it will in Europe, claiming that the speedy introduction of a fiscal stimulus package and bank recapitalisation scheme accounts for the relatively swift recovery. The National Institute of Economic and Social Research has suggested that the low point for the British economy came back in March, and that the British economy would be the first to come out of recession. If such predictions could be trusted then it would without a doubt be a positive one for the government, and Peter Mandelson was quick to seize on such positive forecasts last month. Yet it seems that the Index's argument has already been disproved, with reports in the last few days that France and Germany have already exited the recession. So far, so incorrect for the optimistic economists, then.
There are those that are not prepared to admit the recession is at an end but can at least declare it to be softening. The IMF is a case in point. The prevailing opinion, however, is that the recession is set to continue, and some more pessimistic experts have even suggested that the worst could be yet to come. Begbies Traynor's Red Flag Alert suggests that the recession is still in full swing, with the most-affected sectors being Financial Services, Property Services and Construction. The likes of Retail, Advertising and Manufacturing also remain seriously affected. Though the recession does appear to be slowing in some sectors, for a large percentage it continues unabated. Given the negativity of such findings, it is wholly inappropriate for the likes of Mandelson to be giving struggling families false hope. Positivity is necessary to stimulate the economy, but barefaced lies are not. It could even be that the recession is not softening at all, but rather tightening its grip. Research has demonstrated that business leaders are less confident than they once were that Britain is on the way out of the recession. Indeed, there is a genuine fear that Britain could be heading for a "double dip" recession.
Not all government ministers are spouting false optimism, with Harriet Harman for once correct in expressing caution over the state of the economy. What is overwhelmingly clear is that there is huge disagreement and confusion over the scope and durability of this recession, and that nobody is sure how long it will last. The sensible money, however, appears to be on it continuing for a little while longer at least, and we must hope that fears over a "double dip" recession are wide of the mark. In the mean time, ministers should stop jumping on any positive forecasts they stumble across, and focus on steering the country through it. The real danger for all leftists is that a continuing recession could lend more weight to calls from readers of the Daily Mail in the minds of otherwise progressive people: "cut all the billions of foreign aid to zero, don't renew any work permits for non-EU workers, no more legal appeals for asylum seekers, give British workers priority for council housing, put British workers first". In the face of confusion over the recession and the possibility that it may drag on longer than many expect, let us focus on not letting economic recession translate into social regression.
Friday, 14 August 2009
We should try to avoid embroiling ourself in domestic American politics, but I feel it is important that we express our support for Obama as he attempts to extend the reach of American healthcare. That 50 million Americans have no access to healthcare is, in the richest country in the world, frankly disgusting, and if we were to resort to the outlandish language of the American Right we might call such a system 'Darwinist' or 'elitist'. That Daniel Hannan, an otherwise unknown Tory MEP, has chosen to weigh in reflects badly on both him and his party. I don't buy into the argument that his comments were unpatriotic, but to suggest that he would not wish the NHS on anyone is appalling and indicative of a culture of villification that has developed in this country towards the health service. Stating that the NHS makes people 'iller' is a ridiculous propsition, and one cannot help but think that Hannan is either lacking a degree of intelligence or self-promoting, perhaps both. The National Service may not be perfect, far from it, but I am willing to bet anything on the fact that millions of taxpaying American citizens wish a universal, free health service of its kind would be wished on them.
Thursday, 13 August 2009
My thoughts on the upcoming Premier League season, which begins on Saturday.
To my mind Arsene Wenger's side are the most vulnerable of the Big Four, with the departing Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor, the latter especially given that the club appears to lack someone capable of scoring 20+ goals a season, not adequately replaced at the time of writing. Too much depends on the highly-rated youngsters at the club raising their game, and to me it seems that Wenger is misplacing his faith. Signings of the calibre of January acquisition Andrei Arshavin are necessary if Arsenal are once again to challenge for the title, yet Wenger continues to favour younger talent. This is admirable, but one wonders how much longer Arsenal fans can cope without a trophy. Wenger's aura of invincibility has worn off, and it will take more than Thomas Vermaelen, the only signing of note, to make Arsenal a force to be reckoned with once more. More investment is needed, though the return from injuries of Eduardo and Tomas Rosicky should add some quality and experience to the squad. I still see them holding on to the last Champions League place, this season at least, given the likely teething problems at Manchester City and the lack of potential challengers elsewhere. A title challenge of the sort craved and expected by Arsenal fans, and allegedly by Wenger, looks unlikely though.
My prediction: 4th
Looked like they might break into the Champions League places for large parts of last season, but ultimately their small squad and the loss of Martin Laursen to injury counted against them. The same will probably derail their challenge this year as well. Stuart Downing is a solid acqusition, though it remains to be seen how Martin O'Neill intends to fit him into a side that already includes Gabriel Agbonlahor and Ashley Young. Fabien Delph is another excellent acquisition that fits the bill in terms of the sort of player O'Neill prefers to bring to the club. The retired Laursen is replaced by Habib Beye, and much depends on how he beds in and shores up a defence that shipped goals galore in the second half of last season. Skipper Gareth Barry, however, remains unreplaced, and without investment in his small squad it seems unlikely that O'Neill can inspire Villa to improve on or even replicate their sixth-place finish of last year. Their biggest asset, however, remains their manager, and with him at the helm stability is guaranteed, though further strengthening is necessary if they are to progress.
My Prediction: 8th
Promotion last season was a largely joyless affair, with dour football and a manager that remains unloved by the supporters. Takeover talk is rife, but Birmingham must not let it distract them in the way it did during their last season in the top flight, when it cost them the services of Steve Bruce and their Premier League status. Alex McLeish will swiftly be under pressure should Birmingham not immediately adapt to life back in the big time, but his summer transfer policy suggests that a season of struggle is ahead. £8.5m is a huge amount to spend on an untried Ecuadorian striker (Christian Benitez), while the likes of Roger Johnson, Barry Ferguson and Lee Bowyer hardly inspire confidence. Joe Hart, on a year's loan, is a shrewd acquisition, while most of the promotion squad has been retained. Uncertainty is in the air at St Andrews, though, and it is my opinion that both manager and club will struggle to keep their heads above water this season.
My Prediction: 18th
A quiet summer at Ewood Park, where the major business was the unsurprising departure of Roque Santa Cruz for the Manchester City bench. The new arrivals are largely uninspiring, and a lot rests of Nikola Kalinic's ability to step into the shoes of Santa Cruz. Sam Allardyce's track record of establishing small, unfashionable northern clubs in the upper reaches of the Premier League bodes well for Blackburn, however, and the current squad is strong enough to finish comfortably in mid-table, expecially if Benny McCarthy can rediscover his goalscoring form. Solid defensively, much will depend on whether Allardyce's side can find enough goals to secure their primary objective, avoiding the sort of relegation battle they found themselves in last season.
My Prediction: 12th
Gary Megson must feel like the most unloved manager in Premier League history, but his achievement last season in making sure Bolton avoided a survival struggle was significant. One feels that Megson's main crime is that of not being Sam Allardyce, but Bolton remain as dogged and resilient as they were under Big Sam, and signings like Sean Davis, Paul Robinson, Sam Ricketts and Zat Knight are certainly consistent with the sort of players the former manager used to sign. Megson would do well to stick with the tried and tested formula, and not give in to fans calling for a more visually appealing style of football. Bolton have been well-served by their combative, hard-working but hardly fluent style for a few years now, and there is no reason why they cannot again defy the critics and finish strongly. More goals from expensive flop Johan Elmander would be appreciated by Megson, however.
My Prediction: 13th
I have to admit to an element of bias here, as I am myself a Burnley fan. Yet I will not deny feeling a certain degree of optimism as the smallest town ever to have a team in the Premier League prepares to welcome the country's finest for the first time in 33 years. The nucleus of the promotion-winning squad has been retained, while the signings have been largely low-key: Steven Fletcher (at £3 million from Hibernian) is the club's record signing, while the likes of Richard Eckersley, Tyrone Mears, David Edgar and Fernando Guerrero and Brian Easton fit with Burnley's policy of signing young, hungry players whose value will increase. The cup performances last season gave an indication of what Burnley are capable of, and with talented young manager Owen Coyle at the helm there is no reason why Burnley, in spite of low expectations, cannot repeat the achievements of Hull and Stoke in staying up against all odds.
My Prediction: 16th
Is Carlo Ancelotti the man to re-establish Chelsea as the force they were under Jose Mourinho? His record at Milan doesn't suggest so, for though he won two European Cups his league record was less convincing, as he collected just one Serie A title. Even so, the squad he inherits at Chelsea is laden with talent, and the additions of the mercurial Yuri Khirkov and pacey Daniel Sturridge can only enhance it. The club might regret not, thus far at least, being able to land the 'galactico' that Ancelotti has supposedly been chasing, but there is enough already at Stamford Bridge to suggest that a title challenge is certainly on the cards. If Ancelotti can pick up where Guus Hiddink left off, then the Blues are certainly a force to be reckoned with.
My Prediction: 2nd
Another quiet summer at Goodison Park, where David Moyes continues to work wonders in keeping his tiny squad competitive in the upper reaches of the league on a shoestring budget. Jo, returning on loan, is the only acquisition so far, but I'd expect Moyes to spend money on at least one player before the transfer window closes, especially if Jolean Lescott leaves. Injuries damaged them last season, especially up front, but a midfield up there with the best meant they were well worth their fifth-place finish. If Tim Cahill, Marouane Fellaini and Mikel Arteta can maintain their form, and Yakubu, Jo and Louis Saha start pulling their weight in the goalscoring department, then another high finish is likely, though Manchester City will undoubtedly be looking to overhaul Everton and Moyes will certainly be linked with any larger posts that become available.
My Prediction: 6th
Roy Hodgson worked wonders in leading Fulham into Europe last season, but a repeat looks less likely this time around. There is no money to add to the squad, and that the most famed of their summer signings is known only for being the brother of former-Liverpool defender John Arne Riise tells a story. Hanging on to Brede Hangeland is crucial to their ambitions, though the Norwegian continues to be linked with a move away. The nucleus of the side is strong, however, with Andy Johnson up front and Danny Murphy pulling the strings in midfield, and the ability of Hodgson to get performances out of his players suggests that Fulham will not struggle while he remains in charge. A season of quiet consolidation seems most likely.
My Prediction: 11th
'Second season syndrome' seemed to kick in halfway through the first for Hull last year, with the side winning just one of their last twenty-two games as they clung desperately on to Premier League safety. A summer of frustration has followed, with numerous players rejecting the chance to move to the KC Stadium. Phil Brown, once touted as one of the best young manager's in the country, seems to have lost the respect both of his players and those looking in from outside, and his summer signings do not inspire confidence. Hanging on to Michael Turner would be a boost, but the lack of quality additions and the likelihood of his players going into the season low on confidence suggests that Hull are in for a tough season, with Brown a strong bet for being the first managerial casualty.
My Prediction: 20th
The kind of season Liverpool had last season, they were very unlucky indeed that they did not collect the Premiership trophy at the end of it. If Rafa Benitez and his side can repeat such levels of performance, then another serious title challenge is surely a certainty. There is no reason why Liverpool cannot do so. Glen Johnson is an excellent, though overpriced, acquisition, and Steven Gerrard and Fernando Torres form a partnership comparable in its lethalness to any in Europe. The loss of Xabi Alonso is a blow, however, and questions have been asked about the ability of injury-prone Alberto Aquilani to step into his shoes for any long periods at a time. Injuries to Gerrard or Torres would be devastating to Liverpool's ambitions, as there is nobody of any real note to step into their boots. Over the course of the season, Liverpool might struggle to repeat the exploits of last time around, though they seem certain to be there or thereabouts in the end of season shake-up at the summit.
My Prediction: 3rd
Manchester City provide the intrigue for this season's Premier League. Will their expensively-assembled squad blend? How will they fit their numerous strikers into their starting XI? Will Mark Hughes survive August? Either way, it looks like being a fascinating season on the blue side of Manchester. There is no doubting the quality of new recruits Gareth Barry, Roque Santa Cruz, Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure, while Joleon Lescott would further improve the squad. Add them to the likes of Robinho, Micah Richards, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Ireland, Wayne Bridge, Craig Bellamy and Shay Given and, on paper at least, you have a squad capable of challenging the best in Europe. Such hastily-assembled sides, however, take time to blend together, and it is unlikely Hughes will be given much time to get his team playing the way he wants. The quality evident in the squad means City will not struggle, but those expecting an immediate title challenge might be disappointed.
My Prediction: 5th
The main discussion has been about how Manchester United will deal with the loss of Cristiano Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez. Both are huge losses, particularly Ronaldo, and the acquisitions of Michael Owen and Antonio Valencia do not, on paper at least, compensate for them. Sir Alex Ferguson will have to find a new way of playing, and goals will have to come from elsewhere. He is relying on a lot: Nani developing in the same way as Ronaldo did a couple of years ago; Owen keeping fit and rediscovering his best form; Anderson starting to hit the net. If all these things happen, then United have a chance of being nearly as good as they have been for the last two years. It seems unlikely though, yet United's saving grace might be that none of their major challengers seem massively stronger than last year. The title chase will be even closer, but Ferguson has lost big players before and kept United competitive, so there is little reason to suggest it won't happen this season.
My Prediction: 1st
The outcome of Portsmouth's takeover saga will be crucial to determining the outcome of their season. Without it, a squad that has already lost Glen Johnson and Peter Crouch will be further depleted as the club attempts to balance the books. If it does happen, Paul Hart can look forward to being able to strengthen his squad- a striker is the priority- and stabilising a club that has been in turmoil since the departure of Harry Redknapp to Tottenham. Portsmouth have a solid squad, but how their season goes depends on whether they are able to add to it or forced to sell more of their prize assets.
My Prediction: 15th
The difficult second season has arrived for Stoke City. Manager Tony Pulis worked wonders in steering the club to twelfth place last season, but there is no doubt things will be tougher this season. Dean Whitehead, the only major arrival so far, hardly sets pulses racing, though Pulis will surely spend more before the window closes. Key men are Liam Lawrence, who will be looking to keep fit and supply some of the creativity that helped Stoke stay alive last year, and James Beattie, whose goals were vital after his January arrival. Much has been made of Rory Delap's long throws, but chances are that sides will be more prepared for Stoke's tactics this year, so Pulis will have alter his approach a little. It will be tough, but there are worse teams in the league this year.
My Prediction: 17th
Sunderland fans are this season placed in the bizarre situation of relying on a self-confessed Newcastle fan to help them avoid the relegation struggles of the last two seasons. In Steve Bruce, however, they have a manager who proved at Wigan that he was capable of guiding teams to safety, and the funds placed at his disposal mean they have the ability to attract players capable to taking the club to the next level. Frazer Campbell and Darren Bent are excellent additions to Kenwyne Jones in attack, Lee Cattermole came on leaps and bounds under Bruce at Wigan, and Paulo da Silva should add some steel to the defence. More additions are surely likely, and while Sunderland’s squad lacks the quality or depth to suggest they can seriously challenge for Europe, they should have enough to easily avoid a relegation battle.
My Prediction: 10th
Under Harry Redknapp, Spurs will not struggle, but the question is whether or not he will be able to lead the club to the kind of heights they feel they should regularly be reaching. Peter Crouch and Sebastien Bassong are quality additions that should make sure Spurs keep moving in the right direction, but the ‘revolution’ spoken about during his honeymoon period is surely not now worthy of the name. In true Redknapp style, more additions are surely on the way, and if he can start getting the best out of Luka Modric, David Bentley and Robbie Keane on a more regular basis, then European football is well within the club’s grasp once again.
My Prediction: 7th
West Ham United
Gianfranco Zola made a promising start to his managerial career last season, with his West Ham side playing fluent attacking football. With no significant departures and the signing of Luis Jimenez on loan from Inter Milan, Zola seems set to pick up where he left of last year. Much depends on whether Carlton Cole can continue the goalscoring form that has propelled him into the England setup, but with youngsters such as Jack Collison and Mark Noble complemented by more experienced players like Robert Green and Scott Parker, another season comfortably sitting in mid-table beckons, while the club will eagerly await the outcome of discussions that could determine their financial future.
My Prediction: 9th
The loss of Steve Bruce to Sunderland was a blow to Wigan, but Roberto Martinez did enough during his time at Swansea to earn himself a reputation as one of the best young managers in the country. Securing the signature of James McCarthy from Hamilton was something of a coup, but Martinez is pinning a lot of his hopes on former Swansea players Jordi Gomez and Jason Scotland recreating their Championship form at a higher level. The losses of Antonio Valencia and Lee Cattermole will also be felt, to the extent that Wigan are unlikely to finish as highly as they did under Bruce last year (11th). There is money to spend, however, and Martinez has enough ability to ensure Wigan avoid a dogfight.
My Prediction: 14th
Champions of the Championship last year, but the prospects appear bleak at Molineux this season. Mick McCarthy hardly covered himself in glory during either of his two previous management stints in the Premiership, while his summer signings, though numerous, suggest Wolves will struggle. Following their last relegation from the top flight, the board admitted to regretting not spending enough money. They cannot be accused of that this time around, backing McCarthy to the tune of around £15m. A lot depends on Kevin Doyle, overpriced at £6.5m, rediscovering the form of his first year in the Premier League with Reading, while well-travelled full-back Greg Halford was one of Roy Keane’s expensive flops at Sunderland. Ronald Zubar, Nenad Milijas and Andrew Surman are all untried at this level. Michael Mancienne is a quality addition, but only a temporary one, and if Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Michael Kightly fail to make the step up, then struggle is likely.
My Prediction: 19th
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
Oh well, you can't take it with you.
Monday, 3 August 2009
Don't worry, though, I'm not taking Murdoch's money. I would never sacrifice my principles in such a way. I'm doing it for free.
Saturday, 1 August 2009
Not wishing to make light of this in any way, but has he not just become the first person to actually do what thousands of us have contemplated while watching the show?
Bobby Robson was a massively successful manager and, let us not forget, player. But he combined this success with such a tremendous amount of good humour, kindness and gravitas that, for once, the overwhelming amount of trubutes are all richly deserved. The world of football, and the world in general, will be a poorer place for the loss of this great man.
Wednesday, 29 July 2009
First of all, thankfully, non-families don't have to camp with the families. There is a handily positioned campsite for those without little ones, right next to a bar and the entrance to the arena. There are also plenty of other people looking to enjoy a relatively child-free weekend.
Last year, Camp Bestival was voted best new festival. This year, it did nothing to dispel that billing. The weather held, for the most part. The music, Will Young aside, was excellent. Highlights included a UK-exclusive 2009 set from PJ Harvey, a bouncy performance by Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip and, perhaps best of all, a brilliant dose of Phoenix on the Saturday night. As with most things like this, my memories are slightly nullified by excessive amounts of £3.70 cans of Tuborg and lack of sleep, the latter of which was hardly surprising since I left my sleeping bag at home.
All I can say, really, is when you see it advertised next year, go. You won't regret it. Hi De Hi!
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Today also sees the return of Sven-Goran Eriksson to English football. Notts County may be the oldest football team in the country, but last year they finished 87th in the football league. Arab investors have seen an opportunity, however, and Sven has been persuaded to sign up. He cites the challenge of advancing Notts County as his reason for joining, cynics will say it was the money. I'm a born cynic. Either way, it's a fascinating story, and I certainly applaud everyone involved for investing in a club that is still some way from being the finished article rather than taking the easy option and buying an already well-established side. Success will be all the more fulfilling, should it come. This is by no means assurred, however, and you have to feel a little bit for County manager Ian McParland, who has been granted what can only be considered a stay of execution and must cope with one of the most successful club managers in European football looking over his shoulder.