Saturday, 14 January 2017

Carroll wonder goal sinks Palace and banishes Payet cloud of despondency at the London Stadium

West Ham 3-0 Crystal Palace

This game may have begun under the cloud of Dimitri Payet’s refusal to play for West Ham but it ended with the fans extolling the virtues of those who do,  most notably Andy Carroll and Michail Antonio.

It was Carroll’s miraculous acrobatic strike in the 78th minute to put West Ham two up that lite up the afternoon and brought the fans to their feet.

Up until the last 25 minutes, the game had been a fairly drab affair with the two sides largely cancelling each other out.

The first half saw James Tomkins and Yohan Cabaye go close for the visitors, whilst Carroll volleyed over.

West Ham laboured to get any fluidity into their game, until midway through the second half, when Sam Byram came on at right back, replacing Angelo Ogbonna. The move released Antonio, whose industry set up all three of West Ham’s goals.

First, Mark Noble dropped a ball over the Palace rearguard, which  Antonio controlled, beat the keeper and fired across for the onrushing Sofiane Feghouli to slot home.

The most spectacular moment of the game came 10 minutes later when Manuel Lanzini set Antonio away again  on the left. The resulting cross saw  Andy Carroll to turn in the air, scissor kicking the ball on the volley into the roof of the net from the edge of the penalty area.

The icing on the cake came a few minutes later with Antonio picking the ball up from defence, striding forward and putting a slide rule pass into the path of Lanzini, who ran on to delightfully chip the ball over the out rushing keeper Wayne Hennessey into an empty net.

A happy Slaven Bilic told how Carroll regularly tries the scissors kick routine in training but usually hits the post. “It was a great goal and already a contender for goal of the season,” said Bilic, who also praised provider  Antonio, who had been suffering with flu and did not train on Friday.”He wants to play and showed brilliant determination and brilliant quality,” said Bilic.

The West Ham manager paid tribute to the players and supporters. “Well done to the players and well done to the crowd,” said Bilic.

Palace manager Sam Allardyce felt his team were in control for the first 70 minutes, until they “gifted” West Ham the first goal.

Allardyce spoke of the need to coach the players to be “more resilient,” so that they could “shut up shop.”

“I didn’t expect us to collapse as we did,” said Allardyce, who hopes to get some players in during the transfer window but placed equal weight on the need to get better from the players they already have.

Published - Morning Star - 16/1/2017

Friday, 13 January 2017

Is the Church racist?

The Church of England was recently accused of being institutionally racist.

So what of the Catholic Church? The Cof E does at least have a black bishop and archbishop  (Archbishop of York, John Sentamu), the Catholic Church that has no Black And Minority Ethnic (Bame) bishop at all?

The late Haynes Baptiste, former chair of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice (CARJ), regularly raised the question of when the first black bishop would be appointed in England and Wales. Sadly, Haynes, who died last year, never lived to see his dream fulfilled.
The Catholic Church has in the past moved to address problems of lack of representation of BAME. Indeed, the very setting up of CARJ, came as part of a response to what was then (1980s) perceived as a drift away from the Church by a number of BAME who felt they were not really being included.

CARJ has held congresses, done outreach work with communities - including some particularly excellent work with a number of schools.

A question raised though in the early years of CARJ and down the years has been whether BAME are being assimilated or integrated into the Church.

Assimilation amounts to allowing BAME to attend, take part, give via the collection but not play an integral part in the life and governance of the Church.

Integration means welcoming newcomers into the parishes as equals, enabling them to play active roles. It means parishes being prepared to change in ways influenced by the different races coming in.

There was genuine soul searching at the time of Lord McPherson’s inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence. A number of public bodies were found to be institutionally racist, with the Catholic Church acknowledging that it had some way to go to become a truly diverse representative church.

Fortunately, the Church has moved toward the integration model in many ways. Advances have been made, but there is still a long way to go. Not that looking purely at the clergy should be the way to measure diversity and integration in the Church.

Some would argue there simply aren’t the priests available at the moment to meet the needs. The fact that there is a lack of BAME priests is co-incidental, given that there is a general lack of priests.

The wider concern is whether the Church consider racial integration as a job done. There certainly seems to be less priority given to race issues today.

Some might argue the work of CARJ has been downgraded, with Racial Justice Sunday now becoming a movable feast.

But on the other  side, the Church has stood out as a beacon of hope on issues like migration. Cardinal Vincent Nichols has spoken out in support of migrants at times of vitriolic attacks in the media on those who come to live and work in the UK. So the Church does have a proud record when it comes to a number of elements of the racial justice agenda. But as ever more can always be done.

A better representation amongst the clergy and hierarchy of the great racial diversity that sits in the pews of the Catholic Church would be welcome. However, the Church needs to go further, if it really wants to challenge claims that it is institutionally racist. A national audit process looking at diocese and schools could reveal just how much different races are being integrated into the Church.

The result of such an audit should then lead to some real reforms that can lead to a more integrated and representative church. These changes would be to the benefit of all, given that a Church that pulls together, maximising the potential of all its parts will be far stronger than one simply papering over the cracks of racial division.
* Racial Justice Sunday is on 12 February 2017
 - published in the Universe - 13/1/2017

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Obama promise to close Guantanamo remains unfulfilled, while security state continues to grow

When Barack Obama became US President eight years ago, one of his early promises was to close the detention centre at Guantanamo Bay. As he leaves office, that promise remains unfulfilled, with a number of men remaining detained there.

The broken promise comes to mind, when visiting Edmund Clark’s War on terror exhibition, presently running at the Imperial War Museum.

The exhibition chronicles the conditions that hundreds of people were held under at Guantanamo Bay for many years juxtaposed next to Britain’s own internal security model - the control order, which turned houses into prisons, with individuals being held for long periods of time without ever being told  of what they were accused.

The images are haunting – the shackles from Guantanamo that were used to hold people down and restrict movement. The matter a fact regulations from the Home Office about the restrictions applied to an individual held under held control order conditions. Some of the correspondence from detainees held in Guantanamo but now released.

The exhibition brings home the vivid reality as to what happens when the most basic liberties are sacrificed on the altar of security. Someone asked me why I was going to the exhibition as I must know what it would be about. To an extent that was true. Having covered the cases of some  those put under control order detention, much of the exhibition was eerily familiar.

Take the case of a man known only as G, who was first incarcerated after being picked up in the post 9/11 hysteria under the Anti-terror crime and security Act (rushed onto the statute book in December 2001). He was later released to restrictive control order style detention. His hell had been going on for six years when I interviewed him across his doorway in 2007.

G lived with wife and family in a cramped flat. He sat in a wheelchair, tagged, needing to report into the monitoring company several times a day. He had attempted suicide when in prison. The interview was published in a number of national outlets.

G continued though to be detained for many more years. Many of the individuals were represented by solicitor Gareth Peirce, who was constantly present at the Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC) arguing their cases. The SIAC operated under immigration law, thereby enabling the men concerned to be held seemingly indefinitely, without there ever being made aware of what they were accused.

This whole process went on for years, with these individuals portrayed in the media as threats to national security that the government wanted to get rid of but could not due to the European Convention on Human Rights.

The men and their families were effectively kept under a variety of forms of detention. Then quietly, on 18 April 2016, the SIAC ruled that six of the men considered to be threats to national security for so long could not be deported to Algeria on the basis of diplomatic assurances relating to their safety. The Home Office did not appeal the decision, so the men were free to stay.

There were 52 people subjected to control order style detention, according to Clark in the exhibition. The process of such detention still remains available under different forms when required.

What this shameful episode reveals is a drift toward authoritarianism that continues to this day. The control orders may have gone but the security state continues to grow.

The exhibition today together with accounts of what has gone on over the past couple of decades in the name of fighting terrorism serve as timely reminders of where we could be heading, namely toward an authoritarian state where basically anyone considered an enemy for whatever reason can have their rights taken away in the name of security and freedom
*War on terror exhibition runs at the Imperial War Museum until August 2017

Saturday, 7 January 2017

West Ham get mauled in 5-0 trouncing by Manchester City

West Ham 0-5 Manchester City

West Ham suffered a mauling at the hands of Manchester City, who were back to their brilliant best in this third round FA cup encounter.

The home team began well trading blows with City. The first chance fell to David Silva, who was thwarted by Adrian diving at his feet.

Sofiane Feghouli and Manuel Lanzini then combined to set up Michail Antonio but his shot was beaten away by City keeper Willy Caballero.

It was not until the half hour mark that the deadlock was broken, Pablo Zabaleta, playing in midfield, diving over Angelo Ogbonna’s out stretched leg to win his side a penalty. Yaya Toure duly converted.

The Hammers though had the opportunity to hit back immediately with Antonio seeing his swerving shot pushed away by Caballero, to the advancing Feghouli who put his follow up wide of an open goal. That was the last real threat from the home team as City took control.

Working between the West Ham lines, the City players made space for themselves, enjoying the expanses of the London Stadium.

First, Bacary Sagna saw an under pressure Havard Nordtveit divert the ball past home keeper Adrian into his  own net. Then, a similar move saw Sterling cross for Silva to finish off.

Any hope of a West Ham revival after the break was short lived, as a drive from Toure was deflected home by Sergio Aguero.

At this stage, those home fans that stayed, were wondering how many goals City were going to score. In the event it was only one more. John Stones rising to meet a corner in the 83rd minute to make it five.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic had the look of the man pushing a large rock up a mountain, only to see it roll down again and again. Following a creditable draw away at Liverpool, his team then won three games on the trot. Since then the team has followed up with three more defeats. “Now is the time to show our character. We got 10 points after the Liverpool game, it is now time to do that again,” said Bilic, who lamented the amount of space his side allowed the visitors. “We didn’t give that space with 10 against Manchester United but did give that space tonight.”

Thursday, 5 January 2017

Former Conservative Cabinet minister David Willetts really does need to stop trying to reduce the demographic challenges facing society down to a question of young versus old.

David Willetts was given the freedom of BBC Radio 4 to have another go at peddling his intergenerational conflict line.

The program was part of the thought provoking New World series, with this edition looking at the demographic challenges facing the world.

Looking at the British situation, Willetts made out his old argument that young people are being denied due to the largesse of past generations – specifically the baby boomers, who had it all. What is more, they continue to thrive with generous pension provision and universal benefits, like winter fuel allowances, travel concessions and free TV licenses.

Willetts believes that the elderly must give these things up to help the younger generation. He baldly stated that the triple lock on the state pension which sees increases of the greater of the rate of increase in earnings, prices or 2.5% cannot be afforded anymore. The cost argument was also applied to universal benefits.

Willetts and supporters of this intergenerational argument go on to say that with people living longer, they should be forced to work longer and retire later.

The whole argument is wrongheaded at many levels.

First, there are poor pensioners, as well as poor students. Reducing the argument down to younger people don’t have houses, decent jobs and free education because the older people have it all is simply wrong.

The reality is that with 1% of the world’s population holding much of the wealth, the remaining 99% are forced to struggle by on what is left. This division cuts across demographic boundaries, effecting both old and young.

It is interesting that it is usually people like Willetts, Ian Duncan Smith, former Work and Pensions Secretary, Ros Altmann, former pensions minister and members of the Parliamentary Work and Pensions Committee, who tend to be part of the 1%, that argue things like the triple lock and universal benefits cannot be afforded.

Frankly, in the fifth largest economy in the world to argue that decent pensions and welfare cannot be afforded is risible. The underlying agenda of this group seems to be that people are mainly here to serve their class. This means working longer for less and ideally dying in work without drawing a pension at all. Then the 1% class can continue to live comfortably supported by ordinary working people. Notably, the age for retirement is edging up toward 70 – the place where it started when the state pension was introduced in 1911.  

The argument about people living longer is also questionable. Yes the baby boomer generation may be living longer than previous generations but what of those who come after. They are the fast food generations that already boast record levels of obesity. There is also the growing focus on sedentary work, based around computers for increasing numbers of people. Add in the wide geographical differences in life expectancy, with someone living in Middlesbrough living a lot shorter life than a resident of Kensington and the idea that everyone is living longer is to put it mildly questionable.

The problem with Willetts and others who constantly seem to try to ferment this intergenerational conflict is that they bring the debate down to a race to the bottom. One group of society is set against another – this time young versus old. The present government are past masters of the approach - setting worker against benefit claimant, indigenous against migrant and deserving against undeserving poor.

Intergenerational solidarity is what is required in the face of those who seek to divide young and old. Remember in most cases the pensioners that Willetts and co seek to penalise are the grandparents of the youngsters struggling for education and housing.
Pensions and universal benefits can be afforded for the elderly and everyone else. Students should have free education, young people should have houses. All these things are achievable with a little realigning of society. Ofcourse, in order to pay for such a society those from the 1% might just have to part up with a bit of their huge largesse but that is the price to be paid for a more stable, happy and secure world

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Poor refereeing decisions deny West Ham a share of the spoils from Manchester United encounter

West Ham 0-2 Manchester United

West Ham were left ruing poor refereeing decisions that denied them a share of the points in this entertaining game at the London Stadium.

The turning point in the game came after 15 minutes when West Ham’s Sofiane Feghouli was sent off after a full blooded clash with defender Phil Jones. Both players were going for the ball but it was Jones who theatrically rolled away looking more the injured party. Referee Mike Dean duly sent Feghouli off.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was in no doubt that the referee made the wrong decision, denying that the offence deserved a yellow card, let alone a red. “It wasn’t a yellow, the more I look at it, Jones made the more dangerous tackle,” said Bilic, who confirmed the club would appeal the red card.

An incensed Bilic, also refuted the view that such decisions even themselves out over a season. “I don’t believe these things do even out, “ said Bilic recalling a number of bad refereeing decisions that cost his team games last season.

Up until the sending off it had been an equal contest, with Manuel Lanzini bringing a good save out of David De Gean after being set up by Feghouli.

The same player brought an acrobatic save out of De Gea later in the half, as his shot seemed to be curling into the top corner of the net.

West Ham though were forced to defend deep and in numbers. The closest United came to scoring came in the 34th minute, when keeper Darren Randolph somehow saved a shot from Henrikh Mkhitaryan on the line, only for Antonio Valencia to fail with his attempt at a follow up.

The second half saw West Ham’s ten men continue to valiantly battle on, with Michail Antonio failing to convert, when put clear through by the impressive Lanzini.

The miss proved decisive, as three minutes later subsitutes Marcus Rashford and Juan Mata slickly combines for the latter to put United ahead.

A second goal followed, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic scoring whilst he and two others were in blatanty off side positions.

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho admitted that had Antonio converted his chance, he doubted whether United would have won.

Unwilling to talk about the refereeing, the United boss was happy to discuss how his own decision to bring on Rashford and Mata, freshened things up and turned the game. “Coming from the bench fresh people make a difference,” said Mourinho.

Bilic also saw the Antonio miss as vital.”The chance came, we had to score it. If we scored anything was possible.They’d have to score two,” said Bilic.