Sunday 31 January 2010

How long can Terry remain England Captain?

When I heard a few days ago that the high court judge Mr Justice Tugendhat had decided to overturn an injunction on reporting details of John Terry's private life, I was just expecting the usual he's been having an affair behind his wife's back.

Even I was shocked to discover that the person he was having an affair with was the ex girlfriend of Wayne Bridge, his former Chelsea and England team mate! I've never particularly liked or disliked Terry, I think he's a great central defender, but after reading the stories today you have to think how low can someone's behaviour go!

I'm glad the injunction preventing the story being reported was overturned, It smacked of total arrogance on Terry's part to try and stop details of his private life being reported. There was no legitimate reason for the injunction to be put in place, and only acts against the principles of 'freedom speech'

Sporting fame, money and public adulation seems to create a little bubble in which some sports stars live, away from the real world. This builds a form of arrogance where they believe they can act however they like regardless of the consequences.

To be honest it doesn't bother me whether the likes of Terry and more recently Tiger Woods want to have countless affairs behind their wives back. That's their personal business, but it's annoying when they then start to complain about press intrusion and respecting people's private lives.

When you're in the public eye your professional and private life will always be under scrutiny whether you like it or not. Too many sports stars and other celebrities want to have their cake and eat it.

Now the debate is taking place as to whether Terry should remain England captain. Although his private life has no bearings on his ability as a footballer and captain, he shouldn't be sacked, he should just resign which would be the most honourable thing to do.

I don't expect him to actually do this. It seems these days, that regardless of someone's professional failings or personal conduct; actually coming out and publicly admitting your mistakes and taking responsibility is the last thing people are prepared to do.

It was quite telling that Terry seemed more concerned with protecting his commercial interests by trying to prevent the story coming out, more so than preventing his wife finding out. Of course his commercial interests are going to suffer as a result of this, it's only to be expected.

I'm sure that if England win the World Cup with Terry as captain, nobody will be bothered about his personal life, but if he's even in the position to captain England in the World Cup final, he'll be incredibly lucky.

Tuesday 26 January 2010

False hope from 'soft' qualifications!

Last week the head teacher at Harrow public school, Barnaby Lenon announced that pupils from deprived backgrounds were being conned into thinking that they could progress through life by a system that hands out, in his words 'worthless qualifications'. He then came out with a line that amused me when he said:

State schools risk producing students like "those girls in the first round of the X Factor" who tell the judges they want to be the next Britney Spears but cannot sing a note.

I think the point he's trying to make is definitely true, but it doesn't just apply to kids from deprived backgrounds, but all children going through the education system. It's as if kids leave school and university these days and expect to achieve any job or career they want just because they have a few qualifications. Qualifications which may or may not even be that relevant in the job market.

It's almost 20 years since I completed my GCSEs, yet it only seems like yesterday. I do feel as if the education system in this country is completely different to what I experienced growing up.

I get the impression that everything is very target driven, with Sats, GCSEs and school league tables being the root cause. Together they've clearly put more pressure on schools to demonstrate to parents how well they're performing. This obviously has a knock on affect for those schools performing poorly or with more disadvantaged children, as it makes greater sense to encourage their pupils to do 'softer' subjects in the hope of pushing up exam grades.

This might be good for the schools but echoing Lenon's point, it does put many kids at a disadvantage, as they're being denied the opportunity of doing harder GSCE subjects that potentially will get them into more academically minded 6th Form colleges and more prestigious universities.

There's a lot of children who regardless of how bright they are, might as well right off the prospect of doing challenging A-Levels and getting into a decent university the day they start at the 'wrong type' of Secondary school.

My cousin is a teacher at a London Academy, and when we chat I get the chance to find out what's going on in our Education system. I don't know the exact figures, but at his school the amount of kids achieving GCSEs between A-C grade are quite low, at least below 30%. I had a look at his school's prospectus and you can do BTECs in subjects like leisure and tourism from year 9 onwards and these count as GCSE exam passes.

This is where I start to become a bit sceptical about things. Ambitious academically minded parents are not going to allow their kids to do a BTEC in Leisure and Tourism at GCSE as it doesn't mean anything. Decent 6th colleges and top universities aren't going to be interested! I feel a bit sorry for kids who do these types of subjects expecting that it will really impress future employers or universities.

At my cousin's school they do a general science GSCE rather than individual sciences like Physics, Chemistry and Biology. You know for a fact that private and Independent schools will retain the individual sciences and therefore give their kids a distinct advantage.

Leading on from this, people talk about the lack of social mobility in this country, which I think has ground to a halt. It's never going to improve when kids from disadvantaged backgrounds aren't given the chance to study the same subjects as children from more middle class homes.

Young people have passed more exams and have more qualifications then ever before, but university academics and employers still complain about levels of numeracy and literacy of school leavers and graduates.

For me I don't know what the point is in having 10 GCSE A* grades, Diplomas, BTECs if you then struggle with things like basic grammar or you can't even write a letter properly! It's the basics that younger people seem to be struggling with, and which ultimately prove to be truly valuable during a person's life.

I can't say that I have any answers to the problems raised. But I think there needs to be more honesty within the education system. More honesty to children from all backgrounds as to the value of qualifications. Having a decent education isn't just about how many exams you've passed, and a person's success in any job or career isn't determined purely on exam grades.

I'm glad that I went to school during the time that I did. A time where I could go to my local comprehensive, and where kids from both working and middle class backgrounds could get a well rounded education, studying a range of subjects that gave them a proper grounding to make a success in their lives. Unfortunately there are many kids who aren't getting this chance.

Sunday 17 January 2010

It's good to have an accent!

I was reading a few weeks ago, an article all about UK regional accents. It was assumed by some academic linguists that regional accents would eventually die out. They would all merge into one, and be replaced with a more homogenised way of speaking, with some slight regional variations.

It now seems this isn't the case and regional accents are fighting back. Far from disappearing they're growing in strength and surviving, as people begin to use their accents as a sign of identity.

I thought, I'm glad to hear it. It's good that our regional accents are not dying out!

The big city regional accents such as Scouse, Brummie, Mancunian, and Geordie are surviving and becoming more dominant and distinctive, whilst colonising surrounding areas. The accents that are struggling to survive are the smaller town and rural village accents, which are being submerged into the big city regional accents.

Being a born and bred Brummie, I've had a Brummie accent for most of my life, and despite the fact that I now live in London, I've made a conscious decision to hold onto it. Admittedly It's probably softened a bit as I've lived in London for the last eight years, but it's still there.

Dominic Watt a lecturer in forensic speech was quoted in the Sunday Times and the Telegraph saying:

'People want to protect their identity'..'You could be parachuted into pretty much any British city and the shops look the same, people dress the same and have similar pastimes and interests. What still makes these places separate and distinct is the dialect and accent.'

I couldn't agree more. Accents give you personality and character, they give you an identity. Living in London and being a Brummie my accent has become part of who I am. I like to think it's partly how people know and recognise me.

Regional accents also become more important if you end up moving to a different part of the country to where you're originally from. It's good to remember that it's not always about 'where you're at in life, but sometimes to remember where you're from'.

Every so often the media will highlight some survey that reveals the most popular and unpopular accents to have. Scottish and Irish always seem to come out on top, with Brummie and Scouse always predictably fighting it out for the least fashionable! It's good that people don't appear to take these surveys too seriously and want to hold onto their local accents.

I've never really understood why Brummie is so disliked anyway. It all comes down to what you're used to. I still think a Brummie accent sounds more like 'proper' English than for an example a Geordie accent!

I admit that in certain professions and social circles you may need to soften a distinct regional accent, but there's no reason why you should get rid of it completely.

Living in London and the Southeast, i find it noticeable that there's now just a general Southern accent some call it 'Estuary English'. From Milton Keynes down to Brighton it's all much of the same to me. Growing up in the Midlands it always amazed me how you could drive 30 - 40 minutes in the car and people would speak with a completely different accent!

Apparently this is mainly due to the fact that accents in the North and the Midlands haven't been subjected to the mass levelling of speech caused by London and its surrounding commuter belt.

What I've noticed living in London, and which has been picked up by linguists; is that your classic Cockney accent is dying out. I rarely meet anyone in London who you can say has a real Cockney accent, but then I never meet anyone who admits to being a Cockney. That accent seems to have been pushed out into Essex which has helped to create a distinct Cockney/Essex hybrid accent!

The London accent is becoming displaced by this ever increasing London 'street accent'. I call it an 'Oh my dayz' accent! It's usually kids of all races under the age of 25. You can normally hear it on the back of most London buses, with kids playing some kind of urban music like grime or UK Funky on their mobile phones, and where every sentence includes the words 'like' and ends with the word 'yeah'.

Perhaps I'm being a snob or just getting old, but I can't see how that accent will benefit these kids as they grow older or try and enter more professional job markets.

For anyone out there who like me has an accent, particularly if you're living 'down south' remember to take pride in it, and hold onto it. It's boring if we all sound and talk the same. Lets keep our local and regional identities going!

Thursday 7 January 2010

Facebook and Twitter - A violation of your privacy?

I came across this article yesterday in the Evening Standard entitled Facebook and twitter users invite violation of their privacy. Scientists are now claiming that people are 'undermining' their own privacy rights when they use such social networking sites to reveal every little detail of the private lives.

When I read this, it didn't come as a real surprise. It seems there are loads of people who no longer know how to separate their public and private lives.

I've touched upon this subject in previous posts, I think there's a growing number of people who seem to believe that by sharing and telling the world every little detail about themselves it somehow validates them as people. What I mean by this, is that they feel it gives their lives more meaning or value by constantly sharing everything!

It's like on Facebook when you get people who have thousands of photos of themselves out and about socialising with mates. There's nothing wrong with having a good selection of photos representing who you are and your lifestyle, but sometimes I think some photos have only been uploaded to show the rest of us what a crazy and exciting life these people lead!

People don't need to prove this too me, which is what it sometimes feels like.

I'm not anti Facebook or twitter, I'm on both of them. I just think it's important to get the right balance between sharing your thoughts and life with the people that matter, but retaining some sense of a private life.

Anyone out there with any thoughts on this, let me know.

Saturday 2 January 2010

Nothing great about China's drug laws

I was disappointed to hear that Akmal Shaikh the British man found guilty of drug smuggling in China was executed earlier this week by the Chinese authorities. Although disappointed, it was of no surprise as the Chinese were never going change their minds. What has surprised me is the number of articles I've read by people who are seriously promoting China's law and order and drug policies as something this country should be emulating!

I read today, what I'd describe as a terrible article in the Daily Mail by Leo McKinstry on this story. You can read it here. It's the sort of Mail article that has me shaking my head within 10 seconds of reading! Truly dreadful!

The British government had every right to lobby the Chinese in trying to prevent Shaikh from being executed, particularly when there was good reason to argue that they hadn't given enough consideration into Shaikh's mental health during the time of his arrest; refusing to allow a doctor to examine him properly. In his article McKinstry goes on to condemn this country's approach to drug abuse by saying:

It is the height of hypocrisy for the Labour government, the human rights brigade and celebrity loudmouths to lecture China when Britain's own strategy has failed so disastrously.

I suppose he's referring to people like me, as I'm a member of the human rights organisation Amnesty International. What I find ridiculous is the idea that because China executes drug dealers and users, and subsequently has little or no drug problem, it therefore has all the answers for dealing with drug abuse and maintaining law and order.

But it's not just him though. Reading in today's Daily Mirror the columnist
Tony Parsons wrote:

Crime is a bit different in China. Old people aren't afraid to go to the shops. You don't see mobs of drunks reeling around ...Women can walk around big cities like Shanghai and Beijing at any time of the day or night without fear of molestation. The People's Republic of China is in a word safe.

I suppose it's safe when you're not speaking out against the Communist government, or if you're not one of the various ethnic groups who are routinely oppressed, such as the Uighur people in China's far western provinces. It's safe when you're not being tortured within the criminal justice system, or being exiled to a labour camp without any charges or trial!

And lets not forget those people in Beijing who were forcibly evicted from their homes and districts to make way for constructions works for the 2008 Olympics. I wonder how safe it would have been for them to speak out against their governments actions. If any of them did, we certainly won't be hearing from them now.

There may be many problems with drug addiction in this country and the accompanying problems that drug abuse incurs but lets not start looking towards a semi fascist police state as a guide to how things should be done over here!

Returning to McKinstry's article, rather then try and argue why China's polices on drugs are successful, much of his article descends into an excuse to rant against a range of drug taking celebrities, before moving on to a predictable Daily Mail view of Britain in which criminals are free to walk the streets, committing crimes, without any punishment. He writes further:

The British government, with its prattle about human rights, likes to think a refusal to use capital punishment is a badge of a civilised society.

That's because it is!

The truth is the willingness to execute dangerous criminals is a sign of compassion. It means a government is determined to protect the vulnerable and maintain morality.

With regards to China this statement is laughable! The only thing the Chinese government are interested in, is protecting its vice like grip on power and instilling fear and control over its people.

Mckinstry finishes his article with what I can only describe as a totally ridiculous statement, one which reads:

The drug-fuelled, crime-ridden, welfare-dependent, fear-filled inner city housing estate in modern Britain is far more savage than any place of execution in China for a trafficker of human misery.

This last paragraph almost leaves me speechless! It's not the sort of thing I want to say, but if that's how he feels perhaps he should consider moving to China. It would be interesting to see how he gets on over there if he tried to write similar opinion pieces like this about the Chinese state?

If the British government's actions in this affair have damaged diplomatic relations with the Chinese, then so be it. I hope that should similar incidents occur in China or any other country around the world, then our government will act in exactly the same way again.

2010 - A critical year in UK Politics

Hello, Happy New Year! My first post for the new year and new decade. To start off with I thought I'd get a bit political.

At the beginning of every year, predictions are made on how the next 12 months will develop. During the last week, I've been thinking about how 2010 will be a massive year for British politics. We've got a General Election coming up, and I'm fully expecting a change of government and a new Prime Minister, but that's when things will start to get really interesting.

Towards the end of last year it was announced that for the first time in British election history, there would be three live election debates featuring the leaders of the three main political parties.

It's immediately added a completely new dimension to this year's election. I can see it becoming a permanent feature in future election campaigns. All very similar to US Presidential elections.

I've heard many people say that the biggest winners from this decision will be the Liberal Democrats as it elevates their profile to levels which they normally struggle to reach, I also think they have less to lose.

Things are different for David Cameron and Gordon Brown. As front runner, the live debates allow Cameron to cement his position as Prime Minister in waiting, but he'll also be under more scrutiny then he's possibly been under before. He potentially has more to lose then the other leaders.

As for Gordon Brown, he and his government are already unpopular and trailing in the polls. He's the underdog, so it many ways he's got nothing to lose. Perform badly, and it's another nail in the coffin, but do well and it will put more pressure on the Conservatives.

Although I'm expecting the Conservatives to win and for David Cameron to become the new Prime Minister, I think it will be the closest fought election since 1992, with a much bigger turnout than some people maybe imagining.

The results for the last three elections in 1997, 2001, and 2005, were largely already known. Everyone knew that Labour would sweep into power in 1997, and in the following two elections the result was never really in doubt.

In this year's election, the Conservatives will win but I'm not convinced that they'll get an overall majority. I can see it being a hung parliament just like in 1974 with the Tories being the largest party but not having an overall majority!

There's a number of reasons why I believe this. Firstly, its often overlooked at just how few seats the Conservative currently have in parliament, just 193 compared to Labour's 349. They require a huge swing in the polls, roughly around 7% just to have a majority of one.

Secondly, despite Labour and Gordon Brown's unpopularity, I still don't feel there is this great wave of enthusiasm for the Conservatives. Between 1996 and 1997 I always felt there was this unstoppable momentum building up behind Tony Blair and New Labour.

When they won in 97 it felt as the country was beginning a new political era. I don't feel this in 2010. Even with a change of government I don't see a fundamental change in direction in the way the country might be governed.

So what happens if we get a hung parliament? what will it all mean? Well I suppose it would be a great result for the Lib Dems as they would potentially hold the balance of power.

Nick Clegg has already said he won't form a government with Labour, but would they form a coalition with the Tories? I don't think so. The Lib Dems would want electoral reform in the form of Proportional Representation for their support, and possibly Vince Cable as Chancellor? I can't see that happening, and besides it isn't in the interest of Labour or Conservatives to end the 'First past the post' voting system.

What I can see happening is the Conservatives forming a minority government and looking to hold a further election within the following 12 months in order to gain a working majority.

All exciting stuff, but as many people have commented on, is this an election that anyone would really want to win? With the current economic situation and the country's finances in such a mess whoever wins faces a mountain of problems.

Whatever happens this year, it's all going to be really interesting and I'm quite looking forward to it all!