The Greatest…?

26 09 2008

An image on the BBC Homepage caught my eye as I was performing my usual review of frequented websites this morning. The caption beneath the image read “Who’s our Greatest Post-War PM?”.

Certain names immediately present themselves. Thatcher, Blair, Churchill (although his post-war legacy is somewhat sketchy), Attlee. All have a certain iconic status to them. All contributed to shaping Britain, however much you may disagree with what they did and how they did it.

The article asks you to list in order of preference, who you consider to be “the greatest”. It’s a simple task really, which PM do you like the most?

The trouble is, it is not a simple task for a plethora of reasons. I will list but three:

1. Few people who will vote will remember all the candidates (there are comments to be made here about the average age of internet users, and the age of people who will be able to remember all the candidates). Therefore the judgements they make will be based upon books/ recordings/ papers etc, ie, all second hand material (I will return to this point later).

2. It very much reflects the political views of those who vote, that is, if more Conservative voters take part in the poll, there will be inevitable skew (almost certainly in favour of the Iron Lady).

3. A good leader and success rarely go hand in hand (Churchill was, I believe, a good leader, but his overall record, as mentioned above, was sketchy). Leaders will get judged more on their failings than their successes (perhaps this is the right way to do it?), and for example Blair’s reputation will be forever tarnished with the gloomy spectre of the Iraq war, despite some notable success (Ireland for example).

So, it is with difficulty that one can choose who is “the greatest”, which, in itself is something of a misnomer as it encourages people to compare like with like (obviously impossible as the Britain of Macmillan, for example, is hugely different to that of Brown.)

Returning therefore to my first point of contention, the use of second hand material to judge people. The whole issue of source material is one which, as a history scholar, I have become very aware of during my academic life.  Warnings from teachers to not take the source at face value seem a long time ago, but still are (and forever will be) hugely relevant. When reading a newspaper, or watching the television, I seem to be thinking more about the angles things are portrayed at now than ever previously. I think you have to be very careful about so nonchalantly critique-ing people based on the value of a brief synopsis of their career written by a hard line left-winger, for example.

I therefore have refrained from voting in such a poll simply because it is a simple piece of time-wasting which companies such as the BBC can leap upon and claim that “Thatcher is the Greatest Post-War PM” (replacing ‘Thatcher’ with any such suitable candidate – for the record, I do think Thatcher will win such a poll, with Chuchill and Blair completing the top three). Obviously the poll is entirely inconclusive, and reflective of little more than the people who vote (shock horror, for example, that a poll in which 59% were Conservative voters, Thatcher won).

If, unlike me you do wish to vote in this poll, the link is here. Perhaps you are confident of making an informed, unbiased decision on who was the greatest post-war PM. I can’t, and I’m reasonably certain most people couldn’t either.

This Was the Week That Was…

21 09 2008

In a busy week for news, I am going to offer my brief thoughts on various issues which deserve to be looked at more thoroughly than I am prepared to do at this point.

First up is the increasing dissent within the Labour party ranks. Whilst those at BULS remain unwilling to discuss this growing concern, and those at the Labour party conference batting it away like an annoying mosquito, I firmly believe that there can be no doubt that all is not well within the party. We are bombarded with different stories of various backbench MP’s calling for Brown’s head. The arguement for keeping Brown is simple, there is no-one better. This is not an endorsement of his abilities (which he has himself defended today), more an observation about the potential of the other options. What, therefore, this boils down to is, he is the best of a bad bunch.

Another argument to keep him runs along the lines of: “We are in a difficult economic period. He has the experience to deal with such problems.” Whilst this is obviously true, there are a couple of issues I have with this naturally defensive statement. Firstly, that it should not be read as a pro-Brown stance, instead it should be read more as a “need-for-stability” stance (the two are subtlely different). Secondly, I don’t buy it anyway because, whilst he does have the experience, perhaps the need for fresh thinking is upon us. This one man has run the rule over Britain’s economy for the best part of a decade, some new thoughts and a new approach may be worth the punt.

Anyway, that’s enough about the Labour party’s problems. My next issue is with football.

Obviously I have already written about Manchester City and the huge investment they have received. My issue is with people who therefore make them ‘favourites’ to break into the so-called ‘big four’.  not this season I’m afraid. Yes, they have money. Yes, they have signed Robinho. No, this doesn’t mean they will claim anything above fifth for me. Robinho will make a difference, but he cannot, by himself, drag City into the upper echelons of the league. Essentially they have the same squad of players they had before the money came in, and will do so until at least the new year. By which time, they will be out of the running for the title, and be struggling to stick with whichever team is in fourth. Ryan Giggs is one of the few people I have heard talk sensibly about this, when he maintained the same thing to Sky Sports.

Next, as we know the season is but a month old, and the FA’s ‘Respect’ Campaign has received wide publicity, for all the right reasons. There seemed to be more respect to officials from players and staff and vice versa. However the cracks were there, as David Moyes was sent to the stands for explaining to the fourth official why his team should have been given a penalty as Leon Cort handled the ball in the box. He was right, the officials were wrong, yet they dismissed him anyway, and now he faces an FA charge. However, the death of the campaign came today as Manchester United travelled to Stamford Bridge to play Chelsea. It was not the final score (a thrilling 1-1 draw by all accounts) but the nature of Man Utd’s play which was the final straw to break the proverbial camel’s back. They picked up seven yellow cards. The club automatically receives a fine for six yellows, so there was something amiss at the Bridge. The cards, for a variety of things, ultimately, I beleive, shows that the Respect Campaign is failing just weeks into the season, as the Champions cannot, and have not, given the campaign itself the respect it deserves.

Finally, I would just like to point out that the mighty Wolves are top of the Championship pile, and now three points clear of Birmingham City. The team are scoring goals for fun, and are really looking good. Obviously there is a long way to go, and injuries and suspensions will play a big part in the campaign, but the initial signs are encouraging. They are one of only two teams in the league who haven’t lost yet (the other being Cardiff), and have many fans dreaming of next May already.

Sticking His Oar In…

11 09 2008

Twice in the past week I have turned on Sky Sports News to see the, by now, frankly distrubing grin of Gordon Brown inanely peering back at me. This annoys me.

I am not suggesting that Brown, or indeed politicians in general, should not be involved with sport, far from it. The 2012 games will see to it that as many politicians as possible jump on the sporting band-wagon in an attempt to improve their popularity with the voters. That is, I think, a given.

What annoys me though is that Brown wasn’t talking about either 2012 or the 2008 Olympics. Far from it. On Monday he was endorsing the chances of Andy Murray at the US Open final (which he subsequently lost in straight sets to Roger Federer). Today he was praising Theo Walcott for the impact he made in last nights win over Croatia. He also went on to praise the other home nations for their results.

To me this is political opportunism of the worst kind. I wouldn’t like to speculate how much of a tennis or football fan Brown is, but it was my understanding that, as a Scot, he much preferred Rugby. So on Monday was he simply backing his Scottish counterpart? Maybe. Instead it came across as almost embarassing that here was our PM talking about something he obviously knew little about (he suggested Murray was favourite for the final, something that no bookmaker backed, and, in the course of time, this proved to be an utterly incomprehensible view as Murray was beaten well by the better player.)

Today he was praising the football teams for the manner that they played in last nights matches. The matches involving the home nations resulted in two wins (for England and Scotland), two draws (for Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland) and a defeat (for Wales). These are hardly results to write home about, despite the impressive nature of the performances, especially of England and Wales. Again he sounded almost comical, like a parent trying to be ‘down with the kids’. And failing.

Why does he need to say these things? Is it in a vain attempt at winning back the voters, “hey everyone, look at me, I like football, I’m normal, you guys can trust me, fancy a pint?“. Probably. Is it symptomatic of how far national football has declined in recent times, so much so that a victory against Croatia is worth talking about in one of his public addresses? Certainly. Is it necessary, or needed? Nope, but that doesn’t mean he won’t stop trying. Good old Gordon, at one with the English people again.

A Touch of Class…

10 09 2008

Today Harriet Harman has been harping on about narrowing a class gap in Britain. She has explained that greater equality is needed in Britain, going on to imply that inequality stems from “where you live, your family background, your wealth and social class”. Great.

I find this really hard to pin down though. During the writing of my dissertation I tried to understand, and explain what ‘class’ was in the 1940’s. I found this hard work, as, obviously, there are no clear boundaries. As I was writing my dissertation though, I became aware that the class boundaries were more obvious in the 1940’s than they are nowadays. I also thought that if I was struggling to pin down various class boundaries for that period, how could it be done in today’s politically correct climate?

As I see it, ‘class’, as a label, is just one set of prejudices imposed upon someone different to yourself given their accent, wealth, or where they live. All the things that Harman talks about. That said, it is obvious that there are different classes, not only in this country, but worldwide. The trouble is, there are these unfortunate people who straddle the lines. There are quite a lot of them. In fact, I would go onto suggest that there are no explicitly ‘middle class’ people for example. You are either now ‘upper’ or ‘lower’ middle class. There is no ‘middle’ middle class. The same applies for the lower classes too.

The upper class is different. It is an entity unto itself. I don’t think there are such variations of the upper class, either you are, or you aren’t. For the upper class it’s easy. For everyone else, it’s much harder.

So how do you define class? Using Harman’s suggestions is a good place to start, but only to start. In my work I used other indicators too, such as language, how someone talked, the words they used, the accent they spoke with. Again, in the 1940’s this was, I feel more apparent than today, but we could still use such methods of identifying which class someone belongs to. It isn’t a water-tight indicator, there are people who vary their language for the situation they are in. There are people who naturally talk ‘posh’.

I considered other things too, like the person’s job. It was easier to place someone in a lower class if they were a miner, for example, or a factory worker. The doctors, or lawyers, tend to be placed into the upper middle classes. Traditionally, MP’s were upper class. Obviously that isn’t true now, in that you don’t need land, or be very rich to become an MP (a peer however…). Defining class has changed through the years, what is now upper class, is vey different to what was upper class 100 years ago. As a consequence, it has become harder to define class. Most people now own some land, a century or so ago, that would have made you upper class. But not today.

As I worked through my class related issues, I also worked out that everyone’s definition of class is different. There are obviously many permutations and combinations to someone. You cannot necessarily define someone by where they live, or what job they do. To do that is foolish. Which is why I would be interested to hear what Harman’s definitions of class are. It’s no good to simply say that we need to narrow boundaries.

At some point, I may post the section on class I wrote for my dissertation. I make no promises about it’s thoroughness, it was obviously limited by time and space, and it was not the important part of my dissertation.

Sport Uniting…

7 09 2008

For a long time I have maintained that football is one of the great uniting things in the world. I’m struggling to think of any one other sport which unites so many people. Yes, the Olympics does bring people together, but that’s due to the multitude of sports available. Football, though, is played everywhere. From the slums of Brazil to the dusty villages of Africa, football has the ability to unite people, to inspire people, and to encourage people.

Which is why it is nice to be able to watch Soccer Aid tonight. The match, at Wembley, saw an England XI play a Rest of the World XI. Both sides were comprised of former players and ‘celebrities’. Now, as fond as I’m not of the cult of celebrity, it was great to watch so many people from so many different backgrounds competing honestly, fairly, and with great enthusiasm all for a good cause.

The players, as expected took the match very seriously, and the final result of 4-3 in England’s favour, reflected the attacking and entertaining nature of the match. The players, both former pros and celebrities alike all helped make the match a great spectacle, where the real winner was Unicef.

I strongly believe we should see more things like this from football. In a time where so many people are becoming more and more disillusioned with the frankly disgusting levels of money in the sport, it is great to see that people can gather together for a week, train every day, and then turn out for such a match. More matches such as this would serve to restore a waning faith in football. I just hope that more people can cotton onto the great nature of tonights event, and use it to raise more money for charity.

The Big Sheik Up…

4 09 2008

This week has been one of the most unbelievable in footballing terms for a long long time. As new owners aquired Manchester City on Monday, they immediately agreed to fund bids for various players worth around the £30million mark. On Monday, long time Chelski target Robinho was the first arrival at what has quickly become known as “Middle Eastlands”. He arrived for £32.5million. Other offers for players such as Berbatov and Torres were soon made known too (Torres was apparently subject to a £50million offer). The new owners have quickly upset footballing circles, circles based in tradition and history.

As they plan to revolutionise football, I am left wondering quite what the appeal of Manchester City is. Yes, they have a brand new stadium (one less thing to worry about – look at the mess Liverpool are in with regard their prospective stadium), and some very good youngsters, but aside from that, were City really going anywhere? They got a new owner just a year ago, but Dr Thakshin’s dodgy finances have meant he has quickly reliquished power to the oil-rich buyers from Dubai. It is easy to forget, but City were in the Championship (or Division 1) as recently as 2002. There are more established clubs in the Premiership to pick from (Everton are crying out for investment as Moyes has struggled to finance players this summer). Manchester City just seems such an odd choice. I don’t get what the appeal is.

Then there is the knock-on effect this will have on the club. As I already mentioned, Manchester City have one of the most promising youth set-ups in the country. They have already brought through players such as Shaun Wright-Phillips, Micah Richards and Michael Johnson. There are others who have immense potential too. What will happen to this policy (of which I am in favour) once the best players in the world are brought to the club for stupid amounts of money? Will they be forced out to find other clubs? I think they will be left with little choice.

Then there is the manager. Mark Hughes (of whom I am a huge fan) is one of the best young managers in the league. But if he fails to match his employers ambitions with silverware, he too surely will be on his way, to be replaced with someone with more managerial clout (Jose Mourinho is still hot footballing property, don’t bet against a return to England for the self appointed “special one”). The best players, after all, need the best manager.

There is a short-term nature to this. If the man at the helm fails (as happens – Mourinho couldn’t deliver the Champions League despite huge financial backing) then they will be sacked. It’s a simple formula really, but one which is potentially very disruptive both to the players and to the fans. I have always maintained football clubs need consistancy, but this formula does not allow for a manager building a team, and a squad. It gives him a short-term goal of ultimate success, but nothing more permanent. In the long-term, this will put prospective managers off the job, simply because they are more realistic than the prospective employers.

So there are exciting times ahead for City, yes, but there is also a feeling of suspicion on my behalf. The Chelsea revolution has stalled, despite appearances, Manchester United have shown that money doesn’t necessarily buy success (compared to Chelsea they spent little – until signing Berbatov for £30million – this summer). City fans will be hoping that the same thing doesn’t happen at Eastlands. I fear it might, to the detriment of football as a whole.

There is much more I could add with regard to the huge sums of money involved in the game now, but that’s a different point for a different time.

Drinking, a new picture…

2 09 2008

Whilst listening to Radio One’s Newsbeat for the first time in a long while yesterday, I was impressed with the current concern they have with young drinking problems. I wrote about this some time ago now.

What surprised me was the startling figures that Newsbeat gave. Whilst the official figures take into account only alcohol related problems (such as liver disease, or alcohol poisoning), Newsbeat has revealed that actually the figures are much underestimated, especially when other things such as assaults, or other alcohol related injuries are taken into account. The figures rise from 32,000 to 53,000. To me that’s a reasonably big leap.

The figures, at least according to some are still very much an under-estimate. I’m not going to rehash what I said on my previous article, but the article on the subject is here. It’s worth checking out.

Advocates of reducing the drinking limit fail to see the real cost in terms of A&E on a Friday night. They fail to see the “carnage”, they fail to appreciate that many young people cannot handle their drink as well as they would like to think. Watching the videos that accompany the article are illuminating in this regard.

Binge drinking is a problem. There can be no denying this. Reducing the age limit will, I believe, only exacerbate the problem further.