Thursday, 25 May 2017

Transitional season for West Ham, who must do better to attain top six status

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic deserves credit for securing an 11th place finish amid a number of ongoing difficulties over the past season.

Bilic himself has spoken about the “obstacles” of this season, when West Ham failed to improve on the 7th position attained in the final iconic season at the old Upton Park ground.

Indeed, the move to the London Stadium proved to be an ongoing headache for much of the season. The team took time to settle in the new environment, with many of the supporters unhappy. There were stewarding problems and some incidents at the early games.

Fortunately, things have settled down, with the team managing to win seven home games in the league, whilst drawing four others. Things should be better next season.

On the field there were the problems with French talisman Dimitri Payet, who went rapidly from hero to zero with fans. From the moment the Frenchman decided he was going on strike, manager Bilic decided he had to leave the club.

The owners had wanted to make Payet stew in the reserves but the player was clearly causing such disharmony it was better to get rid of him. Indeed, Bilic managed the situation well, using the discontent to galvanise the rest of the squad. This saw a revival in fortunes over Christmas and New Year with siginficant back to back home wins over Burnley and Hull then another victory away to Swansea.

The problems for Bilic though did not just reside with the change of ground.The club did not recruit well last summer. The signing of striker Simone Zaza on loan, with a view to a permanent move, proved a disaster. The loan was cut short in January.

Others like Havard Nordtvelt and Sofiane Feghouli took time to find their feet. Record signing Andre Ayew was injured in the first game against Chelsea and did not really start showing what he can really do till the latter part of the season.
However, the most confusing thing was the failure of the club to recruit a right back, as well as forward cover. Making matters worse, for some reason, the versatile James Tomkins, who could be relied on at full back or centre back, was sold to Crystal Palace for £12 million.

Striker Enner Valencia was also loaned to Everton for the season – another strange move, as those brought in to play in his role clearly were not better than the Ecuadorian.

The strange thing was that with a jump in gate revenues from the 35,000 attendances at the old Boleyn ground to 57,000 at the London Stadium, the club did not splash out on players. When the sale of Payet for £25 million is put into the mix, West Ham only paid out around £15 million on new players over the season. What the salaries were for some of the free transfers is another question ofcourse.

Among the successes was 21 year old Edimilson Fernandes, an £8 million buy from Swiss club FC Sion, who looks a real find.

On the plus side, West Ham do have the makings of a really good team, if they can hang onto their best players. Michail Antonio was outstanding, finishing top scorer, despite having his season cut short in April. Manuel Lanzini has stepped up to take on Payet’s creative mantle and could even eclipse the Frenchman in time. Cheikou Kouyate continues to improve and together with Pedro Obiang should provide a strong midfield duo next year. At the back Winston Reid remains one of the best defenders in the Premier League, while full backs Aaron Creswell and Sam Byram could become a formidable pair. Given the addition of a few quaility players up front and at the back and West Ham can move on to become a top six side.

It would though have been good to see more from the youngsters coming up through the West Ham ranks. There were limited opportunities for the likes of Reece Oxford– not helped by the early exit from the Europa League.

The latter part of the season saw the team at its most consistent, losing just once in the last seven games. The highlight of the season for fans was the victory over Spurs, which effectively secured West Ham’s Premier league status, whilst ending the north Londoners title hopes. Other notable displays over the season included the victories over Swansea and Crystal Palace at home – the latter with Andy Carrolls spectacular overhead kick to score.

Matters were not made easier for Bilic over the closing months of the season with seeming constant stories in the media about his demise. Those stories must have come from somewhere. Whilst hindsight is a wonderful thing, West Ham were never in the relegation dogfight, yet there were some who seemed to want to make out that they were.

The manager has to now plan for the next season. He has notably retained his dignity, whilst making comment about obstacles that have been in the way this past season. He has also said that moving to a big stadium does not immediately make for a big club – the transition is a gradual process that takes place over time.

The fans seem happy with Bilic. Though, from the owners angle, they no doubt look to teams like West Brom and Bournemouth, where the manager has had less resources than Bilic and wonder whether things should not have been better.

However, if they want  success then the owners need to keep faith in Bilic and dig deep in their pockets this summer. They have the resources, with the increased gate and TV money.
Bilic is popular internationally and can attract top talent. If handled properly, West Ham can move onto the next stage and really challenge for a top six place.  So a difficult season but looking forward, the future at the London Stadium looks bright.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Bishop of Brentwood Alan Williams makes Migrant mass call for practical action to help refugees

Bishop of Brentwood Alan Williams called on people to “open their hearts but also look to do something practical and tangible for refugees.”

Delivering the homily at the 12th migrant mass being celebrated at St Anthony of Padua in Forest Gate, East London, Bishop Williams described child migrants as the most vulnerable group.

He called for refugees to be welcomed as a gift to parishes.

The bishop also recalled how helping refugees is not always a popular activity. He illustrated the point with a story about a charity he was involved with in central London, which was given a cash contribution by a bank, on the condition that the gift was anonymous.

There were prayers calling for legislators to enact “new policies that do justice for our country and those who would immigrate here.”

There was also a call for those “who fan the flames of fear and discrimination against the undocumented maybe touched with divine compassion.”

A joint collaboration between the diocese of Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood, it was the first time in the 12 years of the migrant mass that the celebration had been held in the Brentwood diocese.

More than 1500 people crammed into St Anthony of Padua Church, with banners representing the Keralan Catholic Chaplaincy, the Goan Chaplaincy UK and the Slovak Catholic Association forming part of the opening procession.

Community organization Citizens UK contributed to the celebration, telling how they have helped settle 1,000 unaccompanied child refugees over the past year under the Dubs Amendment. The day before Citizens UK had brought three young Syrian orphans to live with their grandparents in Winchester.

If you have a spare room and are interested in hosting a refugee see: http://www.refugeesathome.org

Read about Citizens UK refugee resettlement programme here: http://www.citizensuk.org/save_lives_by_helping_resettle_refugees



Friday, 19 May 2017

Why is the growing ethnic diversity of the pew not reflected on the altar?

One of the most striking features of the annual migrant mass tomorrow will be the contrast in ethnic diversity between the people in the pew and the clergy on the altar.

The pews are awash with the many races that make up the universal Catholic Church, a panorama of multi-cultural diversity. On the altar, there is a uniformity of whiteness, with priests drawn in the main from the continent of Europe. The distinction is striking and instructive.

The Church ofcourse is not the only institution that fails to reflect the diversity of people on the ground amongst its representatives. Take Parliament, where there are just 41 Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) MPs, some 76 short of the number required to reflect the diversity of the population.  Business is even worse, with less than 2% of the directors of FTSE 150 companies being drawn from a BAME background.

Public institutions, though, including the Church, have recognised the need for more diversity amongst their leaders. This was acknowledged with the publication of Lord William Macpherson’s report (1999), which defined institutional racism as being “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.” At the time, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales welcomed the definition, urging “Catholic organisations and institutions to look again at how they could better serve minority ethnic communities in our society.” However, 18 years on, progress appears to have been very slow, certainly in terms of the clergy.   

A survey of the diocese of England and Wales by the Catholic Communications Network found many unaware of the number of BAME priests. And, where the figures were available, BAME representation tended to reflect migrant priests coming from abroad, rather than those who have come from the communities in the UK.

So, Arundel and Brighton diocese has four Polish parish priests plus another three as part of the Polish Chaplaincy and three Italian priests (two as part of the Italian Chaplaincy). There were also a Dutch, a Russian, an Indian and a Nigerian priest serving.

Of the 96 priests in Leeds diocese, six are from a BAME background – two from India, three from Africa and one Yorkshire born of mixed race.

Southwark diocese confirmed 23% of its priests were black, with another 10% from the Indian subcontinent.

The Middlesbrough diocese has “no BME priests actually incardinated into the diocese but does have four priests from abroad - three from Nigeria and one from India.”

One of the most surprising responses came from Brentwood, which includes East London - one of the most diverse areas in the country. A spokesperson for Brentwood diocese said: “I’m afraid I don’t have a record of whether a priest is black or from an ethnic minority – the main concern is whether he can offer Mass, hear confessions, etc., etc. and save souls. We could do a survey, but it would take time.  

So why the lack of progress in terms of BAME representation amongst the clergy?

Father Howard James, the first black Britain of Caribbean descent to be ordained a priest back in 1991, does not believe a lot has changed in the intervening years.

Father James doesn't think BAME men are drawn to the priesthood because they do not see members of their community as priests. “Sometimes as priests we are aloof from our people and we don’t encourage. Our Catholic community is not always welcoming and many of our black men see more welcoming family understanding in other faiths that they don’t see in the Catholic or even Christian faith,” said Father James, who recalled in his own case that it was involvement in Catholic youth movement in Jamaica and a number of youth groups in the UK, that his faith grew and encouraged toward the priesthood. “So that when the notion of priesthood came into my head and heart I was not scared or afraid to put myself forward,” said Father James, who believes that the schools are the place to start. “The Catholic sixth forms would be a place to look. I would also suggest fourth and fifth forms as places to look. We should encourage, especially in Catholic schools.”

Professor of religion and public policy at Birmingham University Francis Davis believes the schools are key but also emphasised that a strategy needed to be put in place to address the problems. “We know from every other institution that if there is not a strategy put in place to deal with the obstacles that those (BAME) communities face, then individuals don’t come through from those communities,” said Davis, who contrasts the lack of priority placed on the ethnic background of clergy with the approach of the Catholic Education Service, which chronicles in much detail the ethnic background of pupils.

The CES boasted in its 2016 census that: “Catholic schools in both primary and secondary phases are considerably more ethnically diverse than national school figures.”

Davis believes the fact that there are a high level of BAME pupils in Catholic schools but they do not then go onto become priests indicates a failing of formation and nurture on the part of the Church. “The fact that they are not going on to seminaries, indicates that they do not feel included,” said Davis

Oldham based priest Phil Summer believes that BAME people still feel alienated, not seeing the Church as an institution of their community. “We need to recognise identity much more in church, so when people walk in they don’t feel it is some sort of European establishment,” said Father Summer, who also believes this feeling resonates in the seminaries “If a young African Caribbean man was to put himself forward to become a priest, the institutional life of our seminaries would be such a culture shock as to make him feel as if he didn’t belong.”

This view though is refuted by Father John Oakley, rector of St Mary’s college, Oscott, who reports rising numbers of BAME  applicants. Of 63 students at St Marys, 16 come from a BAME background (six Africans, six Filipinos and four Indians). “There are signs that students are coming from the home communities,” said Father Oakley.

The late chair of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice Haynes Baptiste complained about the lack of a black bishop and the negative signal that this sent out to BAME people. He certainly had a point. Father Summer, though, is ambivalent about a BAME bishop, believing it could be a good or bad thing. He recalls some BAME bishops appointed in the Anglican Church having a tendency to denigrate their own background. On the other hand, he says probably the most prominent black Archbishop John Sentamu of York has done great work. “He has remained true to himself, a man of gravitas, who brings something different to the Anglican community,” said Father Summer.   

A BAME bishop would certainly give the communities someone to relate to, in a way that senior appointments in any public services have a similar effect.

The question as to why the diversity of the pew and school is not reflected in the clergy is an agenda that the CARJ has been attempting to address since it was established back in 1983.

“The persistent shortage of BAME priests in the Catholic Church in England and Wales over recent decades, and the reiterated call for this problem to be addressed, might prompt those in positions of responsibility, at all levels of the Church (eg parents, teachers, volunteers, priests, bishops, etc) – to look again at this important question,” said Richard Zipfel, a CARJ trustee. “Raising such a question, however, should not become a judgmental exercise or an effort to cast blame.  Rather, it should remain rooted in a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of our Catholic community and the wider community that we seek to serve.”

For the present there is still much to be done if the ethnic gap between altar and pew is to be bridged. The suggestion that the Church is institutionally racist is unproven, though most would agree that it has not progressed as quickly as it might since the Macpherson report was published at the turn of the century. What though does still need to happen, if the altar is ever to really ethnically reflect the membership of the pews, is for some definite structures and practices to be put in place that will lead to BAME priests coming forward. Simply waiting for something to happen, ensures only that the status quo is maintained and the white concentration of the present clergy perpetuated.  

*published - Tablet - 20/5/2017 

 

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Labour Party is offering a new vision of hope for the British electorate

The Labour Party has an uphill task if it is to win the general election on 8 June but there are signs that the gap maybe closing on the Tories.

The election was allegedly called because Prime Minister Theresa May wants a stronger hand to play with the EU over Brexit. This excuse ofcourse does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. The Prime Minister has not had any problem with getting Article 50 through Parliament, receiving support from the Labour Party. What she does appear to object to is democratic accountability. First, there was the battle in the courts to give Parliament a say at all in the Brexit process. Then the Prime Minister objected to other parties and MPs within her own party trying to bring about accountability via Parliament.

Indeed, one thing that may lose the Conservative’s votes is the seeming growing demagogery of their leader. The presidential style election that the Prime Minister has so far pursued; refusing to debate with other party leaders on television, only meeting her own party devotees around the country and talking to only those she feels comfortable with in the media. The performance with husband Phillip sat alongside on the BBC's One Show couch was particularly excruciating.

The Labour Party though remains up against it. There have been the constant attacks on leader Jeremy Corbyn, often emanating from within the Parliamentary Labour Party itself. The hostility of the media, a number of whom seem to think a general election campaign, should be reported in the style of a series of the X factor has not helped.

Despite all of this the party has remained united in the face of hostility during the campaign. They should after all be in with a real chance. Despite the PM’s efforts to paint the election as all about Brexit, there is so much more at stake.  

The NHS needs more funding, not cuts. Unbelievably, schools are desperately seeking to raise money in order to continue to provide a decent education for children – amid cuts. Public services generally are being cut to the point of non-existence. Some three million children are going without food during school holidays, whilst one million people go to food banks. All this in the fifth richest country in the world Inequality continues to grow to dangerous levels. And things look set to get worse, with more austerity on the agenda and prices rising, courtesy of the falling value of the pound.

Labour does have some answers and has come up with imaginative ideas in its manifesto.  Policies include, putting £6 billion extra each year into the NHS - funded by higher taxes on the top five per cent of earners. The creation of a National Care Service to be funded with £8 billion over the next Parliament. Conditions for care workers are to be improved.

Investment in building one million new homes, including 100,000 council and housing association homes. There are also to be rent caps imposed.

More funding for education, with tuition fees scrapped and a return to maintenance grants.

There are to be 10,000 more police officers on the streets.

On labour rights, zero hours contracts are to be banned and employers stopped from only recruiting from overseas. Paternity leave is to be doubled to four weeks and paternity leave increased. There will also be four extra bank holidays marking the four patron saints of these islands.

On the elderly, the triple lock on pensions, ensuring a rise of at least 2.5% in the state pension is to be retained as are the universal benefits of free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.

The railways are to be taken back into public ownership – instead of being owned by companies owned by other states. Water and Royal Mail are also to come back into public ownership.
A degree of public ownership is to be restored to the energy market, with a state operator in each region. The party is also investing in renewable sustainable energy systems and will ban fracking.

There will also be extra investment in infrastructure such as broadband and transport.

On Brexit, the party seems to be the first to stand up for the whole country not just the leavers or remainers. The manifesto commits to leaving the EU but insists on the need to retain access to the single market and customs union. The rights of EU nationals living and working here are to be guaranteed in exchange for similar guarantees from the EU regarding Britons working abroad. Importantly, there is no reckless suggestion of the type favoured by the Tories of walking away from the EU with no deal. There is to be no “no deal” option, with transitional arrangements envisaged after the two year negotiating period.

On the down side is the continued support for retaining the Trident nuclear weapons system, something that costs the British tax payer a huge amount of money but is controlled by the US.

So there is much in this programme to be optimistic about and get behind. Electorally, it will be difficult for Labour with the mathematics seemingly stacked against them. UKIP appear to be disintegrating, with its voters turning to the Conservative Party, which has after all adopted most of their policies. The Liberal Democrats show little sign of revival, so may not pick up those votes they lost to the Conservatives in 2015. Meanwhile, north of the border, the Labour Party still has some way to go to regain ground over the Scottish National Party hegemony.

One disappointing element of the Labour Party approach has been a seeming unwillingness on the part of the leadership to do deals with other parties in order to keep the Conservatives out. There have been some moves at local level to get Liberal Democrats and Greens to stand down in favour of Labour candidates and via versa. However, the leadership does not condone such tactical pacts. It is a pity because there must surely be room for progressive pacts to stop the prospect of five more years of austerity and damage being done to the country courtesy of another Conservative Government. So it’s an uphill task for leader but the prospects for success may not be as gloomy as some media soothsayers predict.  

Monday, 15 May 2017

Don't knock the 70s

I don't quite understand the jibe about Labour going back to the 1970s, as though it were a bad time. The 70s were a good time for many people. The gap between rich and poor was at its lowest level, consequently happiness levels were at their highest point. Working weeks were getting shorter, the retirement age coming down. There were even hot summers.

Then came Margaret Thatcher, who brought longer working weeks for less pay and ever later retirement ages. Today, stress and anxiety are commonplace complaints as mental health problems proliferate. Maybe its all a grand piece of obfuscation by the Tories, who also want to go back in time, only in their case it is to the workhouse days of the 1870s.

Published - Independent -14/5/2017 -  http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/letters/cyber-attack-nhs-digital-security-defence-spending-windows-hackers-independent-letters-a7735431.html 

16/5/2017 - Evening Standard

18/5/2017 - Wanstead & Woodford + Ilford Recorder

Liverpool crush West Ham 4-0 as they surge toward Champions League qualification


Liverpool moved closer to securing a Champions League place with yesterday’s comprehensive demolition of West Ham.

The hopes of Hammers fans were dispelled in the 35th minute, when a through ball from Philippe Coutinho set Daniel Sturridge free. The England striker then easily rounded Adrian and finished into an empty net.

The home side had the chance to hit back immediately, when a corner fell to Andre Ayew, who somehow managed to hit the post when it looked easier to score from a yard out.

After that it was all Liverpool, with the impressive Coutinho helping himself to two goals after the break and generally dominating proceedings.

There was controversy on the third goal, as defender Winston Reid was felled in the Liverpool area by Georginio Wijnaldum but referee Neil Swarbrick waved play on enabling Coutinho to score at the other end.  

The rout was completed by Divock Origi, who stabbed the ball home after West Ham failed to clear.

The game proved a huge anti-climax for the home fans, after the excitement of the Tottenham game last week.

In perhaps a fitting end to a first turbulent season at the London Stadium, the players were left to parade around an empty stadium for what was intended to be a thank you to the fans.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was pleased with the way his side controlled the game. “We couldn’t have done better,” said Klopp, who praised Sturridge for “a fantastic game.”

Slaven Bilic was resigned to the defeat conceding that: “If you give space to players like Sturridge and Coutinho, they punish you.”

A Liverpool win over relegated Middlesbrough on the final day will take them back to Europe’s elite next season.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Dismembered - how the attack on the state harms us all

This timely book by Polly Toynbee and David Walker chronicles the ongoing war on the state, conducted by successive governments over the past four decades. The dismantling of state functions, whilst also outsourcing much of the work to the private sector.

The writers expose the lunacy of a growing population, requiring ever more from state structures, like the NHS, education and care services, whilst government continues to cut away at the base. The small state obsession of the Tories has seen spending on the state reduce from 45% to 39% between 2010 and 2017. The intention is that this will reduce to 36% over the next three years.  

Toynbee and Walker offer some praise for the role of previous Labour governments concerning the spending they put into public services. However, they criticise them for not putting a more positive spin on the vital role that the state plays in people’s lives.

A recurrent theme of the book is the need for the crucial work of the state, and those who work in that structure, to be articulated and recognised.  

The authors encourage state employees to be more vocal and speak out when they see things going wrong. There is though a failure to highlight the important role that trade unions could play in enabling such vocal contributions. People who feel under attack but remain dependent on the employer for their livelihoods need back up.

“Dismembered” makes a powerful case in favour of the state. Statistics abound, as to how education, care, prisons, the police and the health service have all been dismembered. However, there are also positive stories such as Thurrock Council where services have begun to be taken back in house. A tendency that is, ironically, growing as local government suffers more from the austerity agenda.   

This book provides a good analysis of the decimation that has gone on, whilst pointing toward ways that things could be improved in the future. However, whilst pouring opprobrium on successive Tory governments for their idealogical dogmatism in dismantling the state, there is a failure anywhere to mention how the best chance for realising the goals set out would be the election of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government. But reality check time, this is a book co-authored by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee let’s not forget.
 
- Dismembered - published by Faber   price - £9.99