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
https://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-f3c4-Home-win-against-Swansea-lifts-pressure-on-boss-Bilic-1-2#.WOtF2KPdXIU
 

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