Grammar school nostalgia and Michael Gove’s quiet reforms

(C) Steve Punter

By Alex Bryan

Among some sections of the Conservative Party, and indeed amongst the population at large, it has become fashionable in recent years to respond to the news of a supposed falling of standards in British schools by calling for the return of grammar schools. Grammars, it is claimed, allowed poorer students the opportunity to get a good education, to get a good professional job, and to have a chance for a better life than they would otherwise have had.

There are many reasons to be sceptical of this one-sided view of the grammar school system. There is no denying it provided good opportunities for bright young children, but it did so at the expense of others. To select children academically at the age of eleven seems cruel, especially when those who fail have significantly fewer life chances as a result.

However, the point of this article is not to debate the merits of the grammar system, but the merits of the general consensus that it is a system that is more radical than the current educational system. The nostalgia for grammar schools is ingrained in the minds of many who attended them and a huge number who did not. Indeed, this is a problem for anyone seeking to analyse or compare the grammar system to any other; it was so divisive that there are practically no purely descriptive, non-evaluative accounts of it.

It seems however, that quietly, Michael Gove is establishing a new system of education in this country which, apart from the lack of cultural resonance, challenges the grammar school system in its radicalism. Those who pine for the grammar system should take note; the system they long for has passed, but the new system is slowly becoming a modern equivalent, a grammar system where the selection is no longer explicit.

The newest piece of educational reform to add to the list of reasons why this is the case is the news released on Friday that academy schools will from now be able to appoint teachers without qualified teacher status (QTS).

Add this to the fact that free schools can be set up by anyone (including groups with very questionable beliefs), the rise in tuition fees, the introduction of the English Baccalaureate and Michael Gove’s apparent quest to replace GCSE’s with O-levels, and it looks like the government is taking a very different approach to education than any other government since the introduction of the national curriculum in the 1980’s.

The defining aspect of this appears to be decentralisation. The introduction of the English Baccalaureate (and possibly O-levels) looks like a standard piece of micro-scale education reform, as does the insistence on learning British history and Latin. However, the free schools and academies project gives a huge degree of discretion to schools of what and how they teach. Academies alone now make up around half of all state secondary schools.

And herein lies the prospect of a two-tiered education system. The Government is obviously keen to make free schools and academies a success; it would therefore not be surprising that more time is put into making this happen than resolving the existing issues in regular state schools. The very enthusiasm for these alternative schools makes regular schools seem second rate in the eyes of many.

The idolisation for private schools has been a defining feature in education policy for many years, and the policies this government is implementing makes this even clearer. Free schools are essentially independent schools funded by the state; the state school system is slowly being transformed from a national prescriptive education system into a network of individual schools each theoretically competing for the best results. It is the implementation of a controlled, limited market for education.

There is no process of explicit selection involved in the current state education system, and this is perhaps what people really mean when they say that grammar schools should be reintroduced. But Michael Gove is not stupid; he knows that the Britain of 2012 is different from the Britain of 1962, and that selection in the way grammar schools used to do it is now irredeemably unpalatable in this country. The introduction instead of more vocational qualifications and styles of learning as well as the impending closure of many universities as a result of fee increases will mean that the system will soon result in a more noticable divide between those who go to university (doing traditionally academic subjects), and those who do not.

Whilst 20th century Grammars are never to return, it certainly seems as though the current educational policy is creating an education system as similar to it as is possible in the 21st Century. Those who see Grammar schools with a wistful eye would do well to look around them. Say it quietly, but this is truly an educational revolution.

Mitt Romney’s concerning foreign policy

(C)Gage Skidmore

By Jake Coltman

The Republican Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, has finally revealed a full vision of what his foreign policy would look like.  The message is that Mr. Romney is tired of America’s weak stance towards Russia, China and Iran, and that he would like to see a policy shift to favour America’s oldest allies, Israel and Great Britain.  After eight years of Bush Junior’s unilateral shock and awe policy, and four years of systematic neglect by the Obama administration it is tempting to be enticed into thinking that a more concerned America will be both in world and national interest; sadly however, a closer look at what the Republican’s team is saying seems to give us more cause for concern than reason to hope.

On Tuesday the Daily Telegraph quoted an anonymous aide to Mitt Romney as saying that:

“In contrast to President Obama, whose first instinct is to reach out to America’s adversaries, the Governor’s first impulse is to consult and co-ordinate and to move closer to our friends and allies overseas so they can rely on American constancy and strength.”

It is worth spending some time deconstructing what point is being made here.  Firstly, there seems to be an accusation that America’s “friends and allies” feel insecure under the current policies.  This is hard to square with what said friends and allies are doing.  Britain is slashing its defence capabilities  and European plans to form a new military pole are once again floundering on apathy.  Israel continues to be able to essentially command two carrier fleets and the US Defence Secretary recently announced a significant increase in forces in the Pacific Rim to protect America’s allies from China’s rise.  On this note Obama can hardly be criticised.

The quotation also implies that America’s foreign policy has been totally aloof and uncoordinated with its allies.  This is little more than totally false.  In the form of NATO, America maintains and supports a combined command network for the Alliance through which most of its recent operations have been run.  Both Iraq and Afghanistan were multilateral coalitions of the willing with dozens of other nations working together, indeed even in America’s backyard, for instance, the operations in Haiti and Grenada, the US ensured that it worked with other, dispensable, nations.  More recently, Japan has just announced that it will integrate its entire command network with America, formalizing an arrangement common in the region.

The real meat of the quotation is a gut reaction to Mr. Obama’s policy that America is not acting the way it should on the world stage.  The neo-conservatives resent the neglect of the Anglo-Saxon partnership, the downplaying of the great NATO, the perceived snubbing of Israel, the willingness to work with countries like Pakistan, the fact that Iran can flout America’s wishes “without” reprisals, and most of all, the relative decline of the USA.  All of these are seen as signs of weakness that justify Obama being the President who doesn’t want “America to be the strongest nation on earth” and this perception is exactly why we should be concerned with Romney’s proposed foreign policy.

This is not a retrograde step to the neo-conservative Bush era, it is a retrograde step back to the Cold War.  During the Cold War, America arguably did need the ability to militarily intervene in multiple theatres or to be able to unilaterally control the sea, and nations like Britain were arguably better off for it doing so.  Similarly it made sense to see the world in an “us and them” framework in which the US protected and furthered the interests of its allies, however, in the modern world the US is a global leader, and we need so much more from it.

No matter who is elected as the next President, and indeed the next after that, the US will still be the nation that the rest of the world looks to to take the lead on global issues.  This is what we rely on America for, and where we most require “American constancy and strength”.  We face no immediate military threat from an aggressive Russia or an adventurous China, and indeed the military capacity of Europe today is sufficient to defend itself from any invader.  What we cannot do ourselves is resolve bigger, subtler, issues like international terrorism or nuclear proliferation, and we will not be aided in this by President Romney looking for a “powerful” America.  Credibility as the global leader won’t be won by partisan alliances and military strength, but by conciliation with nations like Pakistan, Russia, China and even Iran, and through not being so closely identified with causes like Israel and NATO.  Obama may well not have expressly supported the British cause in a number of areas, and he may have snubbed us on occasion, but his general foreign policy does us so much more good than the attentions of Romney possibly could.

On gambling licenses, localism is a risk with no reward

(C) Corpse Reviver

By Alex Bryan

This week, the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee published a report analysing the 2005 Gambling Act, which liberalised UK gambling laws considerably. The report concluded that the law introduced ‘numerous inconsistencies’, and suggested that gambling laws abandon what Committee Chairman John Whittingdale called their ‘reluctantly permissive’ tone urging further deregulation of the industry.

The recommendations which the Committee puts forward are predictable, but no less dangerous for it. The liberalisation of gambling laws to allow more fruit machines in betting shops or to lower license fees for independent bookmakers would do nothing other than encourage gambling. The current laws do not restrain anyone from gambling – as Tom Chivers argues in his article in the Telegraph, there is already ample opportunity to gamble in this country. These proposals being implemented, rather than being liberating, would help to trap those susceptible to gambling addiction.

Perhaps even more insidious than the proposals themselves was the suggestion that future gambling decisions and reforms be made on a local level. Localism has been one of the many undeveloped themes of Cameron’s government, and has mainly been used as a foil for the idea of the ‘big society’. It can be seen in play in substantive policy though; the radical introduction of elected mayors and elected police chiefs is an example of localism in action.

The notion feeds off the idea that London based, privileged politicians cannot possibly know as much about a community or city as those who live in it. This is of course, true in some senses. Communities are diverse, with various cultures, needs and histories which must be taken into account when certain decisions are made. Some subtleties of local life are almost impossible to determine from the outside.

There is a place for local decision making in politics. However, in many cases, localism simply appears to be an attempt to pass the buck, the shirk responsibility and give the power (and consequently the blame) to the communities. Localism should not simply be a mechanism for government to keep its hands clean while bad policies are implemented.

Perhaps most importantly, localism should only be introduced when there are genuine differences in different parts of the country on an issue. This is the reason why Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have their own Parliaments – there is a clearly different culture in these places than from in England. The religious aspect of Northern Ireland in particular demonstrates how local or devolved decision making has a place in making sure the nuanced sensitivities of different areas is reflected in policy.

But gambling is the same everywhere. Local councils all over the country would be tempted by the prospect of a big increase in tax revenue to liberalise gambling restrictions, allowing more machines and more betting facilities to be introduced into the community. The Select Committee report claimed that ‘the decision as to whether a casino would be of benefit to a local area should be made by local authorities rather than central diktat’.

Why? Surely if too many local authorities decided to build casinos, the economic benefits of them would dramatically increase, and profit would be slim if there was any. Walk down a high street in any English town and you will see a betting shop or casino, if not both. This is the same all over the country. The decision would be based on the same principles in every town in the country. So why not maintain it as a nationwide issue?

Using localism as a way of keeping clear of nasty decisions is one which will inevitably result in bad consequences. The many people who will turn into gambling addicts through the sheer availability of betting arenas if the gambling laws are liberalised will not be heartened by the fact the decision was made by local politicians rather than national ones.

But in many ways the specific case of gambling laws is simply one out of possibly many decisions which could be ‘localised’, resulting to poor results, when they should really be dealt with on a national level. Accountability disappears when decisions such as these can be deferred from Parliament.  Localism as a mechanism has no useful function in this instance, and the entire concept of local decision making might be sullied by the government mistreating it. A truly successful approach to localism depends on a national government willing to make sure some decisions are made nationally.

The Man behind the Gas Mask: An insight into the Perpetrator of the Colorado Shootings

Barack Obama visiting victims of Aurora shootings (C) Pete Souza

By Devon-Jane Airey

News of the Colorado shootings at the ‘Dark Knight Rises’ screening in Denver have dominated the press over the weekend and, although the nature of such tragedies always have an element of the disturbing, this case (taken place in a state already haunted by the memories of Columbine – all but 14 years earlier) seemed to be particularly so. ‘When he was arrested, he told officers he was the Batman villain the Joker’ said New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, who spoke with Aurora police about the incident. It’s not uncommon to suppose the perpetrators of such crimes have some form of mental impairment. But all this made me wonder, as I can imagine anyone would, who exactly this man was, what his mentality seems to suggest and, what’s more, why (even after the global shock at the events of Columbine) such tragedies are still occurring.

The young man, who graduated college with honours in neuroscience, grew up with maths and science. His mother, Arlene, has been licensed as a registered nurse for more than 30 years. His father, Robert, is a mathematician who develops statistical models for financial services, specifically looking at fraud. William Parkman, 19, knew Holmes because he attended Westview High School with Holmes’ younger sister. ‘He seemed to have a good demeanour,’ Parkman said. ‘The news reports you hear about him, it’s as if people are talking about one person in San Diego and one in Colorado. Who he is now is not who he was in San Diego.’

Authorities are still piecing together how the young man from San Diego went from the study of human genes to suspected mass murderer. He was in the process of dropping out of the neuroscience department, according to the University of Colorado, where he enrolled last June as a graduate student. ‘He was in some of the research towers,’ said Dan Meyers, communications director for the University of Colorado School of Medicine. Holmes was not in the medical school but worked in research facilities on the campus. Meyers would not say whether any particular event led to Holmes’ withdrawal. He said Holmes ‘voluntarily left that program in June 2012. He was in the process of completing withdrawal.’

And yet, although his mentality and methods may still remain foundered on uncertainties, there are some very interesting certainties that are worth looking in to. It is believed Holmes acted alone in what is understood and termed by police as a ‘Lone-Wolf Terrorist’. A subject matter that Todd McGhee, a former Massachusetts state trooper who is now managing partner of Protecting the Homeland Innovations, has some interesting comments on: ‘Lone-wolf terrorists are extremely intelligent and often come from very good socio-economic backgrounds, but they become despondent. They become isolated from family members. Then they grab on to an ideology. Some people find religion. Some people find anti-government. He had a level of comfort to walk in to the theater. He had been there before. He knew the layout.’ Indeed, he planned his attack well enough to create what is called ‘a fatal funnel.’ When people hunker down to avoid bullets, he throws the tear gas to flush them out and shoots them when they do. But, he said, Holmes took his attack one step further. ‘His mission wasn’t to end it right there at the movie theater,’ McGhee says. ‘There was a part B to this attack.’ Part B was the booby-trapped apartment. ‘He can see what he was a part of,’ McGhee said. ‘He can view the response. This is what his claim to fame would be.’

And it is perhaps this calculated behaviour and dramatic transformation of a man previously thought to be of a ‘good demeanour’ that seems a sort of puzzling certainty. We know the attack was planned meticulously and that he had descended into a mentality of anarchy, but there is little logic behind his actions. With no considerable victimisation of society or isolation from an early age, one is left wondering why one man felt so much hatred for a society that seemingly showed him little adversity.

But maybe that’s something one will never understand. And for each tragic case it is difficult to find any definitive conclusion. But, it would seem, commentators have suggested that the answer to achieving a prevention of similar events is through tighter gun legislation. Of course, from an Englishman’s observation, this is clearly easier said than done. With the purchase and permitting of guns embedded within their constitution (‘A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.’ 2nd Amendment of the American Constitution) it is difficult, if not impossible, to ban guns outright. In that case, perhaps emphasis should not be on the banning of guns, but on making the process of obtaining them much harder. Indeed, Holmes was clearly mentally disturbed and able to, with relative ease, purchase his weapons online and have them delivered to his doorstep – as well as ordering enough ammunition to suit a small brigade in all but a 14 day period. This must, clearly, show a fundamental flaw within the system that needs to be addressed. But one cannot help wonder what it will take or, indeed, how many tragedies the country may have to endure before any substantial legislative change is made.

Angela Merkel and the Eurobonds debate

(C)World Economic Forum

By Andrea Masini

During a recent European Union summit in Brussels, Angela Merkel ruled out the idea of joint Eurobonds by saying that Europe will not share the debt burden “as long as I live”. Using such a strong expression, she aimed at firmly rejecting the proposal put forward by the French president François Hollande of a resolution of the Euro crisis through shared debt liability.

More generally, the German chancellor’s words sounded like a way to keep Germany’s distance from the source of the Euro crisis, namely Southern European countries. The message seems to be exclusively addressed to Merkel’s audience back home. Germans do not need to worry: they will not have to pay the debt of Greece, Portugal, Spain or Italy.

In Northern European countries, positions of this kind are becoming more and more common amid politicians. The Dutch finance minister De Jager has said more than once that Eurobonds are not the right solution for the Euro crisis. Geert Wilders, leader of the right-wing populist “Party for the freedom”, has based the new electoral programme on the idea that the Netherlands has to leave the Eurozone if it does not want to pay off the debts of corrupted and fraudulent Southern European lands.

Now, these stances entail an idea that Southern European countries are somehow sinners. Blame is put on the Southern PIGS for the Euro crisis. Their lazy, corrupted and fraudulent habits are condemned as the intrinsic reason of the economic troubles in Europe. On the other side of the Alps, this hostility is barely accepted. In the countries of the South, anti-German positions are steadily rising amongst the people as an answer to this blame.

In this context, Angela Merkel’s statement that Europe will not share the debt “as long as I live” may be seen as adding fuel to the fire, exacerbating the contrast between the North and the South of Europe. Nevertheless, the German chancellor’s words have to be considered not just in relation to their negative meaning. There is a purposeful view in Mrs Merkel’s statement that has to be taken into account. I argue that Angela Merkel’s use of such a hyperbolic expression reveals how she considers the crisis of the Euro zone as an opportunity to smooth out differences between Northern and Southern European countries in terms of economic competitiveness.

First of all, the analysis of the language used by Merkel reveals that the tone she used was not entirely caustic. “As long as I live” does not mean “forever”. Plus, the German chancellor’s political life is the one that has to be considered. A lapse of time that may be of just one more year, if she loses the elections, or four if her coalition wins. Hence, from a mere examination of the wording, there appear to be an open door in the fortress of German intransigence. Seen in this light, Angela Merkel’s sentence has a “pedagogical” purpose, addressed to Southern European countries. If things remain the way they are – if no economic reforms are taken by leaders in Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy – Europe will never share debt liability. In other words, in the short term, “as long as Angela Merkel lives”, the differences between European countries in terms of economic competitiveness and legislation are too big to allow for the issuing of Eurobonds. In the long run, if Southern Europe proceeds in the path of economic and social reforms, the North and the South of Europe may be able to share the debt burden.

The road Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy have to climb to reach the level of competitiveness of Northern Europe is long and arduous. Labour market reforms especially are painful and highly unpopular. That is why a change of mentality by the side of both the leaders and the people is also needed. For example, Italian workers will have to accept to retire as late as their Dutch peers. Moreover, in order to support competitiveness, Southern European governments must increase the level of investment in education and research. A vigorous brake has to be put on corruption. Nevertheless, this path of reforms is the only possible way to achieve economic unity, allowing for the creation of common European bonds.

In conclusion, I argue that Angela Merkel’s statement that Eurobonds will not be issued “as long as I live” has to be appreciated in that it fosters the debate on the Euro crisis. In this sense, the election of François Hollande as the new French president has played a key role. Breaking the Merkozy axis, Hollande has brought crucial new themes to the centre of the stage, in particular that of the shared debt liability. The answer by the German side, however resolute it can be, may indeed serve as a spur for the resolution of long-standing problems, like the differences between Northern and Southern Europe in terms of economic competitiveness. This is a first, necessary step to guarantee a future to the European Union.

Tax avoidance and government condemnation

(C) Alan Cleaver

By Jake Coltman

Like most issues in modern British politics, the ongoing debate about tax avoidance and tax evasion, most recently incarnated in the form of Jimmy Carr, only skims the superficial surface of the real issues at stake.  Broad moralistic claims are obscuring a debate that needs to take place, namely how the state should respond to people acting lawfully but unethically in a way which harms others.

The best place to start any systematic analysis of such a topic is by reminding ourselves what government is, and the purpose of taxation.  In its essence, modern government is a collective action device.  We pay taxes on almost every activity across out lives and in return we get roads, schools, policing and hospitals.  When viewed like this it is clear that tax evasion, i.e. not paying tax illegally, is clearly immoral.

However, the issue becomes more controversial, and more interesting, if we remember that there is no single amount of tax which the taxman asks for.  Every day in our lives we make decisions about how much tax we pay, if I decide to walk somewhere rather than drive, I reduce my tax burden by paying less fuel tax as a banal example.  All the tax man offers us is a series of different options or bundles from which we select as we see fit.  Furthermore, we do seem to allow some significant leeway within this set of choices.  As one will read in the comment section of any article on tax, ISAs and such like are designed to reduce tax burdens, yet there is no stigma there, nor is there stigma in switching to part time to spend time with one’s child.

What then about the actions of bankers and Mr. Carr strikes us as so reprehensible?  Most conversations about this subject usually boil down to something which is reminiscent to equality before the law.  Many of these schemes involve moving money through foreign tax havens and expensive accountants both of which are simply infeasible for the average citizen.  As a society we have decided that those who benefit most from a society have a greatest responsibility to pay back to said society in the form of progressive taxation and yet the rich liberal elite have means available to them which allow them to pay a lower rate of tax than someone on a tenth of their income.

It is this sentiment which gives Mr. Cameron’s comments so compelling.  When we think of the good, honest citizen saving up to see Mr. Carr, and paying tax on the ticket, it rankles that he can put himself at one step removed from them due to his riches.

Yet I do not think this gets to the real heart of the matter.  This point is open to a reductio ad absurdum in a very damaging way.  Should we condemn every individual or business who hires an accountant because there are people who can’t afford accountants?  Should we ostracise those who have savings accounts which require a level of capital beyond what some citizens possess?  These latter seem preposterous, but it is initially unclear how we can place a firm barrier between the two.

Here lies the value of a systematic look at the issue.  Contrary to the numerous cheap remarks about ISAs, there is a morally significant divide between the two types of actions, namely intention.  We have no problem with the man who is too busy or too inexperienced to take care of his own money hiring an accountant, our issue with him only arises when he hires an accountant in order to free ride on the ordinary citizen.  The decision to move money abroad almost always reveals an intention to deceive and to try to get as much from our country as one can while paying back as little as possible.  This point is perhaps best illustrated by analogy.  Consider a group of friends purchasing a meal in a restaurant together.  When the bill comes the friend who has ordered the most food invests significant time and effort trying to weasel out of paying his due.  Nobody likes that guy; he reveals himself as greedy, selfish and fundamentally morally corrupt, and it especially rankles when that guy also happens to be significantly richer than his fellow eaters.

What are we to do then?  Clearly we should attempt to close loop holes as we find them, but historically this has had very little effect.  One potential solution can be drawn from Labour’s attempts to solve anti-social behaviour.  ASBOs were brought in to tackle unethical but essentially legal behaviour in local communities, and I see no reason why they should not be effectively used here too.  However, even if this is not the route we wish to take, there should be a debate on how we respond to such activities.  Ad hoc social stigmatization and government condemnation isn’t the way forward for a civilized society, founded on the rule of law. 

UEFA’s financial targets: crossing the line or fair play?

(C)jeanfrancois beausejour

By Andrea Masini

Usually, AC Milan’s dealings are always strictly connected to the political career of its owner Silvio Berlusconi. In 2009, when the Brazilian player Kakà was about to be sold to Manchester City, Berlusconi interrupted a negotiation that would have cost him a lot in terms of votes in the upcoming European elections. The signing up of Ronaldinho was often mentioned during electoral meetings as an example of a promise to the fans that had been kept. Lately, Berlusconi said that Cristiano Ronaldo might wear one day the rossoneri shirt. However, the recent transfer of Thiago Silva and Zlatan Ibrahimovic from AC Milan to Paris Saint-Germain for 62 million euro doesn’t have anything to do with Berlusconi and politics. This time, it’s all about money.

Football fans all over Europe know well how once troubled and not very successful clubs have now reached the top of their leagues. It has all been very simple. They have been taken over by extremely wealthy owners, willing to bring the club to the football Hall of Fame. It has happen to Chelsea and Manchester City in the English Premier League, to Malaga in Spain and lately to Paris Saint-Germain in the French Ligue 1. Is it fair to invest millions of euro in football in times of crisis? Probably, during these dark times, it’s suitable to find foreign investors to maintain the football circus. Panem et circenses, “bread and games”, were the main ingredients of mass distraction according to the ruling class of the Roman empire. However, in this article the question “Is it fair play?” refers to the economic competition between “old”, traditional clubs and the newcomers. Is it fair to bring fresh money to invest and spend millions of euro to buy the best players? Is it part of the game or is it unfair competition with the other clubs?

The financial fair play project was introduced by UEFA’s chairman Michel Platini in 2009. According to this, clubs should have a balanced budget in order to reach the final goal of financial self-sufficiency. Also, there are certain investment goals to be pursued. Firstly, investments should improve the infrastructures of the club, particularly the stadium. Secondly, the development of the club’s youth teams should be a privileged target. Finally, clubs should put the brakes on players’ salaries and transfer costs, in order to decrease inflation in the football market. Hence, the definition of financial fair play doesn’t consider unfair that some clubs are wealthier than others. Nevertheless, rich clubs should also stick to the investment goals set by UEFA.

As things stand now, the wealthiest football clubs of Europe surely comply with the first goal. Stadiums have been renovated and surrounded by leisure infrastructures (hotels, restaurants, etc.). But when it comes to the other two main investment targets, these clubs do not adhere to the rules of financial fair play. There doesn’t seem to be a focus on the youth teams. Instead, they have a short-term strategy based on buying the best players around, like Ibrahimovic and Thiago Silva. As a consequence of this strategy, the wealthiest football clubs completely break the third main principle of financial fair play. By offering outstanding contracts to players and paying huge amounts of money for their transfers, the rich newcomers of European football do nothing but increase the inflation in the football marketplace. In doing so, they have a monopoly on the strongest players, creating a bigger and bigger gap between themselves and less wealthy clubs.

Is it fair play? On the one hand, it is. Foreign investments, especially in the football circus, and particularly in times of economic crisis, are more than welcome. There is nothing wrong with Malaga, Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain replacing AC Milan, Juventus or Manchester United as the unbeatable teams in their respective leagues. On the other hand, the new tycoons of European football are not playing fair, in that they do not completely adhere to UEFA’s investment guidelines. They are paying too much for transfers and players’ contracts, and they do not have a long-term plan to grow young players in the youth teams. In this sense, Barcelona’s cantera (the “reserve” of champions coming from youth teams) is the right model to follow. Only if the new powers of European football start to play fair can there be a future for the game of football. If they don’t, we might have a “football-bubble”, ready to explode.

The death and legacy of Osama Bin Laden

(C) Hamid Mir

By Devon-Jane Airey

This is one of the most recognisable faces of our age. Osama Bin Laden inspired a generation of Islamic radicals.

Though this wouldn’t have been apparent from any early account of him: relaxed, smiling, a typical teenager. No sign of what he would become. As a Saudi National, Osama Bin Laden became increasingly disenchanted with what he viewed as the greed of the ruling Saudi royal family. It was in Afghanistan that he found a cause fighting with the Muja Hadeen to drive out Soviet forces. By now Bin Laden’s opposition to America had already taken root. From his base in Afghanistan, Osama Bin Laden developed a network providing training and guidance for the foot soldiers who turned his Jihadist ideology into action: Al Qaida.

In 1998 Osama Bin Laden gave this interview to the American Network ABC: ‘We believe that the worst thieves in the world today, and the worst terrorists, are the Americans. Nothing could stop them except, perhaps, retaliation in kind. We don’t have to differentiate between Military or Civilian. As far as we are concerned they’re all targets and this is what the Fatwa says.’

Indeed, he meant every word. Al Qaida were blamed for bomb attacks in East Africa and against a US warship in Yemen in October 2000.

But it was 9/11 that changed everything. 3,000 people killed in a carefully planned and coordinated attack on American soil. Osama Bin Laden immediately became top of America’s hit list. George W. Bush was noted to have said: ‘I want justice and there’s an old American poster out west that says “Wanted: dead or alive.”’ – such a remark highlighting the birth of the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

The caves where Osama Bin Laden was thought to be hiding were pounded relentlessly, but he survived. And from his hiding place Osama Bin Laden still managed to communicate to the world by tapes sent to Arabic television stations. Indeed, there was this from an Islamic Interview in 2004 – just before the American Presidential election: ‘American people’ he says, ‘My talk to you is about the best way to avoid another Manhattan – about the war and its causes.’ However, the underlying message was much simpler than that. A taunt to America and its coalition partners: ‘I’m still here.’ And after 9/11 other attacks inspired by Osama Bin Laden’s ideology followed: Barley, Madrid and London. The war in Iraq now provided a new focus for his cause.

His death in a compound in Pakistan has thus led to much speculation – a speculation that has led to emphasis on long-term caution over short-term relief. Analysts caution that Osama Bin Laden’s demise does not signal the end of the war on terror. Furthermore, they fear that the death of Bin Laden will influence reprisals of other extremist groups across the globe. Indeed, around the world Islamic extremist groups have spread – inspired by, but not necessarily connected to, Al-Qaida – and it is, perhaps, this that has proven to be Osama Bin Laden’s enduring legacy. Osama Bin Laden may be dead, but his ideas are not.

There is no debating that his death initiated much celebration across the globe – especially within America where citizens were seen gathering en masse to celebrate the assassination of their ‘Most Wanted’. Obama stated ‘Justice is done’ whilst political commentators heralded the affair as a ‘much-needed achievement for the Obama administration’. And, although many deemed the successful assassination to be of significance, there are those who suggest our reactions towards such events are to have greater repercussions. Indeed, in many news reports Osama bin Laden has been called ‘the personification of evil’, but this is more than simply saying he was very wicked. In fact, it is a bold theological claim. And a rather dangerous one. It is warned that we shouldn’t diminish his moral responsibility for his actions, nor cheer his demise – as it is the latter that is more likely to invoke conflict. That said, whatever viewpoint is taken towards such a historic moment in international affairs, it is clear that stability in US and allied diplomatic relations with the Muja Hadeen will require more than simply the extermination of their leader.

House of Lords reform: A day in the life of the House of Commons

(C)Misterzee

By Toby Youell

It was over before it had even started. Ten minutes before the debate started, the Tory backbencher, David Tedinnick told the House that the programme motion would be removed. The House was unsure what exactly this meant.

Some clarity came an hour later when the Speaker told the House that the lack of a programme motion meant that even if MPs did give the Bill a second reading, the government would still not be committed to following it through. With recess fast approaching, the Bill was essentially dead. The time was five thirty. Four and a half hours before the now superfluous vote was to take place.

The SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire, Pete Wishart helpfully suggested that the MPs should go home. He had a point: Labour had awkwardly manoeuvred itself into an embarrassing set of policy contradictions, the Lib Dems were anxious to avoid being seen as the only supporters of reform and the Conservatives had to somehow get to the other side of the debate without tearing themselves apart. Nobody had anything to gain from continuing the debate.

Nevertheless, 90 back-benchers had prepared speeches. The news of their speeches’ sudden obsolescence emboldened rather than tempered the spirits of the backbenchers. Everybody knew that the three line whip was insincere and that rebellion now would be forever forgiven. This was to Conservative backbenchers what Freshers Week is to university students. Backbenchers could fantasise about matching the oratory of great statesmen without exposing themselves to the career risks that usually define statesmenship. More intoxicating still was the watchful eye of Betty Boothroyd who, at the beginning of the debate, was sat in a gallery opposite the Coalition benches casting deathly withering looks at Lib Dem MPs. It was to be less of a debate and more of a collection of soundbites for the constituency press to pick up.

First in was Jesse Norman, Old Etonian, former banker, self-styled “teacher” and now MP for Hereford and South Herefordshire. He approached the debate in a messianic manner tinged with entitlement that only he can properly pull off. He quickly pointed out that the programme motion was being withdrawn due to Conservative, not Labour opposition.

Soon came Richard Harrington, MP for Watford who quipped that, “some of my best friends are Liberal Democrats” to knowing laughs from all sides of the chamber. The sort of empty knowing laugh that commuters share in a stationary train, one that says, “we’re screwed, but at least we’re in it together”. Edward Leigh, MP for Gainsborough remarked that the proposals would make the House of Lords the “poodle of the Commons”. He took the time to inform the government that their “parliamentary incompetence” was handing power over to the opposition. Edward Leigh was enjoying himself. The star of this pantomime was Conor Burns, MP for Bournemouth West, the junior minister who had suspended his executive career by a couple of months. He even wore a pantomime blue and yellow tie to reinforce his commitment to both the performing arts and the coalition. His soundbites were mostly to do with principle but he also dropped, “Alice in Wonderland world we now live in” for Bournemouth’s satirical cartoonists to work on.

There were, of course, exceptions to these theatrical performances. Eleanor Laing’s insistence that the lack of proper debate was “simply wrong” had the sort of pathological conviction that would make her a great scientologist, excluding her keenness on the Church of England’s representation in Parliament of course.

Occasionally, a member of the Lib Dem front bench would make an interjection and quote passages from the Conservative manifesto, as if it was some sacred ancient text that was the sole source of truth and light.  While doing so, the grandee would sometimes shake a piece of paper that was presumably a spare copy of the manifesto that they always carry around with them for times of crisis.

Labour was also in a tricky situation. The proposals closely resembled those in its manifesto, but they wished to firstly embarrass the government and secondly to maintain the status quo, which is currently working quite well for them. Their first intention was quashed by the removal of the programme motion and the second desire could not speak its name. As a compromise, they sought to dirty the Bill by its association with the Lib Dems. Thomas Docherty, MP for Dumfermline and West Fife obligingly lampooned the Bill as, “a Liberal Democrat Bill.” Scathing.

After a day of debate, reform of the Lord’s won’t happen and the Coalition is a little more fragmented than before. They may as well have stayed at home.

Henry IV: Part Two, or How to Succeed in Politics by Will Shakespeare

(c) BBC

By James Le Grice

At the start of The Hollow Crown series, I praised the BBC for setting these plays in
their original late medieval context. Doing so makes them even more relevant to modern
times, as the individual audience members can relate to the subject matter in their own
individual ways. Henry IV: Part Two illustrates this point best of all. This is a political
manual on how to be a successful public figure, whose themes about false friends,
clearing out skeletons in the closet, and using foreign policy to whitewash domestic
issues are as poignant today as when Shakespeare penned the play. Read more of this post

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