Archive for July, 2013

Why I hate Modern Football


25 Jul

 

Rooney & Suarez: shameless

 I resisted the temptation to write about the latest addition to the House of Windsor and instead my attention has been drawn by the pre-season circus that is the football transfer market. Particularly the top end of it.

 First of all, Wayne Rooney. Whatever you think of him as a person – he’s dead to me following an appearance amongst green and grey Orcs polluting the Broomloan Road Stand at Ibrox a few years back – there is no doubt Rooney is a sublimely talented footballer.

 He combines powerful build with speed off the mark and a low centre of gravity which allows him to change direction quickly enough to fox most defenders.  Add to that exceptionally accurate passing, good control, courage in the air, occasionally audacious acts of supreme skill and a very tidy record as a scorer, and you have the best English player of his generation.

The downside of this appears to be that although a family man, he is as greedy and arrogant as (a depressing number of) modern players are.

 Not for Wayne enjoying playing for one of the world’s most famous football clubs, earning a million pounds every month and playing home games where crowds of 70,000+ eclipse all others on these islands.

 No, Wayne wants to be loved.  By elderly Scotsmen, apparently.

 He sulked like a bairn because Alex Ferguson had the temerity to expect:

1) he’d earn his money by performing to the best of his abilities; and

2) he’d play for the team rather than just for himself.

 ‘I wanna transfer’, said the Scouse simian. ‘Nae chance’ said Fergie.

And that was that, until David Moyes acknowledged the genius of Robin van Persie (the player without whom United wouldn’t be Champions) without making similar diplomatic noises about Rooney.  

Here we run up against the modern dilemma I’ve devoted a lot of thought to, given a lifelong belief that working people are on the sharp and shitty end of an employment relationship rooted in a Victorian era imbalance: it is footballers, not their employers or managers, who hold the whip hand.

If Rooney isn’t happy and isn’t playing in his favourite position, how hard is he going to try when he’s picked? David Moyes knows the answer to that.

And if Rooney isn’t playing then United still have to pony up a quarter of a million pounds every week until his contract runs out. Which makes no ‘business sense’.  

My inner-cynic thinks Rooney – or more likely some freeloader advising him – has engineered a dispute with United’s new manager so that he can work his ticket to Paris or play for Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, where the Portuguese coach has made no secret of his admiration for Shrek’s footballing talent.

 Let’s see how this one unfolds.

 And before I go, a quick word for Liverpool’s Luis Suarez: that word is ‘parasite’.

 This repulsive but talented nyaff is currently working his ticket at Anfield, having spent the summer moaning about the way he’s been treated by the English media. Arsenal have bid £40m for his services and, pardon me while I faint from shock, Suarez wants to talk to them.

 Well, Luis, I don’t want to get all geography teacher on you, but Arsenal also play in England.

 Notions of loyalty and respect seem like antiquated concepts to the modern footballer but putting myself in the shoes of Liverpool’s long-suffering fans I’d want this little shit hung by the ankle from the Liver Building.

 Let’s recap on Luis’s recent track record, keeping in mind that Liverpool FC have stuck resolutely/foolishly, by him.

 October 2011, racially abuses Patrice Evra of Manchester United. Then denies it, and after an FA investigation and being afforded Kenny Dalglish’s idiotic, unequivocal support is caught bang to rights. Banned for 8 games and fined £40k. IMO gets off lightly.

 Next month? Obscene gesture to Fulham fans gets another game ban.

 3 months later, nearly causes a riot by refusing to shake Evra’s hand at Old Trafford despite agreeing to do so before the game.

 Later that year admits to diving to win a penalty at Stoke.

 In January this year handles the ball into the net at Mansfield.

3 months later bites Brani Ivanovic of Chelsea. For this he gets a ten game ban, which means he’ll miss half a dozen games wherever he starts the season.

 In short, Suarez is a low-life.

  Here we have 2 of the game’s biggest names effectively spitting on their employer and deliberately engineering moves, moves which will probably secure these multi-millionaires even more money.   

 I don’t have any great moral points to make here other than modern football is shit and to note that for almost the only time in the past 2 decades I’m arguing that employers deserve a bit of loyalty from their employees. Go figure.

 Enjoy your season!

‘Weaponising’ poverty, unemployment and ill-health


17 Jul

 

IDS: a bitter, failed ideologue

Criss Jami said: ‘Just because something isn’t a lie does not mean that it isn’t deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction.”

 This last week we’ve seen a faultless display of the mendacity and ruthlessness, bordering on inhumanity, exemplifying the UK’s governing class.

 It’s a truism that you get the leaders you deserve but we must have done something unspeakable in a past life.

Why?  

Because those running the show, in this case Iain Duncan Smith and Jeremy Hunt, have shown there isn’t any depth they’re unwilling to plumb, to pursue their narrow sectarian ideology. My inner politico admires devotion to credo but as a human being I am sickened to my stomach.

 To deliberately set those at the very margins of society against each other, as Duncan-Smith has done, is only slightly less repugnant than using the deaths of hospital patients, as Hunt did yesterday, to try and score political points against the Party which founded the Health Service.   

 In this poisonous fog it is tempting to assign every cynical Tory manoeuvre and sleight of mouth to Lynton Crosby, the new éminence grise of right wing hatemongering.

Minister for Murdoch, now selling our NHS off

 But to do so is to reinforce the dishonest dead-end narrative about politics as a Punch and Judy show where all that counts is whether personality A is nicer/harsher than personality B and where helpful guidance is provided by the ever-so-objective Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, Daily Express, Sun, Daily Star, Times etc etc…..

 The future of our National Health Service and the way we house and feed people who aren’t employed, indeed how we co-exist as citizens, are critical issues for all of us – too important to be reduced to some Milliband vs Cameron charade, and too important to be left for Paul Dacre or Nick Robinson to define who is ‘right’ and who is ‘wrong’.

 I believe these are major skirmishes in the big battle of ideas, between competing tectonic plates with definitive fault lines between neo-liberal disciples of Chicago School economics and their detachment from reality; and those of us searching for a better way and looking to address and repair the crippling inequalities, divided societies, dehumanising working lives and environmental destruction visited upon us daily.

 The key issue for the Left is: do we or don’t we face up to the huge challenge of taking on an all-powerful elite which uses the very wealth we create to subjugate and control?

 Listening to (millionaire made wealthy by marrying woman with money) Iain Duncan Smith on Radio 4’s Today programme on Monday, one oft-repeated phrase jumped out: ‘I believe’.

 Duncan-Smith ‘believes’ he is right and ‘believes’ that his social-engineering policies are working, even though he has no – repeat, no – evidence that they are.

 ‘I believe I am right.’ might be enough to win a primary school playground argument, but isn’t a moral base for encouraging the working poor to turn on the workless poor rather than the people who keep them all in poverty and eviscerated our economy in 2008. Like the 2,400 bankers who earn more than a million Euros?   

 When challenged on his lack of evidence he told John Humphrys, ‘there was also no evidence (these) policies weren’t responsible’ for a small rise in those seeking work. 

In other words ‘you can’t prove it either way’.

 And the chutzpah didn’t end there: IDS claimed that the homelessness figure had ‘barely moved’, something at odds with 1) everyday reality; 2) all available empirical evidence, and; 3) his own Department’s data that statutory homelessness has risen by 27% since 2010.

We’re dealing here with people for whom facts and evidence only matter when they suit.

Gideon ‘George’ Osborne, Michael Gove, Eric Pickles, Teresa May….each one more swivel-eyed than the last.

So as the 2015 General Election approaches, prepare yourself for every public issue to be ‘weaponised’.

 This is the highly revealing phrase used by Central Office and Downing Street’s posh boys with toys, a code for deliberately politicising events in order to attack political opponents.

 Not for them governing in the national interest or pinko-liberal hogwash about a public service ethos.

 No.

Their interests and the country’s interests are ‘one and the same’.

So anything, including lying and the intellectual equivalent of sitting in an open sewer throwing filth at passers-by, goes. 

 

 

Labour, Unite and Falkirk: avoidable, pathetic and unnecessary


08 Jul

 

A house divided against itself cannot stand

I’ve watched the row between the leaderships of Unite and the Labour Party unfold, what my Mother would have called a ‘stooshie’, and seen the Westminster bubble mentality (again) win out over common sense and good judgement.

It is depressing and above all avoidable.

What should have been a minor matter for the Falkirk CLP to sort out has been puffed into a week long story by a bizarre pairing of the Tories (party and press) and senior (unnamed) Labour figures.

And for the benefit of those using the press to attack unions, let’s get back to first principles: the Tory press are not our friends.

They do not want Labour to be electable, they do not want Labour to tax the rich, they do not like Labour, they do not want a Labour government, they do not support independent, free trade unionism, they do not want Labour (or anyone) to regulate the press, they don’t support anything remotely collective or progressive, and if they can cause trouble they will. Got it?

They are the voice of the 1% and they are enemies of progress.     

So, when the Chatterati and leader writers being bankrolled by Rupert Murdoch, the Barclay brothers, Richard Desmond and Viscount Rothermere, (together controlling over 90% of the UK’s written media) are urging you down a path, as Labour Party leader you really ought to stop, reverse and put your sat-nav on.

Labour didn’t lose the last election because the party was being worked from the back by this country’s six and a half million trade union members.

I’d politely but strongly suggest we lost largely because the public blamed us for letting a huge economic crash happen on our watch.

I know this might shock any over-rated egomaniacs out there - say like a pair like, oh, dunno…. John Reid and Jim Murphy - but the British public really aren’t clamouring for their ‘moderate’ policies, triangulation, austerity-lite or more cracking down on trade unions.

They are, however, utterly sick of Westminster ‘Punch and Judy’ and think politicians are basically all the same.

So brace yourselves brothers, that means you.

Yes, you.

I believe the public are looking for a political party which has learned the appropriate lessons from 2008 and offers them hope, a real alternative to cuts, austerity, privatisation and no more ‘business as usual’ for the Fred Sheridans and Stephen Hesters of this world.

And that much-needed alternative won’t be developed if the Labour Party deliberately cuts itself off from the 15 unions affiliated to it.

Labour should, instead, be having constructive adult conversations with the members and elected leaderships of those bodies. Perhaps we should all consider how the party can reach out again to the 5 million voters who deserted it since 1997?

Take Unison, as just one example, an organisation of 1.2 million people working in all parts of the economy including the Health Service.

Why not ask the women and men in Unison what can be done to improve the NHS?

Who knows more than the nurses, ambulance drivers, doctors, cleaners, physiotherapists, receptionists, care assistants, surgeons etc., how better services and value for money can be delivered?

But instead, the Labour leadership is more interested in appearing ‘tough’ than in developing respectful and productive relationships with the very people who pay most of the bills and are expected to knock on doors and deliver leaflets whenever an election comes round.

The sooner Ed Miliband remembers who his friends are – and by default who the enemy is – then the quicker we can get all back to developing ideas on delivering justice, fairness and equality across our society and winning the support necessary to get rid of neoliberal thugs for whom the answer to every problem is cut back or sell-off.

That, rather than playing a childish game devised to take attention away from an incompetent, morally bankrupt Coalition, is what really matters.

‘If we don’t stand for something, we’ll fall for anything.’


03 Jul

Malcolm X’s quote springs to mind as I watch senior Labour Party figures floundering.   

The question of trade union influence over the Labour Party is something regularly raised by the Conservative Party ciphers and apologists in the press and judging by David Cameron’s oafish performance in the Commons today, they scent blood over the current Parliamentary selection in Falkirk West. :

Just to be clear: you are being invited to believe not only that Unite General Secretary has Ed Miliband in his pocket but that Unite members are involved in shady electoral practices – and neither of these is remotely true.

 Yet such a furore needs two protagonists: rightwing newspapers and media types hostile to Labour; and  of course Labour MPs, like Jim Murphy and David Blunkett, who, bluntly, should know better.

The bigger issue is fuelled by tension between Labour’s parliamentary leadership and affiliated trade unions – a tension which is 100% avoidable and caused by three decades of cowardice from Labour’s Parliamentary leadership. Let me explain why.

First, here are a few cold hard facts: independent, free trade unions established the Labour Party; they did this to give the previously disenfranchised working class a voice in Parliament; Unions are the country’s largest voluntary organisations, with more than twice as many union members as there are members of all political parties; unions are subjected to the tightest and most restrictive legal restrictions in Europe; are bound by law to elect their executives and most senior officials; and conduct their business in public. Go check all of that out if you don’t believe me.    

 So why then are the Right getting traction on this? Because the open, transparent and legally regulated relationship between Party and Unions is an embarrassment to the Party leadership .

As John Monks put, we’re seen as the embarrassing Uncle who has to be invited to the wedding because he’s paying for it.

 At this point let’s examine funding for UK political parties.

The Conservative Party is funded largely by businesses, more accurately by a few board members, hedge fund managers and City bankers. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism has shown that mMre than 51% of Tory money comes from faceless suits, the same people who took the economy to the brink in 2008 and still walk around as if nothing happened.

 These people pay money, as you would expect, in exchange for influence. Don’t let anyone kid you otherwise.

 They pay for politicians who will fight their corner and defend their interests. I’d suggest that fact that those who gambled our money and crippled the real economy yet remain unpunished more than 3 years into the current Coalition makes that money well spent.

The Tories get some of their money from wealthy individuals, but ignoring the increasingly thin intellectual veneer of libertarianism and neo-liberalism, they’re an organisation run by and for the super-rich. Strange that you don’t see that in the Mail or the Telegraph…..

Labour, on the other hand, is funded by individual members and affiliation fees from trade unions and 15 out the UK’s 54 independent unions are affiliated. Those affiliations are public, they’re the result of votes by members of those unions to have a political fund and to affiliate to the Labour Party.

As a member of Unite I voted only 2 months ago to retain my union’s political fund. The contrast between that and big business paying their Tory gophers behind the bike shed is stark but instead of being coy about it, Miliband and Co should be pointing out not that their funding is open, transparent and democratic. End of debate.

Unite’s leadership would, of course, like Labour to do more for Unite members – and I agree with them.

Surely it is legitimate for their leadership to say ‘without the support of the union the Blairite think tank Progress or other rightwing candidates would have been selected’?

Ask yourself why the right-wing media and Tory press has no issue when the reverse is the case?

This is the heart of the matter. Blairites like David Blunkett who continue to score own goals: in the context of Falkirk’s election he said ‘We are a broad church, we should be and we should be able to welcome and engage with a whole range of people. We shouldn’t be afraid of ideas and policy.’– as if Unite’s involvement is to narrow the church, disengage with a people and be afraid’ of ideas and policy.

 It is people like Blunkett and Jim Murphy who help create the climate where a nonentity like Grant Shapps gets away with something as utterly idiotic as “an unaccountable and unelected union baron (he means the elected and accountable Len McCluskey, btw) is strengthening his vice-like grip (?) on the Labour Party”.

It’s time the Labour Party got its story straight: a good start would be shutting up egotists who provide the Tories with free ammunition, a better one would be saying to the British public: ‘this is where our money comes from – what about them?’

Why David Cameron has no right to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela.


01 Jul

'Honestly, I've always liked this guy...'

As Nelson Mandela’s death approaches, the Twittersphere, mainstream media, right-wing commentariat and internet forums buzzed with debate on the man and his legacy.

Sure, there was far reaching consensus that Mandela was pivotal in securing a peaceful end to apartheid. But minimal political analysis focused (regretfully, of course)  on the 1950s when Mandela was a leading member of the soon-to-be-banned African National Congress and their military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe (‘Spear of the Nation’) .

This activity is what the late Margaret Thatcher used to justify her description of Mandela as a ‘terrorist’. And as the furore around her toxic legacy raged recently I smiled often at a postcard on my desk with her 1987 quote saying ‘Anyone who thinks the ANC is going to run the South African government is living in cloud cuckoo land.’ 

This also got me thinking about those who either supported apartheid or were nowhere to be seen when people like me were campaigning, actively, against minority white rule. Step forward my Member of Parliament (now that I’ve moved to Witney) Mr David Cameron.

Mr Cameron is a three years younger than I am, but in 1989 I was an Executive Officer in the civil service, working in the North West of England and an active member of the SCPS union.

I was also a member of the Anti Apartheid Movement, for no other reason than denying human rights to people on the basis of how much melanin they had was an affront to every value I held (and still hold) dear.  

In 1989, what was the young David Cameron doing?

Well, as you’d expect the son of a wealthy stockbroker, an Old Etonian who’d studied politics at Oxford, and above all an ambitious and seemingly unprincipled young man, David Cameron had moved seamlessly into the Conservative Research Department at Conservative Central Office.

To be more specific, in 1989 the 23-year-old future Tory leader went on a “fact-finding mission” to apartheid South Africa.  

His trip – described by then boss Alistair Cooke as “simply a jolly” – was organised and funded by Strategy Network International, an organisation created in 1985 specifically to lobby against the imposition of sanctions on South Africa.

As history is rewritten, we’re invited to believe that this was a ‘fact-finding exercise’ largely because Cameron met some black opposition politicians, including the head of the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) during the trip.

But leaving aside the fact that the PAC is a tiny seperatist organisation which 1) broke away from the ANC because of the presence of communists within the liberation movement and 2) is supported by almost no-one,  what did young Dave learn about the horrors of apartheid, a system which denied nine out of ten South Africans basic human rights?

Let’s ask his old boss Alistair Cooke again.

Did Mr Cameron write a Report, a report of the facts that he found on the, er,  fact-finding?

Well…………………….no.  

Apparently, “It was all terribly relaxed, just a little treat, a perk of the job. The Botha regime was attempting to make itself look less horrible, but I don’t regard it as having been of the faintest political consequence.”

So there you have it.  

1989: The evils of apartheid on the brink of collapse, Nelson Mandela’s release from a twenty seven year incarceration imminent, negotiations about a transfer of power ongoing – and our future Prime Minister being wined and dined on a sanctions-busting visit which didn’t actually produce anything.  

Peter Hain puts it better than I can; ‘This is the real Conservative Party, shown by the fact that his colleagues who used to wear ‘Hang Nelson Mandela’ badges at university are now sitting on the benches around him.’

For people like me – and there are millions of us – Nelson Mandela’s death will be an opportunity to pay tribute to a radical fighter for equality and justice.

It will be a reminder to comrades that not so long ago backing the ANC got you branded a terrorist; supporting the liberation struggle wasn’t trendy or popular; and arguing for sanctions was a minority occupation.  

In contrast, not only was the apparatus of the British ruling class actively backing apartheid, our supposedly modern conservative Prime Minister wasn’t sitting on the sidelines, he was on the pitch alongside FW De Klerk and PW Botha.

And you know what they say about judging a man by the company he keeps…….

Stephen Smith: writer

Rants, rambles and other assorted thoughts


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