Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Racism on the football pitch reflects deeper divisions in society

The subject or racism in football has very much been in the headlines of late.

Most recently there were the appalling scenes in Serbia where England’s black footballers were physically and verbally abused whilst playing a match. These appalling scenes echoed other racist incidents particularly in eastern Europe aimed at Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) players.

At home though some would argue things are little better, with the incident involving former England and Chelsea captain John Terry racially abusing fellow QPR player Anton Ferdinand. Terry was cleared of the offence in the courts but the FA found that he had used racial abuse in the incident.

Recently, former England international Luther Blissett and the director of Operation Black Vote Simon Woolley attacked the failure on the one hand of the FA to act more quickly in the Terry incident and on the other to not believe black players.

Blissett told of the wounding effect that racism had had on him as a player starting out in the 1970s. The monkey chants and bananas being thrown on the pitch.

He felt that stronger action needs to be taken against racism both nationally and internationally. He wanted to see the FA act much more quickly in the Terry case and impose bans when things like the Serbia incident occurs.

Woolley picked up on the fact that black people are simply not believed in this society. He highlighted how it wasn’t until a bunch of white men on a panel at the FA found Terry had acted in a racist manner that it was really believed by the wider society.

Moving beyond football he quoted the instance of black people hailing taxis, that just drive by empty. When the black people complain they are accused of being “oversensitive” or “having chips on their shoulders.”

His concern is that black people and their claims of being racially abused are simply not believed in what is still a white male dominated society.

Further evidence that this is not an uncommon feeling amongst black people comes again from the football world. This has seen black players like Rio Ferdinand and Jason Roberts refusing to take part in the Kick It (racism) Out activities last weekend.

They believe that Kick It Out, an organisation concerned with addressing racism in football, has been ineffectual. It has just become another part of the self perpetuating football industry.

The charges seem harsh against an organisation that seems over the years to have done its best to address racism in football but clearly there are quite a few influential black players around that feel differently.

They do not believe they are being heard or that racism is really being addressed.

The world of football has definitely tried to tackle racism over recent years. The days of monkey chants and bananas being thrown on the pitch are long gone but institutional racism still definitely exists.

The lack of black managers in a game where there are so many black players suggests a problem. Chris Hughton at Premiership club Norwich and and Chris Powell at Championship team Charlton are the only two black managers in the top two echelons of English football.

There is also clear racism being shown toward Asian players. A TV documentary recently revealed how some English clubs don’t scout for asian players, whilst there are very few playing at professional levels. There is a definite race bar at work in football in this respect.

The problems of racism in football though are really only a mirror reflection of what is going on in the rest of society. BME people are not believed, as Mr Woolley says, compared to their white counterparts.

BME people are being hit disproportionately hard hit by the present economic down turn. The cuts are hitting the BME community the hardest because they most often are at the bottom of the pile. To find those being hardest hit in the present circumstances a good place to start is with BME women.

Strides have been made in society to address racism but much still needs to be done. There was the Race Relations Act of 1976 which addressed much overt racism. The creation of bodies like the Commission For Racial Equality ensured that such legislation was enacted. A culture where racist jokes were not tolerated developed.

Then came the McPherson inquiry following on the murder of Stephen Lawrence. McPherson found institutional racism commonplace in society. There have been steps taken to address these problems but many still remain.

The concern is that racism is still very prevalent in society, it has just become less overt. The days of shows like Love Thy Neighbour and Till Death Us Do Part are no longer part of TV schedules. The no blacks, Irish or dogs notices are not allowed by law to appear in bedsit windows but the BME person still has trouble hailing down a cab in the street.

The present worsening economic situation is likely to bring more racism to the surface as people go looking for scapegoats for the problems. It is a time when efforts need to be redoubled to address racism in all its forms across the country, from the football pitch to the workplace and places of worship. The recent Olympics was a great celebration of multicultural Britain but there is still much to be done before this society can be truly described as inclusive and colour blind.

Friday, 19 October 2012

TUC marching for justice and a future

There will be 100,000s turning out on Saturday for the TUC march ‘a future that works.’

The numbers will be guaranteed due to the way in which the Coalition Government has decided to tackle the deficit, which has united people across the spectrum, from teachers and police to doctors and Sure Start Centre organisers.

The dividing line is becoming very clear between a government drawn from an elite that seeks to dump the misery of austerity on the mass of people to pay for the actions of reckless bankers. The phrase “we’re all in it together”looks set to go down in history as one of the most ironic of all time.

The deficit is being used for idealogical reasons to further extend the neo-liberal market led approach to running society that started 30 years ago. Many thought the economic crisis created by this form of short termist capitalism would mark a new departure. However, it has just provided another opportunity to restructure capitalism so that the elite group of extremely rich individuals and corporations can continue to prosper to the cost of everyone else and the common good.

This has been most evident in the workplace. The changes the government has made in employment and health and safety laws benefit bad employers, who seek to exploit their workforce. One example has been the extension of the term of employment required before it is possible to go to an employment tribunal claiming unfair dismissal from one to two years.

The type of workplace culture that this cultivates was brought home recently in relation to a person employed by a national charity. She had done an excellent job, worked hard, continuously having her contract renewed on a three monthly basis. When she got up to the statutory point that employment rights began to accrue the contract was terminated.

The effort put into do the job meant nothing, the only concern being how cheaply the organisation could get the work done. The worth of the individual in this type of situation it would seem counts for nothing, they have simply become a commodity. The life of that individual, the implications for his or her family meaningless.

This short termist selfish approach has become commonplace in British industry, it is the product of those so often praised “flexible” markets.

Another change the government are planning will see a fee being charged to actually access an employment tribunal at all. There is then to be another charge if the case goes forward. A cap is being proposed to any compensation awards made against bad employers.

All of these changes are justified on the basis of making British business more competitive or put another way, making it easier to exploit the workforce.

The economic rationale does not stack up. Germany has a far more protection for employees, coupled with much higher levels of productivity than Britain.

Germany together with other progressive countries in Scandanavia have a grown up attitude to trade unions. They work co-operatively together: government, employer and trade union to bring about the best outcome. British employers still look backwards to the class based attritional approach of the 19thcentury, as they seek to virtually eliminate trade unions.

Germany has also recognised the opportunity that green technology offers to create a second industrial revolution. The need for this technology grows as the ravages of climate change are seen on a daily basis throughout the world. The Germans are at the forefront of this technology and set to prosper. In Britain, a climate sceptic Chancellor has done all he can to choke off the burgeoning green industries in the UK. This is foolhardy at so many levels. The TUC vision calls for the embracing of green technology.

What the future that works vision is about above all is some social justice being applied as to how the country is run. As well as dignity in the workplace there is a call for companies to pay their fair share of tax.

There has been much publicity recently about large multinational companies operating in the UK but paying no tax. This is effectively theft from British citizens. All those facilities and resources being used in the UK are effectively provided free of charge by the tax payer - it simply cannot be right.

What the people marching on Saturday are calling for is justice in the workplace and vision for the future that will reward all in our society justly. Not a lot to ask for in the fourth biggest economy in the world

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Jimmy Saville case raises questions over the cult of celebrity and the role of charities

The scandal over the sex abuse committed by Jimmy Savile over four decades raises a number of questions.

One has been why it remained undetected for so long. Clearly many of the victims were frightened of the power that Savile wielded as a major public figure with huge wealth. This provided him with the capacity to conduct an offensive through the courts against anyone questioning his name.
The whole Savile affair though raises questions about the cult of celebrity and the role charities play within that sphere. Once individuals achieve celebrity status, they are virtually worshipped like idols. Whether that celebrity comes in the world of show business or sport, these people become Gods.

Many of them really are not very nice people in the first place. When the adulation of becoming a celebrity in the public eye comes about it really does go to their heads.

Footballers provide a good example. Many come from very humble backgrounds, then suddenly they are elevated to being paid tens of thousands of pounds a week. The fans adore them and they become mini-Gods. Observe any Premiership football club car park after a game, as the stars drive off in their huge expensive cars to see the sort of adulation in action.

Many of the misdeeds of footballers feature in the newspapers these days to a level that they never have done in the past. But still much goes on that is not in the public eye. The use of the super injunction over recent years has kept much hidden.

Another thing that comes with celebrity status is a desire to embrace charity. This was seen with Savile, who famously worked at Stoke Mandeville and did many marathons for charity. It raised a vista of good in the public sphere. This so called good though can also act as a cover for nefarious behaviour as was the case with Savile.

Just as Royaly split a number of good causes between them, so it is all part of the PR profiling to encourage celebrities to embrace charity. It always gives me an uncomfortable feeling when seeing the celebrities clamouring to be part of things like Children in Need, Sport Aid and Comic Relief. Are they really doing it for the cause or simply to help with the PR profile?

The Savile affair also raises questions for the charities themselves, who clamour to get celebrities to promote their various causes. This is understandable in such a debased public discourse, where it is difficult to get serious issues into the mainstream, the celebrity path can be the only channel to make an impact. But charities need to be aware of the way they are being used, as well as being the users.

The media also needs to look at its role in raising celebrity to the level of prominence that it enjoys in society. The media often build celebrities up, only to take equal pleasure in pulling them down.

It has been a strange sight to behold some newspapers idolising Savile when he died only to hardly mention the serial allegations of rape and abuse that have now surfaced about the individual. There is a lesson in this affair for these publications, namely to never fly too close to the celebrity sun.

So much copy is wasted on the cult of celebrity because it sells paper – in the case of Jimmy Savile and many others this has proved to be a very grubby faustian pact.

Though on the other side of the argument, it was the excellent ITV Exposure documentary team who brought the Savile abuse out into the open.

Possibly the decline of religion, particularly in this country, has played a part in the rise of the cult of celebrity. The need of people to worship something. The Savile affair certainly raises many questions about that cult: the role of charity and the way in which society seems to need to idolise certain individuals. This gives the individuals concerned immense power, which as the Savile case proves, all too often gets abused.

*see Morning Star - 17/10/2012

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Debased media discourse does not promote the common good

The furore over the case of school teacher Jeremy Forrest and 15 year old pupil Megan Stammers going off together hit the headlines recently.

It reminded me of my early days at Wanstead High School when the headmaster Donald Mackay ran off with a sixth former. The year was 1973 and just as with the Stammers case, the press were crowded round the school gates.

Mackay was an austere authority figure, a man to be respected if not feared. The idea of him running off with a sixth former came as quite a shock.

These cases though it would seem are less unusual than many imagine. It is believed that one in six of the population know someone who has had an affair with their teacher. This does not make it right but does cause pause for thought about the great moralising that occurs when these incidents hit the press.

There is a real smell of hypocrisy about the media outlets that sell many of their products based on the sexualising of youngsters at younger and younger ages and then get up on their high moral horse when one of these incidents occurs.

The coverage of the Stammers and Forrest case had all the hallmarks of the 24 hour news era. A local story that broke about a teacher running off with a student. It rapidly became a national story, dominating news bulletins for days until the couple were found in France. Legions of reporters camped outside Bishop Bell School, offering regular updates.

When there was nothing to update the journalists had to look for new angles. The immediate one ofcourse being to seek to blame the school in some way.

The question is what is the point of this type of coverage, what does it add – if anything – to the national understanding of events? Is the media fulfilling its informing, educating and entertaining role? Yes, it provides good copy for news and broadcast outlets but what does it do for the common good?

Another recent story that attracted huge coverage was that of the murder of the two women police constables in Manchester. Again saturation coverage, though this time the story took on the additional aspect of some in the media seeking to obtain a change in the law and/or policing. The killings were seen as a reason to arm the police. This made no sense whatever. But from a media angle if it could be claimed that something had changed, then it would be a case of problem solved, let’s move on to the next one.

Fortunately, there has been no great uptake on this particular knee jerk suggestion either by the police or the government.

This approach though has led to the demise of rational discourse in the media on crucial issues. It is now all about quick fixes and polarised debates. So there cannot be a reasoned debate on important subjects like immigration and benefit fraud. The wrong solutions come about often because the wrong question were being asked in the first place.

Crime provides a classic example of the limitations. There is a general perception among the public that crime is rising, the reality is the opposite - it is falling. Many media outlets instead of telling the good news about crime, prefer to criticise the credibility of the figures in order to further promote the false view that crime is rising.

Another part of the crime debate is the use of prisons. The previous Justice Secretary Ken Clarke tried to reduce levels of incarceration. He argued prison does not work. Yet again the media debate tended toward the old mantra that it does work and the more people that can be locked up the better. The fact that nearly every method of measuring the effects of prisons on individuals suggests that they do not work in stopping reoffending didn’t matter. Better to reinforce prejudices, mistaken beliefs and continue with expensive ill conceived policy made on that basis.

The move toward 24 hour saturation coverage, angled toward quick fixes and polarised debates is degrading the public discourse. As the crime and prison examples prove, it does not bring about the best solution for society based on the common good. Indeed it may bring absolutely the wrong approach and bad policy.

This is not a reason in the era of the Leveson inquiry for more restrictions on the media but maybe for some reflection on what it is for. Is it simply about sensationalism, quick fixes and coming up with the wrong answers to the wrong questions - all based on the need to sell media products? Or is there a higher calling to promote measured coverage with rational wide ranging debate aimed at promoting the common good.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Renationalising the railways and other public services would offer a real way forward for Ed Miliband's one nationism

The news that the franchising process relating to the West Coast mainline railway route has collapsed came the day after Labour leader Ed Miliband’s speech to the annual conference trumpeting one nationism.


While Miliband attempted to set out an alternative vision to that of the cuts crazed Coaltion Government, the collapse of the franchise process offers a real opportunity to put meat on the bones of his one nationism. What better way to set out a new vision than to announce the renationalization of the railways and indeed maybe go further by adding other public services like water, gas and electricity?


The call for the railways to be renationalized has grown over recent months, with the latest far hikes allowing tickets to go up by 3 per cent above the Retail Price Index. The rises come at a time when food, energy and other living costs are rising while wages flat line or fall.


The rises have helped the campaign of those who argue for the re-nationalization of the railways. They claim that the service provided is the most expensive anywhere in Europe.

Figures from the Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) show a season ticket, including tube travel, for a journey from Woking in Surrey to central London costing £3,268 last year. This compares to £336.17 in Italy for a similar 22-mile journey from Velletri to Rome.

In France, the 24-mile journey from Ballancourt-sur-Essonne to Paris cost £924.66.

The RMT union claim that since privatisation, more than £11 billion of public funds has been misspent. “On debt write-offs, dividend payments to private investors, fragmentation costs including profit margins of complex tiers of contractors and sub-contractors, and higher interest payments in order to keep Network Rail’s debts off the government balance sheet,” say the RMT, who believe that “removing complex interfaces, transaction costs, increased debt servicing and private profit and dividend payments from the industry could save over £1bn a year, resulting in lower fares and public subsidy.”

Further evidence of the case for renationalisation comes with the case of East Coast mainline, which following the collapse of two previous private operators has been run directly by the state for the last three years.

Directly Owned Railways (DOR) posted results for the last year showing turnover of £665.8 million, an increase of £20 million, leaving a profit before tax and service payments to the Department for Transport of £195.7 million, an increase of £13 million.

Passenger journeys at East Coast, which runs trains from London to Yorkshire, the North East and Scotland, increased by 2.1%

Customer satisfaction at East Coast rose by 2%, and the latest punctuality figures were its best since records began in 1999.

There are signs that the Labour Party may be tipping toward a policy of at least renationalizing the railways by stealth, taking different lines back into public ownership as the franchises become due or are reneged upon by their private owners. It happened with the East Coast line and the same could happen with the West Coast line.

But the argument though over renationalization of the railways is but a microcosm of a much bigger debate on public services generally. And it is on this subject of re-nationalisation that the Labour Party could at last come up with a big idea that would appeal to the one nation.

Put very simply how can a privatized concern, whose first priority is always going to be its shareholders, ever provide better value for money that a nationalized industry. There is always going to be a substantial amount of the money raised via the service going out to shareholders that could otherwise be reinvested in the service and the workforce.

If the neo-liberal based argument that the private sector can provide a more efficient service is accepted for one moment there then has to be an evaluation as to why. If it is providing a cheaper service that can only be through reducing the pay, terms and conditions of the workforce. This has implications for individuals and families, so cannot be for the common good of the country.

So should other privatized industries be renationalized? The water industry that was privatized by Thatcher back in 1989 is hardly a shining example of success.

Some 23 years on, 25 per cent (3.4 billion litres a day) of water is lost through leaks. Leaks have been reduced by just 5 per cent since privatisation in 1989. In Germany, where the water utilities remain under the public control of the municipalities, less than 10 per cent is lost.

A look at Thames Water’s record on leakage since privatisation is revealing. In 2006, Thames Water was leaking 900 mega litres per day. It missed its leaks target under the regulatory framework for the third year in a row and was fined. At the same time, the company declared a 31 per cent rise in pre-tax profits to £346.5 million.

The average customer bill for water has risen by £64 since 2001 and is now £376, while the companies have collectively made a £2 billion in pre-tax profits and paid £1.5 billion in dividends to shareholders in 2010-11.

Other parts of the energy market tell a similar tale, shareholders first, consumers second. Even the advocates of privatisation have not been able to hide the fact in an area like electricity, whilst there has been a 40% fall in wholesale cost since privatisation, the consumer has seen only a 25% cut – how much cheaper would it have been to the consumer if those shareholders had not had to be paid?

The debate over renationalizing some of these privatized public services is only now seriously beginning. The case of the railways seems to offer the most conclusive case for renationalization. The same argument though can be advanced to other areas like water and electricity.

This is a popular idea that the Labour Party could adopt and really push forward under the flag of one-nationism. It would have to be prepared to face down those in the private sector and Parliament who will attack the idea but this can be done. The offer would be to provide cheaper transport and energy sources to the tax paying public in austere times. There can be few better ways in which Miliband could really put forward a sellable idea that epitomizes his idea of one nationism appealing to the common good.
see also - 15/10/2012


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

What is happening to journalism?

When I started in journalism 20 years ago, it was for idealistic reasons. Coming from the world of banking, some might say how could it be for anything else? Next stop must be an MP with an estate agency  business.
The aims of journalism in those days was very much to educate, inform and entertain. I was inspired to the writing world by the likes of journalists John Pilger and Alexander Cockburn. The writings of Noam Chomsky opened new windows. When I crossed  the divide into journalism it was with the aim of to quote the old phrase comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.

Over the years to a large degree I think it has been possible to carry out that mission. There were pieces on the effects of landmines and the miscarriage of justice cases like the East Ham II and Bridgewater Four.  The lot of ex-soldiers suffering with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Irish prisoners dying in British jails. More recently the concept of a living wage and economic justice in the workplace.

There are though growing concerns as to what is happening with journalism. During the past two decades, the value of journalism and particularly journalists has decreased. At a local level, newspapers that used to be produced by a team of people are now being put together by a couple of overworked and underpaid journalists.

The advent of the internet and accountants taking over the running of publications has created a perfect storm that has not been good for journalism. It has encouraged an attitude amongst managers that there is no need to leave the desk and go out of the office for stories. All can be attained from the internet, so no need to go out.
This point was well illustrated by former Independent journalist Barry Clements, who recalled 25 years ago how the news editor would come into the news room at lunch time and if there was anyone there ask why they weren't out looking for stories and making contacts. Today, the news editor would ask where someone had gone if they were missing from the office.
Is there any other profession in the land where having put a proposal to do some work to someone, the response comes back we don't pay or we don't pay much - try that one next time on your plummer when he or she comes to do a job? I recently did a piece for the British Journalism Review on the growing trend among publications to pay less than they have been doing in the past - less in some cases than they did 10 years ago.
This tendency stretches from the national newspapers to the trade press, television and radio. Ironically, journalism is becoming a rich person's pursuit because it is rapidly moving toward a situation where a person has to have money or the support of a partner on a decent wage to make it a viable trade at all.
At the same time the public relations industry which is mostly concerned with afflicting the afflicted and comforting the comfortable continues to grow. PRs are paid more and more, often to keep the truth away from the public. The concern is all about putting out good news on their clients. And as real journalism becomes more and more starved of resources so perversely the dependency on PR grows.
This dichotomy is clear at local newspaper level. It is now a well trod path from badly paid journalist on a local paper to well paid press officer in local council offices or working on the council's own paper. All of this though is bad for democracy and the holding to account of those in power. Under resourcing has seen the extinction of things like local paper court and council meeting reporting.
So where will it all end up? The job of investigative journalism certainly needs some supporting in the future. It is under threat as never before, due to the imposition of cuts on resources and a one sided focus on entertainment in media generally. A way needs to be found to support serious journalism and those who practice that art - democracy requires no less. For the moment though it is a case of plugging away, seeking continually to afflict that growing band of the extremely comfortable.