Friday 31 December 2010

Premier League half term report: Part 2

Here's part 2 of my Premier League review.

Clubs M - W

  • Man Utd - The ‘unconvincing invincibles’ is how I’d describe Man Utd this season.

  • Man City - Ignoring all the money and media scrutiny, Man City can win the Premier League this season.

  • Spurs - Some of the best games I’ve seen this season have involved Spurs.

  • Newcastle....continually try their best to show everyone they’re a joke of a football club.

  • Manchester City

    After years of plodding along in middling mediocrity, you can’t look at the back pages of the papers anymore without seeing another Man City story.

    Ignoring all the money and media scrutiny, Man City can win the Premier League this season.

    They’ve got the players, it’s just a question of whether they believe they can win it; and if the team spirit is there in the squad.

    If they’re going to win the league or come close then it’s obvious that Carlos Tevez needs to be on form and kept happy.

    I don’t really understand all the stuff surrounding his transfer request. I thought it was just a family issue, but there’s more to it then that.

    To be honest I’m getting bored with Man City. They're like neighbours down the road who’ve suddenly won the lottery.

    Now you can never get any piece and quiet because there’s always some drama going on at their place.

    Man City to finish second

    Manchester Utd

    The ‘unconvincing invincibles’ is how I’d describe Man Utd this season. Still unbeaten, but they’ve hardly setting the world alight.

    Despite all this they look in poll position to win the title for a record 19th time. The advantage that Utd have is that they’re the least flawed out of all their rivals for the title.

    If I was a Man Utd fan, my biggest concern would be Wayne Rooney.

    After the soap opera of the will he/won’t he leave, he’s signed a new contract but still doesn’t look anywhere near the form we associate with him.

    He’s hardly done anything for Utd or England since he got injured back in March.

    Dare I say it, is Rooney actually just overrated? Perhaps he’s just not as good as people thought he was.

    I think Utd will win the title, but Rooney needs to improve.


    This is nothing personal against Newcastle fans, but Newcastle continually try their best to show everyone they’re a joke of a football club.

    The sacking of Chris Hughton is without question the most ridiculous decision made by any club this season. The only positive is that his reputation shouldn’t be damaged too much.

    Before Mike Ashley’s decision, Newcastle were having a pretty good if slightly inconsistent season.

    Ashley’s claim that he wanted a more experienced manager might have made sense if someone like Martin O’Neill had come in, but Alan Pardew? His experience of the Premiership isn’t that great.

    Recent results have been quite poor, and with so few points separating teams at the bottom, Newcastle are going to be battling out like a lot of other clubs to stay up.


    Stoke get a lot of criticism for their style of play - there can be a lot of snobbery in the Premier League when you support a so called ‘unfashionable club’ and Stoke have been on the receiving end of this.

    I do have a lot of respect for Tony Pulis and what Stoke have achieved in recent seasons, although only Stoke fans can love their style of play.

    I watched the Stoke/Birmingham game on Sky earlier in the season – the beautiful game it wasn’t! In saying that, the second half was really entertaining.

    Stoke are having another good season. For so long, I looked at Stoke as being your quintessential Championship club, in a championship town.

    They’ve now re-invented themselves as a solid if unglamorous mid table Premier League club.


    Ignoring the 5-1 humiliation against Newcastle, it’s been a good season so far for Sunderland.

    They’re not exceeding expectations nor are they under-performing. They look on course for a top 10 finish, which is good progress under Steve Bruce.

    They don’t seem to be relying so heavily on Darren Bent’s goals as they were last season, and the signing of Asamoah Gyan looks a good move, even if he was over priced at £13 million.


    I wouldn’t normally advise anyone visiting London to take a trip to Tottenham, except if you want some footballing entertainment.

    Some of the best games I’ve seen this season have involved Spurs.

    Harry Rednapp thinks Tottenham can win the League. He must be the only person who thinks so.

    Rafael van der Vaart, must be the signing of the season. So many foreign players struggle to adapt to English football, but van der Vaart looks as if the Premier League is his natural home.

    You can’t talk about Spurs without mentioning Gareth Bale, who’s beginning to look world class. Funny how things can change, it wasn't that long ago people were saying Spurs always lost whenever Bale played.

    What can Spurs do this season? They can certainly beat Milan in the Champions League and progress to the semis (need to avoid Barcelona and Madrid).

    I can see them battling it out with Chelsea of Arsenal for the last Champions League spot.

    West Brom

    Everyone’s favourite yo-yo club!

    I went to the Hawthorns last September to watch Birmingham play, and was really impressed by West Brom.

    It’s been a great start to the season, with every West Brom fan beginning to believe this return to the Premier League won’t result in the usual ending of relegation back to the Championship.

    Unfortunately for West Brom their recent results have taken a dip, despite good performances. They’re getting dragged back down again.

    I would like to see them stay up this time, but they seem to struggle when Peter Odemwingie isn’t playing. They need to keep him fit – If they do they should survive.

    West Ham

    Where would West Ham be without Scott Parker?

    It would be all over for them without him, he’s been an inspiration. You still keep hearing stories of him going to Spurs, but he surely isn’t going to go in January.

    Bottom at Christmas, usually means relegation, but West Ham aren’t dead and buried yet. If they beat Wolves on New Year’s Day, it would probably take them out of the relegation zone.

    West Ham look a mess to be honest. I know David Sullivan and Karen Brady will eventually sort things out off the pitch, but there’s not much to inspire confidence on the pitch.

    Talking about inspiring confidence, everytime I see and hear Avram Grant on telly, I think ‘Is this man able to inspire anyone?’

    I can speak from first hand knowledge as a Birmingham fan to know, that Sullivan and David Gold don’t sack managers, but even if they manage to stay up, I can’t see Grant being in charge next season.


    What can I say about Wigan?

    At best Wigan are a League One club, artificially inflated by the money of Dave Whelan.

    They’re a poor side, but everytime I think they going to sink to the bottom of the table, they keep producing results that keep their head above water.

    I know every fan looks at certain clubs in the Premier League and thinks ‘I won’t miss them if they go down’ a lot of fans might think that about my own club, Birmingham.

    But with Wigan I really wouldn’t miss them if they got relegated, as a club I don’t think they bring much to the Premier League table.

    Sorry Wigan fans!


    Honest, hardworking, battling, no nonsense – words that spring to mind when you think about Wolves.

    They’re a mirror image of the manager Mick McCarthy.

    After losing to Wigan over Christimas I thought that was it - they were going down, but after beating Liverpool a few days ago they’re back in touch with everyone.

    Wolves concede too many goals and don’t score enough - which can only mean goodbye Premier League, hello Championship.

    As I write this they’ve got a massive game against West Ham on New Year’s day.

    With the league so tight, you can’t say that whoever loses will go down, but if one of them loses you've got to make them favourites for relegation.

    Thursday 30 December 2010

    My top 10 blog posts of 2010

    As it's the last week of the year, I've decided to have a look at my most popular blogs for 2010.

    According to the stats, these are the blogs which received the biggest number of page views.

    There's one or two surprises, but it's interesting to see which topics have gained the most interest.

    1. Is the countryside racist?

    What a hot topic this was.

    By far the most viewed post of 2010. I wrote this blog in response to an article in the Sunday Times magazine.

    The Guardian picked up on the story a few weeks later, and I left a comment on the Guardian's website. This probably explains the high number of people who then clicked onto my blog.

    2. Rugby and football - Two sports, two different worlds!

    After going to Twickenham, my thoughts on the difference between going to watch football and rugby

    3. Charlie Brooker - Newswipe

    Charlie Brooker's brilliant Newswipe series on BBC 4

    4. New Drama Series - Any Human Heart

    Possibly my favourite book of all time, adapted into a great 4 part drama series.

    5. City break in Boston

    I spent a couple of days in Boston at the beginning of November. A nice city with a very chilled out vibe.

    6. A benefits revolution

    A bit of politics!

    The coalition government announce plans for a change in the benefits system.

    7. Student Tuition Fees - The debate nobody's talking about

    Well, I had quite a few lively debates with people at work after I posted this blog. Special mention goes out to Andre who felt very passionate over the rise in tuition fees.

    Said he was going to leave a comment. Hope he gets round to it.

    8. New shopping centre in the City of London

    I was surprised to see this post in the top ten. If you're ever in the heart of London's financial district check out One New Exchange.

    9. How many shoes do you have?

    Definitely one for the men out there!

    Had some funny conversations with lads at work on this one.

    10. Time to reform FIFA, but we have to do it from the inside

    A humiliating end to England's bid for the 2018 World Cup.

    England can still hold their heads up high, not sure you can say the same about FIFA.

    Wednesday 29 December 2010

    Premier League half term report: Part 1

    As we're half way through the football season, I thought I'd give my thoughts on each club.

    It's been a very strange but fascinating Premier League so far. None of the big clubs have been that convincing, and as we come to the end of the year, it's still impossible to confidently predict who will go down.

    Clubs A - L

  • Chelsea ...a dip that turned into a slump, now looks like terminal decline for the league champions.

  • Arsenal - Don’t be fooled be the table that says they’re in contention, they won’t win it.

  • Aston Villa - A winter of discontent awaits... As a Birmingham fan there’ll be no gloating from me.

  • Blackpool - What a story this is.

  • Liverpool - In all my years of following football, I’ve never seen Liverpool at such a low ebb

  • Click on the read more link to read my thoughts in full.

    Full report


    I could write the same thing about Arsenal every single season.

    Don’t be fooled be the table that says they’re in contention, they won’t win it.

    As much as you can admire and respect Arsene Wenger’s achievements, he is unbelievably stubborn. Wenger still refuses to go out and buy a decent keeper and for that reason alone they won’t win the League.

    They’ve had some terrible results at home which makes you wonder whether Arsenal have the mental strength to become champions. I don’t think they do.

    Arsenal will finish third, get knocked out by Barcelona in the Champions League, and might win the League Cup, which after years of thinking it was a run out for the kids, they now feel they have to win.

    Arsenal will always play great football, we know all this. But if I was a Gooner I'd be starting to question how much longer Arsenal can go on playing beautiful football that wins nothing!

    Aston Villa

    A winter of discontent awaits Villa. As a Birmingham fan there’ll be no gloating from me.

    Martin O’Neill leaving just before the start of the season left the club in a real mess. There was clearly an issue between him and Randy Lerner over the club’s transfer policy and the amount available to spend on new players.

    There was also the issue of some of the high salaries being paid at Villa to players bought by O’Neill who were never getting a look in. I know a lot of Villa fans were unhappy that O’Neill appeared to have favourites who he would always pick

    Villa have started to look like a selling club with Gareth Barry and James Milner both going to Man City.

    Gerard Houllier’s come in, and things are getting worse for Villa. Has Houllier been out of the Premier League for too long?

    Certain players in the squad are making life difficult for Houllier (I'm looking at you John Carew) and his assistant Gary Mcallister. They either need to be shipped out fast or Houllier may be on his way out

    Only bright spot for Villa are the young kids coming through, should save the club a lot of money long term.


    The Blues, my own club

    There’s a number of reasons to believe Blues could go down this season. We don’t score many goals, have little creativity, never win away from home, and our star signing Nikola Zigic has been terrible.

    I’m still confident that we’ll stay up though. Our home form is the key, which by anyone’s standards is impressive, three defeats in the last 18 months.

    Secondly, teams that get relegated usually concede loads of goals. That’s something that Blues don’t do, our defence is our strongest point.

    Ben Foster in goal has been the player of the season so far, and the Scott Dann - Roger Johnson central defensive partnership is still in fine form.

    Staying up this season will be a success, but there are a number of issues that need addressing.

    There’s no pace in the team, particularly on the flanks. Up front, Cameron Jerome is too erratic, and Zigic on present form has struggled to adapt to the physical side of English football. If only Kevin Phillips was 10 or even 5 years younger.


    Under Sam Allardyce Blackburn fans knew what they were getting. The football wasn’t great or entertaining, but the team would be well organised, competitive and would still be in the Premier League next season.

    The sacking of Allardyce should have been the most ridiculous decision of the season - that honour has already gone to Newcastle. (I'll come onto that later)

    With Allardyce gone there's a big question mark hanging over the club.

    Under their new Indian owners, all that stability has been ripped apart. I can see them flirting with relegation now, but they should still have enough to stay up.

    Just being in the Premier League is an achievement for a club like Blackburn, they’ve been almost a permanent fixture in the league for the last 15 years or so. It shows how well the club’s been run.

    The new owners need to get real quickly or they could find themselves running a Championship club very soon.


    What a story this is.

    When Blackpool were promoted, I thought there couldn’t be a more ill equipped team to have come up and compete in Premier League history. How wrong I was.

    They’ve had some amazing results, and what’s been even more impressive is the number of wins away from home. They’ve scored goals and haven’t been afraid to come out and play

    Ian Holloway was always one of those lower league managers who was a bit of a ‘character’ the type that journalists love as he was always quotable and good entertainment.

    What’s great is that he’s now in the Premiership and showing the football world that he has some impressive managerial qualities.

    I keep expecting the Blackpool bubble to burst, but just when I think it’s going to happen they produce a result like yesterday, beating Sunderland away.

    It’s hard to see them going down now.


    Bolton the new media darlings, now that they’ve starting passing the ball around under Owen Coyle.

    Having a great season so far, I’d love to know what Coyle’s been doing with Elmander, he looked terrible wheb Bolton first signed him, now he looks world class!

    Perhaps playing a more attractive style of football might tempt more fans down the Reebok. With the likes of Villa and Everton struggling, this might be great chance for Bolton to finish in the top eight.


    A few months ago it looked like Chelsea were cruising to the Premier League title, but a dip that turned into a slump now looks like terminal decline for the league champions.

    They’ve had too many key players out injured, the likes of Lampard, and Essien have been hugely missed, but there’s suddenly no strength in depth with Chelsea.

    They got rid of a load of players last summer, but haven’t replaced them
    and there doesn’t seem to be much coming through from the youth team.

    The entire squad is too old, and Ambramovich hasn’t indicated he’s willing to spend the sort of money that he was doing a few years back. There's been a lack of long term planning with Chelsea.

    Unless there’s a dramatic improvement, I can’t see Chelsea winning the league this season. Qualifying for the Champions League might be the best they can hope for.


    I’ve always admired Everton under David Moyes. To use a boxing analogy, you could argue that ‘pound for pound’ they’ve been the best performing team in the Premier League for a number of seasons now.

    In terms of Everton’s size, resources, spending power, their results and league finishes have been excellent.

    They’re finding it tough going at the moment though – mainly because they don’t have striker. Saha always seems injured, don’t know what’s happened to Yakubu, and Beckford has found the step up from League 1 with Leeds to the Premiership pretty big.

    With the amount of foreign owners in the league it does surprise me why nobody has come in to buy Everton. With some real investment it would interesting to see how well Moyes and Everton could do.

    As it is, I can see them improving but mid table is perhaps the best they can hope for this season.


    It’s going to be a long hard season for Fulham. If the timing had been better, Mark Hughes could have found himself managing Aston Villa, but the Fulham job came up first and he took it.

    I always feel with clubs like Fulham, just keeping them up and competing in the Premier League is a form of success.

    After the achievements of last season it was always going to be hard for Mark Hughes. Fulham’s biggest problem is the loss of Bobby Zamora, their most important and influential player.

    I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be out injured, but without him they’re going to struggle. They should just have enough to stay up but it’ll be close.


    In all my years of following football, I’ve never seen Liverpool at such a low ebb. It’s going to be years before they really challenge for the title again.

    I thought Roy Hodgson was a really good appointment when he came in, but hardly anything has gone right for him. Perhaps it's a case of the wrong manager at the wrong club, at the wrong time?

    I don’t think Rafa Benitez left the Liverpool in a great state, so many mediocre players that should never have played for Liverpool.

    Fernando Torres has become a mystery. His form has been dreadful at times, and his body language hasn’t been great.

    I wonder whether Liverpool might be better off selling him and using the money to rebuild the squad - get some strenght in depth.

    Home form’s been good, (but lost to Wolves at home tonight) but away they’ve been awful. Hard to say whether Hodgson will last the season.

    Next summer will be crucial for Liverpool, possibly the most important pre-season in the club’s history and a chance for their new owners to show their ambition and plans for the future.

    Friday 24 December 2010

    How long will the coalition last for?

    Another bad week in government for the Lib Dems.

    Poor old Vince Cable, he received a public slapping down by David Cameron and Nick Clegg following his comments about Rupert Murdoch.

    I haven’t decided yet if I agree with the Telegraph’s methods of using two undercover reporters to secretly record a conversation with Cable. The Business Secretary claimed he had ‘declared war’ on Rupert Murdoch’s attempts to take full control of BskyB.

    Under any other government Cable would have been sacked for saying this, but it looks like it's been decided the coalition will be stronger with Cable in it, rather than out.

    It’s no secret Vince Cable's found it difficult working with the Tories. Now more stories are coming out about other Lib Dem ministers privately opposing government policies

    For the first time since the government came to power, it got me thinking that perhaps the coalition won’t last a full term.

    How times have changed for Vince Cable. At the start of the year he was everyone’s favourite MP, Saint Vince, he could do no wrong, now he’s being humiliated in public.

    I’m sure the Telegraph were partly motivated to try and expose more divisions within the coalition, but it shouldn’t really be a surprise to people that there are policy disagreements between government ministers. Have people forgot how divided New Labour was between Blairites and Brownites?

    I have to say, I don’t get the attitude of some Lib Dem ministers. They’ve been given a great opportunity of being in government, but instead of trying to make the most of it, too many seem happy to complain about how difficult life is working with the Tories.

    Considering the number of seats won at the last election, the Lib Dems have had a disproportionate influence on this government.

    Despite this influence, the Party looks like it’s trying to prevent an emotional breakdown as it battles the internal conflicts of being in government with the Tories.

    You get the impression that some Lib Dems would prefer to be out of government but still have their principles. That's the easy option.

    You can shout from the sidelines knowing that you’ll never have to put any policies into practice or be scrutinised by the public.

    The more complaints I here from Lib Dems, the more I think the coalition might not last the course.

    David Cameron, and Nick Clegg may have a good working relationship, but they’re both leading parties whose backbench members are increasingly uncomfortable and unsatisfied with the current arrangements.

    There must be loads of Tory backbenchers who are sick of the Lib Dems having so much influence, but they're not making as much noise as their Lib Dem counterparts.

    If the coalition was to collapse there would have to be another election. I’d expect the Lib Dems to take a battering and strangely enough I could see Labour getting re-elected.

    It sounds bizarre as Ed Milliband hasn't made the strongest start to life as Labour leader. He’s still trying to define what Labour under his leadership stands for.

    But if the government’s cuts start biting and the public become more unhappy they may turn back to Labour, almost by default.

    The optimism of Cameron and Clegg in the back garden of No 10 celebrating the new coalition feels like a very long time ago.

    I think 2011 could be a long a very long year for the Lib Dems and the government.

    Sunday 12 December 2010

    Currently listening to Janelle Monae, John Legend and Roots, and Kanye West

    Here's a selection of some of the albums I've recently been listening to. First up is Janelle Monae.

    I was listening to Giles Peterson's Radio 1 show a few months back when I first heard about her.

    Her debut album out at the moment is called Archandroid. It's hard to describe the album or Monae's style. I would say if you liked Gnarls Barkley and Cee Lo's recent stuff you'll probably like Janelle Monae.

    Archandroid is one of those albums that's difficult to pigeon hole, it's got a bit of everything, soul, funk, folk, electronica, it's just hard to categorise. Still a great debut album though.

    John Legend and the Roots - Wake up!

    I love the Roots, they're one of my favourite bands. I bought their latest album, How I got over earlier this year.

    When I heard they'd recorded another album with the RnB singer John Legend I knew it would be something I'd be interested in hearing.

    They've released the album Wake Up in which they cover a number of protest songs from the 60s and 70s. The idea for the album emerged during the 2008 Presidential campaign.

    The album tries to recapture the political and social messages that many Soul artists were tackling during that period.

    If you like that classic soul sound from that era, with a social message then this album is for you.

    I've uploaded the title track for your listening pleasure.

    Kanye West - Power

    Ever since Kanye transformed himself from hip hop producer to a hip hop superstar I've loved everything he's done, so I was always going to pick up his 5th studio album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

    What I've always loved about Kanye is that he always seems to have something new to offer with each album.

    Every album keeps in touch with hip hop's roots, but he's always pushing the genre forwards. My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy continues along that path.

    Saturday 11 December 2010

    My Favourite Blogs: Lens

    I'm always on the look out for new and interesting blogs, and I found one last week, when I discovered a photography blog called Lens.

    Lens is a The New York Times blog, with the aim of presenting visual and multimedia journalism from around the world in the form of photos and slideshows.

    I was reading an article about a South African photojournalist called Joao Silva who was seriously injured last October, after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan.

    Friends of the photographer have set up a website to help raise funds to aid his recovery, Silva lost both his legs in the explosion. The website was launched last month and is offering Silva's work for sale as digital prints. So far the fund has raised over $10,000.

    Silva was injured working for the New York Times covering the war in Afghanistan. The article I was reading had a link to the NY Times website, which had a slideshow on its Lens blog of the photos Silva had taken just before he was injured.

    Click here to view photos on the memory card of Silva's camera before he stepped on the landmine.

    Looking at the photos it got me thinking about the importance of pictures in the reporting of news stories.

    After looking at Silva's Afghanistan photos I decided to subscribe to the Lens blog on my RSS feed.

    Everyday, I get updates on the latest slideshow photos from around the world. It's good to see what's going on in different countries, but in the form of photos rather than in news reports on television or in newspapers.

    Click on the links to have a look at some of my favourite slideshows from the last few weeks on the Lens blog.

    Pictures of the day: Norway and elsewhere 10/12/2010

    Pictures of the day: Haiti and elsewhere 08/12/2010

    Pictures of the day: Britain and elsewhere 07/12/2010

    Newfound colours for a portrait of New York 06/12/2010

    Newfound colours for a portrait of New York

    Pictures of the day Ivory Coast and elsewhere 03/12/2010

    Thursday 9 December 2010

    Student Tuition Fees: The Debate Nobody's talking about.

    I've just been watching the 10:00 news on the BBC - more violent scenes of students protesting in Central London over the proposed rise in tuition fees.

    Prince Charles and Camilla have even been caught up in the trouble, with demonstrators attacking the Royal couple’s car as they tried to make their way to the theatre.

    Hardly a great move by the protesters. That’s what’s going to dominate the news headlines and overshadow all those who took part in peaceful demonstrations.

    I’ve been wondering when I should write something on tuition fees. I think this is as good a time as any seeing as the Coalition government won the vote in parliament today to raise fees.

    When it comes to tuition fees, I keep thinking to myself that nobody’s talking about the issue that’s constantly on my mind, which is this:

    How many graduates do we really need? And what is the purpose of a university education?

    What's obvious is the idea of a free university education is over for students in this country. Anyone wanting to go to university will need to make some contribution.

    The key point is the amount that universities will be allowed to charge students. Fees will potentially treble from the current figure of just over £3000 to an upper limit of 9,000.

    It’s likely that the most prestigious universities, those within the Russell Group are likely to charge some of the highest fees, which they will argue are needed in order to compete with the best universities around the world.

    That’s a strong argument, and it’s important that universities are funded properly in order to compete. The downside is that we might be creating a three-tier university system.

    I can see some people being put off from applying to the best universities because of the high fees, and will choose other courses at less popular less prestigious insititutions.

    If I was a student, or a young person looking at going to university in the next few years, the thought of graduating with between £30 – 40,000 worth of debt would scare the life out of me.

    I understand the argument that this could put off people from poor and working class backgrounds, but not all universities will charge the maximum fees of 9,000, and students won’t need to start paying back the fees until they start earning over £21,000.

    This sounds reasonable, but in reality most graduates are going to spend most of their careers paying off their debts.

    One thing I find annoying is the assumption that most graduates will eventually find jobs where they earn salaries way above the national average, and therefore will be in a position to comfortably pay off their debts.

    Nobody ever seems to focus on those students who might study arts and humanities degrees like English, graduate from a mid ranking university with debts of £30,000 plus; before spending their working career never earning much more than the national average.

    There are loads of graduates earning between £25,000 to £40,000 a year which are good salaries but not exceptional.

    Will these people ever pay off all their debts? I just think to myself, whether having a degree in such circumstances is really worth it?

    This is why I don’t understand why more people aren’t debating the purpose of university and asking how many graduates the country really needs.

    It seems this government like the previous one insists the country needs a large graduate workforce to compete with other nations in the global economy.

    Personally I think we have too many people going to university, and many people have grown up being told they need a degree in order to have any sort of successful career.

    There’s too much emphasis on having a degree in its own right, when the job market is really about relevant skills and experiences and constantly looking to maintain and develop those skills. It’s more important for the country to have a highly trained, skilled workforce.

    University degrees are too often seen as the be all and end all. Not surprisingly people are upset when they’re told they need a degree to be successful in life, yet see the tuition fees increase so much, they no longer think they can afford to go.

    People from poor, working class, and even middle income families will need to think long and hard about whether going to university is really what's right for them.

    Of course people from poorer backgrounds should be encouraged and helped to go to university, particularly the more elite ones, but people will need to really think about what they want from a university education.

    University can't be just an excuse anymore for people to 'mess about' for a three years before they enter the real world.

    Deciding to go to university will now become a serious life choice that will affect people for the rest of their lives. This is what needs to be discussed more, along with questioning the value of degrees rather than just focussing on the student demonstrations and tuition fees.

    Wednesday 8 December 2010

    England take control of Ashes series

    Great to see England win the Second Ashes Test in Adelaide on Tuesday. You can't get a more comprehensive victory than an innings and 71 runs. England now go 1-0 up in the series.

    It's all looking good for England. I know there's still another three Tests to be played, but I just can't see Australia winning two of those matches to reclaim the Ashes.

    I actually remember the last time England won an Ashes series in Australia back in 1986/87.

    It's ridiculous to think this is probably the first time since then, that England have won in Australia when the Ashes series was still 'alive' so to speak.

    Not taking anything away from England's performances so far which have been great, what this series has really shown is the decline of Australian cricket.

    For the last 20 years Australia have completely dominated world cricket and we're now seeing the end of an era.

    I can't remember an Australian bowling attack that's as mediocre as this one. The fact that some Australians are calling for Shane Warne to come out of retirement only shows just how bad things are.

    As with all great sporting teams, there comes a point were it becomes increasingly difficult to keep replacing highly talented and successful players.

    It looks like Australia are going to spend the next few years in a period of 'transition' which might be hard for Australian cricket fans to accept.

    The Third Test starts in Perth next week. If England win which I can see happening, they'll retain the Ashes.

    Even if they don't win, I can't see Australia bowling England out twice in any of the three remaining Tests. That's what they need to do to have any chance of winning the series.

    After years of endless Ashes Test match defeats, the boot is finally on the other foot. Lets see how long England can keep it up.

    Sunday 5 December 2010

    Time to reform FIFA, but we have to do it from the inside.

    Well how humiliating was last Thursday for England, in our failed bid for the 2018 World Cup.

    It's one thing to watch England perform ineptly on the pitch and rightly get knocked out of World Cup Finals, it's totally different when you see a strong and credible bid only manage to secure two votes from a possible 22 available and not even make it past the first round of voting.

    If we've learnt anything from last week's vote, it's this. Firstly, England has no political influence whatsoever within FIFA. We'll never hold a World Cup again until this changes.

    Secondly FIFA has reduced the World Cup to an embarrassing bidding contest where countries demean themselves by begging cap in hand for the once in a lifetime chance of holding the World Cup.

    It's worse than watching X Factor!

    Over the last year, I've been quite indifferent to this World Cup bid. Call it an arrogant English sense of entitlement, but I couldn't understand why our bid was struggling to gain any momentum.

    England's strength's seemed obvious. The best stadiums in the world, an infrastructure already in place, and a passion and footballing culture respected and envied around the world.

    Add to this our technical bid and presentation said to be the best, and it still wasn't good enough to get past the first round of voting! Totally ridiculous!

    In a press conference in response to England's failure, chief Executive of the bid Andy Anson claimed FIFA had told him England's bid was being killed by the British Media, following investigations by the Sunday Times and the BBC's Panorama programme into corruption within FIFA.

    England 2018 Chief calls for FIFA reform

    My first reaction is to think how arrogant must FIFA be if it thinks that countries with independent media can't investigate allegations of corruption within the organisation.

    It was good to see BBC Director General Mark Thompson come out today and defend the BBC's decision to screen the Panaroma documentary.

    Ok, the timing wasn't great but why should we be embarrassed about having a free media?

    If that's something FIFA are uncomfortable with, then awarding the 2018 World Cup to Russia is the perfect choice. There are few places in the world were being a journalist is more dangerous than in Russia.

    The truth is England had no chance of winning this bid. The decision had been made a long time ago and it's clear that FIFA is keen to take the World Cup to new territories.

    We've had Japan/South Korea in 2002, South Africa earlier this year, so there's logic in taking it to Russia. I understand that, I just wish FIFA would be more open and honest about these things.

    As for the Qatar holding the World Cup in 2022 - that's a nonsense. What possible reason is there to have a World Cup in Qatar or anywhere in the Middle East?

    If you look at the reaction of the UK media, particularly the Press then many of our opponents can argue that we're all bad losers.

    Perhaps we could go away and accept our defeat with quiet dignity, but on this occasion why should we?

    FIFA's an organisation that is mired in corruption allegations, doesn't know the meaning of the words transparency or accountability, with members who act as if they're untouchable and above public scrutiny.

    It would be easy for England to stand on the sidelines screaming abuse at FIFA. It's understandable to ask, who wants to be part of this organisation?

    The truth is we're only going to change things by gaining more influence, and that means having prominent figures from English football working at the highest levels of FIFA.

    A policy of splendid isolation won't work for anyone, we need to get involved, become more politically savvy and change FIFA for the better.

    England's bid was far from perfect. To begin with it lacked focus, and we've probably been naive about the politics of bidding for the World Cup.

    In saying this we still produced a bid that was highly attractive and the idea of a World Cup in England sells itself. There's no reason for us to feel embarrassed.

    Returning to England's bid CEO Andy Anson, he gave this advice to other countries considering bidding for the World Cup.

    I would say don't bother [bidding to stage a World Cup] unless you know the process is going to change.

    I have to agree.

    Read some of the press reaction to England's failed bid

    Tuesday 30 November 2010

    El Clasico: Barcelona 5 Real Madrid 0

    Last night I decided to brave the harsh wintry conditions and headed down to my local pub to watch El Clasico: Barcelona v Real Madrid.

    The biggest club game in world football? Without question. It's more than a football match.

    It's a battle between two cities, on a footballing, political, cultural and economic level.

    You could probably throw in some other rivalries, but whatever it is, Barcelona and Madrid never want to play second fiddle to each other.

    This match was billed as the greatest El Clasico ever. It didn't disappoint (unless you're a Real fan)

    Barca's performance was one of the greatest displays I think I've seen from a football team. They didn't just beat Madrid, they humiliated them.

    In recent years like a lot of people, I've considered Spain's La Liga to be the best league in the World.

    It's still as high standard, but really it's now become a more glamorous version of Scottish Premier League. A league totally dominated by two clubs with the rest incapable of ever challenging.

    It's a shame, as in the past I've quite enjoyed watching the likes of Valencia, Villarreal, and Sevilla challenge the dominance of Barca and Real.

    One of the reasons why last night's game was so huge is that both Barcelona and Madrid rarely lose games against any other teams. It means that their two head to heads are potential title deciders.

    If we learned anything last night, then it's La Liga isn't a 2 horse race, but more like Barca are in a League of their own, with Real by themselves in second, and then a long way back is everyone else.

    We're only half way through the season, but it's going to take someone special for Madrid to come back from this. They were eclipsed in every way.

    Jose Mourinho suffered his worst defeat as a coach, Lionel Messi again upstaged Cristiano Ronaldo, and Madrid barely managed to touch the ball to even trouble Barcelona.

    Overall it was just an incredible performance, can't wait for the return match at the Bernabeu next year.

    Monday 29 November 2010

    Wikileaks does it again

    The whistleblowing website Wikileaks has been at it again, releasing 250,000 classified diplomatic cables sent by US embassies around the world.

    Not only has it caused a diplomatic crisis, it's also been hugely embarrassing for many world leaders and heads of state.

    Despite the inevitable backlash, and claims by government officials both here and in the United States, that it puts our national security at risk. I think the leaks are incredibly useful and informative.

    The efforts by the Guardian, and the New York Times in publishing the leaks are great examples of investigative journalism in the public interest.

    It's good for our democracy that ordinary people can gain an insight into the workings of international diplomacy.

    Nothing that's been revealed today is necessarily earth shattering, much of the information is nothing more than diplomatic gossip, but just because it's gossip doesn't mean it's irrelevant or of no value.

    The leaks have shone a little light into the confidential world of international diplomacy.

    You may remember that back in July this year, the Guardian, the New York Times and the German magazine Der Spiegal published over 90,000 classified military documents leaked by Wikileaks relating to the Afghan war.

    I don’t think today’s leaks are as significant as those, but they’re still important.

    I refuse to fall for all the talk of national security being put at risk, which some of the UK Press are claiming, and other senior political figures both here in and the US.

    Is our national security really at risk from the discovery that Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi is viewed as:

    "feckless, vain, and ineffective as a modern European leader."

    That's only confirmed what I and many others around the world have thought for years.

    As for revelations that Arab leaders wanted the US to attack Iran to destroy its nuclear programme; again it’s embarrassing for them, but not hugely surprising. It’s just fascinating to hear those comments confirmed.

    I've been reading loads of reports and opinions on the leaks today. Some of the best comments I've read and agreed with, came from the editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger.

    This is what he was quoted saying earlier today:

    "I think it is a good thing that newspapers should bring this stuff into the public arena. It's not the job of the media to worry about the embarrassment of world leaders who have been caught saying different things in public and private ... especially some of these gulf states that don't have a free press.

    If the president of Yemen is saying different things and lying to his own public about what's going on, I don't think it's the job of the newspapers to hush that up,"

    I also had a look at the New York Times' website to read their reports, I think they answered the national security issue well when they said they withheld some passages or entire cables whose disclosure could compromise American intelligence efforts.

    Maybe I'm being overly naive, but I don't believe the Guardian and the New York Times are going to act so irresponsibly as to publish material that's going to risk our national security.

    I suppose in some ways it's obvious I have a very journalistic view when it comes to the leaks.

    I like gossip, I like to know what's going on. I like the idea of private confidential information being made available for the benefit of the public.

    Also, if I'm being honest I like seeing senior political figures and world leaders being embarrassed and made to feel uncomfortable over their diplomatic dealings.

    Once the US government and other world leaders get over their embarrassment they'll need to start coming to terms with the new reality of international diplomacy and the maintenance of state secrets.

    The days when confidential government information would only be revealed decades after an event, or when the main political protagonists were long dead are probably over.

    Our digital culture means it's more likely that information will be made more freely available to people and at a much quicker speed.

    This should result in people seeing a greater level of transparency in the way their governments operate and function, and may mean more accountability.

    There's still a long way to go, but the actions of Wikileaks are speeding up this process.

    Saturday 20 November 2010

    New drama series: Any Human Heart

    One of my favourite books of all time has been adapted into a major tv drama series starting tomorrow night on Channel 4.

    William Boyd's novel Any Human Heart, is being adapted into a four part drama series. The book tells the life story of Logan Mountstuart, who lives through every decade of the 20th Century.

    We first meet Logan as a 6 year old boy, before following his life through boarding school, Oxford University, his career as a writer, a Second World War spy, and art dealer in 1960s New York, before spending his last days in retirement in France.

    During his life he finds himself caught up in some of the most significant events of the 20th Century, as well as meeting a number of famous real life figures.

    I never imagined the book would be turned into a film or series, as it was unlikely the story could be covered in enough depth, but clearly I was wrong.

    I wrote in my last blog about the book One Day, that I like books where you get to know characters over a significant period of time.

    In Any Human Heart you follow the life of a character from a small boy until he dies over 80 years later as an old man. You see a person's successes and failures, the relationships with different people, and all the emotional ups and downs of a person's life.

    What I loved about the story is that it shows the mix of ordinary and extraordinary events that take place in anyone's life. You see how Logan's life is directly affected by some of the biggest events to occur during the 20th Century.

    I'm looking forward to watching the series, and although it's going to be difficult, I'm going to try my best not to constantly compare it to the book.

    Any Human Heart starts on Channel 4 tomorrow evening at 9:00

    Thursday 18 November 2010

    One Day

    One Day is the title of the book I've just finished reading.

    In the last few months here in London, it's one of those books that you see loads of people reading on the tube or bus.

    I have to say I loved this book. It's a funny, intelligent and emotional story of the love and friendship between two people, Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley.

    I was reading in the Sunday Times Culture magazine that the book's been a literary sensation with nearly 400,000 copies sold in the UK already this year.

    Not only that, I was surprised to hear how a story which has such an English setting to it has proved to be so popular around the world.

    300,000 copies have been sold in America since June, and 31 publishers have brought the rights to translate the book.

    Now I've discovered it's being turned into a film. Can the film do the book justice?

    One Day is your classic 'will they/won't they love story and is written by David Nicholls.

    Dexter Mayhew and Emma Morley first meet on 15 July 1988 following their graduation from Edinburgh university.

    On that first night they imagine what their lives will be like when they reach 40. The story then tracks their lives as they grow older, and we continually catch up with them every few years on the same date, the 15 July.

    Reading the feature in the Sunday Times, it made the interesting point that the book is unusual for a romantic novel in that it appeals to both men and women in equal measures.

    This is true. A lad who I work with told me his girlfriend had read the book, and I think he read it as well they both really enjoyed it.

    When I first bought the book I didn't realise it was a romantic novel, and I didn't know whether to buy it as I had another book I wanted to read first, but something made me think I should get it.

    I think I like novels that track the lives of characters over a number of years, and this is what you have with the Dexter and Emma.

    You're with them on their journey which begins as young adults entering the real world after university, and you're still with them as they approach middle age.

    You watch them grow up, evolve and mature through their 20s and 30s dealing with life and their own special relationship.

    The backdrop of living in London during the 90's and Noughties makes it feel really contemporary and that you've lived in the world that they grown up in during the last 20 years.

    Although One Day is a romantic novel, I think one of the things I loved most, is that it tells the story of a great friendship between two people.

    In many love stories the idea of the friendship between two people is sometimes overlooked.

    According to figures in the book publishing world, the fact that One Day has been sold into 31 languages has propelled it into the league of a modern classic.

    With a film coming out as well, I'm sure it's only going to make the book even more popular.

    If you're looking for a book that's funny, clever and incredibly moving then make sure you read One Day.

    If anyone reading this post has read the book, I'd love to hear your thoughts and comments.

    Wednesday 17 November 2010

    William and Kate to marry

    After yesterday's engagement announcement that Prince William is to marry his girlfriend Kate Middleton, I didn't think I'd have much to say on the subject.

    I'm happy to know they've got engaged, I'll be interested in knowing the wedding date, and I'll probably watch some of the ceremony, but that's it for me.

    I'm not that interested in the whole media circus that's going to snowball from now until the wedding day.

    I've avoided reading much of the Press today, as I couldn't be bothered to listen to all the 'it will lift the mood of the nation' sentiments they like to bang on about.

    I read a quick round up of today's Press coverage in the Evening Standard, by my favorite media commentator Roy Greenslade.

    His feature today was titled 'Press rejoice at prospect of royal wedding'

    But my favourite comment on the engagement announcement came from Channel 4 News' Peter Snow, with a post titled:

    Royal Wedding: For the sake of them and us

    I think he summed up quite well how I think about the whole thing.

    Sunday 14 November 2010

    David Haye vs Audley Harrison: Bye Bye Audley

    I watched a recording of the David Haye, Audley Harrison fight this afternoon. What can you say.

    A great sporting event, a great deal of hype, but as a boxing contest totally irrelevant!

    After two rounds of no boxing, Haye stepped things up to stop Harrison in the third round.

    I have a certain amount of sympathy for Audley Harrison, he was humiliated last night, but this is a man that simply does not possess the attributes needed to be a successful professional boxer.

    In the last few weeks I was looking forward to this fight, but then last night as the fight approached I suddenly thought I'm not that bothered about watching it. Perhaps it's because deep down I knew what to expect.

    I decided to tune into BBC Radio 5 live to listen to some of the commentary. At around 10:20 I'd already left it too late as the fight was over.

    What I did do was listen to an hour of listeners phoning in to voice their views on the fight. The general consensus was that the fight was an embarrassment for British boxing.

    Lets be honest here, if Audley Harrison was any other boxer he wouldn't have been anywhere near this world title fight.

    As a pure boxing contest, this fight made no sense. From a box office, PR view point then this was the ideal fight to stage.

    Anyone who wins an Olympic boxing gold medal deserves some respect, and this is what Audley Harrison has achieved, but in his professional career he'd shown nothing to suggest he could ever seriously challenge for a world title.

    Credit to David Haye he talks the talk and he's delivered by becoming world champion.

    Audley talked a great game, gave a great sales pitch in the build up to this fight, but when the taking had to stop we discovered a man who only managed to throw one punch that connected in just under 9 minutes of fighting. That's pathetic!

    In this country we don't mind sports people losing, (we're hardly that big a nation of winners) we love the underdog, the person who tries, who goes down fighting, all guns blazing. Unfortunatly this isn't Audley, it never has been.

    For this reason he will never have the respect or affection of the British sporting public.

    After the fight I watched some of Sky's post fight analysis. Former world champion Barry Mcguigan was scathing and brutally honest in his assessment of Audley's performance, and his overall career.

    Delusional was the word he used to describe Harrison's belief in his boxing abilities. Very harsh, but so true.

    This has to be the end of his career, a career that should never have involved Harrison setting foot inside a professional boxing ring.

    Saturday 6 November 2010

    City Break in Boston

    I spent most of last week on a four day city break in Boston. I flew out on Monday and returned late Thursday evening.

    I liked Boston, but it wasn't quite what I expected.

    It's a decent sized place but it doesn't have that big city buzz that I associate with other American cities I've been to like New York or Chicago.

    View of Boston Common

    It's got a really chilled out vibe to it, with a pace of life that's more quiet provincial town than bustling big city; but it's a cool place to hang out for a few days.

    The city itself isn't too big and isn't overwhelming in the way London or New York can appear for some people.

    You can cover most of the city in a couple hours of walking. In saying that, I found the central downtown district really difficult to navigate.

    Boston doesn't have a grid system to it's roads which makes it more English in that respect.

    I frequently found myself in Central Boston struggling to figure out where the hell I was.

    Maybe I should re-phrase that. I knew where I was, and knew where I wanted to go.

    It would literally take a five minute walk, I just had no idea how to get there! It was so frustrating.

    The thing about Boston is there's no iconic skyscrapers or other landmarks you can use as reference points to pinpoint exactly where you are.

    Massachusetts State House above

    One thing that did disappoint me about Boston was the shopping. It was rubbish. You've got some very high-end fashion boutiques, and the lower end of the fashion market is covered, but hardly anything inbetween.

    A scruffy looking Maceys, an American Apparel, Banana Republic, Abercrombie & Fitch and that was about it, I found it all very annoying.

    To be honest there's not a huge amount to see or do in Boston. I think 3 or 4 days is more than enough, but from what I've heard it's a good base in which to explore the rest of New England.

    Boston's just got a nice feel to it, it's one of those cities where it's just nice to hang out for a few days.

    My two main highlights would be:

    Beacon Hill

    I loved walking the streets of Beacon Hill. This Victorian era neighbourhood is the jewel in the crown of the city.

    The streets of Beacon Hill

    It's got more of an English/European feel about it. Cobbled streets and roads lined with old style Victorian gas lanterns and beautiful terraced houses.

    Victorian terraces

    The Village feel of Beacon Hill

    Harvard, Cambridge

    On Wednesday I took a trip to Cambridge. Cambridge is a town in its own right, but essentially it's a suburb of Boston, just a short ride away on the subway.

    Cambridge is dominated by Harvard university, the oldest university in America.

    The grounds of Harvard

    As I entered the grounds of the university, I noticed a small tour group lead by two students explaining the history of some of the buildings.

    I decided to tag along, and one of the tour guides approached me and explained that they take tourists on a guided tour of the university grounds and the town of Cambridge pointing out areas of interest.

    It was an enjoyable tour, and the guides were funny and informative, pointing out different Harvard buildings such as lecture halls, student dormitories and churches.

    No trip to Boston is complete without a visit to Cambridge, it's a lovely little town with some great pubs, restaurants and loads of history.

    Student Halls below

    Friday 5 November 2010

    Sports round up Stateside

    I love watching my sport stateside. You have so many options to chose from.

    At the moment you've got the end of the baseball season, with the World Series. The American football season is well underway, and the basketball season has just started.

    Here are the big headlines from this week.

  • San Francisco Giants win baseball's World Series beating the Texas Rangers 3-1 in game five to clinch the series 4-1.

  • It was the Giants first win since 1954 when they were still based in New York and their first since moving to San Francisco.

  • Randy Moss leaves the Minnesota Vikings only weeks after joining them from the New England Patriots.

  • After endless speculation about which team would pick him up, the wide receiver eventually signed for the Tennessee Titans. That's 3 teams for Randy in less than a month!

    Randy Who? I hear you ask! This story has been massive. Remember the Wayne Rooney will he/won't he leave Man Utd saga? Well this story has been as big if not bigger than that!

  • In basketball, Boston Celtics Kevin Garnett called Charlie Villanueva of the Detroit Pistons a 'cancer patient' during the game between the two teams on Tuesday night.

  • Villanueva revealed this in one of his tweets on Twitter. Again this story was huge!

    Giants win World Series

    I watched game five of the World Series on Tuesday night in my hotel room. It was the first time I've ever watched a baseball game from start to finish.

    I love my basketball, and American football, but I've always struggled to get baseball, but I thought I'd try and make an effort.

    It was a low scoring game, with the first points not being scored until the 7th innings.

    For those of you who know nothing about baseball, (I'm no expert myself) there are 9 innings, so the 7th is quite late on for the first score to be made.

    Edgar Renteria hit what turned out to be the winning home run. Interestingly enough it was the second time in his career that he'd done this in a World Series. The first time was in 1997 playing for the Florida Marlins.

    What really struck was just how hard it is for anyone to hit the ball in baseball. Just getting your bat to the ball is an achievement.

    In my limited knowledge of the game it looked liked it was the Giants pitching that proved decisive with Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum leading the way(Lincecum, such an American name).

    After watching this game, I might try and start following baseball a bit more next year.

    Randy Moss leaves the Vikings

    If I didn't know who Randy Moss was last week, I certainly do now. Every sports bulletin has lead with the story of the Vikings releasing him, only weeks after signing him from the New England Patriots.

    Moss was traded to the Vikings from New England on 6 October, but things obviously haven't worked out for him in Minnesota.

    I heard reports that Moss had a rant at the Vikings Catering staff recently which embarrassed the club and many of his teammates.

    It seems Moss has a few 'issues' at the moment, so we'll have to see if the Titans are going to be the right fit for him.

    Kevin Garnett

    Apparently Kevin Garnett has a reputation for winding opponents up on the basketball court.

    This week Charlie Villaneuva was on the receiving end. Villaneuva suffers from alopecia, so he's got no hair on his head, hence the alleged Cancer patient comment.

    To me I don't know why Villaneuva is making this public. Ok it's not a nice thing to say, but it's one of those 'what goes on on court stays on court' situations.

    It's the same with football, and what's said on the pitch. It's the nature of sport. In this country we call it 'verbals' in the US it's trash talk.

    Anyway, after this controversy Garnett issued a statement where he didn't apologise but which basically said Villaneuava was a cancer to his team, and that's what he meant by the comment.

    There's my glimpse of the sporting headlines stateside for this week, hope you enjoyed it.

    Wednesday 3 November 2010

    US Midterm Elections

    I’m coming to you stateside this week. I’m on the American East Coast spending a couple of days in Boston enjoying a short city break.

    As you can guess there’s only one story that’s dominating the news agenda this week and that’s the US midterm elections.

    I know we get a huge amount of American political coverage in the UK, but being here in America you get a different feel and perspective on what’s going on. It’s been an eye opener.

    You can’t deny the fact that Obama and the Democrats have taken a battering from the US electorate, who have made their frustrations clear to the President.

    It seems that Obama will have work more closely with the Republican Party to get anything done in the next two years.

    What will be interesting is that now the Republicans, and the right wing Tea Party movement have taken control of Congress, they’ll have to start offering answers and solutions to America’s economic problems rather then just being a voice of opposition.

    “It’s the economy stupid”

    This is what I was thinking after following all the election coverage. It's the phrase made famous by former President Bill Clinton. It’s shocked me just what a complete mess America’s economy is in.

    When Obama was elected he already faced a daunting task, becoming President in a hostile economic environment, but he’s really suffering from the fact the economy hasn’t improved and ordinary Americans are suffering. Unemployment is running at 9.6%.

    Add to the slow economic recovery, there's still a huge amount of resentment over Obama's $814 billion economic stimulus and the new healthcare law which requires most Americans to buy some form of health insurance.

    What I've started to realise is that many conservatives and members of the Tea Party object to this type of government intervention. They see it as big government interfering in people's lives and they don't like it.

    I don't get it myself. Without the economic stimulus, the recession could have been a depression; and the new healthcare bill means 30 million more people will get healthcare as a result of the reforms.

    I was watching one political show tonight where the former Republican Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich was being interviewed about the election results.

    He was talking about how much of Obama's policies since his election were wrong and that his left wing vision and agenda for America wasn't working.

    Left wing vision? Was he being serious? He clearly was. This is what baffles me about US Politics.

    In the UK or in Europe, Obama would be a middle of the road centerist politician, but in America because their politics are so much more to the right, he's considered a left wing radical!

    If there are aspects about about American politics that confuse me, then there are plenty of things that are the same.

    The big issues facing America in the next few years are similar to those in the UK. How will more jobs be created? How do they cut the deficit? How much government spending should there be? How do they get the economy growing?

    It's been a tough week for Obama, but he's got a tough job on his hands. I think there was too much unrealistic expectation over what Obama could achieve when he became President.

    Obama's campaign was all about 'change' I don't really know what that change represented, and I don't think America really likes change.

    Much of the US electorate aren't happy with what they've seen so far, but this isn't necessarily a disaster for Obama.

    Republicans and the Tea Party fringe now have the opportunity to have a greater say on how America should tackle many of it's problems, so it's going to be very interesting to see how cooperative they'll be with the Democrats and what policies they'll bring to the table in the run up to the 2012 Presidential elections.

    Sunday 31 October 2010

    New shopping centre in the City of London

    On Friday after work, I stopped off at the new shopping centre that’s opened in the City; it’s called the One New Change.

    It’s the first major shopping complex to open in the heart of London's financial district

    I read a comment earlier this week saying it represents the ‘feminisation of the City’ as it allows City workers the chance to shop during lunch hours and after work.

    The big benefit is that City workers no longer have to trek over to Oxford Street if they want to do some shopping during the week.

    This is what I have to do working in the backwater that is Kennington South London. I travel through the City on my journey to and from work, but now I can stop off and do some shopping as well as see some stunning views of the St Paul's cathedral.

    I've heard a few comments about whether London really needs another major shopping complex.

    We've already got the Westfield centre in Shepards Bush, another Westfield opening in Stratford next year as part of the Olympic regeneration of the area, and Kings Cross has a new shopping complex opening soon as well.

    To be honest there's nothing in the One New Change that you wouldn't find anywhere else.

    They've got a Banana Republic which has become one of my favourite shops since it opened a store on Regent's Street, and there's also a Superdry store, which is another brand I really like.

    But anyone who likes shopping for mainstream brands is going to find something they like in there.

    Views of St Paul's Cathedral from inside

    What is quite impressive is the number of different restaurants on one of the floors. The Guardian has reported that the likes of Jamie Oliver and Gordon Ramsey are both opening restaurants.

    It means that it's not just a shopping complex, but somewhere where you could have an evening out as well.

    On the local BBC London news, they covered this story and although the complex is good news for the City, there were people interviewed who argued that more could be done for some of London's independent retailers, with more support given for existing shopping areas such as Carnaby Street.

    It's a valid point; there's a certain homogenisation when it comes to shopping in this country, with the same shops all selling the same thing, but I'm sure the One New Change will prove to be a success as the City hasn't previously had a major shopping outlet like this before.

    Tuesday 26 October 2010

    Say hello to the i paper

    I picked up a copy of the new i paper yesterday.

    It's the first new national newspaper to be launched in the the UK since 1986.

    It's only 20p, although I got it for free through vouchers given away in Monday's Evening Standard.

    The i paper's been set up by the Independent - you could call it the Independent's little brother.

    First impressions - it's essentially a more in depth Metro.

    In yesterday's Evening Stardard there was a mini pull introducing i to readers.

    The idea behind the paper is that in our modern lives we're constantly bombarded with news and information. Whether it's from TV, the press, radio, the internet, it's overwhelming, and we don't have enough time to make sense of it all.

    I've got to say I agree with this. I sometimes feel I have information overload, there's so much stuff out there that I want to know about but don't have time to take it all in.

    This is the role that the i paper has according to it's own press release, in that it's there to make sense of all this news in a simple straightforward manner. In their own words they say:

    "i cuts through this information overload to give you all you need. It distinguishes what matters from what doesn't and gets straight to the point."

    The editor of the Independent, Simon Kelner who's also responsible for overseeing the new paper was quoted saying:

    "With the launch of the i, we are creating a new type of newspaper, attractive to those who prize intelligence, conveniences and desirability"

    The i paper is the paper for the internet generation. People are so busy these days, they don't have the time or patience to read about a story in any great depth.

    We want the facts immediately, we want to know what's happening, why it's happening, and what it all means before quickly moving on to the next thing.

    This is what i paper is trying to do. People who want some serious news, but who are struggling for time and just want the key facts of a story in simple easily understood way.

    I admit myself, If I buy the Times or the Guardian on a week day, I never read it all because I haven't got the time.

    On the internet people don't really read many stories. Instead they scan information hopping from one site to another looking for something that grabs their attention. I think the i is trying to capture this type of reader.

    It's a brave move to launch a new national newspaper, there's no sign of newspaper sales increasing and all I ever hear are doom and gloom stories about the future of the press.

    The challenge for the i will be whether it can persuade those people used to getting their news for free either in the form of the Metro or online to pay 20p for it.

    I should ask myself this question. I've got vouchers from the Evening Standard which means I can get it for free for this week, but am I going to pay for it? I'll let you know.

    Monday 25 October 2010

    How not to negotiate a new contract, by Wayne Rooney

    It’s been over two months since the football season began, and I haven’t written a single football blog.

    I think after the World Cup, I didn’t have much enthusiasm for writing any football posts.

    There’s been some big football stories recently, which I haven’t commented on, but following the stuff that’s been going on with Wayne Rooney and Man Utd this last week, I knew I had write something.

    Rooney might have signed a new contract, but nobody has really come out of this with their reputations enhanced.

    The whole episode has left a very sour taste in the mouth.

    I've excepted over the years that football has evolved from a professional sport to a multi- billion pound industry.

    There's a certain cynicism you can develop towards the game when so much money is involved but even my level of cynicism didn't prepare me for what happened last week.

    When I first heard that Rooney wasn't going to sign a new contract, I dismissed it as nothing. Surely it would only be a matter of time before he signed?

    I was both right and wrong. After Alex Ferguson amazing press conference where he told the media Rooney wanted to leave, it really looked as if his Old Trafford career was over.

    By last Friday, just when I was really coming to terms with the fact he was leaving and wondering which club he would end up at, it was suddenly announced he'd signed a new 5 year contract.

    It was as if the entire football world had been taken for idiots. I didn't like it at all. If the exercise by Rooney was simply to get a pay rise, then the way he went about it was totally wrong.

    It was one of those moments where I thought, I don't really like football. I don't like what this game's become. Everything about the week's events were unsavory.

    On the surface it looks like a good deal for everyone, but from Wayne Rooney's point of view the whole exercise has been a PR disaster.

    To rubbish your team mates and question the ambition of one of the biggest clubs in world football was a complete miscalculation.

    He's now faced with the task of winning back the support and confidence of this teammates and many of the club's fans.

    I actually agree with many of Rooney's concerns over the strength of Utd's squad,but much of what was said in public should have been said in private.

    The next few years will be critical in the club's recent history. The old guard of Scholes, Giggs, and Neville will all be retiring and the midfield will need to be revamped.

    Utd will need a new keeper as Edwin Van Der Sar will be retiring at the end of the season and they probably need a new striker as Michael Owen isn't really the player he was.

    I'm sure Ferguson knows this, but it was wrong for Rooney to hold the club to ransom by looking for a pay increase, and demanding assurances that the club would remain competitive in the transfer market.

    Judging on Rooney's form for England and Man Utd in the last 9 months you could argue that's it's him that should be offering assurances that he can still perform at the highest level.

    I read a great piece on Rooney last week, by the former England Rugby star Brian Moore writing in the Telegraph.

    He argued Rooney may be overrated, a flat track bully, as his record in World Cups and the latter stages of the Champions League hasn't been that impressive.

    Perhaps he needs to pay more attention to improving and developing his own game, rather than doubling his salary and questioning his club's ambition.

    I've read so much about the rights on wrongs of Rooney's actions over the last week, many against Rooney, but some in support for him.

    For me, there's a way in which you conduct yourself both personally and professionally and Rooney's conduct hasn't been right.

    He may have achieved his original aim, but he's got no credibility left and lost a lot of respect from people.

    This week's events have reminded me that Rooney's just another one of England's star footballers whose talent I appreciate and admire, but for whom I have very little affection or respect for.

    Sunday 24 October 2010

    Comprehensive spending review: What does it all mean?

    After months of debate and speculation we finally had the government’s Comprehensive Spending Review this week.

    The size of the state is going to be reduced drastically, with public spending being slashed in order to bring down the country’s huge budget deficit.

    Everyone's going to lose out in some form or another. The rich, the poor, and the ‘squeezed middle’, but who’s going to lose out the most?

    I’ve been hearing so many conflicting comments and opinions that I still don’t know who or what to believe?

    The main areas of argument and debate that I can see are these:

    1. Who will suffer the most from the cuts?

    2. With an estimated 500,000 jobs being lost in the public sector, will there be enough new jobs in private sector to counter balance these losses?

    3. Finally, How fast and how deep should the spending cuts be? Will the government’s plans to reduce the deficit get the economy growing, or will it put economic recovery at risk, and send us back into recession?

    I find it really hard to decide who’s right or wrong, and some days I just think these questions can’t be answered for another 3 or 4 years.

    If you read the press, their views on the cuts differ according to their political leaning.

    So the likes of The Telegraph reported that spending cuts would hit the middle classes hardest, but if you read the Guardian, then it’s the poor that will suffer the most.

    I didn’t bother reading much of the Press last week because I wanted a more neutral independent analysis of what these cuts all mean.

    Over the last year or so I’ve found that if you want that independent analysis on government spending policy, you need to listen to the findings of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS).

    The government has argued the cuts are fair, but the IFS has contradicted this claim by stating that those on the lowest incomes will suffer the most.

    Nick Clegg then responded to the IFS’s findings by saying they were being unfair against the government.

    Moving onto Public Sector jobs, the cuts will result in a drastic shrinking of the state. I accept that in some parts of the country the public sector has become the biggest employer and this needs to be reduced.

    I am however a little sceptical on how much the private sector can grow in order to replace those jobs lost in the public sector.

    Secondly, I don’t think there’s enough debate on the type of private sector jobs that will be created.

    A private sector job could mean anything. It could be stacking shelves in Tescos, are we meant to believe that a redundant middle ranking civil servant in their 40s or 50s is going to be happy doing that sort of job?

    If the people are going to lose their jobs in the public sector, they’ve got to be given job opportunities in the private sector that meet their core skills, experience and salary expectations.

    I’m just not convinced that the employment market in this country if flexible enough to allow so many people to move successfully from the public to private sector.

    My final point is the speed of the cuts. The argument from the government is that there needs to be faster deeper cuts in order to reduce the budget deficit and get the economy growing again.

    The other side of the argument says the deficit needs to be cut over a longer period, with more emphasis on getting the economy growing immediately. Only with a stronger growing economy can you tackle the budget deficit.

    Both arguments have their merits, but I don’t know which one is going to work.

    To help me decide, I sometimes try and look at things from a personal point of view.

    If I had a huge l debt problem, my main priority would be to pay that debt off as quickly as possible, rather than saving or investing.

    I suppose I’m probably leaning towards the government’s policy on this one, but I do worry about future growth.

    You need a crystal ball to predict these things, it’s so difficult!

    It’s taken me almost 2 and half hours to think about this and try and get some thoughts down for you to read.

    It’s complex stuff. I’m going to stop here for now, but sure I’ll come back and discuss this further as the affects of the cuts start to reveal themselves.