Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A new view of Utopia

A Universal Basic Income and 15 hour week are among the radical ideas put forward by the young Dutch academic Rutger Bergman in his book Utopia for Realists.

Picking up on Thomas Moore’s concept of Utopia, Bergman puts forward a blueprint for a new future. The tone is one of thinking about how things are and saying why, whilst dreaming what they could be and asking why not.

The bold premise is that by implementing the Universal Basic Income (UBI), cutting the working week to 15 hours and opening borders to migration that poverty can largely be eradicated.

The idea of UBI has been gathering support since the Swiss referendum on the subject last June. The idea of giving people a basic amount to live on is now being trialed in parts of the Netherlands and Finland. But the idea is not new having been trialed during the 1960s and 70s in the US and Canada . Amazingly, US President Richard Nixon was on the verge of implementing UBI in the 1970s - the legislation finally falling in the Senate.

What Bergman argues is that the evidence from past experiments shows that when people are given money they use it sensibly. People are not innately lazy always looking for a way of skiving – which happens to be the premise on which the benefits system in the UK is now based.

There is the example of an experiment in the City of London in 2009, when 13 men living on the street were given £3,000 a year.

The result was not that they spent it on alcohol and drugs. After 18 months, seven had a roof over their heads, with two about to move into apartments.

The men had joined classes and reconnected with families. What was more the experiment saved money, with the total cost working out at £50,000, rather than the £400, 000 per annum it was previously costing to keep them on the street.

The central thrust of Bergman’s argument is that the evidence shows that when given a basic amount of money people act sensibly, they don’t stop working but do have more time for their families and education.

What is more it contributes to the common good by further cutting welfare costs.

The shorter working week is not a new idea either. It was a perfectly realistic goal in the post war world. Recalling once again that great liberal, Nixon, promising Americans a four day week in 1956.

The big change in attitude to ideas like the shorter working week came with the neo-liberal revolution of recent decades,  promoted at the outset by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US.

Since that time people have worked longer for less, with requisite increases in levels of stress, mental illness and general unhappiness with life.

Now things need to change, not least for the welfare of the human person but also with the rapid advance of automation, there simply won’t be the jobs to do in the future.

An Oxford University study suggests 54% of jobs in Europe are likely to be done by machines in the next 20 years.

Bergman’s answer to the world’s problems is a massive redistribution of wealth, moving from the present grotesque inequalities that sees eight people owning as much of the world’s wealth as half of its population (3.5 billion). The means to achieve such redistribution will be implementation of UBI, a 15 hour working week and taxes on capital and not labour.

He also calls for an opening up of borders, arguing that if developed countries let in just 3% more immigrants that would provide a boost of US$305 billion for the world’s poor.

Bergman’s challenging ideas have much to recommend them, though, concepts like open borders, might take a bit more selling in the present febrile atmosphere.

*Utopia for realists and how we can get there By Rutger Bregman                     Published by Bloomberg £16.99

- published in the Catholic Universe - 23/4/2017

Saturday, 22 April 2017

West Ham have to share spoils, despite dominating Everton for 90 minutes

West Ham 0-0 Everton

The two teams in this game underwent something of a role reversal with West Ham looking like the side that was fifth in the table pushing for Europe.

The dominance of the home side was demonstrated by the fact that reinstalled keeper Adrian did not have one serious save to make in the whole game.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was delighted with the performance his side put in contesting every ball from start to finish. “I was really pleased with the way we played, how solid we were, how composed we were,” said Bilic.

The managers tactics were also spot on playing three centre backs and two wing backs with the restored Havard Nordtveit, having his best game in a claret and blue shirt, providing a defensive shield as the defending midfielder.

Indeed, it was a day when some of the much criticised signings of last summer came good. In addition to Nordtvelt, left back Arthur Masuaku was outstanding at left back, sound in defense and regularly providing the extra attacking option.

It was the first game in the last ten between these sides that Everton striker Romelu Lukaku did not score.

Bilic praised his own players for effectively cutting off service to the big striker from Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas. “They did an amazing job on Lukaku,” said Bilic.

Things though could have gone very differently, though, when early on a throw from Edimilson Fernandez back to Adrian caught the keeper short, with the ball almost squirming into the path of Lukaku on the six yard line.

From then on though it was all West Ham, with Manuel Lanzini at the centre of most of the creative ideas. In one delightful exchange of passes with Andre Ayew, the Argentinian clipped over a rabona style cross that was pushed away.

Lanzini also saw a rasping shot in mid-half saved at full stretch by Everton keeper Marten Stekelenburg. The other main attempt was a strike from 20 yards from Cheikhou Kouyate, which just crept wide.

The pressure continued in the second half, with a Lanzini pile driver felling defender Phil Jagielka, as he threw himself in the way.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman was unhappy, describing the performance of his side as being “far away from the level in every aspect of football.”

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

General election must be fought on policy not personality

Just minutes after Theresa May’s announcement of a proposed general election for 8 June.. and it is clear that the Labour Party has a battle on to focus the debate on policy rather than personality.

Jeremy Corbyn has been personally under attack since getting elected (twice) as leader of the Labour Party – something he has born with great dignity. Over recent weeks, Labour has been putting out its different policies on the economy, care, the NHS and education… most ignored by the mainstream media, whose one question for Corbyn seems to be a variation on when will you step down?

Things will get worse over the next few weeks but the battle will be for Labour to get over it’s  alternative slate of policies, based on social justice and the common good. This election is too important to be relegated to the level of a series of the X-factor. Re-election of the Tories, won’t just mean a hard Brexit, it will also see the total dismantling of public services, the privatisation of the NHS and destruction of the environment. This will be a vital election that must be fought on the policy alternatives, not personality distraction.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Brilliant ..Limehouse..at the Donmar Warehouse until 15 April

Steve Water’s  provides a thoughtful witty script, well acted and given an edge by the relevance of the content to events today.

A right wing Tory leader, the Labour Party split, the march forward of the right worldwide and a war hungry US president – the year 1983.

The play centres around David and Debbie Owen’s kitchen table in Limehouse. The place, where famously the Gang of Four – Owen, Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams  - gather on a Sunday in January 1983 to discuss breaking away from the Labour Party to form a new party.  

Owen played by Tim Goodman Hill is the ranting angry former Foreign Secretary, who cannot stand the Labour Party anymore. Not a little ego driven, Owen is desperate to break away.

Jenkins, brilliantly played by Roger Allam, is returning from his stint as head of the European Commission. He has put the idea of a new party into the public domain with his Dimbleby lecture the year before.

There is much made of Jenkins love of claret and disdain for maccaroni cheese (the meal put together by Debbie Owen).

Williams is the stalwart Labour man, devoted to Shirley Williams, prepared to follow her to the ends of the earth.

Much rancour ensues about the new party, with Williams, Jenkins and Rodgers all outlining what a wrench it would be to leave the Labour Party. Jenkins declaring “I have never felt at home in the Labour Party but it  has been my home.”

Williams notably outlines the danger of the new party being rootless and just drawn from the well to do middle classes.. with a clear dig at Owen, as one such character. This ofcourse is what the Social Democratic Party turned out to be.

Owen is not really trusted by the other three, a feeling given more momentum, when they learn he has called a press conference for the late afternoon, to announce the new party.

How true this portrayal of events on that January day is open to question. The restriction of packing all the action into an hour and a half no doubt created many problems. As a result there is an uneveness, with the group careering around from agonising over whether to make the break to what  name should be adopted for the new party. Rodgers suggestion of New Labour raised the biggest laugh of the night.

At one point Williams leaves to go off to do a BBC interview, with the group divided. She seems strongly against. The remaining three totally fall out, only for Williams to return from the BBC to announce she is now totally converted to the idea of a new party. It’s then the press conference and the rest is history.

The Debbie Owen character, played by Nathalie Armin, sums up at the end with some telling what ifs. What if there had been no Falklands War and the SDP had gained substantial seats at the 1983 election? What  if Shirley Williams had led the new party instead of Roy Jenkins?

But the what if that should cause the most concern went unsaid, namely what if today we really are repeating history? What if this is the start of another 18 years of Tory rule, what if Labour does split and what about all those people out there who will suffer the consequences?  

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Tension eases for West Ham manager Slaven Bilic as Swansea are dismissed

West Ham 1-0 Swansea

The relief was clear for all to see on the final whistle as West ham manager Slaven Bilic punched the air.

The players and manager celebrated a significant result, after a week of unwarranted pressure built up on theclub – some of its own making.

After the game Bilic seemed to be looking forward to his weekly telephone chat with co-chairman David Sullivan. The other co-chairman David Gold had already congratulated Bilic on the result.

The manager though believes there is still “ a big job to be done” before West Ham reach safety. “We need four points as soon as possib le,” said Bilic, who believes 40 points with a good goal difference should be enough to avoid the drop.

Bilic declared himself relaxed about his job, revealing he had been under greater pressure at other times in his career,

The one negative from the afternoon was seeing top scorer Michail Antonio limping off. “The loss of Antonio will be a massive blow,” said Bilic who remained hopeful that the player would be back soon.

West Ham dominated the game but failed to put many of the chances away that they created.

Robert Snodgrass came close to putting the home side ahead, when his header from an Antonio cross was held on the line by Swansea keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

The impressive keeper then turned aside an Andre Ayew shot from the edge of the area. Fabianski, though, was beaten just before half time, as Snodgrass laid the ball into the path of Kouyate who strode forward to drill home his shot from 20 yards.

The West Ham pressure continued after the break with Ayew once again denied by Fabianksi, whilst Sam Byram and Jonathan Calleri hit the side netting when well placed.

The home side wobbled a little in the dying minutes of the game, with the resolute James Collins hooking the ball away, after keeper Darren Randolph had missed the cross. Byram then intervened to block another close range shot.

Disappointed Swansea boss Paul Clement declared that it was “a poor performance” in “a poor game.”

 “We played with a lot of anxiety, there was a lot of fear in our play,” said Clement. “There are seven games to go and a battle for survival.”  

The Swansea manager  admitted his side had made “a huge number of mistakes” but conceded they “have to deal with that.”

Published - Morning Star - 10/4/2017

Friday, 7 April 2017

Otters and kingfishers in the Wanstead Park but also a time when action needs to be taken to protect and nurture for the future

Great news to see that efforts are being made to bring otters back to Wanstead.  (www.ilfordrecorder.co.uk/news/environment/otters-to-be-reintroduced-to-river-roding-near-wanstead-park-as-part-of-improvement-scheme)

The work on the River Roding by volunteers to create a habitat conducive to the return of otters is most encouraging.

The river and lake alongside are always fantastic places for wildlife, with the kingfishers now resident zipping along, stopping sometimes to perch on an overhanging branch.

One concern though for the return of otters must be the mink in Wanstead Park.

It is surprising the number of species of creature foreign to the area that have cropped up over recent years. There are the turtles regularly seen on the logs in the Ornamental lake and ofcourse the parakeets.

It is certainly a great time to be in the park, with the bluebells beginning to come through in areas like Chalet Wood,  providing a magnificent display.

On a less optimistic note, the lakes continue to drain of water at an alarming rate. The pump at the Heronery is due to be replaced in the next month, which should see water levels rise in that lake and the adjacent Perch pond. However, the Ornamental continues to lose water at an alarming rate. It seems that options are being examined by the City of London Corporation. However, this work - and other urgent projects that have been in the pipeline - for some time have now been further delayed by the decision to not put in for the next round of Heritage Lottery Funding. (www.guardian-series.co.uk/news/15191946._Deteriorating__park_s_future_uncertain_after_managers_fail_to_bag_funding)

The problems are growing in the park and need resolution – kicking the problem up the road simply will not do.

At the recent AGM of the Friends of Wanstead Park the idea of a Save Wanstead Park summit was voiced bringing together the various stakeholders with local MP John Cryer playing a central role. (John helped form the Parliamentary group Friends of Wanstead Park that includes many local MPs.) This is a welcome idea that should be enacted. The time now has come to grasp the nettle of dealing with the major issues threatening the future of the park. All of that said, it is still a time to celebrate the magnificence that is Wanstead Park.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Is Slaven Bilic just the latest Premiership manager to come under media fire or are West Ham's problems more fundamental

The let’s get a Premiership manager sacked merrygo round appears to have stopped at West Ham manager Slaven Bilic’s door.

Previously, there was a sustained effort to get Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger, removed from his position but the wily Frenchman seems to have seen off the threat.

It really does seem to be something of a media game, trying to fuel support for the sacking of one manager after another. In defence of the media, though, there is the no smoke without fire argument, namely that someone must be stoking the rumours behind the scenes. Maybe agents, owners of clubs, who knows?

In the West Ham case, it is notable that when the club starts having a bad run on the pitch, the rumours begin with certain possible names for replacement manager being touted in the press.

The basis for trying to undermine managers is pretty vapid. Wenger’s demise would be considered a valuable scalp but the Arsenal manager is used to such conjecture.

Memorably last year, the doom merchants were trying to portray the season as a disaster. Wenger was asked what the prospects were for qualifying for the European Champions League. The answer, that the club had achieved that goal 17 seasons in succession under his stewardship and would probably do so again. In the event they qualified, snatching the runners up position in the Premiership from arch rivals Spurs.

There is no doubt some discontent among the fans at lack of silverware at Arsenal over recent years but those expectations have grown ironically due to the success of Wenger. Arsenal fans maybe should heed what has happened to Manchester United since the retirement of Alex Ferguson. The same could quite easily happen to the Gunners.

At West Ham, expectations were raised by Bilic’s first and the final season at the old Boleynb ground. The team played some fine attacking football and but for falling at the final hurdles, they could have been in the Champions league places. However, given the inability over the past two seasons to even get past the qualifying rounds of the Europa League, this would no doubt have been a bridge too far.

West Ham has never been a club short on high, or as previous manager Sam Allardyce preferred to put it unrealistic expectations. West Ham supporters are only half joking when they say the club won the World Cup in 1966.

Those expectations were sky high going into the new London Stadium. Bilic, though, was realistic from the off, pointing out that moving into a big ground does not automatically make you a big club. It takes time and money to move from being a medium club to become a big team.

The owners of West Ham do seem to share this view, though at times get a bit impatient. They were probably expecting some teething problems with the new ground, though having recruited heavily in the summer – with a view to a sustained run in the Europa League – were no doubt a little peeved to see the club crash out in the qualifiers.
That said, given the way things have gone since, West Ham must be pleased they did exit Europe when they did, that extra strain could see the side right down in the relegation swamp.

The team has been inconsistent both at home and away. The Dimitri Payet saga did not help matters in the first half of the season.

However, Bilic dealt with the Frenchman well, not only getting £25 million back on the player but also using the outcry against his “strike” methods to galvanise the rest of the team to react on the pitch.

The form of the team, though, has at best been sporadic this season, getting thumped by the big teams at the London stadium, whilst showing variable form against the lesser lights.
The defence has been a major problem all season. It was a fundamental mistake last summer to not resolve the problems at right back. The position continues to be makeshift.

The manager  seems to lack confidence in Sam Byram, who was brought in from Leeds last year but has never been given a run in the side to really show what he can do.

Strikers have also been a problem with Andy Carroll having his perennial injury problems, whilst new siging Andre Ayew, has shown great promise but also been dogged by injury.

Most disappointing for fans has been a failure to bring through some of the clubs younger players. 17 year old Reece Oxford, who made such a sensational start last season, has hardly featured, being sent out on loan in January to Reading.

Promising young strikers Martin Samuelsen and Tony Martinez have followed similar paths.

Bilic said at the end of last season that players from the successful under 21 side would be around the first team squad or out on loan this season. Sadly, precious few have figured with the first team.

In the case of Oxford, this has been all the more difficult to fathom, given the exit of central striker James Tompkins to Crystal Palace last summer and some of the frankly at times comical defending that has gone on from those who have worn the shirt.

The purchase of Jose Fonte for £8 million in January has also raised some eyebrows as the former Southampton centre half has struggled to settle.

There has also been some discontent growing toward the man they call Mr West Ham, captain Mark Noble. The skipper has put in some indifferent displays this season, especially in comparison to his inspirational form last. There have been times when fans have doubted Noble worth his place, with others seemingly sidelined to make room for the skipper.

This most notably happened when Cheikou Kouyate returned from the Africa Nations Cup in February. Noble had been playing alongside the outstanding Pedro Obiang.  Byram had put in a couple of decent performances at right back. Many felt on form, if someone had to make way for Kouyate, it should be Noble in midfield. Yet, in the event Byram was replaced, with Kouyate, who then struggled for a number of games to play out of position at right back. More recently, Bilic seems to have bitten the bullet on Noble, leaving his skipper on the bench and substituting him.

So there are criticisms to be made of the way things have gone at West Ham this season but when all is said and done things could be a lot worse. The concern of the owners is understandable, with the club in Premiership no mans land – a couple of wins would put them in the top nine, a couple of losses could see the side dragged into the relegation battle.

What is for sure is that at this stage of the season the club needs to pull together in the same effective way that it did following the Payet drama. Attacking the manager who remains popular with players and fans alike is unlikely to achieve the results needed on the pitch.

Moving forward the club will have questions for the manager about where he sees things going. The owners clearly expect West Ham to be a top six, if not top four club in the foreseeable future. Bilic can no doubt deliver that ambition, if he is given the tools to do the job. This will mean the owners being prepared to dig deep in their pockets.

The club will need to recruit well in the summer, resolving the defensive and striking issues. But it should also look to start using some of the up and coming youngsters – they need to be given a chance at some stage. The early Europa League exist rather stymied Bilic’s plans to provide such experience but other ways need to be found.

Loath as many at West Ham maybe to do it, they could do a lot worse than learn some lessons from Spurs when it comes to conjuring the trick of bringing through the clubs own youngsters, whilst building a successful Premiership challenging side.

published Morning Star - 22/4/2017 https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/sport

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Why the mass media hysteria about terrorist attacks?

The recent terrorist attack at Westminster, resulting in the deaths of five people (including the attacker) sent out reverberations around the world.
The media coverage seemed to be all about hyping the event, turning the whole thing into some sort of melodrama for an anxious public.

The apocalyptic language adopted would make someone coming from another context think the capital was under nuclear attack.

Facts were at a premium, things like what had happened, the number of people injured and killed and who was responsible lacking.

The lack of this basic information was all the more remarkable given that a large number of journalists are based at Westminster on a permanent basis.

The coverage followed the usual 24 hour news routine of reporting terrorist incidents. There is a lack of information, lots of speculation and then a hyping of what has happened.

In the London incident, there quickly followed a lionising of the emergency services, particularly the police and ambulance service for doing their jobs. Then the "we shall fight them on the beaches" language of the defiant Londoner. The Prime Minister’s solemn words about how Londoners will carry on going to work, going about their business.  

After the initial hysteria, the next day things move to a deeper look at what happened, who can be blamed and what can be done to make sure such a thing does not happen again.

So in this narrative the role of the police and security services nicely illustrates the contrariness of the model of reporting. At one point, the police are being praised for protecting the public. But then it is time to blame the police for letting the attacker get so far, where were the armed officers etc? Then it is revealed that the security services once monitored the attacker, so blame starts circling as to why he was not under surveillance. The impossibility of monitoring every possible threat is a view hardly heard in this febrile atmosphere.

Then the question as to what can be done to stop it happening again. The real answer is very little - such attacks are always likely to happen. Unless, we want to totally give in to terrorism, hand over all liberties and accept life under martial law in a police state then it is something that has to be lived with.

There is another narrative to the one adopted by the media in this case, namely that such an attack was inevitable. It was surprising that it did not happen sooner. London has escaped lightly, compared to other places like Paris and Brussels, where there has been a much bigger loss of life.

This narrative continues that the police handled the situation well, with a number of officers showing immense bravery. The public reacted well, not panicking and showing much courage in many cases. There is no need to take draconian measures.

A big question that remains is why has the oxygen of publicity been so liberally provided for these terrorists? Given that the Westminster attack came in the same week that Sinn Fein leader Martin McGuiness died, it seems apt to reflect on how during the years of the Troubles, he and other Republican leaders were silenced. Their words were spoken by actors in an attempt to deny the oxygen of publicity. Also, in those days, there were bombs going off across London. Remember, in 1979, the Irish National Liberation Army blew up the car carrying Airey Neave right in the Palace Yard at Westminster. In 1993, there was the Bishopsgate bomb. In those days, the attitude was very much that people continued going about their daily business – they were not going to be cowered. Bomb attacks that dwarfed incidents like the Westminster attack were routinely played down not amplified in the national media.

So why the change? The approach seems to have gone to the opposite extreme. The world of 24 hour news has no doubt played a part. The need to fill schedules did not exist in the 1970, 80s and 90s. The need for something to be happening all the time when it clearly isn’t. The febrile approach that then results.

There is no sense of proportion in the coverage today. In terms of numbers, had four people (discount the attacker, who was the fifth) died in a road  accident on the M11, it would have hardly got a mention on the national news, let alone the blanket coverage of the Westminster attack.

More people die every year due to road traffic incidents than terrorism. There is a most disdainful hierarchy of death operating in the media, whereby a life lost due to terrorism seems to have a far higher public value than lives lost in other ways.

What are the media trying to achieve with the present way of covering terrorist incidents? Guardian and Evening Standard columnist Peter Jenkins accused the BBC in particular of aiding the terrorists by the blanket coverage they gave to the Westminster attack. He recalled the more downbeat approach of the days of the war with the IRA. He certainly has a point, the level of coverage given to the Westminster attack gave huge publicity to the terrorists.

A number of media outlets seemed to glory in the moment, trying to make the attack out to be something much greater than it was. The desire to scare people in order to bring in new measures or just impact? It certainly says something when you see senior politicians and policemen effectively calling for calm and defending the liberties that remain.

What the Westminster attack should cause is a time for some serious reflection as to how media outlets in the UK treat such stories. The media is there to educate and inform on these occasions, not entertain. A greater focus on facts and the projection of calmness rather than hysteria would help greatly. People need reassurance in such instances not hysterical posturing. And in terms of countering terrorism, giving such incidents a disproportionate level of coverage does help the terrorists but does nothing to reduce the threat.

Monday, 27 March 2017

Utopia for realists..and how we can get there

This well-argued account puts forward a blueprint for radical change, offering a real program for mobilisation and action.

The bold premise of Utopia for Realists is that by implementing the Universal Basic Income (UBI), cutting the working week to 15 hours and opening borders to migration that poverty can largely be eradicated.

Rutger Bergman builds his argument steadily, quoting for example of UBI from an experiment in the City of London in 2009, when 13 men living on the street were given £3,000 a year.

The result was not that they spent it all on alcohol and drugs but on accommodation. After 18 months, seven had a roof over their heads, with two about to move into apartments.

The men had joined classes and reconnected with families. What was more the experiment saved money, with the total cost working out at £50,000, rather than the £400, 000 per annum it was previously costing to keep them on the street.

The UBI case is strengthened with examples from Canada and the US where experiments were conducted in the 1970s, on giving out free money. One particularly intriguing case is how President Richard Nixon endeavoured to get UBI adopted in America, being thwarted finally in the Senate.

The central thrust of Bergman’s argument is that the evidence shows that when given a basic amount of money people act sensibly, they don’t stop working but do have more time for their families and education. Basically, that people are on the whole well intentioned, not lazy and always seeking to cheat the system.

The author goes on to argue for a shorter working week, bringing in the effects of automation in removing much paid work going forward.

The arguments are familiar for those who charted the economic developments of the 1970s. ~Then it looked like the shorter working week and earlier retirement was on the agenda.

Enter the neo-liberalism creed enacted under Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher which threw everything into reverse. Since that time people have worked longer for less, with requisite increases in levels of stress, mental illness and general unhappiness with life.

Bergman covers a lot of ground in what is a short book but his arguments are well put together and lucid. Too many economic accounts lose the reader in the detail, Bergman’s light touch keeps the reader engaged and up with some new exciting ideas.

Criticism of the book would centre on possibly trying at times to sew together too many ideas at one time, thereby sometimes losing the reader.

There is certainly a lot of ground covered from the inadequacies of Gross Domestic Product as a 21st century measure of international well-being to the effects of automation.

One of the many sobering statistics comes from an Oxford University study that suggests 54% of jobs in Europe are likely to be done by machines in the next 20 years. The figure is 47% for the US.

Bregman attacks what he calls “bullshit jobs.” These are jobs like HR managers, social media strategists and PR advisors who effectively create nothing and could be done without. Indeed, such work is often creating problems. Such jobs are compared unfavourably with valuable jobs like dustmen, farmers and teachers.

Bergman’s answer to the world’s problems is a massive redistribution of wealth, moving from the present grotesque inequalities that sees eight people owning as much of the world’s wealth as half of its population (3.5 billion). The means to achieve such redistribution will be implementation of UBI, a 15 hour working week and taxes on capital and not labour.

He also calls for an opening up of borders, arguing that if developed countries let in just 3% more immigrants that would provide a boost of US$305 billion for the world’s poor. The author notes with some irony how ever since the Berlin Wall came down in 1989; governments around the world have been putting up walls and barriers to stop people moving around.

The program offered by Bergman is a radical challenge to the left. He criticises the left for acquiescing in neo-liberalism, simply being prepared to manage the system better.

He claims the left has now been so beaten back that it only talks in negative terms about what it is against rather than what it is for.

The programme outlined in this book has much to recommend to the Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. Indeed, some of the ideas like UBI are already being considered as central planks of policy. Although, concepts like open borders, might take a bit more selling in the present febrile atmosphere.

Published by Bloomberg,  £16.99

Saturday, 18 March 2017

West Ham made to pay by Leicester, after giving away early goals

West Ham 2-3 Leicester City

Leicester City continued their recent revival with this narrow win over West Ham in a highly entertaining game at the London Stadium.

Manager Craig Shakespeare emphasised his team’s work ethic. “We scored the goals at the right time and knew that hardwork was paramount to success,” said Shakespeare, who confirmed his side had started on the front foot, where they left off against Seville in midweek.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was taken aback that his side had come away with nothing, having played some of the the best football they have all season in the last half hour. “There were a lot of negatives in the first half, positives in the second,” said Bilic. “We deserved something from the game, we created enough chances.”

In reality, West Ham were always playing catch up having given away a couple of soft goals in the opening minutes before pulling one back, only to once again  let revived England poacher Jamie Vardy nip in for a third in the 37th minute.

The game was a mere four minutes old when a hopeful Riyad Mahrez shot came through a group of players to finish up in the net. The ball bounced and alluded the unsighted home keeper Darren Randolph.

Two minutes later the visitors went two up, after Marc Albrighton nodded on a Mahrez free kick that was then met by the onrushing Robert Huth who headed home.

West Ham struck back in the 19th minute, with the inspiring Manuel Lanzini driving home a free kick from 20 yards, after Michail Antonio was fouled.

Then came Vardy’s goal, meeting a corner in the goal area to ram home.

In the second half, West Ham took almost total control but were constantly thwarted by the outstanding Kasper Schmeichel. Another Lanzine free kick was pushed round the post by Schmeichel at full stretch.

West  Ham reduced the deficit in the 62nd minute when Andy Carroll nodded a corner onto Andre Ayew who headed home.

Schmeichel though stood firm against any further encroachment, denying a Carroll header on the line then a point blank stop as the big striker unleashed a shot in the dying minutes.

So West Ham were once again denied but the fans certainly had good entertainment value for their money out of this match.

* published Morning Star - 20/3/2017 - Foxes continue unbeaten run

Monday, 13 March 2017

How ironic to see the actions of the Tory Party destroying the Union – as Nicola Sturgeon’s call for another Scottish independence referendum makes Brexit look a whole lot less likely

How amusing it is to see the actions of the Conservative and Unionist party systematically dismembering the Union that it allegedly holds so dear.

First, David Cameron carries through on his reckless decision to hold a referendum on EU membership. The arrogance of the man, that history is likely to judge to be one of the worst individuals to ever hold the office of Prime Minister, saw the leave side triumph.

Now, SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has called for another referendum on Scottish independence – premised in the main on the sovereignty of the Scottish people in deciding they want to remain in the EU.

Sturgeon would seem likely to win such a referendum, given the narrowness of the defeat last time and the role that the then powerful Labour Party in Scotland played in securing a no vote. Let’s not forget the important role played in Scotland by leading Labour figures like Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling in securing the no vote. Labour saved the day for Cameron back then. He failed to learn the lesson though, blundering on to defeat on the EU referendum.

If Scotland goes ahead with the referendum this must stop UK negotiations to leave the EU in their tracks. Leaving the EU is already complex enough but will become a whole lot more so if Scotland becomes an independent country wishing to stay in the EU. The EU will simply refuse to negotiate until the Scottish referendum is complete.

The Brexit vote has also helped push the cause of Irish unification, bringing the north and south of Ireland together again in a desire to remain in the EU. And surely it can only be a matter of time before the penny drops with the Welsh – as those EU subsidies disappear – and they realise that too that it maybe better in the EU than outside.

So what a fine old pickle the Tories have got into over the Union. Cameron set the wheels in motion but Theresa May’s arrogant refusal to take on the concerns of those who want to remain in the EU – across Scotland, Ireland, London and some of the north - has helped make a bad situation a whole lot worse. Though for remainers, the actions of Sturgeon in calling for a new referendum must make the chances of ever really leaving the EU a bit remote.

*published Independent - 14/3/2016

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Deceptively comfortable win, as Chelsea dismiss West Ham enroute to the Premier league title

West Ham 1-2 Chelsea

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte was probably being over generous when he suggested if West Ham had scored their consolation goal in the 85th rather than the 92nd minute his side could have been in trouble.

Always the perfectionist, Conte was disappointed that his side had lost the clean sheet at the death, to Manuel Lanzini’s late goal. However, this should not take away from the dominance that Chelsea displayed for the whole of this match at the London stadium.

The game started off evenly with the two sides largely cancelling each other out in the middle of the pitch.

This all changed though in the 24th minute, with West Ham losing the ball to N’Gola Kante just outside their penalty area. The speed of counter attack of the visitors was breath taking, with Kante feeding Eden Hazard whose one-two with Pedro saw him set free to round keeper Darren Randolph and score.

West Ham almost hit back in the 40th minute when Robert Snodgrass put Lanzini through but he shot over.

Chelsea could have doubled their lead just before half time but for a double block from first Winston Reid and then Randolph.

The momentum though remained with the visitors after the break,  Diego Costa stealing in unchallenged to knock home Cesc Fabregas’s corner.

West Ham were then unlucky to see Sofiane Feghouli’s drive saved by Thibaut Courtois and a possible hand ball against Marcos Alonso denied.  

The clear difference between the sides was the speed and direction of counter attack from Chelsea. West Ham tended to be predictable passing the ball across the field, always looking to get Snodgrass or Sofiane Feghouli down the flanks to cross for Carroll in the centre.

Notably, the Chelsea centre backs were able to deal with Carroll, which severely reduced the West Ham threat.

West Ham boss Slaven Bilic was pleased that his team were getting in the crosses. “We wanted more players in the box though, not just Andy,” said Bilic, who believes that Chelsea will win the Premier league. “They will finish on top. If you compare them with other title contenders, Chelsea are more solid than Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool.”

Conte believes that his team will retain their 10 point lead at the top of the table until the end of the season. “This league will be tough to the end, it won’t be easy. I trust my players to show commitment and work hard,” said Conte.

*published Morning Star - 8/3/2017 West Ham leave it too late to mount comeback

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Is Theresa May really as economically illiterate as her immigration based stance on Brexit tends to suggest?

The pronouncements of Prime Minister Theresa May on Brexit are at face value economically incoherent.

Can the Prime Minister be seriously contemplating cutting links with the single market – Britain’s largest trading area – because she really believes that “securing the borders” is a more important priority?

The need to secure the borders, a hardly concealed code for keeping out migrants, is a total nonsense. The borders are secure or if they aren’t a lot of public money is being expended on the Borders Agency and a myriad of private supporting companies charged with attaining that goal.

The whole Brexit vote it seems was increasingly prefaced on a number of lies. Foremost among these was the migrant myth, namely that migrants were all flocking in for benefits because Britain is an easy touch. Among the migrants were criminals and wrongdoers.

Now to leave the la la land of Express and Daily Mail story telling, the reality is somewhat different.

Migrants come to the UK predominantly to work or study. It has been their contribution among other things that has led to the buoyancy of the UK economy. If the work were not here neither would the migrants be.

During the EU referendum debate the good news story on immigration rarely surfaced. If it had people would understand that migration was not the cause of growing levels of poverty across the land.

Some facts. 17% of the workforce is made up of non-British born workers (that is 5.4 million of a 31.6 million workforce). This has increased from 8% in 2000.

Some 19% of NHS workers are foreign born. The IPPR think tank has warned that the NHS would “collapse” without its EU workers.

Education is a major growing sector for the UK economy, with foreign students estimated to contribute £11.8 billion.

A study by University College London found that European migrants made a net contribution  of £20 billion to UK public finances between 2000 and 2011.

Many of the migrant workforce is made up of single people who work here for a while but then go home. They pay taxes for which they do not receive the requisite public services in return. Net winner the British tax payer.

Migrant labour is also needed to meet skills shortages, that become particularly stark when the reducing ratio between the young (under 16s) and the old (over 65s) are taken into account.

If UK citizens want to retain their present level of public services then the revenue generated by migrant workers - as well as those workers themselves - are desperately needed.

The fact there has been free movement over recent years is a major factor in the buoyancy of the British economy. Ironically, it has been the high level of migrants coming into the UK over recent years compared to other European countries that has contributed to the strength of the economy here compared to elsewhere.

Given, all of the aforesaid, how incredible to hear the Prime Minister welcoming the news that there are now fewer EU nationals coming to the UK, post Brexit. This PM seems to hang onto the ridiculous ideal of the former occupant of the office that it is a good thing to reduce net migration down to the tens of thousands. This is an economically illiterate position for any leader of a political party to adopt.

The one way to really reduce migration is to destroy the economic base. An economy in recession will not offer the jobs , so migrants will not be coming. This position in reality is the one the PM seems to be saying she wants above all else, when she puts controlling immigration above trade with our neighbours.

All of that said migration has not been handled well over the past couple of decades, Migrants have been allowed to come in and used by unscrupulous employers – including private householders wanting work done on the cheap to their properties – to undercut the pay and terms and conditions of the indigenous workforce. This effective use of migration as an unofficial incomes policy has led to some of the grievances that helped to build the anti-migrant atmosphere.

These problems could have been addressed by having a higher minimum wage, that was stringently enforced. Also, no undercutting of terms and conditions, whilst ensuring the migrant labourers joined trade unions.

The problem with the EU referendum debate was that people were fed a pack of lies to the effect that all of their problems were due to migrants and the EU. The reality was most of their problems emanated from the banking crisis of 2008 and the austerity policies that followed.

The result has been large numbers of people across the country seeing their wages flatline or reduce. The banks have got away with ripping off the tax payer for huge amounts of money and continue to do so.

The direction of anger toward the scapegoats of migrants and the EU has largely resulted from a number of unscrupulous MPs lying to the electorate and the cacophony of xenophobic ill informed racist coverage of issues like immigration in the right wing media.

The great irony of the result of the referendum is that the mass of the people who voted to leave the EU together with everyone else stand to become poorer. Wages will not rise but prices will courtesy of the falling pound.

The attacks on migrants are making this country seem like a hostile place, so fewer are coming = this will have huge implications for the economy as a whole and the education sector in particular. It is reported that the number of foreigners looking to attend further education institutions in the UK is plummeting.

The net effect is less money for public services, like education, health, care and transport.

So is the PM really as daft as a number of her recent pronouncements on Brexit  suggest? Or is it all window dressing for a new deal with the EU that can be to the benefit of all. We all have to hope it is the latter. But given the positive reaction to the news of reduced numbers of migrants coming to the UK and begging bowl approach of British ministers seemingly trotting round the world looking for whatever trade deals the likes of the US, Australia and New Zealand will offer I would not bet on it.

Published New Internationalist - 2/3/2017 - http://newint.org/blog/2017/03/02/is-prime-minister-theresa-may-really-as-economically-illiterate/

Tribune - 11/3/2017

Morning Star - 1/4/2017 https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-a28b-Migrants-as-smoke-screen#.WOE9WaPdX4g

Monday, 20 February 2017

City of London Corporation can't event fix the toilets in Wanstead Park, so what hope is there for the other work that needs doing?

At a recent public meeting about open spaces, the Superintendent of Epping, Forest Paul Thomson assured that problems in Wanstead Park are being dealt with but it will take time. Some of the more cynical in the audience saw this as another case of jam tomorrow, with the City of London Corporation constantly kicking problems down the road. The water emptying out of the lakes was one example raised - it was suggested that as well as restoring water supplies that the debris now clogging up the waterways could be removed. To date, nothing has happened.
On another level, there is the issue of the shut toilets at the Temple. The toilets were vandalised a few months ago and apparently this means the toilets now remain permanently shut. We now have the bizarre situation of dog walkers running around clearing up after their animals but having nowhere to go to the toilet themselves. Newsflash for the Corporation, human beings need toilets too.
This is but another example of the negligent approach to our local park. A local builder could have sorted out the toilet problem in days but no better to leave it and do nothing. How much longer are the City of London Corporation going to get away with this ongoing failure to manage our precious open space?

Published Wanstead & Woodford Guardian and Wanstead & Woodford Recorder - 16/2/2017

Friday, 17 February 2017

Neo liberalism has brought huge inequality, Trump and Brexit ..surely the time has come to roll back this damaging idealogy

The operation of the neo-liberal economic system for the past 40 years has brought the country (world) to a situation of growing inequalities. A small group get ever wealthier, whilst the huge mass of people remain relatively poorer.

This situation is a complete reversal of the way things operated under the post war economic settlement, when there was a gradual closure of the gap between the very rich and everyone else.

It is not coincidental that in the 1970s, when the inequality gap was narrowest people were at their happiest.

The continuation of the post war Keynsian inspired settlement was moving toward shorter working weeks, more leisure time and earlier retirements.

Then came the neo-liberal governments of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan et al which slammed this progress into reverse. Inequality grew,  people worked longer for less and are now retire later and later.

Only now are the real fissures of the neo-liberal way of operating beginning to become apparent.

The first tremor came with the banking crisis of 2008, however, this was dealt with by the elites, effectively ensuring that the mass of people paid for the bankers recklessness. The uber rich once again came out very well.

In Britain, the austerity narrative was sold better than soap. In a strange way the British seemed to want to believe it. The reality was that the deficit continued to grow, whilst the excuse of austerity was used to justify the privatisation of public services.

More recently the dissatisfaction of the masses has been evidenced in the Brexit vote and the election of Trump in the US. Many people are unhappy because they have become the victims of this unfair, unequal system.

The trouble is another fairy tale, courtesy of a supine media, has been sold. Brexit, no matter what the left in Britain might say was sold on the back of anti-migrant xenophobia. The electorate was lied to, resulting in many believing that their problems were due to immigration and the EU. There are valid reasons for leaving the EU but they were not the ones on the basis of which people voted in June.

A similar feeling of disenfranchisement by the elites occurred in the US, resulting in the election of Trump.

The weakening of the trade union movement has also contributed to this unequal society. Unions play a key role in ensuring a more even distribution of wealth. The legalistic restrictions continually pursued by Conservative governments and not rolled back by Labour ones have contributed to weakening the trade union movement.
The only way to start rolling back the present unequal system is to create a new economic system. Some suggestions to get us on the way would include taxing the rich and corporations more heavily. It is a scandal that while tax payers pay to educate the workforce, corporations then employ that workforce but often pay little tax by way of recompense.

The implementation of  a higher living wage and bringing in a universal basic income (not at the cost of the welfare state) would also help.

Trade unions need strengthening and basic labour standards need enforcing, so that those in work cannot be undermined by bringing in other labour from outside the country.

These suggestions are a very basic start, what is required is to build a whole new alternative model, drawing on some of the better elements of policy in the last 70 years. Failure to do so will see inequalities and discontent continue to grow, resulting in more Trump like scenarios, and when these are also seen to fail, a more violent and sporadic outburst  of frustration on the streets. It is in everybodies interests from the rich to the poorest that a new more equal justice system is developed.

*published Morning Star - we have to end this inequality - 22/2/2017
* published in the Universe - 26/3/2017