Thursday 31 December 2015

Goodbye 2015 - A year in review

As it's New Years Eve, I thought it would be a good idea to write a little review of the year.

As we approach the start of 2016 it reminds me that 2016 will be the 7th year that I have been writing my blog. Admittedly I seem to write fewer blog posts each year but that's not because I'm bored by my blog. It's more the case that writing and maintaining a blog is a lot of work and requires a large amount of dedication and commitment.

When I first started this blog I had just started studying for my postgrad degree in newspaper journalism. My blog was a way of accompanying my studies and challenging myself to write on a regular basis as a way of developing my writing skills.

I've now completed my postgrad training and I'm working full time as a content writer for a Consultancy firm in the City. I spend my working days writing about investment banking and capital markets.

It's interesting but geeky stuff! It means the committment to constantly update my blog with new content isn't always there but I still love my blog as it allows me to write about the things that interest me. My blog is still an outlet to express my thoughts and opinions and when something really grabs my attention I will always want to write something down about it.

Looking back at 2015

For me personally it was the year I turned 40. It's one of those ages where we're meant to look back and reflect on what we've done in our lives and look forward to want we would still like to achieve.

I don't particularly feel 40 (and I've been told I don't look it either). Whereas in previous generations being 40 was considered properly middle-aged I don't feel that old but then at other times it amazes me at just how quickly the years have gone by.

I've become a bit of a London cliché by moving out of London to 'commutersville' that is High Wycombe. As much as I love London, the city is eating itself and is becoming almost too successful.

It's not sustainable that the capital has such high property prices which is one reason why I decided to move out. I can afford to buy outside of London and although I'm currently still renting I can get a lot more value for my money by moving 30 miles away.

The big stories of the year

Well we had a General Election which nobody appeared to predict the final result. Still remember the shock of seeing the exit poll at 10:00.

So we have a Conservative majority government. It wasn't that long ago it seemed that the Tories would never form a majority but it now looks like they'll be in power for the considerable future.

For Labour the election was a total disaster. When it came down to the basics, Ed Milliband was considered less of a leader than David Cameron and Labour were not trusted on the economy. They were wiped out in Scotland and saw UKIP eat into their support in the North.

In response to this defeat, Labour party members decided to to elect the previously unknown left winger Jeremy Corbyn. I'm not going to go too much into my thoughts on Corbyn. You can read them in my earlier blogs.

All I will say is that Labour's membership are quite happy to please themselves and would appear to have little interest in appealing to those voters that will be needed if Labour are to form a government again.

I genuinely believe that 2015 could be seen as the beginning of the end for the Labour Party.

Islamic terrorism

The year began and ended with two horrific attacks in Paris, firstly on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and then in November in a concert venue and entertainment district in the city.

This was truly shocking and the fact that it took place in a city like Paris seemed to make the impact and fear even greater. The rise of ISIS has been one of the most worrying developments in the Middle East in recent years.

It's clear that with the removal of leaders such as Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Colonel Gaddafi in Libya and the civil war in Syria; a number of opposition groups and leaders have been unleashed who may have looked better than previous regimes but in many cases are more unpredictable and worse.

When you look at the mess in Iraq you have to wonder whether things would have been more stable had Saddam Hussein been allowed to remain in power.

I don't feel knowledgeable or qualified enough to set out a plan on how to defeat the likes of ISIS, what I do think is that it requires a long-term commitment and a holistic approach to the problem in terms of bringing about a cease fire in Syria, looking for a diplomatic solution with the various parties. Some military action against ISIS but also looking at other countries in the region particularly Saudi Arabia and how elements within that country fund the likes of ISIS.

The United States

This time next year we'll have a new President. I'm assuming it will be Hilary Clinton and it definitely will be if Donald Trump wins the Republican nomination. What started off as joke is becoming deadly serious. I get Trump's appeal, we've seen that there is a growing disenchantment with mainstream politicians both in America, Europe and the Uk. The public like authentic 'tell it how it is' honest politicians but this can only take you so far.

Donald Trump has tapped into this anger and frustration with a certain section of the American electorate. I suppose the challenge for more moderate mainstream candidates is how they can speak to and appeal to these voters who seem to like so much of what Trump has to say.

I don't think Donald Trump will become the next President but his appeal reflects poorly on the world's only super power.


I wrote earlier this year that guns and race are the two dominant news narratives that seem to come out of America. This year we had the black lives matter movement which has developed in response to the series of high profile killings of black men by various state police forces.

When I think back to the hope that existed when President Obama was elected you genuinely thought that perhaps America had turned a page in its history of race relations. The depressing thing for me that #blacklivesmatter prove very little has changed in America and despite the election of its first black President, America continues to have a problem with black American men.

Although living in Britain, the history of race relations is very different to that of the United States, the story still means a lot to me. Many of my grandfather's siblings emigrated to the United States from the Caribbean rather then come to England. If things had been different I too could have ended up being born and brought up in America and not England.

As a black male what would my life chances and opportunities have been like growing up in America and not England? We'll never know but what I can say is that the risk of being killed by the police simply for being a black man is a lot greater in the US than here in the Uk.


Corruption has been a key theme in the world of sport this year. We've seen the long overdue comeuppance of FIFA and Sepp Blatter and the world of athletics continues to struggle with the issue of doping, with Russia being one of the main culprits.

Sport is no longer just sport. It is big business and politics but I think that the types of people that end up running the likes of FIFA or the IAAF are simply not up to the standards whether they be ethical of in terms of administration needed to work in such organisations.

This year I loved watching the Rugby World Cup despite England's disappointing performance. It was easily the best World Cup that's taken place and it remended me that this country is just brilliant at holding sporting events. I just hope that at some point in the near future we can stage the World Cup in football again.

In tennis Britain actually won the Davis Cup. This really was incredible. For so many years Britain always appeared to be on the verge of being relegated to the lower leagues of international tennis but here we are Davis Cup champions for the first time in over 70 years.

I have so much time and respect for the Murray brothers. What they have done for British tennis is phenomenal. They will be missed when they're no longer playing.

In football we witnessed the unexpected collapse of Premier League champions Chelsea and the sacking of Jose Mourinho. Nobody saw this coming but like the General Election in hindsight there were many signs indicating problems behind the scene.

As great as Mourinho is as a manager he comes with a lot of baggage. His style of management is so intense, so full on and full of controversy that it all begins to take its toll on the players and clubs that he is manager of. He needs to find the secret that Alex Ferguson had in terms of having success but also longevity.

In Chelsea's place at the top of the table we had surprise package of Leicester City topping the table after starting the year rock bottom. It's still unlikely they will win the Premier League but it would be the greatest thing that could happen to football in this country.

We haven't seen anything like Leicester's challenge in the Premier League era and if we looked back for a similar kind challenge we'd have to go back to Leicester's East Midland rivals in Nottingham Forest and Derby winning League titles under Cloughie in the 1970s.

The Premier League has certainly become more competitive due to the amount of money coming in from TV. We're now getting mid ranking clubs who have enough money to not only hold on to their better players but can attract top players who perhaps previously would have played for bigger European clubs.

So there's a few of my thoughts on the last year. There's so many other stories I could have talked about but I'd be here for another week.

I'll finish by wishing you a Happy New Year and I hope 2016 brings your hopes and dreams into reality.

Friday 4 December 2015

Why I'm in favour of Syrian airstrikes

If you want to know my feelings on last night's Commons vote on whether Britain should begin airstrikes in Syria you only need to listen to Hilary Benn's speech below.

The tone, language and content perfectly summed up my own feelings. I thought it was brilliant!

Although I supported the vote for airstrikes I certainly don't believe that this military intervention alone will defeat ISIS, it won't!

What airstrikes should and hopefully will do, is form part of an overall strategy to defeating ISIS and bringing about some form of resolution in Syria and Iraq. As I type this I realise how much easier that may sound but ultimately that has to be the goal.

Many of the arguments put forward by those opposing airstrikes, I simply don't agree with. Firstly I don't believe that Britain will be more vulnerable to terrorist attacks by intervening in Syria. Britain is already a target and our intervention won't make any difference.

Today I've read and listened to the arguments about how innocent civilians will be killed as the result of our airstrikes. The question I would ask to people is this. Do ISIS not have some moral responsibility for any civilian casualties and deaths that may occur?

This got me thinking more about our attitudes on the Middle East and the idea that our own actions have or may have contributed to the problems we see not just with ISIS but across the region as a whole.

Too often we hear about how Western intervention in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, or Syria has somehow contributed to the rise of Islamic extremism. I accept that the invasion of Iraq was a mistake and the consequences are still being felt today but we shouldn't ignore or forget the fact that many of the problems in Syria and across the Middle East are also as a result of Middle Eastern leaders and governments.

Why is there a civil war going on in Syria? Are we directly responsible for this war? No we're not. Syria under Bashar al-Assad and his father before him has been an oppressive, brutal and corrupt dictatorship for decades. The civil war started as part of a regional uprising in 2011 called 'Arab Spring'.

There are and continue to be many questionable regimes across the Middle East. In 2011 we witnessed a number of spontaneous uprising across the Arab World. This included Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya which saw the overthrowing of Col Gaddafi. These revolts were protests by the public and opposition groups against their leaders as a consequence of years of oppression, violence and corruption.

Admittedly these uprising have subsequently caused instability and civil wars and the West may have indirectly supported dubious opposition groups to bring about regime change but ultimately this was a case of Arab people revolting against their own leaders.

The reason I wanted to highlight this point is that by continuing to focus on how Britain and the West's actions in the Middle East have caused many of today's problems we allow groups like ISIS and other brutal Arab leaders to have less accountability for their own actions and behaviour.

As far as I'm concerned ISIS and their ideology is morally repugnant, regardless of Britain's actions in Iraq or Afghanistan it can never be an excuse for the barbarity shown by ISIS.

We hear about how our actions will result in the radicalisation of more Muslims, but if that's the case surely it reveals just how ignorant some of these people truly are.

They're happy to sit back and watch ISIS ethnically cleanse minority Christian groups such as the Yazidis, to watch hundreds of innocent people murdered in Paris but as soon as the West begin a bombing campaign to protect our own citizens they feel radicalised to take action over our intervention.

In the last 10 years and certainly over a period of decades, Western intervention in the Middle East has quite rightly caused anger and resentment throughout the Middle East, but Middle Eastern leaders, religious groups, factions and terrorists are also responsible for their own actions and behaviour and we shouldn't forget that.

We have decided to join an airstrike campaign as a result of ISIS and their poisonous ideology of hate and intolerance, there is no other reason for it and we should not feel guilty about defending our own people and our values and way of life and this is why I'm in favour of airstrikes.

Sunday 22 November 2015

It's natural to care about those we are familiar with

Since the Paris terrorist attack last week, one theme that has emerged is the complaint that the Paris attacks received widespread coverage while a similar attack in Beirut that week received less attention.

It's a fair comment and we should never believe that the lives of people living here in the West are more important or valuable than people living in other parts of the world. In saying this I don't think we should feel guilty about the fact that the events in Paris have affected us more than similar events in other parts of the world.

Here in the UK, France is our next door neighbour. We know France, their culture, lifestyle, and history is similar to our own. The fact that something so awful and horrific has happened to one of our neighbours we naturally have a greater level of interest and concern for them than to other people from places we are unfamiliar with.

Despite some of the comments made in the last week, we shouldn't feel guilty about our feelings on what's happened in Paris. Terrible things happen everyday all over the world but some events are always going to have greater emotional impact on us than others and that may explain why certain stories and countries in the world gain greater media coverage.

When I thought about this, it reminded me about a book I read a few years ago on the Mexican drug wars called Narco. The book tells the story of the drug cartels rise to power and gives you an insight into how they murder and terrorise thousands of innocent people. But when I read the book I didn't just learn about the cartels, I learnt about Mexico itself. Its history, politics and culture. I suddenly thought: 'I know nothing about Mexico'.

Why do we not hear more about Mexico's drug wars when so many innocent people are dying? In reality we can substitute Mexico with so many other countries across the world who we know little about and hear few reports in the news.

In the last week I've read comments about media bias about how the news we receive in the West is too Western orientated. The truth is that all news is biased. When I travel home from work in the evening I read the London Evening Standard. The paper has a bias towards news from London! There's a clue in the paper's name.

When we watch the 10:00 news on the BBC or ITV there is only 30 minutes in which to cover various news stories and as a result choices or editorial decisions are made on which stories take priority and will be of interest to the audience.

At a recent journalism networking event I went to, I got chatting to a BBC journalist from Yemen. I said to her I'd never met anyone from Yemen and knew nothing about the country. She went on to tell me how difficult it is for her to get stories from Yemen covered by her editor despite the fact that there's a war going on over there.

When people complain that we don't hear enough about tragedies and stories from other parts of the world, they should ask themselves whether they and other people would be interested in hearing stories from countries we are unfamiliar with? Or about conflicts and issues we know little about?

My views on the media and our news agenda are certainly influenced by the fact that I've trained in journalism. Journalism teaches you how to find things out. Part of me thinks that if people genuinely want to hear and see stories from other parts of the world then there's nothing stopping them doing this.

With the growth of the internet and more 24 hour news channels, there's never been a greater opportunity for people to learn and discover more about the world around them. If you want to hear stories from Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East you can find these stories if you're really interested and determined enough.

On Twitter I follow news stories from the Japan Times and Brazil Character Lab. I've been to Japan and Brazil and now have a natural interest in what happens in those countries. I don't have the same level of interest in some other countries around the world but we all have our own particular interests.

All news is biased and yes in the UK foreign news coverage is dominated by European and American stories. To some extent that's to be expected but we shouldn't apologies or feel guilty about that.

Monday 16 November 2015

We must defend our values and take the fight to Islamic State

On Friday when reports starting coming in of the death of 'jihadi John' Mohammed Emwazi it felt that a symbolic blow had been made against Islamic State.

The events in Paris later that day suddenly made us all aware of just how difficult and bloody the fight against Islamic State with be for Western governments.

This attack feels more shocking because of the scale and the fact that Islamic State have taken the war to the heart of Western society in a major capital city like Paris.

The question of what we do next and how we can tackle and ultimately defeat Islamic State is so difficult to answer. I feel that we are at war with Islamic State but it's certainly not a conventional war that most people are familiar with.

My initial thoughts took me back to how I felt following the Charlie Hebdo attacks at the beginning of this year. Like then, Friday's attack wasn't just about killing innocent people enjoying an evening out; it's an attack against our very values and beliefs here in the West.

This is what I said in January:

"On an average day I rarely think about the ideals and values of the society that I live in. The attack on Charlie Hebdo has changed that. The week's act of terrorism is an attack on all of us."

I stand by this, and it's the reason why we should look to do everything we can in our powers to defeat Islamic State. I know that won't be easy, it needs to be done both militarily and diplomatically.

One of the problems I've always had with Islamic terrorism is that it's terrorism which appears to have no ultimate end game. When I say this I mean it's not conventional terrorism that we've previously been familiar with such as the IRA or ETA. With the IRA their aim was for a united Ireland, with ETA they wanted an independent Basque state. What does Islamic State ultimately want?

I do not see a resolution in which they would end their campaign against Western governments and even if we left them alone to consolidate their power in the Middle East would that really be something that would be beneficial for the region and the wider world?

Can we the West really co-exist with Islamic State? If they continue to engage in this war on our values our culture and innocent civilians we will have no choice but to take the fight to them.

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Monday 2 November 2015

#RWC2015 The best Rugby World Cup ever

What a great final to end a brilliant Rugby World Cup. This has easily been the best tournament we've seen since the World Cup was first held in 1987.

The games have been played in packed stadiums and if the decision to play matches away from rugby's provincial heartlands was doubted the record number of people who attended games vindicated that decision.

Yes England going out in the pool stages was disappointing but in the end I don't think it diminished the tournament as we had so many memorable games and performances to remember.

It was also a great final with Australia and New Zealand being the two best teams in the tournament. New Zealand have now made history by being the first team to win back-to-back World Cups and win the title for a third time. All the years of heartache between 1987 and 2011 when they couldn't win a World title seem like a long time ago.

The pursuit of excellence

The All Blacks really are something special. If I was a New Zealander I'd be so proud of the team and what they represent for the nation. In my lifetime The All Blacks have always been the team to beat but it's their relentless consistency and drive to always be the best that I find so inspiring.

Many are saying this is the greatest rugby team ever. I couldn't really answer that. My knowledge and history of the game isn't strong enough to make that claim but what I've noticed from everything that I've read and heard is that the All Blacks are simply better at the basics and fundamentals of the game.

Game of the tournament

Like most people I'd have to say that Japan beating South Africa was the best game of the tournament purely for sporting drama. Not only was it the biggest shock in the history of test rugby it has to be one of the great sporting upsets ever!

I was jumping up and down when Japan ran in their winning try. It's moments like that, that make you realise why you love sport so much.

Closely following behind that game was Argentina's quarter final victory over Ireland. Argentina have been my favourite team to watch in this World Cup. Their performance in the first 20 minutes against the Irish was blistering.

The way Argentina's game has evolved just shows you how much they've benefited from playing in the Rugby Championship against Australia, New Zealand and South Africa. They now seem a few steps ahead of the Northern Hemisphere teams.

Biggest disappointment

Has to be England's performance. When you think about the amount of money that the RFU has and the amount of registered players playing in England a place in the semis would have been a minimum requirement. The England team really did underachieve and going out so early really was a wasted opportunity.

It makes you think that the last 4 years has been a waste of time. Compared to other countries it still doesn't feel that there is a core group of England international players who you know and have that collective international experience that's needed at this level of competition.

You can argue that England were drawn in a tough pool but even if they had got out of the group, could you see this England team getting passed the Quarter Finals? When you look at the four Southern Hemisphere teams that made it to the semis there's no way that England could have competed.

Listening to many of the pundits, they spoke a lot about the lack of leaders in the England team and the inability to manage games (I'm thinking against Wales). These comments reminded me of the things we hear about England's football team.

It got me thinking that perhaps our rugby team is suffering from some of the same problems as our footballers. Despite all the money that England has in its professional rugby and football teams and the superior resources we have compared to other nations we still don't appear to be developing the right type of players for elite international competition.

A lot to learn for the Northern Hemisphere teams

Not a single team from the Northern Hemisphere made it to the semi finals. Wales could perhaps count themselves a little unlucky with the number of injuries they had but for everyone else the tournament was a disappointment.

Ireland again underachieved and I really don't know where French rugby is going at the moment. What was clear in this World Cup is that the skill levels found in the Southern Hemisphere teams are just superior to anything in the North. Northern Hemisphere teams have the power particularly in the contact but don't have the subtleties to go with it.

The best attributes of all the four Southern Hemisphere teams all seemed to be on a higher level to anything found from the 6 Nations teams.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Nick Cohen: Why I've given up on the left

In follow up to my last post on Jeremy Corbyn, I wanted to show this video I listened to today by the journalist and writer Nick Cohen.

He's written the lead article in this week's Spectator magazine, entitled: Why I’ve finally given up on the left

After reading his piece which I re-tweeted and watching his video above, it made me realise that I share many of his feelings about the left and left wing politics.

I'm increasingly becoming disillusioned with the left and the attitude and mentality that many on the left now hold.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader may have energised a lot of young people to join the Party and helped older members reconnect with Labour's values. But there's also I think a growing number of people like me who may not immediately decide to vote Conservative but they are coming to the conclusion that Labour and the left in this country is no longer for them.

Tuesday 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn new Labour Leader: Things just got interesting!

So no surprises with the announcement last weekend that left wing veteran Jeremy Corbyn had been elected as the new leader of the Labour Party.

After making it onto the nomination list at the last minute, its been anticipated for a number of weeks that he would triumph in a result that will have ramifications for the Labour Party and British politics for years to come.

For those of you who have read some of my previous posts and tweets, you will know I'm not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn. When I say that, I mean I'm not a socialist and I don't agree with many of his views. In saying that I do think that some of the issues he's raised should and deserve to be discussed as part of a wider political debate.

We should talk about rising inequality, austerity and the housing crisis in the UK, particularly in London where house prices are no longer affordable for many people. That said, I don't believe he is a potential Prime Minister in waiting and far from increasing Labour's vote and seats in Parliament at the next election, his appeal amongst the wider electorate simply won't be large enough.

What does Corbyn's election victory mean?

Jeremy Corbyn's election victory tells me that the Labour Party has no interest in speaking to or understanding the electorate who occupy the centre ground of British politics.

Those of us who follow politics have to remind ourselves that for most people politics isn't really that important. A lot of the electorate are pretty middle of the road when it comes to their political views. Too many on the left of the Labour Party hold a disdain even contempt for the centre ground - they don't want to appeal to people there as they believe the centre is too right wing.

It's all very well Labour party members and activists voting for Jeremy Corbyn but is Mr and Mrs middle income in Nuneaton or Worcester prepared to vote for Jeremy Corbyn?

I don't think so but then I don't think many on the left even care. If I've learnt anything over the years, those on the left only care about 3 groups of people. They are: The poor and disadvantaged, the rich who they want to tax and thirdly they care about themselves and their own political beliefs and values.

A lot of politics is about gut feeling and instinct. My gut feeling says that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn has nothing to say to me as an individual or those average middle income earners in this country who aren't rich or well off but at the same time aren't deprived or living in poverty.

Why I don't support Corbyn

We hear a lot about the politics of hope. That Corbyn's success is down to people who are fed up with 'politics as usual'. Fed up with 'the Westminster elite' and want something different. I understand this but Corbyn's election does not offer this hope to me in the way it does for many of his supporters.

Politically speaking I've always considered myself a Social Democrat, I'm centre left. However, what I've started to realise is that I actually dislike much of the hard left wing politics represented by Corbyn and his supporters. I find it quite distasteful!

Corbyn seems like a decent and principled person which I don't have a problem with. It's what his politics represent I dislike. Left wing politics likes to portray itself as progressive, inclusive and concerned with the welfare of the poor, the disadvantaged and those that don't have a voice but that's just part of the picture.

The reality is that all too often left wing politics is in fact incredibly self righteous, arrogant, hostile and bigoted towards those who don't hold or share their views and values.

The left likes to claim the moral high ground and those of us who don't share those view are dismissed as being Tory or Tory lite, this goes for those of us who have never voted Tory.

The Conservative Party have been known as the 'nasty party' but there is a nastiness amongst many on the left. I voted for Liz Kendall in the leadership election. The amount of hostile abuse she received on social media for being a supposed 'Tory' is a great example of this nastiness.

Those of us with a different political opinion whether it's on the right of the Labour Party, the political centre-ground or Conservatives are dismissed as selfish, neoliberal Tory scum who are only motivated by self interest.

This kind of arrogant view sums up why I have no intention of supporting such a left wing Labour party. Holding hard left wing views does not make someone morally superior which sadly appears to be the case for many on the left who support Corbyn.

No more excuses

Another reason why I won't be supporting a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party is that I'm tired of the endless excuses the left comes out with. For the last 25 years all we've heard is how the Labour party under the leadership of Tony Blair and New Labour abandoned Labour's traditional core values and beliefs. They accepted too many of Margret Thatcher's reforms of the 1980's and in doing so became 'Tory-lite'.

With Corbyn's victory there can be no more complaints or excuses. The left has taken control of the Labour Party and can put forward a distinct socialist alternative. If I hear anyone tell me that the parties are all the same I will scream! The electorate has been given a very clear choice between Labour and the Conservatives.

Nobody knows how things will develop over the next few months or years but what I do know is that if and when things begin to go wrong for Labour and Corbyn none of it will be because of him or his policies.

Instead we will hear a long list of excuses which the left specialises in.

If Labour are trailing in the opinion polls or perform poorly in next year's local and European elections, you can guarantee it will be because of the following:

1. Tory lies / the right wing media brainwashing the electorate
2. Blairites and the right of the Labour Party.
3. Tony Blair
4. The Iraq War
5. BBC bias
6. Policies that were right but the electorate didn't get it

If that sounds cynical I make no apologies, it's what I've learnt about the left after 30 years of following British politics!

The reality of real politics

Jeremy Corbyn has built his career on the politics of protest and opposition, he is now in a position of genuine power and influence. Politics can't always be about holding onto your principles 100% of the time.

It's also about compromise and accommodating others. It's about accepting what can be achieved within specific circumstances and parameters. This might not be exciting or visionary but this is the day-to-day reality for many involved in politics.

It's going to be interesting to see how some of his views and principles hold up in the next few weeks and months, I may not agree with his politics but I'll admit I'm looking forward to the entertainment value that Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party will provide.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

World Athletics Championships: A look back

With the Athletics World Championships over, I thought I'd have a quick look back at some of my highlights.

I don't want to talk about doping, I know it's an important issue but it's the athletes and the performances that really matter so that's what I want to focus on.

Stand out performances.

It's too easy to focus on Usain Bolt, even though his performances in the 100m and 200m were exceptional. The same goes for Mo Farah, instead I wanted to highlight some other performances which caught my eye.

Dafne Schippers

A silver in the 100m and gold in the 200m winning with the 3rd fastest time in history. I think she made the right choice to give the Heptathlon up. Schippers has proven the Europeans can compete and beat the best of the Americans and Jamaicans.

Dina Asher-Smith.

Surely the future face of British athletics. She's had an amazing season running under 11:00 seconds for the 100m and finally breaking Kathy Cook's 200m records set back in the 1982.

Wayde van Niekerk

One of the great 400m of all time. Certainly didn't expect South Africa's Wayde van Niekerk to win but look at the time - no wonder he had to be taken to hospital after collapsing after the race! Anytime someone runs the 400m under 44 seconds it's always a special event.

Allyson Felix

I remember Michael Johnson saying that there is only room for one global star in athletics and we all know who that is. A certain Mr Usain Bolt.

But in the world of athletics Allyson Felix is a superstar! her ability over 100, 200 and 400m is exceptional. She's been around for so long, competing in major championships since she was a teenager and her record is incredible. Her performance in the 3rd leg of the 4x400m relay will live long in the memory. It was sensational.

Felix with her 4x400 teammates

Greg Rutherford

You can tell from some of his interviews that Rutherford doesn't feel he's got the respect he deserves for his performances over the last few years. He's probably right but after winning here in Beijing and holding the World, European, Commonwealth and Olympic titles there can be no more debate about his talent.

I think his problem is that coming into the Olympics in 2012 the general public weren't really aware of him and I didn't know he was in such good form coming into that competition. His problem is that the long jump doesn't have the same profile as it used to when the likes of Carl Lewis and Mike Powell were around.

Secondly, we don't see people consistently jumping over 8.50 and up towards the world record mark of 8.95. I think if Rutherford was jumping 8.60 - 8.70 his profile would have been higher. But the thing that really matters is that he delivers when it matters and for that he deserves all the respect for his achievements.

Breaking down the stereotypes

In athletics we get used to seeing certain countries dominate in certain sports. The USA and Jamaica in the sprints, East Africans in the distance events, and Europeans in the field events. One thing that stood out for me in this Championship is that we've seen different nations succeed in events that we might of previously thought unlikely.

I've noticed both China and Japan are producing good sprinters and this was confirmed with the Chinese winning a silver medal in the mens 4x100m relay.

Kenya emerged from their middle and long distance 'ghetto' with Julius Yego winning the Javelin and Nicholas Bett winning the mens 400m hurdles!

In the distance events America has been producing a number of good distance runners for a few years now even though they didn't manage to win a medal last week.

In the sprints we had Dafne Schippers coming second in the 100m and winning the 200m in the 3rd fastest time in history and Russia's Segey Shubenkov winning the 110m hurdles. It just proves that white European sprinters can run just as quickly as the Americans and Caribbeans.

I think one of the reasons I've highlighted this is that it's easy to become lazy and make assumptions that certain countries and races of people are naturally better at some events and sports than others. If Kenya's Julius Yego thought that as a Kenyan he could only run distance races he would never have become World Javelin champion. Like wise, Dafne Schippers could have stuck with the Hepthalon if she didn't think she could ever beat the Americans and Jamaicans.

The sports that we do and excel in are related to culture, opportunity, hard work and training just as much as natural talent and ability. Jamaica's success at sprinting has encouraged kids in Jamaica to emulate their winning sprinters the same in Kenya and Ethiopia with distance running but these things are not set in stone.

Japan and China have proved that East Asians can run fast and in Britain with the success of Mo Farah there's probably kids out there that can see themselves having a go at the distance events and not thinking it's just for East Africans.

Its' good to see that different countries are winning events outside their perceived natural strengths, it makes athletics more interesting and more competitive.

I'm already looking forward to seeing some Jamaican long distance runners and a Chinese sprinter running under 10 seconds. You might laugh but there's no law saying it can't happen.

Saturday 29 August 2015

Bolt to the rescue!

After Usain Bolt's 100m victory in World Championships last Sunday, I felt almost guilty for ever doubting him. After the 200m final I felt a sense of relief when Bolt crossed the finish line with meters to spare over Gatlin.

Of course I always wanted Bolt to win but I admit its been really exciting having Gatlin running so well. For the first time since Bolt broke the 100m world record in 2008, we generally didin't know whether he would win or not.

The good v evil narrative might be journalistic hyperbole but clearly the symbolism of either Bolt or Gatlin winning was always going to be huge. With Bolt prevailing he can be pushed as the saviour of the sport but in many ways his victory has little impact on the greater challenge of eradicating drug cheating in athletics.

I remember hearing the comments of former British sprinter Darren Campbell who argued that if Justin Gatlin had won the title it would force the IAAF to really confront the issue of drugs in the sport, what with a 2 time banned doper returning to win the blue riband event in athletics. I understand this argument and partly agree with it but ultimately Bolt beating Gatlin was the best result for the sport.

Athletics has has a rough ride in recent weeks and has been under a huge amount of scrutiny, particularly following the investigation into doping by The Sunday Times Insight team.

As an athletics fan I don't want to see the sport I love discredited and undermined which in effect is what happens everytime somebody is reported to have tested positive for a banned substance.

Like cycling, people have always taken drugs in athletics, and people will continue to do so. The key is to catch those individuals particularly before they compete in major championships and win any medals.

When I started getting into cycling and began learning more about drug abuse in the sport, I learned that people took drugs because they didn't think they could compete or win as clean athletes.

Athletics is an incredibly competitive sport, a sport that is truly global and to win medals is hard. Again taking cycling as an example, athletes and coaches need to understand and believe that they can compete as clean athletes.

The second point which I think differs from athletics is that I hear stories about athletes testing positive and to be honest I'm not always convinced that every athlete that tests positive for drugs has done so deliberately. There are so many medicines and supplement that athletes can take which include banned substances that I sometimes wonder if they've been ignorant or just naive.

I came across the following statement on the website of British Athletics:

Before using any medications, whether prescribed by a GP, bought over the counter in a Pharmacy or even straight from a supermarket shelf, it is vital that athletes check whether they contain prohibited substances. Medicines bought in the UK, USA, Canada or Japan, can be checked using GlobalDRO (

It makes it clear that athletes have to take the responsibility of knowing what substances they are putting into their body even if it's for medical reasons - I think this makes the argument about drug cheating a little more complex.

When it comes to sanctions imposed I think this is an area where things need to improve. Justin Gatlin has been able to return to the sport like many other athletes because the length of his ban has been too short. I think drug bans should be for at least 5 years.

That's long enough to potentially take away the best years from a younger athletes career - alternatively for older athletes such a ban could end their career. I don't think 5 years will come into effect but I can see 4 years being introduced.

When it comes to athletics punditry I always love listening to Michael Johnson, so have a listen to some of the things he had to say on BBC Radio 5 this week.

People like me are always going stick with athletics. If you're a sports fan you love different sports for different reasons. With athletics there's something I love about the simplicity of it all. It's just about who can run faster, throw further and jump higher than their competitors. But you need to have credibility about what you're seeing and that's the challenge for athletics.

A good example of this is when I look at many of the womens world records for 100m, 200m, 400m and 800m I shake my head, there's a question mark over everyone one of them. It's this type of question mark which I don't want to hang over the entire sport of athletics and I hope that with the election of Seb Coe as head of the IAAF things can move forward and improve.

Thursday 30 July 2015

I get Jeremy Corbyn's appeal but a #Labourleadership victory would be a retreat into Labour's comfort zone.

Anyone who has been reading my Twitter feed over the last week will know that I won't be voting for Jeremy Corbyn for leader of the Labour Party.

Labour are currently experiencing an existential crisis, struggling to decide who and what they want to be and stand for. Lurching back to the left will clearly appeal to traditionalists and new younger labour members but I don't see this left wing platform sweeping Labour to power in 2020.

Clearly this election campaign hasn't gone according to the script. I like most people assumed that Corbyn would be the token candidate from the left, running for symbolic reasons but with no chance of actually winning! But that's all changed.

A YouGov poll claiming that Corbyn is on course to win the leadership and stories of left wingers joining the party to vote for Corbyn - mean the Labour establishment is now in a state of panic. Last week Tony Blair issued his warning to the party, that lurching to the left will result in further election defeats. I couldn't agree more.

I've been reading a lot about the leadership election and thinking about Labour and left wing politics in general. Lets be honest Labour are in a total mess. Not only are they struggling to understand why they lost the election and what they should stand for, they're also being completely outmanoeuvred by the Tories who have claimed the centre ground and stolen some of Labour's policies.

So what is going on with Labour?

There's a number of things I've started to realise about the Labour Party, particularly in the last few years. I voted for the first time in 1997 and my vote helped usher in New Labour under Tony Blair. Despite his 3 election victories, the truth is that many inside the party always have and continue to resent the lurch to the right and the centre ground which New Labour represented. I mentioned in one of my previous posts, that you rarely here Labour supporters saying anything positive about their 13 years in power! For them New Labour was completely inauthentic.

After the 2010 election, Ed Miliband's leadership was meant to return Labour back to its roots after the New Labour years but despite appearing to take the party to the left, he and Labour were roundly rejected by the electorate in May. The argument from the left is that voters were not presented with a clear enough choice, they see Jeremy Corbyn's leadership bid as a unique opportunity to 'reclaim' the party and take Labour back to its authentic socialist roots and ideals.

Do I think Corbyn can win the Labour leadership? I've come to the conclusion that yes he can. Do I think Labour could win a general election under his leadership? No I do not!

I wouldn't go as far to say there's a civil war in the party (that may come later) but there's clearly an ideological struggle taking place between the traditional Socialist left of the party and the more moderate, centre left, social democratic wing. I've started to realise that those on the left don't want, moderate centre left politics, they don't want to claim the centre ground, they want a Left wing socialist party.

Pragmatism v Principles

What I've started to understand is that the difference between the Conservative Party and Labour is this.

The Tories exist to be in power, they see it as their right and duty. Conservative politics relies on a degree of pragmatism and understanding on what policies will win votes and achieve power. It explains why they've been one of the most successful political parties in the Western world over the last century.

Labour, however are a party steeped in its own history, ideals and principles. You could argue they have more of a soul than the Tories. I now realise that for some in the Labour party, it's not about the winning - its about remaining true to the party's founding principles and beliefs. This is all very noble and admirable but my problem with this is that ultimately if you want to implement change then at times you have to be in government and that means winning elections.

I think a lot of people in the Labour party would rather lose and remain out of power than win and compromise on their principles. This may explain why I now keep hearing this phrase of 'Tory-lite' from those on the left.

Tony Blair and New Labour were 'Tory-lite', the policies put forward by Ed Miliband were 'Tory-lite', Liz Kendall is a Tory. In fact it now seems that those of us who aren't left wing socialists are all 'Tories'.

The left don't want to occupy the centre-ground, they don't want to appeal to former Conservative voters, they want left wing purity and want to appeal to those that share those values. Jeremy Corbyn is the man that embodies this.

Corbyn's appeal

I get Jeremy Corbyn's appeal. He's not the political establishment, he's not part of the 'Westminster bubble' we hear so much about, he's "principled" (why is everyone that's left wing principled?). He's a champion for the Labour left that for too long has felt ignored and marginalised. He's also benefited from the fact that his rivals are all in different ways so uninspiring.

We've seen all across Europe and in America in recent years that there's a great deal of disillusionment with the political establishment and people are looking for something different; this explains why Corbyn's campaign has appealed to so many. However it is one thing to be the leader of a growing political protest movement but very different to be the leader of the opposition and potential future Prime Minister.

The appeal of Corbyn particularly amongst the young, is like someone telling me about some great new band or singer they've just discovered. You listen to a few tracks and it sounds kind of new, but when you listen more closely you start to recognise a lot of the influences and styles that you've heard before. It's been repackaged and updated. Jeremy Corbyn is introducing 'New Skool' socialism. Nothing wrong with it but I've seen and heard it before!

You can't win elections in a comfort zone

I have no doubt that if Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election he would appeal to more voters who have become disillusioned with the Labour Party in recent years. I'm thinking of people who have switched votes to the SNP in Scotland and UKIP and the Greens in England and Wales. The question is whether these are the voters that will help win an election?

This is the point I have about Labour moving to the Left. It may satisfy their core voters and make them feel warm and comfortable about themselves but that doesn't necessarily mean it will translate into an election victory.

Politics is always about striking a tricky balance between principles and pragmatism. A Jeremy Corbyn victory for me would send out a message that it is more concerned about appealing to itself and its principles rather than trying to appeal a wider electorate.

Too many on the left show a disdain and at times contempt for those on the centre-ground of politics and floating voters who have previously voted Conservative. Some simply don't want to appeal to those voters as they think it would be somehow 'selling-out'. When will they realise it isn't.


There's a part of me that's now beginning to think that perhaps it would be a good thing if Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. It's what a lot of Labour grass-roots members and activists want.

We constantly hear about how the parties are all the same and people want a real choice - well Labour under Corbyn would be a complete and utter contrast to the Conservatives. There can be no more complaints about a lack of choice.

In the same way you can get excited about two great football teams playing against each other in a big final. Or a boxing world title fight like Pacquiao v Mayweather, I'm quite intrigued to see a left wing socialist Labour party go up against the Tories in the 2020 election. I would love to see it.

I've got a good idea of what the result will be, but perhaps it's something that needs to happen. Having received the following tweet last week from a member of the Labour Party I have some idea of what the response would be following a Labour defeat.

Interesting semantics from mardymum!

Even if under Corbyn Labour get annihilated in the 2020 General election, there will still be some like the tweeter above who will claim that they didn't lose. They will self-righteously claim that they somehow won the moral argument, or that the electorate were scared off by the right wing media.

Whatever happens in the next few months or years, what we've seen is that many in the Labour party are happy to retreat into their comfort zone where it's as much about satisfying their own collective beliefs and values rather than appealing and meeting the electorate where they are.

If Labour elect Jeremy Corbyn they're effectively saying they're not interested in being an alternative party of government - instead they're choosing to be nothing more than a glorified left wing pressure group something which will not be of benefit for the Labour Party or democracy in the country.

Monday 22 June 2015

Race and guns - the fatal flaws in American society

There are so many recurring news stories that we witness in the media. Some are so familiar that they barely register as news anymore. When it comes to America, you can normally guarantee that excluding politics, stories about gun violence and race always seem to dominate.

With this in mind, the fatal shooting of 9 African Americans at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston at the hands of a white racist was so depressingly predictable.

As the world's leading super-power, America likes to present itself as the country that the world should aspire to. It's culture and values were exported around the world throughout the 20th Century and it continues to be seen as the leader of the free world.

As much as I like America and love many aspects of its culture, I'm coming to the conclusion that America is not somewhere that I'd want to live and there are aspects of its society that are totally flawed.

America seems incapable of dealing with its issues around gun control and race and seems destined to continue with this 'groundhog day' narrative of gun violence and racism.

Despite many of the advances made by African Americans since the Civil Rights era, on many levels I sometimes wonder if any progress has been made on race relations in America since the end of slavery! Why is it in 2015 we need a #Blacklivesmatter movement?

As for gun control, like many people in Europe and around the world, you can only shake your head at the attitude some American's have towards guns. This is summed up by the idea that if members of the attacked church had been armed with their own guns, the killer Dylann Roof wouldn't have been able to kill!

Guns and race are the fatal flaws in American society and have been since the country was created. I loved this sentence from Jonathan Freedland's article in the Guardian. He wrote:

"Race and guns are the birth defects of the American republic, their distorting presence visible in the US constitution itself."

I've sometimes imagined how interesting it would be if you took a country's history and turned it into a 12 part drama series along the lines of a Mad Men or a Game of Thrones.

I think it would be fascinating to watch - all history is effectively an ongoing story. If we took American history, the opening episode would begin with America's Founding Fathers finalising the constitution. The birth of a brand new idealistic country that would go on to dominate the world.

The great irony in the story is that the fault lines of race and guns were enshrined in the constitution. The rest of the series chronicling American history throughout the 19th and 20th century would be dominated by the recurring themes of race and guns which they got so wrong at the very start.

No country can every truly escape its past but America seems incapable of addressing gun control in terms of what's needed for a 21st Century society and not one for the 18th. As for race, America has always struggled with the issue and place in society of its African American community. The land of the free still struggles to afford that right to African Americans.

Wednesday 3 June 2015

Now there's a chance for FIFA to clean its act up

It was my intention this evening to write a few thoughts on the FIFA corruption investigation, but after Sepp Blatter's shock resignation today my thoughts on this blog have had to change.

Firstly I think I'm like most football fans in this country when I say this is brilliant news. It's made even better by the fact that it seemed so unlikely. I think people cyncially assumed that Blatter would ride out this current storm and keep going like he has done for so long.

I've always thought that to reform FIFA it would need three separate groups to take a stand against the organisation. The three groups are: The major international football nations of Europe and South America, FIFA's main sponsors and the television broadcasters.

If the major football nations decided to boycott a future World Cup and form their own alternative competition, FIFA would have no choice but to bow to pressure to reform. A World Cup simply wouldn't be viable without the big European and South American teams.

This leads us onto the second group, the sponsors. FIFA's biggest sponsors include Adidas, Coca Cola and Visa and it's clear that any World Cup without the biggest nations is not in their interest, the second issue for them is their continuing association with an organisation tainted by sleaze allegations. If they withdrew sponsorship FIFA would be screwed.

The final group are the television broadcasters. Can you imagine if the likes of the BBC and ITV decided not to bid for broadcasting rights in protest against FIFA? Without broadcasters who is going to watch the World Cup and bring audiences to advertisers and sponsors?

In the end none of these groups needed to threaten or take this action. The twin investigations by the FBI and the Swiss attorney general's office have found evidence of criminal wrongdoing so strong, that Blatter and FIFA find themselves in a position that is untenable to maintain.

Blatter simply had to resign, and with an organisation mired in corruption allegations, Blatter has to take responsibility as this has happened under his leadership.

Last Sunday I was reading about the investigation led by the US Justice department and FBI in the Sunday Times, they also had a feature on their Insight team who have conducted their own investigation into FIFA corruption for a number of years.

It reminded me of what great investigative journalism is all about. The time, effort and resources to compile and gather information to tell a story.

With Blatter shortly to step down, there's a great opportunity to reform and restructure FIFA completely. What's probably needed is a whole new guard of officials and executives to take over the running of the organisation. People who hopefully have few links with many of those currently accused of corruption.

There's a long way to go, but today is a good day for world football - lets hope that Sepp Blatter's resignation is the start of a new beginning.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Election 2015: Where does Labour go from here?

What an total disaster last week's election was for Labour, turning the clock back to the worst election defeat since 1987.

The result highlighted three failings and future challenges for the party. They failed to take votes away from the Conservatives, they lost votes to UKIP in the North and worst of all they were wiped out in Scotland by the SNP. If Labour are ever going to get back into government they need to address these points.

Apparently Ed Miliband and his closet colleagues were aware through their own internal polling that things weren't going their way but this was kept inside Miliband's inner circle.

People have attacked Ed for the way he supposedly stabbed his brother in the back by running for and winning the race to become leader of the Labour Party, but it should be remembered the differences each brother was offering to the party and the country.

David Miliband essentially wanted to continue down the 'New Labour' path while Ed wanted to move away from it. For me this was a legitimate reason to run and is not a sign of so called treachery.

This issue I have is that many people have said Labour lost the election because they were too Left wing. This depends on your definition of Left wing.

There's no doubt Ed has in many people's eyes moved the party away from the centre ground. It's been commonly reported that following the Financial crisis in 2008, Ed believed that the centre ground in British politics had moved sharply to the Left. He was wrong as the election results proved.

However, there are those in the party and those firmly on the left that believe that Labour and Ed weren't left wing enough and point to the success of the SNP in Scotland. This got me thinking about what Labour want to be as a party and who it is they think they are representing.

Does the Labour Party know what it wants to be or who it's meant to represent?

One thing that has baffled me for sometime about Labour is this. The Conservatives had a leader in Margret Thatcher who won three General elections, she is revered and remains an icon of the party. Labour have a leader who wins three General Elections in Tony Blair and he's treated like a slightly embarrassing uncle who nobody wants to invite round to the family party!

Labour seem to view it's 'New Labour' era as an inauthentic period in its history, like a romantic relationship which they look back on and think: What was I thinking of'.

Here's the stark truth for Labour, if you take away Tony Blair's 3 election victories, Labour have failed to win a solid majority in an election since the 1960s so Blair and New Labour was clearly successful and attractive to the electorate.

Reading comments on the Guardian (something I'm going to stop doing) you commonly hear comments that Blair was 'Tory lite' that Ed Miliband is not much better, that Labour has abandoned the very principles it was founded for. But what do these people actually want?

When I was growing up, the then Labour leader, Neil Kinnock was accused of being to right-wing. Do people on the left want Michael Foot, Harold Wilson, Clement Atlee?

Labour seem to live in this romantic past, congratulating itself on its triumphs of building the welfare state, of creating the NHS, these should of course be remembered but we're now in the 21st Century and the challenges and achievements of the last century are not always relevant to today.

When I compare Labour and the Conservatives, a characteristic of conservatism is defined by slow evolution. What has made the Conservative Party so successful over the last 150 years is that they've always managed to evolve and adapt and remain relevant to the electorate and the changing society. When I think about the Conservative Party I think about pragmatism over ideology, although this was reversed under Thatcher.

Labour is a party that in many ways has more of a soul than the Tories. Those on the Left tend to be more ideological, with firm and at times dogmatic beliefs. By capturing the middle ground Tony Blair embraced more pragmatism by attempting to break away from previously held beliefs and policies (I'm thinking Clause 4 here).

After being roundly rejected by the electorate, the Labour Party have to figure out how to continue appealing to their core voters but at the same time appealing to the wider electorate. There were many things about 'New Labour' that appealed to the electorate and as part of the process of thinking what the party should stand for, they should look back at recent history to see what proved to be successful rather than rejecting it.

Do Labour grimly hold onto the founding beliefs and principles or do they start adapting to the realities of Britain in the 21st Century?

They can still make up ground in the 2020 election, 70 seats will give them the chance to look at a possible minority government but there's a huge amount of work to do in the next five years.

Monday 11 May 2015

Election 2015: How did we all get it so wrong?

I've had a few days to reflect on last Thursday’s election result and I'm still in a state of shock from last week's result.

Scroll down to my earlier blog last Wednesday and I said this would be an election without winners. How wrong was I! In my defence nobody else predicted the result and there are far more experienced political pundits and pollsters than me who also got it wrong.

The moment the BBC's David Dimbleby announced the exit polls at 10:00 my reaction of: Are you kidding me, was probably echoed across the country. Earlier in the day on my lunch break I decided to place bet on the outcome of the election. Few of the odds on offer really appealed to me except for one. The Conservatives to form a minority government with odds at 9/2. I felt very confident that would be the outcome with the Conservatives winning between 300 - 310 seats. A Conservative majority never ever occurred to me.

Last week I said this would be an election without winners, well clearly the Conservatives won. They won because ultimately David Cameron was viewed as a more credible Prime Minister than Ed Miliband. Secondly, the Conservatives won the argument on the economy.

They've been competent at managing the economy and reducing the budget deficit. Competent isn't exciting or sexy but it doesn't need to be, Labour never managed to convince the electorate they could be trusted.

It's a great personal achievement for David Cameron, he's not universally popular amongst bank-bench Tory MPs and there were many who were unconvinced by him due to his failure to win an outright majority in 2010.

They can't complain now as he's delivered on that front and increased the number of seats and share of the vote, something Margret Thatcher and Tony Blair never achieved. However, just like John Major's unexpected 1992 election victory, Cameron may face problems from troublesome back-bench right-wingers during the next five years.

So what about the losers. I feel sorry for the Lib Dems, I knew they would take a hit but I expected they'd still have at least 30 MPs left - instead they have 8. They've been destroyed and it may take at least 30 years for them to get back to pre-election levels.

I admired Nick Clegg's decision to enter into coalition in 2010 but in hindsight it was a suicide note for the party. I read over the weekend that German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Clegg that the smaller junior partners in coalitions always suffer in elections.

She was right but I do think the Lib Dems deserved better. It would have been too easy to sit on the sidelines being a party of protest, instead they took the risk of having an opportunity to go into government and have some genuine power and influence. Unfortunately their legacy will most likely be that in the event of any future hung parliament, no small party will ever consider going into coalition again. That's understandable but I feel it's a shame in many ways.

And finally we go to the Labour Party.

On Friday I sent a text message to a good friend who's a Labour councillor in South London. I told him the result was an unmitigated disaster for Labour. During the last month Ed Miliband had what I and many people considered was a good campaign. For so long he struggled to convince people that he was a credible candidate to lead the country, but in the last month he seemed to grow in stature and looking at the opinion polls it started to feel that he could actually do this.

Last Thursday's result simply proved that those of us who had our doubts were right all along. Ed Miliband is a decent and principled politician who is in politics for all the right reasons. He genuinely wants to make a difference but he got it wrong, and his vision and view of Britain and what the country needs was roundly rejected.

I will discuss Labour's election defeat in further detail in my next blog but he was the wrong choice for Labour leader and the last five years have been a failed experiment.

The biggest losers: The pollsters

The 1992 election which I remember vividly is seen as the last time the pollsters got their predictions horribly wrong. This election was a complete disaster! I actually feel like I'd been lied to for the past few months, apart from the prediction of the SNP winning most seats in Scotland everything else wrong. Even my favourite political forecaster, the American Nate Silver got it wrong. Can we ever trust them again?

Over the weekend the Times reported that some of Labour's internal polling revealed they were behind the Tories but this was kept quiet. We know about the phenomenon of 'Shy Tories' but did everyone underestimate David Cameron's advantage over Miliband and the fact the Tories were trusted more on the economy? Just those two things should have indicated the the Tories would be ahead of Labour.

Wednesday 6 May 2015

Election 2015: An election with no winners

Tomorrow the General election will take place, an election which by Friday evening will leave more questions than answers.

We already know that no party will get anywhere near achieving a majority in Parliament, and we can expect days if not weeks of further discussions and negotiations on who will form the next government.

When I think about this campaign and look back on British politics over the last few years, I've come to the conclusion that both the Conservatives and Labour have a number of serious long term issues to address regardless of tomorrow's result.

I've said earlier that looking at a number of factors objectively, such as the economy, levels of unemployment, job creation and David Cameron's personal popularity, the Conservatives should win quite comfortably. The thing is they're not. The Tory brand is still tarnished, many people refuse to consider voting Tory.

They lack a presence in many of Britain's major cities in the North and Midlands and are non existent in Wales and Scotland. Across London and other cities BME (Black, minority and ethnic) voters have a bigger influence but the Tories just don't seem capable of tapping into this vote.

Labour are little better, no presence in the South outside of London, looking at electoral meltdown in Scotland, a leader who has exceeded expectations but whose level of popularity remains low. A party that isn't trusted on the economy and despite moving to the left and leaving behind its 'New Labour' past is still struggling to get support above 35% of the electorate.

It doesn't matter who 'wins' and when I say win we're probably looking at one party getting somewhere between 280-300 seats. No party has nationwide support or confidence of the country.

For all the promises made in the party manifestos, no party is going to be in a position to push through all their policies as they won't have the numbers in parliament.

Tomorrow's election is all about who can lose best which is a pretty depressing scenario to consider but that's where we're at. We don't have a party, a leader or a political system anymore that can deliver a solid mandate and appeal to a large enough section of the electorate. As a result we're going to have a messy result tomorrow followed by even more messy political dealings to form the next government.

Hope you're looking forward to it.

Friday 1 May 2015

Politicians should leave the wealthy alone - they already contribute more than their fair share?

This week the Sunday Times published its annual rich list for the 2015. It's something I always read mainly out of curiosity but this year particularly with an election this month, the list had greater significance.

Since the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition came into power in 2010 the country has experience significant spending cuts in an effort to reduce the budget deficit, for many people the last 5 years has been tough we stagnant wages and a cut in benefits. At the same time Britain or should we say London is home to some of the world's super rich. People who have not really been affected by the governments cuts and the age of austerity.

With this in mind, I attended last week an event by the Spectator Magazine where a Panel discussed whether or not the super rich should be taxed more or whether they're already paying their fair share.

I decided to go based on the quality of the line up. Chairing the discussion was journalist and presenter of the Sunday Politics show, Andrew Neil. In support of the motion, was Spectator editor Fraser Nelson. Journalist, Toby Young and Conservative MP William Cash.

Opposing the motion and on the left of the political spectrum, were Guardian columnist and author Owen Jones, food blogger and campaigner Jack Monroe and Green MEP for the South West, Molly Scott Cato.

Each panel member was given 10 minutes to talk to the audience and put forward their case on why they believed the wealthy should pay more in taxes or not. Being the political geek that I am, I enjoyed listening to the arguments and the questions at the end from the audience.

My natural default position is that the rich should clearly pay more of their income in taxes and in the pre-debate vote which took place, I voted that the rich should pay more.

The three speakers in favour of leaving the rich alone argued that the wealthiest already contribute a significant amount in income tax. The best-paid 1 per cent pay 25 per cent of the income tax. When put in those terms you start thinking that the rich already pay more than their fair share, but what about VAT.

The poorest in society still pay more in taxes from their overall incomes through VAT then the wealthiest in society. I don't begrudge people who through their own hard work and effort become multi millionaires but I agreed with Owen Jones' view, when he said that the rich can still pay a bit more.

When it comes to taxing the rich, I accept that you have to be pragmatic about it. Tax them too high and some will leave the country and the revenues received actually decrease as was seen in France when President Holland increased the rate of tax to 75% for the wealthiest before having to make a U-turn.

The real issue is when you have a super rich elite that is growing ever richer while people on middle and lower incomes are increasingly struggling - this is where you start to have problems. It's not about class envy it'a about questioning whether that economic model is fair and sustainable.

We keep getting told that the super rich are vital to our economy and to the wealth of the country, if we tax them too much they will leave. But for me, everyone working in this country are contributing to the wealth of the nation, regardless of whether they're earning 10,000 a year or £1 million a year.

I'm against rising inequality and think societies face more problems if the gap between the richest and poorest is too big. Over the last 30 - 35 years this neo-Liberal economic consensus has lead directly to this gap widening.

As I mentioned in my last blog, those in favour of the status quo face a big problem in trying to convince people who are turning to populist left wing parties that the present system still work for them. You can't keep championing the current system of lower taxes for the rich when the majority of ordinary people see no gain in their own living standards.

The rich can increase their wealth, I just don't believe the levels of growth in their incomes should outstrip the majority of people by such huge amounts. Sadly this is the situation we've got. Supporters of free markets, capitalism and wealth creators can argue all they like in favour of the super rich, this situation will lead to serious problems in the future.

At the end of last week's debate, the audience got to vote again on the motion put forward - the final vote was in favour, although I decided I was undecided.

I don't know why voted that way when I still feel in my heart that the rich should pay more because they can afford to and because in the long term it's better for all of us.

Tuesday 21 April 2015

Election 2015: Can the right respond to left-wing populism?

One of the most significant things to emerge from this election campaign has been the rise of the smaller parties and in particular the rise of parties that are firmly on the left of the political spectrum.

In last week's leaders debate we had three of them in The Green Party, the SNP and Plaid Cymru. All are campaigning for an end to austerity, higher taxation for the rich and further government spending and borrowing.

Last week I read an article in the Spectator magazine talking about this rise of left-wing populism: Left-wing populism is on the rise – and may take Ed Miliband to No10

Being a centre-right political magazine, the Spectator obviously did not hide its concerns about this growing left-wing support but it got me thinking about a number of issues.

Conservative politicians, business leaders, and political commentators can complain all they like about left wing anti austerity parties with their irresponsible and naive economic plans but they need to ask the question why are people turning to the left?

It's not just here in the UK either. We've seen similar left-wing anti-austerity parties in Europe with Syriza winning last year's elections in Greece and the rise of Podemos in Spain.

People are fed up with austerity, government cuts and declining living standards. Here in the UK, the Conservatives can argue how they've got the economy back on track, brought a return to growth, created more jobs and reduced unemployment but they're not pulling away in the polls. The truth is many people don't feel as if the recovery has had any great affect on them.

This is the problem the right has in this election and across Europe. What are they offering as an alternative to the populist left apart from more austerity and cuts?

The left has grown in popularity because the current economic system appears to be failing so many people. Greedy bankers, the financial crisis, austerity who is benefiting from this?

Those on the right of the political spectrum have to respond to this and explain why and how capitalism and the free market can benefit the many and not just the few.

Thinking about this it reminded me of a blog I wrote back in 2011 entitled: Are you part of the 99%

I wrote it in response to the Occupy Wall St protests, which along with the 99% movement protested against wealth inequality and corporate greed. Many of those themes are still prevalent today and have been taken on by many of the left wing parties in the UK and across Europe.

Since the financial crash in 2008, capitalism has been in crisis. If capitalism and free markets are only going to benefit a small elite what is it for? It's no surprise we're seeing the growth of populist left-wing movements - this is the backlash!

It's up to the right to start coming up with a response to this.

Monday 13 April 2015

Election2015: Predicting the future

Are you enjoying the election campaign? Perhaps some of you are fed up of it already and can't wait for it to be over.

As much as I'm a political geek, I want the election to be tomorrow rather than having to wait another 3 and a half weeks enduring the campaigning. It feels like we've been campaigning for the last 12 months!

We're now being bombarded by policy promises from the two main parties, telling us how they're going to reduce the deficit, how much money they will spend on the NHS, and who they'll give tax breaks to. It can feel like being in a room listening to lots of people shouting where you can't actually understand what's being said or who to listen to you.

My problem with the election at the moment is that you hear all of these pledges and promises but how do you know whether any of the parties will deliver them? It's easy to be cynical and say they'll say anything to get people's vote, but when one party says they will reduce the deficit how do we know it will happen in the next 5 years?

Maybe I've reached that age where I've watched enough politicians and seen enough elections to question how many policy commitments actually come into effect. Who can forget in 2010, the Lib Dems pledge to abolish student tuition fees. We all saw how long that lasted once the Lib Dems got into government.

I've started thinking more about how we can make predictions about the future after reading a book by the American writer and statistician Nate Silver, it's called the Signal and the Noise: The Art and Science of Prediction. Silver came to many people's attention in 2012 when he accurately predicted the results of every single state in the 2012 US Presidential election.

The book looks at how we routinely fail to forsee or predict significant events, ranging from the 2008 financial crisis to natural disasters and terrorist attacks.

It's one of those books that's had a big influence on me, and one of the things I've taken from it is that when we try and think about what will happen in the future, sometimes we have to accept that we don't know. We don't have enough information, evidence or data to be able to predict what will happen.

Going back to the election, how do I know whether Tory plans for spending an extra 8 billion on the NHS will make a significant improvement? How do I know whether Labour will be economically more responsible and better equipped to manage the economy than the Tories?

I don't know and I can't predict what will happen. Who knows what economic or political events may take place in the next few years which could impact on each party's plans? In the end I'm just left with my own gut instincts and political beliefs and prejudices to go on. I don't feel I can predict anything with great certainty.

To echo the title of Nate Silver's book, I'm hearing a lot of noise from the parties but I can't make sense of it. I don't know if there is enough evidence for me to confidently believe in one policy pledge or another. Where are the hard facts and stats I can rely on?

Sunday 5 April 2015

Election2015: Leaders debate: What I learned

Did you enjoy the leaders debate last week?

I have to admit I was sceptical to begin with. I wasn't sure whether having all 7 party leaders would allow each leader the opportunity to put forward their thoughts and policies on the various issues. I was wrong, in the end I enjoyed it. Perhaps because of the novelty value in the fact we've never seen anything like it in British politics before.

There were no clear winners or losers and things certainly got better after we progressed passed the pre-scripted opening arguments. As entertaining as the debate was, I don't think it will change the opinions or voting intentions of many of those people watching. The leader that perhaps impressed the most (certainly on my twitter feed) was SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon.

I was impressed and it says a lot about the work both her and her predecessor Alex Salmond have done with the SNP in the last decade that they are now in a position to exert real influence on who governs Britain. It's no surprise that the backlash has emerged with stories alleging that she would prefer David Cameron to remain in Downing Street.

The biggest thing I've taken from last Thursday's debate is that it highlighted quite starkly how British politics has fragmented from the old two party system. We know that no party is going to win an outright majority but it feels like we're entering a new era in British politics where coalitions will now be the norm.

When I think about things objectively I actually think that the Conservatives should win this election. David Cameron is considered a better leader than Ed Miliband, the Tories are seen as being more competent at managing the economy and employment figures are positive with more people in full time employment. Taking this into account why aren't the Tories odds on for victory next month?

It's simple, the Conservative Party is a tainted brand and they're simply not liked. The election victories of Margaret Thatcher may have made the party the dominant force in British politics during the 80s but one of her legacies is to leave a party that many people simply will not vote for. With the Tories unlikely to gain a majority next month, by the time we get to the 2020 election the Tories will have failed to win an election outright for 30 years!

The Labour Party despite not being trusted on the economy and having a leader with an image problem are still popular but they like the Conservatives face an identity crisis. It's unclear what Labour stand for. They're not reaching out beyond their core vote in the way they did under Tony Blair.

The irony is that despite his three election victories, Blair is seen almost as an embarrassment by some figures in the Labour Party. It's as if the New Labour era was some embarrassing episode in the Party's history. They may have elected Miliband to return Labour back to its roots but Labour have been losing support to the SNP in Scotland and both UKIP and the Green Party in England and Wales.

With both major parties dealing with this crisis of identity the smaller parties have been able to take centre stage in a way we've never seen before. The Lib Dems are feeling the squeeze, no longer are they a party of protest when they have been in government for five years - they're going to take a hit in next month's election.

It's tough on them but I actually admire Nick Clegg's decision to go into coalition with the Tories. They had an opportunity to go into power and try and influence change, they're now going to pay for it but they've struggled to tell a story to the public on what they've done and what they currently stand for.

Finally we've seen rise of the protest vote on both the left and right of the political spectrum. UKIP's support has been on the rise for sometime but the level of support for the Green Party has been significant in the last 6 months. So we have the politics of populism and fear verse the politics of idealism. Given the choice I'll always go with the Green's politics of idealism - UKIP's vision of Britain doesn't bare thinking about.

With next month's election being the most difficult to forecast in decades I'm going to foolishly make my own prediction. I predicted a hung parliament back in January 2010 but I can't confidently say my prediction will be correct this time. Here goes.

There will be no proper winners it will be about who can lose the best. The Conservatives will emerge with the biggest number of seats but it will be below 300 and not enough for a majority and probably to few to continue as a minority government. Difficult to see how they could continue in coalition with the depleted Lib Dems so it will be left to Labour to try and form a government with perhaps an informal agreement with the SNP. It will be a mess and something none of us are used to dealing with but I'm sure we'll get used to it.