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    How a free school objector got smeared.

    Richard Knights used to have a season ticket at Everton FC. But the club took it away. The circumstances of the case raise concerns about the silencing of dissent.

    Knights is described by those who know him as a “middle-aged, quietly-spoken, primary school teacher”. He’s passionate about the club he has supported for over 50 years. And he’s also passionate about education. So when Everton announced it was to open one of the free schools the current government is championing, he found two of his passions in opposition. Because Knights takes the view that educating children is best left to the professionals.

    Knights has been very involved in organising opposition to the free school, and in efforts to cast light on the qualifications of the people being put forward as suitable to educate the children of the city he lives in. And this, it seems, has led to the withdrawal of his season ticket.

    He complained to the Independent Football Ombudsman about the sanction imposed on him, and about the allegations made against him; allegations he strongly refutes. The IFO’s full report is available online, under the heading "The withdrawal of a season ticket at Everton". It makes worrying reading, for the report seems to confirm that Knights is being punished not for what he has done in specific instances, but for what people thought he might do.

    In the IFO report, witnesses are quoted as being made to “feel uncomfortable” by Knights’s “body language”. His “aggressive” behaviour is defined as “leaning over the desk trying to see the receptionist’s computer” and he is also described as being “aggressive, angry and abrupt”. On another occasion his behaviour is said to have made the sales staff in the club shop “be fearful of what he would do next”. He is also said to have made “a stream of telephone calls to both the school and the club” and said things on social media sites that “caused concern”.

    You may, after reading that last paragraph, detect a certain lack of substance. There is much about what worried people, or what they thought might happen. It is entirely possible that people were genuinely concerned or uncomfortable about what Knights did, or to be more accurate, about what they thought he might do. But being made to feel uncomfortable may also be considered part and parcel of participating in discussion with people with whom you don’t agree. It is certainly not a crime.

    Knights says the allegations are “totally false and malicious”. In relation to the incident alleged to have taken place in the club’s megastore, he says he has “not been inside the megastore for well over 10 years”. He has a letter from Kitbag, the company that runs the store, confirming it has no record of the alleged incident. The statements given to the IFO say the alleged incident took place in June 2012 but, says Knights, “the first I heard of any problem was the police arriving on my doorstep to issue a recordable verbal warning in September 2012”.

    Reading the whole report, I was struck by the flimsiness of the evidence selected to back up serious accusations against Knights. Not only has he had his season ticket revoked, he has received letters from solicitors threatening legal action, and been visited at his home by police. Knights denies the incidents these actions were based on took place. The burden of proving they did lies with those making the accusations but, on the evidence of what’s set out in the IFO report, that burden has not been shouldered. Nor is there any evidence that Knights would extend his campaign to matchday staff.

    The report also reveals the club’s contorted attempts to explain why Knights’s season ticket was revoked. At one point it says the reference to refusing permission to enter the club’s Goodison Park ground “was intended to refer to non-match activities”. But Knights had been told by the club’s chief executive he was “permanently banned from buying tickets”, then told he could buy tickets if he could satisfy the club he would not use them “for malign purposes”.

    The IFO report notes there was “some confusion” over what Knights was banned from doing and that the explanation that he was still free to attend matches “is hard to reconcile with the instructions” given. Everton’s previous director of communications was Paul Tyrell, who regular readers will be familiar with. He told the chairman of Everton’s Shareholders’ Association that no one had been banned from Goodison. And yet the letter Knights received from Tyrell, and reproduced on an Everton fan site, clearly states “the club intends to exercise its entitlement under our Ground Regulations to refuse you admission to Goodison Park”.

    The IFO rejected Knights’s complaint on the ground that “his over forceful and aggressive behaviour gave rise to fears for the safety of club employees”. Knights is furious at the damage to his reputation.

    I emailed Everton for comment, but have so far received no reply.

    Knights is convinced he is being targeted because of his campaigning work against the free school, something he describes as “a Tory initiative to wrest schools away from local control and employ staff on the cheap”.

    Knights is as worried about the “lack of any rights for fans” as he is about the reluctance of free schools to provide details of staff salaries and qualifications. The common denominator seems to be large organisations that do not like transparency, and certainly do not like being questioned.

    His case is still being handled by the Football Supporters Federation, and he is pursuing a complaint through the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Whatever your views about free schools or football fans, the fact that someone can be sanctioned not for what they do, but for what people say they think they might do, should be of concern – especially when there is a suspicion that the assertion is motivated by a desire to silence dissent.


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    SKF expects to achieve annual cost synergies of $30m and sales synergies of $50m with the acquisition.

    The Swedish bearings and lubrication systems maker SKF has signed a definitive agreement to acquire the US-based diversified industrial manufacturer Kaydon Corporation for about $1.25bn, or $35.50 per share, to improve its technology platforms.

    SKF will finance $95m of the deal through debt.

    Kaydon’s products and technologies, geographical presence, and global customer and distribution network are expected to enable SKF to provide better services for its customers. In addition, Kaydon’s North American manufacturing footprint will help SKF to enhance its presence in the region.

    The deal offer of $35.5 per Kaydon share represents a 22 per cent premium on the closing price on 4 September 2013.

    SKF expects the deal to enable it to achieve annual cost synergies of $30m and sales synergies of $50m. About 50 per cent of SKF sales come from its home market in Europe.

    Tom Johnstone, president and CEO of SKF, said: “We have followed the development of Kaydon for a long time. They have a strong product portfolio, strong management and a solid financial performance and I am delighted that they will soon be part of the SKF Group.”

    “In particular this acquisition, combined with our other activities, investments and acquisitions in the last few years, shows our strong commitment to the North American market.”

    James O’Leary, chairman and CEO of Kaydon, said: “We believe that this transaction represents an excellent strategic fit for Kaydon that will allow our market leading businesses to accelerate their growth strategies by joining forces with SKF, a global industry leader.”

    The transaction, which is subject to regulatory approvals, is expected to close in the fourth quarter of 2013.

    J.P. Morgan advised SKF on the transaction, while Reed Smith provided legal counsel.


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    The former PM's open disagreement over Syria shores up support for Miliband among anti-war Lib Dems.

    Since Ed Miliband's election as Labour leader in his 2010, Tony Blair has sought to avoid explicitly referring to his obvious political differences with the man who sounded the death knell for New Labour.

    But interviewed on the Today programme this morning on last week's Syria vote, he remarked frankly: "I wrote before the vote that I thought we had to support action in Syria and I said after the vote that I was disappointed by it. So this is something where I just have to disagree with the leadership of the party". What is significant is that he chose to blame Miliband, rather than Tory backbenchers or David Cameron, for the defeat, the first time he has openly taken issue with one of the Labour leader's stances. 

    Blair made it clear that he believed Miliband behaved irresponsibly by not supporting the government's motion last week. "Not to act, I think, is dangerous because you're sending a signal that such a use of chemical weapons can take place without the international community having a robust and proper response," he said. He warned that while military action could be "long and bloody and difficult and expensive", inaction would be "long and bloody and difficult and expensive and worse". 

    But while Cameron is also trying to frame Miliband as the guilty party, declaring at PMQs this week: "I don't think it was necessary to divide the House on a vote that could have led to a vote but he took the decision that it was", it's hard to think of a less helpful ally for him than Blair. 

    Every time that Blair champions intervention, it inclines many Tories to do the reverse. For Miliband, conversely, the former PM's criticism is political gold. It validates his claim to have "turned the page" on New Labour and helps to shore up the support of the key group of 2010 Lib Dem voters (who will determine the outcome in 2015), who abandoned Labour in protest at Iraq. As one tweeter wrote shortly after the interview, "I don't feel very inspired by Miliband at best of times, but the moment Blair starts criticising him, I go all protective and sympathetic."

    Since last week's defeat, to the frustration of many Lib Dems, Miliband has framed himself as the man who prevented a "rush to war", as the antithesis of 2003-era Blair. In that task, nothing could be more helpful than the damning judgement of the man himself. 

    Update: Blair's once impeccably loyal deputy has rowed in behind Miliband.


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    So much whimsy.

    The new Yahoo! logo redesign is complete, and according to CEO Marissa Mayer, the finishing touch was to add a nine degree tilt to its exclamation mark, "just to add a bit of whimsy". Really, Marissa, why couldn’t you just live a little and turn it up all the way to 11?

    The suggestion of a KPI for whimsy calls to mind Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda’s apologetic bow following the brand’s brake failure controversy in 2010, and the subsequent media discussions about what level of incline truly denotes remorse in Japanese corporate culture.

    Given this context, isn’t the calculation of exactly how far to tilt an exclamation mark pretty much the antithesis of whimsy?

    As a side note, can an exclamation mark even be whimsical? Before writing this piece I stood in front of the mirror, De-Niro-In-Taxi-Driver style, trying to say "Yahoo!" in a whimsical way, but ending up sounding like a cartoon cowboy coming round from a lobotomy.

    In any case, there was nothing whimsical about the thinking behind the redesign - the new logo has been crafted over the company’s recent "30 days of change" (does that remind anyone else uncomfortably of the phrase "day of rage?"), as part of a long campaign to transform "Yahoo!" into an entirely new animal.

    In her blog post on the subject, Mayer mentions up front how the Yahoo! logo had not been updated in 18 years, and quickly mentions the fact that the brand has been valued at up to $10bn as a reason why any redesign could "not be taken lightly".

    The ensuing "geeking out" (her words) on the design process, while a really interesting read, furthers the logic that the worth of a brand is commensurate to the level of overthinking that must go into how it writes its name.

    I do understand, I really do, that calling the mastercrafting of a logo "overthinking" brings to mind the cab driver telling the abstract painter in the back seat that "at the enna the day though, a child could do it", or indeed the people who show up in the comments section of articles like this saying "Why is this news? Journalism is dead".

    I am certainly not knocking the skill or the importance of commercial graphic designers: my wife is one, and I have seen her work astonishing hours to get a logo just right.

    But in this case, what was more important - that Yahoo! redesigned its logo, or that it was seen to be investing a great deal of thought into a redesign?

    After all, the original logo (which some inevitably prefer anyway - who’s whimsical now?) managed to drive the company into $10bn territory in the first place, and was clearly fit for purpose - in the end, it was the rapid evolution of the internet that knocked Yahoo! out of the limelight.

    The real masterpiece of branding here is not the logo, but Mayer’s own commentary on it, and the insight she provides on the design process… because it feels like something Google would do.

    This blog says: "we are fun, and we are creative. But we’re also massive, and capable of being fun and creative in an extraordinarily professional, measured and profitable way." It is no accident that Yahoo!’s multi-billion dollar brand value is mentioned in the third sentence.

    Welcome to Big Whimsy.


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    The Education Secretary's warning that poor children suffer when they do not have their own bedrooms is at odds with the coalition's policy.

    During a Q&A at Policy Exchange yesterday, following his speech on teaching, Michael Gove noted that poor children often suffer because they do not have their own bedrooms for homework.

    There are children, poor children, who do not have rooms of their own in which to do their homework, in which to achieve their full potential.

    Nick Boles' planning reforms will make it easier for more homes of a larger size to be built. That's why when people oppose these planning reforms I think they are actually standing in the way of helping our children.

    Nothing controversial in that, but with his remarks the Education Secretary unwittingly made the case against the bedroom tax. Under the measure, which reduces housing benefit by 14% for those deemed to have one "spare room" and by 25% for those with two or more, children under the age of 16 and of the same gender are expected to share a bedroom, while children under the age of 10 are expected to share regardless of their gender. 

    The question for Labour remains: will you scrap it? At PMQs this week, fixing his glare at the party's frontbench, David Cameron scornfully remarked: "You have ranted and raved about the spare room subsidy. Are you going to reverse it? Just nod. Are you going to reverse it? Yes or no? Absolutely nothing to say, and weak with it."

    But as I've previously reported, the party will almost certainly pledge to scrap it in advance of the general election, with an announcement possibly coming at next month's conference. 


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    Groundbreaking studies in exclamation mark sciences.

    The internet was thrown into a tailspin by yesterday's revelation that an angle of just 9˚ is all it takes to change Yahoo's new logo from serious to whimsical.

    Seriously. Here's Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer's description of the design process, with emphasis added:

    Other elements fell quickly into place:

     

    • We didn’t want to have any straight lines in the logo. Straight lines don’t exist in the human form and are extremely rare in nature, so the human touch in the logo is that all the lines and forms all have at least a slight curve.
    • We preferred letters that had thicker and thinner strokes - conveying the subjective and editorial nature of some of what we do.
    • Serifs were a big part of our old logo. It felt wrong to give them up altogether so we went for a sans serif font with “scallops” on the ends of the letters.
    • Our existing logo felt like the iconic Yahoo yodel. We wanted to preserve that and do something playful with the OO’s.
    • We wanted there to be a mathematical consistency to the logo, really pulling it together into one coherent mark.
    • We toyed with lowercase and sentence case letters. But, in the end, we felt the logo was most readable when it was all uppercase, especially on small screens.

    And, we were off. Here is the blueprint of what we did, calling out some of what was cool/mathematical:

    The Yahoo! logo design process

    Our last move was to tilt the exclamation point by 9 degrees, just to add a bit of whimsy.

     

    We were astonished by her findings, but it's true. Look, no whimsy:

    Normal

    Whimsy:

    tilted

    But here at the New Statesman, we take our exclamation mark science seriously. We had to push these studies further. What happens if you double the tilt? Do you double the whimsy? Here's an exclamation mark tilted by 18˚:

    super tilted

    Astonishingly, it seems to have the same amount of whimsy. Perhaps there is some peak level of whimsy, beyond which no amount of tilting can increase it?

    We went deeper, and made a concerning discovery. If you tilt an exclamation mark too far, it becomes Spanish:

    hola

    ¡Shocking! It appears that one unit of whimsy is roughly equal to one-twentieth of Spain, or five centiSpains.

    After much trial and error, we determined this distribution of whimsy and Spanishness throughout the range of exclamation mark rotation:

    Studies continue.


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    Highest annual rate since June 2010.

    According to the Halifax's latest house price survey house prices in the UK have risen to the highest annual rate since June 2010 in the three months to August.

    By how much have house prices risen?

    In the three months to August house prices rose by 5.4 per cent compared to the same period last year, according to Halifax’s survey.

    Prices were also 2.1 per cent higher than the previous period.

    What about the number of mortgage approvals for house purchases?

    This figure, which is an indicator for completed house sales, rose 4 per cent to 60,600 between June and July.

    This is the first time that approvals have exceeded 60,000 since early 2008.

    What is responsible for these rises?

    It is thought the government’s Help to Buy scheme has boosted house sales. The scheme, available to both first-time buyers and people moving into a newly built home worth up to £600,000, offers a government backed loan of up to 20 per cent of the price of the property. It aims to make it easier to purchase property with a deposit of only 5 per cent.

    What has Halifax said about this boost in UK house prices?

    Martin Ellis, the Halifax's housing economist, said: "Overall, house prices are expected to rise gradually over the remainder of the year."

    The lender added that it thought below-inflation earnings rises "are likely to act as a brake on the market".

    What are the experts saying?

    There is a fear the UK housing market could be headed for another property bubble.

    However, there are some signs of a slow down, with Halifax reporting that prices rose 0.4 per cent in August from July, a lower rate than economists had forecast and lower than July's 0.9 per cent.

    Matthew Pointon, property economist at consultancy Capital Economics, speaking to the BBC said: "A short-term imbalance between housing demand and the number of homes on the market is driving price increases.

    "But the rise in wholesale interest rates seen over the past few weeks may soon start to feed through to mortgage rates, dampening demand.


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    If murder was so common that in any medium-sized mixed group I could be pretty sure someone there had been directly affected by murder, you are damn right I wouldn’t make any jokes about murder, writes Sophia McDougall.

    I once told a joke that hurt someone who’d lost a loved one to murder.

    It was awful.

    It was not even a joke about murder.

    It was a joke about how some people thought I was twenty-three, but actually I was twenty-six. The context really isn’t worth explaining, it wasn’t much of a joke.

    I made the joke at a gathering I was about to leave. I went and collected my things and then, on my way out, I noticed that a woman who’d seemed cheerful moments before now looked shaken and tearful.

    I didn’t know what had happened. She didn’t tell me, but someone else did later – twenty-three was the age her daughter had been when she was murdered. And just the number “twenty-three” – in reference to a young woman’s age – had been enough to bring the pain to the surface.

    Because it wouldn’t take much to do that, would it, when your daughter has been murdered.

    I knew it wasn’t really my fault —  I couldn’t have known. But I still felt terrible. Not as terrible as she felt! But terrible. I still wished I could have taken it back. If I had made a joke about murder, and  found I was talking to a mother of a murder victim, I would have felt exponentially worse than I already did, because I would have been knowingly taking a risk of hurting someone. A small one, but still.  I’d have had to accept I’d not just been unfortunate, I’d have severely miscalculated. Either way I would not have felt bullied or censored by the person I had hurt. I never saw her again, but if I’d remained in contact with her, I would not have needed her to ask me not to make jokes about murder around her.

    Murder is thankfully rare. Not uniformly are all over the world, but I have never before or since either made, or witnessed anyone making a remark that caused pain because someone in the room had been bereaved by murder. It must happen (in which case most people would surely apologise and do what they can to minimise the damage) but in a lot of settings, assuming that the presence of murder-survivors is anomalous rather than the norm is not unreasonable. But if murder was so common that in any medium-sized mixed group I could be pretty sure someone there had been directly affected by murder, you are damn right I wouldn’t make any jokes about murder.

    When someone’s been murdered, they aren’t usually around to tell us what they think of murder jokes. But  if I was in a place where I could be pretty certain that somewhere between 1 in 4 and 1 in 6 of the women and 1 in 33 of the men had themselves been murdered, and some or all of those ghosts would suffer the pain of their murder all over again if I made jokes about their torment, and if they asked me please not to put them through that, I would not be all, “But free speech! LOL murder.”

    (“It’s not just being reminded”, the murdered people might say. “It’s seeing people laugh about what happened to us. It’s that they think it’s funny.”).

    And if there was evidence that murder jokes actually did increase the risk of real people being really murdered… I dunno. Guys, I think I might not even want to be a murder comedian any more.

    But I hurt someone not because I made a joke about murder, but because I made a joke about the number twenty-three. This hasn’t come up again and it doesn’t seem likely to, so there’s no particular reason to avoid futher twenty-three-based drolleries, should they occur to me. But you know what? If it was a cast-iron, indisputable fact that not just one person but a very large percentage of people in the world could be tipped into reliving the worst things in their lives by jokes about prime numbers, I would not, at least not without copious warning, make jokes about the sodding number twenty-three.

    Why would you?

    (This is about this, and the inevitable defence of rape jokes that arose in the comments).


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    You need to be pretty lucky to make the most of it.

    Bad news, fellow young people hoping to own a house: "shared ownership" is kinda crummy.

    The dream behind shared ownership is that you, penniless young person who might just be able to save a deposit by 2050 assuming you don't do anything silly like have a social life or go on holiday, only buy part of the property, usually around a quarter or a third. That partial purchase reduces the amount of cash you have to stump up for a deposit, and you then split your monthly outgoings between paying rent on the three quarters you don't own, and paying down the mortgage on the quarter you do own.

    If (hopefully, when) you pay off the mortgage on the first chunk of the house, you can increase your share, and start the whole thing again. Eventually, you own the whole house. Congratulations!

    Except it doesn't tend to work as well as that, as the Guardian's Liam Kelly reports:

    As Giles Peaker, editor of the Nearly Legal housing law blog, wrote on the Guardian Housing Network this week, there is no such thing as shared ownership. Rather than a way on to the housing ladder, shared ownership was, he said, "just a tenancy, with an expensive downpayment for an option to buy the whole property at a later date".

    One shared owner found this out the hard way when, after falling behind on her rent, she was evicted from her part-owned property and a court ruled she had no right to the £30,000 she had already paid for her share.

    Kelly describes a litany of problems with the scheme, which tends to end up combining the worst aspects of homeownership and renting. Tenants are tied down to one property, responsible for keeping it repaired and maintained, and need to pay a much larger deposit to secure it; but at the same time, they aren't insulated from rent rises or jumps in service charges, and the bulk of the money they pay each month isn't building equity for anyone other than the developer's shareholders.

    On top of that, there's problems unique to shared-equity. The market for second-hand part-owned homes it particularly illiquid, so good luck selling your share for anything like what you spent on it.

    If everything goes well, you may be the one in five who actually ends up taking full ownership of their house. If it doesn't… you won't.

     


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  • 09/06/13--05:42: In the Frame: Split
  • Tom Humberstone's observational comic for the New Statesman.


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    The party was right to demand full evidence should precede any decision - Cameron was in a rush to prove himself a world leader.

    As world leaders are gathering in St Petersburg, the dust is still settling in Parliament after the sudden recall of the Commons last Thursday and the debate on Syria.

    In an attempt to hide his own failings, David Cameron has tried to argue that Ed Miliband U-turned last week by opposing military intervention and that Labour MPs now regret the outcome of that vote.

    Both of these claims are simply untrue.

    The Labour leader and shadow foreign secretary made it clear back in May that serious questions remained unanswered about David Cameron’s suggestion of sending British-made arms to the Syrian opposition. So it should have come as no surprise that our approach to any military intervention would be similarly measured.

    The truth is that the outcome of last week's vote reflected great unease among the public about future military intervention in Syria, given the experience of both Iraq and Afghanistan, but was also a product of the arrogance and incompetence of the Conservative leadership. Having worked in the government whip's office, I cannot imagine how they got themselves into that mess.

    Labour believes it is crucial that the government plays an active role in finding a solution to the Syrian conflict. A new diplomatic initiative is urgently needed. Cameron and other leaders should insist that this is put on the formal agenda of the G20. We have also called for the establishment of a contact group on Syria which would involve countries which have taken different sides in the conflict.

    The debate about military action risks overshadowing the humanitarian disaster unfolding in Syria and the wider region. The UN estimates that over two million Syrian refugees have now fled to neighbouring countries. The UN and its partners in June appealed to the international community for £3bn for Syria relief operations this year. Yet only 40 per cent of this fund has so far been received. As the second largest donor, the British government is well-placed to put pressure on others to deliver on their promises.

    Labour MPs are extremely concerned about the horrific situation in Syria. None of the colleagues that I have spoken to this week regret demanding that the full evidence should precede any decision and that we weigh carefully the case for military intervention. Nor was voting against the government motion last week a decision they took lightly. Cameron was in a rush to prove himself a world leader but he fell down through characteristically abysmal party management, the lack of a compelling argument and poor judgement.


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    No government policy has made party members unhappier. Fortunately, Clegg is about to pledge to repeal it.

    One of the best things about being a member of the Lib Dems is that twice a year you get to have a blazing row with your leadership about why they don’t know their arse from their elbow and that time is shortly upon us once again. Yes folks, conference season starts next week.
     
    And as per normal there’s no shortage of rows on the horizon as the leadership suggests the party faithful back Osbornomics, ask us to agree that they were right all  along about tuition fees, and invite us to keep Trident. Oh, it’s going to be a corker this year…
     
    But one of the other nicest things about being a member of the Lib Dems is that from time to time, the leadership listens, holds its hand up, accepts it go it wrong – and changes stuff. And one of those occasions will also happen next week. It seems the leadership has accepted that the party faithful may have had a point over what was THE row of Spring Conference 2013 and is prepared to reverse the legislation on Secret Courts.
     
    You’ll have to hunt hard for proof of this, but fortunately I know a man with both a magnifying glass and the inside track. And in the penultimate debate of conference, a motion is being proposed by David Laws and seconded by Duncan Brack (each representing, I think it's fair to say, opposite ends of the party) inviting conference to endorse the manifesto themes paper.
     
    With a foreword by Nick Clegg, hidden away on Page 22, it says:
     
    We will find practical alternatives to the use of closed material proceedings within the justice system, including the provisions of the Justice and Security Act 2013, with the aim of restoring the principle of open justice.
     
    Now, while the party will argue endlessly with itself over various aspects of policy on health, education, defence or the economy, give it a civil liberties issue and it will unite in a moment. Because that’s the main reason why most people join the Liberal Democrats. And as a result Secret Courts is probably the thing that’s happened in government that makes folk unhappiest.
     
    And joy of joy – Nick’s held his hand up and concurred. Hats off.
     
    Now, there’s a way to go yet. Conference has to vote for it, the full manifesto has to be written – and we’ve got  to be part of the next government to repeal the current legislation. There’s a way to go yet.
     
    But at least we’re on the right road.
     
    Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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    The footballer's triumph shows things are different for his generation.

    "I'm pinching myself. It's amazing. I couldn't dream of it going that way", said Saido Berahino, the 20 year old footballer, after scoring the winning goal for England on his debut for the under-21 international team last night.

    It capped an incredible week straight out of Roy of the Rovers for the young player. Last week, he had scored a hat-trick on his full debut for his club in a three-nil cup tie win against Newport.

    Berahino could not hide his delight at scoring for his country, and his journey to wearing the three lions on his chest has been celebrated too.

    Just ten years ago, the 10 year old Berahino was a child refugee from Burundi, fleeing a civil war in which his father had been killed, and arriving in Birmingham without a word of English.

    The Daily Mail celebrated the ambition and hard-work which saw him seize the opportunities of his new life in England, finding in it cause for some "jumpers for goal-posts" nostalgia about football before the age of the Playstation.

    "That is where Berahino learned to play football. Not with a coach, not on a pitch and not even with a pair of boots.  Such was their love for the game, he and his friends would make balls out of plastic bags and tape before starting matches that would go on until night-time".

    While Saido Berahino’s is an extraordinary story of sporting talent and potential, it is not a unique story. 

    Berahino hopes to one day compete for a place in the full England side along with the other rising stars of English football. Most will have been born and bred in England, though sometimes to parents who came here from abroad. Some, like Manchester United signing Wilfred Zaha also arrived here as a child, fleeing conflict, before making a new life in Britain.

    It is a happy coincidence that Berahino plays for West Bromwich Albion FC. The football club could claim to have done as much as any other social institution to change our public conversation about racism and race. The club’s Hawthorns ground borders the Smethwick parliamentary constituency, scene of notorious racist campaigning in the 1964 general election.

    In the late 1970s, when black players were still very much the exception and not the everyday norm, the great West Brom team of the era had an enormous impact on local attitudes to race and racism, with enormous local pride in the dazzling contribution of their trio of black players – hailed as the three degrees - to the team, but shock too at the ferocious response their heroes received from rival fans.

    Cyrille Regis, the West Brom centre-forward, spoke to England’s young footballers at Wembley last month. He captured just how far we have come on racism in both football and society, as well as the challenges that remain today.

    “In ’82 I got my first England cap. I was looking at my fan mail and I’d got a letter in the post. It said: "If you put a foot on the Wembley turf one of these are for you." It was a bullet. A bullet in the post, trying to prevent me from playing for my country", Regis told the next generation. 

    “My own fans at West Brom were great, very supportive. My team-mates were great, no problem at all. The opposition fans – Millwall, West Ham, Chelsea, Newcastle – the abuse we got was phenomenal", Regis said.

    That type of public racism has been banished from our stadiums – though England players have experienced racist chanting in European competition, at international and club level.

    Things are very different for the Berahino generation, thanks to those who broke those barriers down in a previous generation. That the shared national pride of a multi-ethnic team represents the social reality of our diverse country is now taken for granted by most people. 

    That helps to explain why it took the life and death drama of his on-pitch heart attack for many people to hear about Fabrice Muamba's remarkable personal journey from Congo to England: his playing in the Premiership for Bolton and captaining the England under-21 side were simply an unremarkable part of the modern game, until that personal drama, where his life was thankfully saved, though his playing career was sadly ended, catapulted him into the headlines.

    Young footballers often face unrealistic expectations. FA chairman Greg Dyke’s unlikely prediction this week of an England World Cup victory in the heat of Qatar in 2022 would be stretching the fairytale a little bit far.

    Given Saido Berahino’s pride in wearing the three lions, he might be forgiven the most unlikely of footballing dreams.


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    A late reshuffle will turn the conference into a beauty parade and avoid the danger of disgruntled sacked ministers roaming the bars.

    After a brief flurry of rumours on Wednesday evening, another week has ended without the long-awaited Labour reshuffle taking place. It's now likely that it won't take place until after the conference season - and wisely so. 

    Delaying the reshuffle until October has the benefit of turning Labour's Brighton gathering into a beauty parade, with every current and would-be shadow minister doing their best to impress, and avoiding the risk of disgruntled former ministers roaming the conference bars. 

    Politically speaking, next week will be dominated by the TUC Congress, which Ed Miliband is addressing on Tuesday, and the run-up to Lib Dem conference (on which note, look out for two major interventions in next week's NS).

    The former in particular is good reason for Labour to delay. A reshuffle immediately after the trade union gathering would make it easy for the Tories to pin any sackings on Len McCluskey and co. When I interviewed McCluskey earlier this year, in a now famous intervention, he suggested that Douglas Alexander, Liam Byrne and Jim Murphy - "the Blairites" - should be ignored or dismissed. 

    Since David Cameron often gives the appearance of believing that every decision in Labour is taken by McCluskey, I doubt Miliband will allow this to affect his decisions too much. But it would still be politically wise to put some distance between the two. 


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    Maybe our tin-headed overlords will just become another set of tools on the job.

    The hopes and fears prompted by workplace automation has been a favourite topic of ours. Will we end up living in a utopia where no-one has to work? Will all the gains go to the rich? What are the implications for the policy arguments of today?

    But at their heart, all these questions rely on one key assumption: that the automation of the early to mid 21st century will be different from that of any period preceding it (except maybe the peak of the industrial revolution). Crucially, the change has to be quicker and wider than previous waves. Quicker, because otherwise people displaced from old jobs will just be absorbed into new ones smoothly and painlessly; and wider, because the hopes and fears rest on automation spreading far beyond simple mechanical tasks, into areas we consider innately human. Journalists, lawyers, doctors and researchers have all seen their jobs replaced by machines doing the same thing.

    A wonderful feature in this week's Economist, however, suggests that the "don't panic" crowd have more going for them than they are given credit for. It turns out, just as with every other transformative technology, that robots are far more useful working with people than working instead of them:

    Last December, in a company first, German carmaker BMW introduced a slow-moving collaborative robot in its factory in Spartanburg, South Carolina, which co-operates with a human worker to insulate and water-seal vehicle doors. The robot spreads out and glues down material that is held in place by the human worker’s more agile fingers. When this is done without the help of a robot, workers must be rotated off this uncomfortable task after just an hour or two to prevent elbow strain. Today four collaborative robots work in the facility, and more are coming, in Spartanburg and elsewhere…

    No matter how flexible, easy to program and safe they are, collaborative workers may not be welcomed by human workers to begin with. The experience of Alumotion, an Italian distributor of UR’s robots, is illustrative. Workers fear being replaced by robots, says co-owner Fabio Facchinetti, so his salespeople carry demonstration units in unmarked cases and initially only meet a potential client’s senior management behind closed doors. But rather than firing workers, Alumotion’s clients often end up adding shifts because production costs drop.

    Collaborative robots do have some obvious problems to overcome, and some of the lines in the feature are moderately chilling; the fact that the International Organisation for Standardisation is in the process of publishing "pain-threshold standards" reminds us that when robots go wrong, they can go very wrong. Similarly, when the Economist quotes advice that "humanoid robots should generally be no larger than a six-year-old, a size most adults reckon they could overpower if necessary", the "reckon" is telling. If that robot decides to take you on, size can be misleading.

    Maybe robots won't transform the world, put us all out of work, or build out utopias. Maybe they'll just be another set of tools which make us ever more effective at doing our jobs, slowly increasing living standards further and further for the same amount of labour. That would be nice.


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    The head of the UK's biggest foodbank network says the PM is wrong to claim that job centres have been allowed to give out vouchers.

    The head of the UK’s biggest foodbank network says he is “annoyed, puzzled and confused” by the government, which he says has “broken its agreement” with foodbanks, directly contradicting the Prime Minister’s comments to parliament this week.

    David Cameron told the Commons that the government had gone further than its predecessors to support the food bank movement, saying during Prime Minister's Questions that they had allowed job centres to give out vouchers to claimants to receive food in times of need.

    But Chris Mould, head of the Trussell Trust that has started over 380 foodbanks across the UK, says that this is not the case:

    “We’re annoyed, puzzled and confused because the reality is not as he paints it,” he says, “The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had an agreement with us in 2011 and they’ve reneged on it. They’ve now said they won’t hand out vouchers to families in distress… The DWP is not doing what the Prime Minister is saying and this needs to be sorted out.”

    The consequence of jobcentres not being able to give out vouchers is that families in dire need of food with no money are left hungry. Without the proper paperwork from jobcentres, foodbanks do not have the evidence they need that the person is in genuine need and are forced to turn them away.

    “We don’t know the reason (why DWP have made this decision). From our perspective it’s a real problem because we have a relationship of trust with our donors. They need to know there is validity to these claims…If people come to us from jobcentres with no paperwork we say we can’t help. We need assurance.”

    The head of the UK’s largest foodbank network goes even further, damning the government’s welfare reforms for causing a surge in foodbank clients across the UK. Between April and June 2013 when the welfare reforms were implemented, over 150,000 received help from the Trussell Trust, some 200% up on the year before.

    “The actual (welfare) policy and its operational impact is causing problems,” says Mould, “Take the bedroom tax say, it’s got some logic to it, but when the provision of alternative (fewer bedroom properties) are not there then that means people simply fall short of cash. These people are not scroungers but they suddenly find themselves £14 a week short.”

    Although it might be expected that people plugged into jobcentres would have their benefit needs met, Mould cites all kind of reasons why people fall through the net. The transfer of people from incapacity benefit to ESA and ATOS medical assessments are causing large number of appeals. These often result in the successful reinstatement of benefits, but people are often waiting weeks before they get the result. In the meantime, their benefits are stopped and they are left with nothing. Now many of them can’t get a foodbank voucher either.

    “Whilst some jobcentres do a great job, we’ve got the data and the case studies to show that some are operationally inadequate and the advice they are giving is just plain wrong,” says Mould, who says he’s been trying to meet DWP officials since April, “We say we want to share this information and put things right, and they have rebuffed us repeatedly.”

    In a further problem, DWP have said they won’t even record the reason for referring people to foodbanks (as they also refused to do under the previous government). This is not surprising, given that the Trussell Trust says over half of people visiting foodbanks in the first quarter of this year were referred due to problems with benefits - a 9% increase on last year when the reforms were implemented.

    This revelation would obviously be embarrassing for DWP, and officials would rather that data disappeared. But Cameron told Parliament on Wednesday that he would never fail to take action simply because it might result in “bad publicity.” So did the Prime Minister deliberately mislead the Commons?

    “What he said just isn’t happening on the ground,” says Mould, “What we’re dealing with here is confusion. I’d prefer to hope he was just badly briefed. He’s certainly not up to date with the decisions DWP has taken.”


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  • 09/06/13--08:38: Friday Arts Diary
  • Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

    Theatre

    To Sir, With Love, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 6 - 28 September

    Based on E R Braithwaite’s autobiography and adapted by for the stage East is East writer Ayub Khan Din, To Sir, With Love follows the difficulties of Ricky, a black ex-RAF pilot, as a teacher in post-war England. Although struggling initially to find work, after settling in an East London school, he finds common ground with pupils who themselves have been marginalised and shunned. Made famous by the 1967 film starring Richard Poitier, this adaptation will debut in Northampton before touring the UK.  It stars Matthew Kelly as the school’s headmaster and Ansu Kabia as Ricky.

    Art

    Urban & Iconic – The World Of Street Art Gallery, 5 - 10 September

    A multi media extravaganza with stencil art, free hand sprayed art, oil and acrylic and oil art, sculptures and live graffiti, this free exhibition celebrates some of the best urban art from the world over. The gallery will be open from the sixth to the tenth of September with live music provided by Happenstance and Maya Schenk.  

    Film

    Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival, 5 - 15 September

    With 30 events from now until September 15 and the chance to see a range of classic films for free, there’s bound to be something in the Peckham and Nunhead Free Film Festival that grabs your fancy. As well as film screenings, the festival also includes filmmaking workshops, such as animation classes for children, to help people gain new skills and interests.

    Among the new releases this weekend are Richard Curtis’ All About Time, the Austrian film Museum Hours, and the winner of the Cinematography Award at the Sundance Film Festival Ain’t Them Bodies Saints.

    Music

    Last Night of the Proms, 7 September

    For the world famous Last Night of the Proms, the music spreads across the UK with outdoor celebrations in Hyde Park, Glasgow Green, Belfast Titanic Slipways and Owain Glyndŵr Playing Fields. With an evening’s entertainment from a range of acts in a variety of musical styles, the events promise to be a spectacular conclusion to the festival. Umbrella advised.

    Festival

    Wigan Diggers Festival, 7 - 8 September

    This free and annual open air event celebrates the life and work of Gerrard Winstanley and the associated seventeenth century “Diggers” movement. Calling themselves the “True Levellers” the Diggers were known for their egalitarian politics and are celebrated this weekend with poetry, music, film and a range of other activities.

     


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    The party says "no organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules" and reinstates suspended members Karie Murphy and Stephen Deans.

    In time-honoured Westminster tradition, Labour has used Friday afternoon to bury bad news. 

    Following its internal inquiry into the Falkirk selection row, the party has issued a statement clearing both Unite and the suspended party members Karie Murphy (who stood for selection) and Stephen Deans of any wrongdoing. It said that "no organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules as they stood at the time". Here's the full statement. 

    The Labour Party began an internal process to examine the controversy surrounding the selection of a parliamentary candidate for Falkirk. At each step Labour’s general secretary and NEC have acted quickly to protect the interest of the party.

    Since Labour began its internal process key evidence has been withdrawn and further evidence provided by individuals concerned. Karie Murphy and Steve Deans, who were suspended, will now be reinstated as they have not been guilty of any wrongdoing. No organisation or individual has been found to have breached the rules as they stood at the time.

    The general secretary has determined that given these circumstances Labour should move to select its candidate for Falkirk West.

    These steps will enable Labour in Falkirk without further delay to choose a candidate and prepare for the general election.

    Murphy has released a simultaneous statement announcing her withdrawal from the selection.

    It is no concidence that the matter has been resolved two days before the start of the TUC conference and a few weeks before Labour's gathering in Brighton. Earlier this week, Unite's Scottish branch warned that it would boycott the Labour conference unless Murphy and Deans were reinstated.

    The question that will now be asked is why the row was allowed to escalate to the point that the police were called in if there was no evidence of wrongdoing. There will also be even greater pressure on the party to finally publish its report on the debacle. But most significantly, it will now be far harder for Miliband to defend his trade union reforms, which were entirely framed as a response to the alleged wrongdoing.


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    Here's how to read it.

    On the face of it, parts of August’s U.S. employment report, released on September 6th, don’t look too pretty.

    Non-farm payrolls increased by a tad less than expected, (but only missed by a paltry 11,000), and there were revisions down totalling 74,000 to the previous two months’ figures, and at first sight the reasons for the drop in the headline level of employment from 7.4 per cent to 7.3 per cent look disappointing, in that the fall was driven by a drop of 312,000 in the labour force seeking work, whilst the numbers of those in work actually declined by only 115,000, but look closer and you discover that the number of people who aren't working, but would like to be, actually collapsed by 334,000 in August! Think about that. What that is telling us is that work patterns are changing-there are more who want to work only part-time and this fall is also evidence of something much more important to the Fed-a structural change in the U.S. economy that implies it is not going to be able to employ as many people, even when it is growing full tilt-maybe the famous, but enormously difficult to measure, output gap, has shrunk.

    The so-called Household Survey of employment, which kicks out the headline unemployment rate, is notoriously volatile, when compared to the Establishment Survey from which non-farm payroll changes are calculated.

    The above goes part of the way to explain why I feel these figures weren’t weak enough to stop the Fed tapering down its purchases of US Treasuries, (not Mortgage Bonds), at its 18 Sept. meeting. They may lead to a smaller reduction in purchases, but even that may not be the case. Why?

    Well, even parts of the Household Survey were positive-average hourly earnings ticked up from flat in July, (initially reported as -0.1 per cent), to +0.2 per cent, and the average workweek increased from 34.4 hours to 34.5. The broader U6 measure of unemployment fell even further, to 13.7 per cent, from 14.0 per cent. Remember, the Fed told us it wouldn’t just look at the headline figure, but that it would drill down into its composition and look at other labour market indicators.

    Just as importantly however, (especially given the volatility and margin for error of the employment survey), we have to remember that recently we have been treated to a veritable slew of positive data surprises, including a drop in the 4-week moving average of those making initial jobless claims to 329,000; a new post-recession low. Other good news has come in the shape of better than expected releases for Existing Home sales, Consumer Confidence, Vehicle Sales and, most encouragingly, as they are forward-looking indicators, the Institute of Supply Managers’ surveys of sentiment in both the manufacturing and services sectors.

    None of the above should stand in the way of further advances for developed market equities. Yields are normalising for "good" reasons, and the Fed has done a good job in ensuring they don’t surprise us with their first steps towards tightening-this is not a repeat of 1994’s bond market rout.


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    The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

    1. Why Iain Duncan Smith is no longer a quiet man but a dangerous one (Guardian)

    His response to the damning NAO report on universal credit shows that he appears to rely on his gut feeling rather than facts, says Marina Hyde.

    2. The west needs a replacement for the warrior spirit (Financial Times) (£)

    Warfare and welfare have long been connected, writes Mark Mazower.

    3. False feminists want to make abortion harder (Times) (£)

    There is no ‘gendercide’ problem with baby girls in Britain, just the agenda of anti-choice zealots, argues Janice Turner.

    4. Syria crisis: The teetering balance of power has whole region on edge (Independent)

    Israel’s position is firmly based on its own self-interests, writes Patrick Cockburn.

    5. How’s the economy? Don’t ask economists (Times) (£)

    The recent good news may be welcome but it certainly wasn’t predicted by a slew of so-called experts, says Matthew Parris.

    6. What next for our 'small island’ and its dwindling Armed Forces? (Telegraph)

    Our political leaders’ cloying rhetoric masks a confusion about what Britain is fighting for, writes Charles Moore.

    7. Ed Miliband's tormentors ignore the constraints of leadership (Guardian)

    His critics show a wilful misunderstanding of what it means to lead the opposition and the responsibilities it brings, says Steve Richards.

    8. Memo to our leaders: real men take responsibility (Independent)

    The people of Britain are heartily sick of macho posturing on the part of public figures, argues Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

    9. One signature by Assad could help to avert the bombing (Times) (£)

    Getting him to sign the chemical weapons convention is an alternative to war, says Gabrielle Rifkind.

    10. Gordon Brown is right – but for all the wrong reasons (Telegraph)

    The former Labour leader came out of purdah to argue against the SNP, says Graeme Archer.


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