The Growing Clamour…

28 05 2009

As MP’s continue to live in fear for their jobs, and, as has been suggested by some, perhaps even their lives, the Independent has found ten “respected figures at Westminster” for their solutions to the problems. Which, it seems, is increasingly in the call for political reform. Which is, apparently, an idea that has been floating around in the heads of many surviving MP’s for a long long time. Apparently.

The cynic in me suggests otherwise. The only way out of the hole is to push the case for political reform. And so they are. I will come back to the issue of reform shortly, but first I want to look at the continuing issue of expenses.  I’ve written previously about the hypocrisy of the Great British public, but I want to elaborate upon this a little more. I am convinced that anyone in the same position would have done the same. If they were not being stopped by those who should have prevented such abuses, they were inevitably going to claim for what they thought they could. It is easy for the public to act all high and mighty over this subject, but it should be remembered that MP’s are only human, with the fallabilities that the rest of society has. Now I do not condone what they have done, but I think I can understand it.

Anyway, returning to the issue of reform. David Cameron is climbing out of the political wreckage with a lot of credibility, if only because it has given him the opportunity to look more like a man of the people than ever before. His suggestions for reform, whilst not entirely new, certainly carry a lot of weight in the midst of the current predicaments. He has talked of “Progressive Conservative”, in much the same way it seems as Tony Blair once talked about “New Labour”. Two of the suggestions that have emerged are set-term parliaments and a change of system. Of course there are others, but it is these I wish to discuss.

I think I agree with the notion of a fixed-term parliament. The notion is easy to talk about and promote at the moment, with the clamour behind the idea, but in reality it is much harder to bring into practice. Fixed-term parliaments would tone down the level of party-politics that exists at the moment. Rather than the PM calling an election when his party is performing well in the polls, instead he would be forced to have it at a certain time, regardless of poll performances, regardless of situation or circumstance. Regardless of anything. It takes away frustrating uncertainty that grows with not being able to have a say when the chips are down for any government. There are problems with the idea of fixed-term parliaments, I will admit, but I think that for politics to move forward, steps such as this need to be taken.

The second issue is that of the system. People have criticised the ‘first-past-the-post’ system as being too ineffective, and not representative of enough of the electorate. Chuka Umunna, a Labour candidate, writes that it’s a “ridiculous situation” where “around 100,000 voters in a few marginal seats decide the outcome of an election”. Possibly. However, I do not think that the alternative is much more conducive to a strong, and more importantly, a stable country. PR, I would suggest, only serves to weaken any government into a fragile coalition incapable of making significant progress. I have never been convinced by the PR system and cannot see it providing any more answers than the system we currently have.

As I mentioned previously, there are  many more issues that come with political reform, many of which will be explored by the politicians in the coming weeks. There is one thing that is clear though. The idea of reform is very clearly on the table, and it won’t be going anywhere for a long time. What is to be seen though is whether Cameron can manage the pressures of promises with the reality of government.



27 05 2009

Just a quick note to apologise for the lack of blogging activity recently. Apparently being under-employed is surprisingly busy. In between working, volunteering, and studying, I will try to find time to write something more substantial soon. I am hoping this will be tonight, but there is the small matter of the Champions League final that may get in the way. Anyway, here’s a couple of videos relating to the Champions League, about the two best finals:

The Power of the Game…

17 05 2009

I retain a belief that football is a great unifying force for good. Whilst I accept that there are footballing rivalries and hooliganism, football also does an emormous amount of good too. As if proof of the point of the force of the sport, I found this article which serves to indicate the influence of football. The upcoming elections are important ones, as is every election in a democratic society. That football is trying to encourage as many people as possible to vote can only be a good thing.


13 05 2009

The general hypocrisy of the great British public never ceases to amaze me. Over the course of the past week we have had the revelations about MP’s expenses. These revelations have caused uproar, and quite rightly so. Some of the abuses of the system that MP’s had made were startling and shocking. In essence though, they had been playing the system, and had been doing so for many years. They were exploiting loopholes in the law which meant they could claim for all sorts of things for all sorts of homes. The public have reacted with fury to the way MP’s have abused a system designed, in its origin, to help the MP’s living away from home.

Which is why I’m really annoyed about this story. Here is a loophole that the landlady has jumped through to avoid the smoking ban, and increase numbers back into her pub. Having listened to the person who ‘found’ this loophole on the radio this lunchtime, I grew increasingly annoyed as he showed no awareness of the hypocrisy with which he was surrounding himself. On the one hand he showed himself to be critical of the MP’s who had been exploiting loopholes, but on the other, he was proudly boasting that he knew of at least another couple of such holes to be exploited (naturally enough, he didn’t want to reveal them). There were many smokers who rang, texted, or emailed the radio to show their support for the landlady and her cause.  Many thought that declaring a pub a “research centre” was a good idea as it allowed people to smoke inside. There was simply a complete lack of wider understanding. It is, at least according to a proportion of the public, fine for the public themselves to exploit loopholes in the law, but not for MPs. I can only repeat my opening thoughts. Hypocrites.

To Be Lived In Or Learned From…?

12 05 2009

As a historian, this question is one which poses problems. In essence the answer is simple, learn from the mistakes, but never repeat them. In the real world though this is somewhat more difficult to achieve. Instead the solution seems to be to live in the past, using it as a justification for the now, when, in reality, it is far from any such thing.

As someone who not long ago finished university, I still have friends who are currently plodding their way through another set of exams. It is for this reason that I make no apologies in the two cases in point which I wish to use to illustrate my point.

The first comes from the Birmingham University Conservative Future blog, which can be found here. The people over on this blog, of whom, I will admit, I either do not know, or know by name or sight alone; write about, naturally enough things pertaining to the Conservative way of thinking. The trouble is, this invariably leads back to a certain individual, whose shadow sits long on the political landscape. Margaret Thatcher is a name which is as synonymous with political divisions as it is with miners, or the Falklands. Those over on BUCF, perhaps unsurprisingly, seem to write about her and her legacy, with almost metronomic regularity.

Now I do not have a problem with posts about her in small doses, she did divide the nation with her actions. However, the regularity with which she is held up and talked about by those on the site is, for want of a better word, boring. Perhaps more valuable would be a stringent analysis of why the Conservatives, despite Brown’s continuing failings, are failing to impress as the other option. I still see the Conservatives winning the next general election, but smaller groups such as UKIP, the BNP, the Green Party etc will be much better represented than ever before, and I think, certainly in the case of the BNP, this is a political failing of the mainstream parties. For now, the Conservatives seem to be content to ride on the wave of Labour’s self-destruction to the election. This is reflected in the blogging of the folk on BUCF, which seems, to my mind at least, to ignore the larger political issues of the moment in exchange for Labour bashing (which, as fun as it may seem, is counter-productive in the long run).

All of which leads my nicely onto the next problem. Hopping over the political spectrum to the folk at Birmingham University Labour Students, I find a similar problem. They too are stuck lauding over past success in exchange for neglect of current predicaments. In their case, the past success is much more recent, but still, to my mind, is barely enough to hang their hopes on. The minimum wage, undoubtedly a good thing, seems to be left high and dry as the one thing that Labour now really has left following twelve years of government. Their record on child poverty is in tatters, unemployment is now no better, legacies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Ireland have all been left, but we wait to see how soon these may fall apart in volatile areas of the world. It is entirely questionable as to whether healthcare has improved all that much, and whilst there are some shining lights in education, there are really not that many. There was a general enjoyment of success whilst Britain was riding a wave of optimism and big spending in the early years of the government, but this has spectacularly fizzled out as we have hit the ‘bust’ section of the cycle. Labour too has had the misfortune of being the party in power at a stage where increased litigation has forced in the country down a route of increased bureaucracy, something the wider public seems to be growing increasingly frustrated with. All of which inevitably spell curtains for the party as the British government, and this is before we hit the media problems which have dogged the party in recent times. Those on the blog though seem to be ignoring the problems. There is rarely any comment about negative Labour headlines, something I feel is to the detriment of themselves and their readership.

Perhaps it is me, floating around in my idealistic bubble, but I think I would prefer to discuss the problems, agree that there are some, and work out what the party can be doing to overcome these problems. I feel that public acceptance of the problems would be a start, and is certainly better than anonymity. Both sides at the ‘grass-roots’ level of the party perhaps have to move out of the realm of comfort blogging and start considering the bigger issues, which, sooner rather than later one would guess, will become their problems.


7 05 2009

This weeks Champions League semi-finals, traditionally two of the most engaging matches in the season, have been overshadowed by two very poor referees performances which ruined the ties.

On Tuesday Manchester United overcame Arsenal with consumate ease at the Emirates stadium. Yet it could have been so different had the referee, Roberto Rosetti, not awarded a series of free-kicks for very small offences. Indeed, the cheap free-kick that Ronaldo won to score Manchester United’s second goal on the night, should not have been given. Through the course of the night he was poor and was not consistant in anything other than his own incompetence.

As if Tuesday wasn’t bad enough, Wednesday was worse. The scenes at the end of the Chelsea-Barcelona tie were disgraceful, yes, but understandable too. Now I dislike Chelsea and the way the club has destroyed football. That said, they had every right to be aggrieved as the referee, Norweigan Tom Ovrebo, missed at least three clear penalty claims for Chelsea.

The consequence of the lack of decisions have been depicted on the back pages of every newspaper across the country. The words of Didier Drogba have reverberated around sporting websites and sporting commentators. The anger of Michael Ballack, the frustration of Guus Hiddink and the disappointment of Frank Lampard have all been recited by the press. There is one person we haven’t heard from though. That of Ovrebo. Apparently he has been told by UEFA not to make any press comments, something which is sure to fan the flames more than it dampens them.

I have written about this before, but referees need to be made accountable. At the moment the thing that frustrates the fans and players more than the decisions made is that the referees do not seem to be accountable for the decisions? Any punishment that comes the referee’s way is negligable and out of the view of the public. Referee’s get away with poor performances as they do not have to publically account for their decisions. Yes, UEFA will probably stop him refereeing any further matches in the Champions League, but that is too little to cover the loss of the match on which so much rested.

Drogba himself will undoubtedly be punished for his words, and it is likely that Ballack will also face UEFA scrutiny. The players are not allowed to speak about the referees without fear of punishment, and this is wrong. If other players can be criticised by opposing players and managers, why can referees not? It causes so many problems, and many could be aided should referees simply be made accountable for their decisions. If they were to give interviews after the match as managers do, perhaps many of their decisions can be explained in public, rather than the private report they submit to the respective authority.

The Great Big Drop…

4 05 2009

With the end of the Premier League season approaching, three teams naturally find themselves struggling to stay afloat. West Brom look certainties to go down, and although Mowbray’s attacking instincts are commendable, I’m still not sure whether they are realisitic for a newly promoted side in the division. However, I hold no fear for West  Brom, one of a few yo-yo clubs at the moment, and I think that, providing that they hold onto their better players, they will bounce back again pretty quickly.

Instead it is Newcastle for whom I fear the most. I think now they will go down, as I cannot see them picking up the requisite number of points to keep them up.  If they are relegated, the club will sink in the manner of Leeds, Charlton and Southampton (all recently Premier League clubs who find themselves either in League One, or joining it next season). Newcastle are club prone to turmoil, it seems poorly run from the top down, and there is nothing Alan Shearer could realistically have done to prevent the collapse. It is a longer term problem within the club than simply a season full of bad results indicates. They will continue to struggle I think, over the course of the next two or three seasons, and may very well be rubbing shoulders with the teams in League One sooner than they will be back in the Premier League.

Of course, there are two teams already heading to the Premier League to replace West Brom and probably Newcastle. Birmingham City, who, if I’m honest, have not impressed me much this season in footballing terms, have secured second spot in the Championship and make an immediate return to the Premier League. It is however Wolves who have finally pulled clear of the chasing pack, finishing seven points clear of Birmingham as the top scorers in the league. It has truly been a roller-coaster season for Wolves fans, the thrills of last autumn were followed by the pains of early spring. Even as recently as April 6, when the team lost to Birmingham, the fans were still muttering that automatic promotion would not be achieved. However, for the team which had remained top since October, avoiding defeat in the final five games meant that the other clubs simply could not stand the pace and fell away (Cardiff in spectacular fashion). Wolves deserve to win the Championship, there is little question about that. For the team though, the hard work starts now.