The Death Knell Tolls…

23 04 2009

As the dust settles on one of the most unpopular budgets for a long time, the battered red briefcase waved by Chancellor Alistair Darling seems indicative of the Labour party itself. Battered and increasingly unpopular, the budget, along with the party, has proven to be far from the reassuring comfort that is needed during a time of economic plight. Instead we are told of, in the best case, simple hikes in the price of fuel and alcohol offset by a variety of incentives, and in the worst, a class war.

Now I’m not sure of the strength of the latter case, although it is easy to see where the critics are coming from with such a point. The increase in taxes to offset the substantial, and increasing debt is painful reading for most who happen to drive, drink, smoke and earn. The BBC’s simplistic calculator works out that I will be roughly £80 worse off next year, if all else remains constant.

Reading various responses to Darling’s budget has been interesting, those left-wing writers, whilst stopping short of praising the whole thing, do at least champion the case for taking money from the rich. Polly Toynbee in the Guardian writes that “Taxation is the only easy way to restore a very small measure of sanity to the unjust rewards of the rich” and such a view is supported by Jonathan Freeland, who tells goes on to tell us that “Darling’s wasn’t a swashbuckling performance, but under almost impossible circumstances it was surely the best that could be done“. The general concurrance is that Darling has reignited the embers of a dying class fire. There seems to be an acceptance now of the impending fate of this government. The measures have been put in place. The legacy has been left, and the pieces are there to be picked up by a Conservative government. This may not have been inspiring stuff, but politically and tactically it was marvellous. In years to come historians will look at this budget as the beginning of the left-wing fightback, begun before they had even been removed from office.

Naturally the right-wing are up in arms about the budget. The right-wing focus lies away from the class issues though. For those on the right side of the fence there is a simple problem. The numbers don’t add up. For Jeff Randell of the Telegraph, melodramatism conveys the point: “A ball-and-chain of spirit-sapping debt has been clamped to the nation’s future“, and this is taken further by Camilla Cavendish in The Times (incidentally the only newspaper for which you need capitalise “The”) who wrote “we got growth forecasts that were fantasy even by forecast standards“. And the point is a good one. The figures, from the guy who is meant to be in charge of this sort of stuff do not seem right, and do not fall into line with any forecasts by other equally (if not better) qualified people. 2032 is the early estimate of when things might return to a ‘normal’ level. That’s if we haven’t destroyed ourselves in a nuclear rage induced by poor stock markets.

For the Tories, there is little they can do. The acceptance seems well spread. Labour are burning out. They seem to be resigned to losing the next election and this budget has done nothing but add to this feeling. The Tories just have to maintain their course. They do not need to over-react, nor, it seems, do they need substantial policy. They just need to be there for the country when Labour has proven itself not to be. This will come within the next year and the General Election. Then there is the trouble of picking up what has been left. The long term game is being played here, by both parties. Labour’s game has just begun, but for the Tories, plan A (which generally has involved letting Labour burn themselves completely) quickly needs replacing, otherwise the “oh crap, what the hell do we do now” sketch will write itself all too easily when David Cameron steps through the doors of Number 10 as the country’s leader.


Wall Scrawlings…

20 04 2009

As I made the journey to and from the delightful old city of York last week, my train took me past various towns, villages and cities all with delightful reminders of the two sides of Britain, which co-exist peacefully alongside each other, even though they should have no right to.

Passing through Sheffield revealed the ugly side of Britain. The approach to the station was littered with the various trainside power boxes, steep walls and concrete posts. On all of these things, and much more someone had scrawled their tag, “Bloodaxe”. Bloodaxe, or perhaps Mr Bloodaxe (I’m sorry, but I have difficulty in associating such a title with a female creator), had, very methodically it seems, made the effort to tag every little thing within about a mile either side of Sheffield station. These were not crafted examples of graffiti at its undoubted best, but instead were simple name scrawls, placed as an act of rebellion against…something. What, I’m not quite sure, but there must be the thrill of doing something wrong which drove Mr Bloodaxe to lazily scribble his self-appointed gory label on everything you could see. It did not look good, it did not look clever. In fact it quickly got boring. Aside from the commitment this vandalistic individual showed to the cause of tagging, there was nothing creative or impressive about the work. It just seemed so very pointless.

By way of comparison, we passed through or by some villages which reflected a more traditional view of England. The rolling hillsides and slowly meandering rivers and streams that seem more fitting in a Wordsworth poem all passed by and proved stark contrast to the world of Mr Bloodaxe. The tranquility (as best it was with a train ploughing through it) was remarkable in comparison to the hustle and bustle of town stations. The apparent slow nature of time as you see a tractor pushing its way through a field is heightened further as you compare it to the cars and buses pushing their way through the crowded streets of inner cities. Even York, as picturesque as it is, has this trouble. For other, uglier towns,  bustle and blunder seem the perfect fit for the imperfect world.

Train journeys frequently provide contrast, and whilst travelling northwards, this was brought home even more as the train dived in and out of cities and countryside. Whilst it is possible that this is not the most scenic of routes, it was an interesting trip to the casual observer.

Football Thoughts…

19 04 2009

It’s been a busy week for football this week. As I’m now sat watching the second FA Cup semi-final instead of finishing an essay, I thought I would do at least some writing.

Yesterday’s semi-final between Arsenal and Chelsea was an interesting tie. Won late on by Didier Drogba, the tie was played in the shadow of the Hillsborough tragedy (of which I have previously written), with presentations made to members of the Hillsborough families. The teams were meant to play wearing black armbands as a sign of respect. Yet Arsenal played the first half armband-less. Which was a point of criticism undoubtedly. Until Chelsea came out in the second half, without their armbands. They did, it appears, somehow jump onto the Arsenal players arms at half-time. This seems both bizarre, and slightly disrespectful. Was there only one set of black armbands at Wembley yesterday? I had always thought that the armbands were little more than black tape, so why would there need to be ‘proper’ bands? Did the FA simply forget the second set of bands? Whatever way you look at it, only having one set of armbands is distinctly unprofessional from the FA, and two teams could have simply made do with the traditional tape, as opposed to apparently sharing the armbands.

Secondly, briefly, I’m becoming more and more convinced that the next Manchester United manager will be David Moyes, who, to my mind, has many of the same traits as Sir Alex Ferguson, and who has proven himself consistantly with hardly any money at a high standard.

Finally, I cannot finish a football related blog on this day without mentioning the success of my own team. Wolverhampton Wanderers have been promoted to the Premier League two games before the season ends. Barring any freak results, they will go up as Championship Champions too. It has been a roller-coaster season, our autumn was brilliant, our winter less so. Our spring has been necessarily strong, and our summer will be exciting. Sitting atop the league since October, Wolves have proven themselves to be the best team, scoring the most goals and having the league’s top scorer in our ranks. Congratulations to Wolves, and here’s hoping for a solid season next term!

You’ll Never Walk…

12 04 2009

Yesterday was an extremely emotional day for football fans across the country. Wednesday promises to even more emotional. It is 20 years since the Hillsborough tragedy killed 96 Liverpool fans, and forced the Football Association into taking decisive action in regards to stadium safety.

As I sat watching Match of the Day last night, it was painfully apparent that the scars are still raw for those who were there. Alan Hansen, Liverpool’s captain twenty years ago, talked about how he had been affected by the event, and what it still meant to him. Mark Lawrenson sat beside him and could add nothing more.

Hillsborough was a national tragedy which still holds significance today. People who do not necessarily follow football know about Hillsborough and the significance of it. The event should not, and never will be, forgotten.

The Most Impossible Place…

6 04 2009

When I flew to Africa four years ago, I went via Dubai. We spent about five hours in the airport there and it was an amazing experience. The airport is massive, designed as you would expect of anything in Dubai, on a huge scale. My knowledge of the place was non-existant at that time. I knew we were in the ‘east’ somewhere, but I couldn’t have told you what country.

Suffice it to say my knowledge has grown since then, and I have come to view Dubai with awe and fascination. The sheer nature of the projects that are undertaken is testament to human ambition and ability. The vision for the city is staggering, and the look of the projects is amazing. The whole place has an aura of creating impossibility. I have watched countless programmes (usually on Channel 5) about the building of the islands, or the tower, or the golf course, and have come away believing in the creative potential of the human being again. Yes, it is over the top. Yes, it is disgustingly wealthy. But I still maintain it is a fascinating project to witness the evolution of a city from nothing in little over a decade.

Yet there is the side I’ve never thought about too, that of the workers. I don’t know why I’d never thought about them, maybe because in a city that is as wealthy as Dubai, I’d presumed this wealth would filter down somehow. It obviously doesn’t. It was with interest I read this article. I am unable to watch the accompanying programme tonight (there is a rather important football match on), but will watch it when I have the opportunity to. It should be fascinating, and for me at least, enlightening viewing.