Thursday 28 December 2017

Bringing the curtain down on Newspotting

As we approach the end of the year, I've come to the decision that after 8 years, I'm going to bring the curtain down on my blog Newspotting.

It's something I've been thinking about for a while now. I've realised that in the last couple of years the output of blogs I've been writing has been steadly decreasing.

This has mainly been due to the fact that I'm now a professional content writer. Spending all day in an office writing about complex and technical subject matters such as banking regulation and financial technology has meant I have not always had the motivation or energy to write about topical news stories.

What I've learned from blogging

I started my blog during my time studying for my post-grad in news paper journalism. My tutor advised me that having a blog would be a great way of promoting myself as a writer and developing my written skills. He was 100% right.

One of the great things about having a blog is that you can look back and analyse your old posts. Sometimes I don't always like my early blogs. I could have written some of them better. The grammar and punctuation wasn't as good as I would like it to be.

What's great is that I can see a progression and development in my writing. In particular how I express myself and the thoughts and themes I wanted to highlight.

This is the important point. Writing is like learning to play an instrument or training in a particular sport. You can have natural talent and ability but to hone and develop your skills, you have to rely on good old fashioned practice. This is what having a blog has allowed me to do and why it has been such a valuable experience for me.

My blog helped me secure some freelance writing work in 2013, and having that experience helped me make the career change I was looking for when I became a full time writer working in marketing in 2014.

Leaving a digital footprint

Back in 2009 blogging had already become an established form of social media, and I quickly decided to incorporate the microblogging site of Twitter into my site to help promote my writing abilities.

Since then, posting your thoughts and comments on blogs and social media sites has become a way of life for many of us. We're encouraged to express our thoughts, feelings and opinions to the outside world.

There has of course been consequences to this. We routinely hear reports of politicians, celebrities and public figures who have posted comments online in the past, normally before they became more high profile figures.

Embarrassing or offensive comments which in the past would have remained private are now in the public domain. This is causing serious problems for individuals who have been forced to resign from their jobs or apologise for their online behaviour.

I don't think this is a particularly good development. Our thoughts and opinions change through life. Are we going to punish or prevent people from holding jobs in say politics based on tweets and posts made when they were teenagers or before they entered a particular profession?

I've thought about my own blog and whether some of my views and opinions could potentially cause problems for me in the future. I'd like to think not. It's a blog, you need to express opinions and reveal your character and personality.

Not everyone will agree with everything I have written. I'm also aware that as a blogger I'm publishing in the public domain. I do however feel confident that what I have written is not offensive or libellous.

The end for now

I still love keeping up to date with major news stories and events. Who can't help but be fascinated by the ongoing car crash that Donald Trump's Presidency is proving to be.

With that thought in mind I may still get the urge to write something down when a major news story breaks - so watch this space.

All that's left to say is thank you to all those of you that have ever spent time reading my blog; and if you're someone who has just discovered Newspotting, feel free to look back on some of my old blogs.

Goodbye and thanks!

Friday 27 October 2017

Catalan independence: What will Catalonia gain?

When I think about my favourite European cities, there is only one city which always comes out on top. Barcelona.

I love Barcelona, it's almost the perfect the city. You have the mountains, the sea. Beautiful architecture, an historic Medieval quarter, great bars and restaurants and a successful and glamorous football team. It has everything I want from a city.

I've naturally taken a great interest in the referendum vote and the declaration of Catalan independence by the President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont. The question that dominates my thinking about the crisis is this: What does Catalonia expect to gain from independence?

Catalonia is the richest region in the Spain. I remember back in 2001 I spent two weeks in the city studying Spanish. One afternoon after my lessons had finished I got chatting to an English guy in a Tapas bar on Las Ramblas.

He lived in the Pyrenees and had come down to Barcelona for the day. He explained to me how Barcelona and the Basque country are the two richest regions in Spain. Many people emigrate from other parts of Spain to Barcelona.

Catalans he said had a reputation for being a bit 'stuck up' they think they're better than other people in Spain. Only a few weeks ago I read something similar from the Times journalist John Carlin. He argued that Catalans aren't snobby they're just reserved in comparison to other regions of Spain.

Unlike in this country, Spain is a more federalised and de-centralised state. Different regions have autonomous control which have been significant features of the country since the end of Franco's dictatorship in the 1970s. From an outsiders point of view Catalonia has vast regional powers which they now appear to have lost as a result of this referendum.

Catalonia seems very good at telling a story that they are an oppressed people. I studied Spanish history at university and I have a book about the history of Barcelona FC by Jimmy Burns which talks about the political oppression Catalans suffered during the civil war and under Franco's dictatorship. The question now is whether this history of oppression still rings true today.

Both the Madrid government under Mariano Rajoy and Carles Puigdemont must take equal responsibility for the crisis. Unlike the UK's Scottish referendum, Catalonia's was illegal and with a turnout of only 43%. 90% who voted may have voted for independence but with such a low turnout, I don't understand how Catalan separatists can claim they have a true mandate for independence.

However, the government and Mariano Rajoy's reaction was totally over the top. Why not just ignore the result and say it has no legality, rather than cracking down on independence demonstrators and thereby falling into the role of the centralised Spanish state bad guys. Surely that's what Catalan nationalists want?

The impression that Catalan nationalists give is that they are a nation being held back by the rest of Spain. They think of themselves as being more sophisticated and European than the rest of Spain. There's no doubt that the recession in recent years and issues over tax distribution have played a part in fuelling the separatist cause and the notion that Catalonia will flourish under independence.

What's needed is better dialogue between Madrid and Barcelona and agreements on the level of economic and political power that Catalonia should have.

This crisis has echoes of Brexit here in this country. It's a movement based very much on passion and emotion. Sadly for supporters of Catalan independence, I struggle to see what the economic and political benefits of independence will be for ordinary Catalans.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Harvey Weinstein: The culture that sustained his behaviour for so long needs to change.

It's been incredible to watch the total collapse of Harvey Weinstein's personal and professional reputation over the last few weeks.

When you discover that his behaviour of sexual harassment against women has been an open secret in Hollywood for years, your first reaction is to think why was it allowed to continue for so long and why now are people speaking out.

In many respects this story isn't that shocking. You have a powerful and influential man in a glamorous industry who takes advantage of that power and influence to prey on and sexually harass women. The spotlight at the moment is on the movie industry but we all know that the culture of sexual harassment exists in many other industries and professions.

It's this culture that ultimately needs to change. Certainly in respects of Hollywood you need more women in positions of power and influence whether its directors and movie executives. You also need both men and women to change attitudes and behaviour. The sense of entitlement that men can feel towards women has to change and women must be made to feel comfortable and confident in raising issues of sexual harassment.

Weinstein was allowed to continue with his behaviour due to a culture where people were afraid to speak out, fearful of the negative impact it would have on their own careers. But there is also the legal and public relations power that Weinstein held which meant that many of the stories known about him could be suppressed and unknown to the wider public.

In following this story, two of the best and most interesting articles I've read were in the The New Yorker and the celebrity gossip website Popbitch.

I love reading the New Yorker. They always provide real detailed analysis on the topics they report on. This is exactly what they've done with this report on Weinstein that highlights just how consistent and systematic his bevaviour has been over the last 25 years.

From Aggressive Overtures to Sexual Assault: Harvey Weinstein’s Accusers Tell Their Stories

The article I read in Popbitch talks about the role that newspapers, magazines and online outlets play in maintaining a culture within the entertainment industry that allows sexual harassment to go unchallenged.

I thought this was an interesting point as when stories like this emerge it's natural that you wonder why nothing was reported earlier. Popbitch provide some answers to this question.

Inches for Inches

Have a read, you should find them interesting.

Wednesday 16 August 2017

India's independence: The story of Partition

During the last week, I've been reading a few magazine articles to commemorate the 70th anniversary of India's independence. There's also been a number of documentaries on the BBC featuring British Asian's whose family were directly affected by the events of Partition.

India's independence in 1947 and the creation of Pakistan is one of those stories that I've always been aware of but reading and listening to people's stories made me realise it's a story we don't hear enough about.

Partition isn't simply an event from India's history, it's very much British history as well. Sadly it's a story from the 20th Century which is overlooked. We're constantly reminded of events from the Second World War but the start of Britain's loss of Empire remains unfamiliar to many.

What stands out for me is the loss of life and religous violence that took place in the lead up to independence. Partition created a newly independent Muslim dominated Pakistan while India remained mainly Hindu dominated.

It meant that Hindus and Sikhs who found themselves on the wrong side of the partition line living in what would become Pakistan had to migrate to the new independent India. Meanwhile Muslims living in India made a similar journey in the opposite direction to Pakistan.

During this process millions of people lost their lives as religious sectarian violence escalated. I read really sad interviews with survivors of the violence who are now living in the UK. Despite the years that have passed, many still found it hard to forgive.

One Muslim women interviewed in the Sunday Times found it hard to understand how her grandchildren could be friends with Hindus and Sikhs. There were similar stories from Hindus who could not forgive Muslims.

What I find so shocking is that before independence, Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims lived side by side for generations in peace. Then suddenly in the space of a matter of months these same people began murdering each other!

Here in Britain in 2017 we like to think we live in a peaceful, civilised and secure society. Different religious and ethnic groups don't go around killing one another. What's worrying is that none us truly know how close we all are to descending into mass violence and murder should circumstances change.

Britain's role in India's independence story doesn't make great reading. It seems that with the end of the Second World War and the country exhausted and bankrupt, we couldn't wait to get out of India.

In the interwar years of the 1920 and 30s as India's independence movement grew in strength, it seems Britain played a role in encouraging greater religious divisions - the old divide and rule strategy.

There's no doubt that fostering religious difference and tensions helped create the conditions that led to so much violence and suffering. Having created this tension, Britain was quick to let India and Pakistan deal with this violence as Britain brought an end to 300 years of rule in India.

Monday 14 August 2017

World Athletics Championships: Goodbye to two legends

Dramatic is the best word to describe the final night of the World Athletics Championships in London yesterday.

From the joy of watching a quite brilliant gold medal performance by the British Men's 4x100 relay team to the sad sight of seeing Usain Bolt pull up injured as he attempted to complete the final leg in his last ever race for the Jamaican team.

It was one race and one championship too far for Bolt but as Michael Johnson said in the BBC studio he didn't need to turn up to these Championships. He had nothing else to prove but I'm sure the appeal of finishing his career in front of a packed stadium in London was one of the motivating factors in him running again.

The same could be said for Mo Farah. In the last 7 years I don't think I've enjoyed watching 5 and 10,000m races as much with Mo at his best. It was hard effort to win gold in the 10,000m final and again in the 5,000 you just felt this a race too far. It shouldn't be overlooked that he still won silver but it felt strange seeing him not win the gold.

Usain Bolt and Mo Farah are not only my two favourite athletic stars they are two of my favourite sports stars. I feel fortunate and privileged that I've seen both of them run live over the last few years at the Olympic stadium. They will be hugely missed.

The future of athletics

We've listened to so many people talk about where athletics will go now that it has lost its biggest star in Usain Bolt. No matter how great an individual, every sport has to and will carry on. You might as well ask the same question of tennis when Federer, Nadal, Djokovic and Murray retire. Or football when Messi and Ronaldo are no longer playing. Ultimately athletics and other sports go on and new stars emerge with their own talents and stories.

Personally, although Bolt is a huge loss, I've been watching athletics for over 30 years and I'm not going to stop simply because he's no longer on the scene. It was interesting watching the Men's 200 Final without Bolt. The winning time by Turkey's Ramil Guliyev was run in 20.09. One of the slowest winning times for a 200m World Final but it was still a great race to watch. With 100m to go, you had no idea who was going to win.

As for the spectre of drugs and cheating in the sport, this is one issue that refuses to go away from athletics. We're never going to eliminate cheating from the sport entirely. It's human nature to try and gain maximum advantage possible and this invariably leads to some crossing the line into cheating. It's important to ensure that the sport remains in a place where winning and being successful means being clean.

It's right that Russia's ban from competition remains in place and I would like to see longer bans of up to five years for those who have been caught cheating where there is clear evidence that their drug taking has been the result of attempts to improve their performance. You may think that sounds obvious but in athletics and other sports you do find that people have failed drug tests for a variety of reasons.

I'm thinking of the likes of Maria Sharapova in tennis who failed a drugs test after failing to realise that the medication she was taking had been moved to the banned list. There's a grey area of athletes who have failed drugs tests because of naivety, lack of professionalism. It goes back to the saying that athletes must be responsible for the medication and substances they are putting into their bodies.

When it comes to drug cheats there is no bigger hate figure than Justin Gatlin. I understand his frustration and the argument put forward that there are plenty of other athletes who competed last week that have served drug bans but none of them have received the same level of hostility shown towards Gatlin.

Unfortunately, Gatlin runs in the most high profile track event and since his return from his doping ban has been the most significant rival to Usain Bolt. Whether he likes it or not he has become the figure of hate that people will look at as representing the worst of drug cheats.

A good week for British Athletics?

Until the final day of competition it was looking like a pretty poor championships for Team GB. Thankfully our relay teams made the final medals tally respectable. The target was between 6 - 8 medals and we finished with 6.

Apart from Mo Farah there weren't any certain gold medals that GB could pin their hopes on. We were unlucky with a number of fourth spots - a couple of those could so easily have been bronze medals. Despite the lack of individual medals, overall it was an ok performance from Team GB.

World athletics is incredibly competitive and I think this fact is often overlooked by those with only a passing interest in the sport. Athletics is not rowing or cycling and Britain is never going to dominate in the way that we do in those sports.

We're not going to see a 'Super Saturday' in every World Championships and Olympics and in truth Britain has always had cycles where we have perhaps 2 or 3 genuine gold medal contenders competing. We've just come to the end of one of those cycles.

If you look at the spread of medals won by different countries, athletics is a truly world sport and for some events just making the final is a huge achievement. Of course the other side of the argument is that more scrutiny is paid to GB's performance when you take into account the level of funding British athletes receive.

I hadn't realised that GB receives 27 million pounds in funding. No other country is spending that amount on athletics so from that point of view we shouldn't get complacent and should be aiming for at least 10 medals at championships.

Lets bring the championships back to London

I was fortunate enough to attend last Monday's evening secession. The two finals included the Men's 110m hurdles won by the Jamaica's Omar McLeod and the Women's 1500m Final. The 1500 was without doubt the highlight of the evening and arguably the best race of the Championship.

The race was won by Kenya's Faith Kipyegon with Britain's Laura Muir missing out on a bronze medal after being pipped on the line. It was a brave run from her. With 150m to go she tried to keep up with Kipyegon and the Dutch athlete Sifan Hassen. Perhaps if she'd held back she would have had a better chance of winning the bronze but she went for it.

It was a brilliant race to watch live as you could see there were different phases to the race. The first lap was run with real intent, while the second lap was quite slow. The race really began wtih 500m to go with Hassen making her move to the front. The last lap was thrilling to watch.

Last Monday reminded me why I love watching athletics and why London and the UK is arguably the best place in the world to watch live sport. You can always rely on this country to turn up and show huge support for any major sporting event held in this country.

Every session at these World Championships was a sellout. Having attended the Anniversary Games the last two years at the Olympic stadium, I totally agree with those who say British athletics fans are incredibly knowledgeable and know their stuff. Another good point was made by the BBC's chief sports writer Tom Fordyce, who wrote:

"An athletics crowd is untouchable in its diversity: families, kids, a blend of ethnicities that reflected this host city but was light years away from the far narrower demographics at Wimbledon, or Twickenham, or Lord's."

This is so true, you find such a great mix of people when you watch live athletics.

The next World Championships are due to be held in Doha and Eugene, Oregon. You know for fact that the crowds will never match anything we've seen in London. It made me realise that there's no better place to watch athletics than London and this is why we should hold the Championships on a regular basis.

Friday 23 June 2017

Grenfell Towers tragedy

A week after the Grenfell tower fire the political fallout shows no sign of slowing down.

As of today at least 79 people have died and the Chief Executive of Kensington and Chelsea council, Nicholas Holgate has resigned and leader of the council Nicholas Paget-Brown is under pressure to step down as well

It is without doubt a national tragedy and I agree a 100% with those people who have claimed it is our equivalent of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

When Katrina struck the US city of New Orleans, it revealed the stark reality of how race and class in America played a major role in who escaped the city and those who were left behind.

The Grenfell tower fire has revealed similar uncomfortable truths. The fire claimed the lives of some of London's poorest residents living in one of the richest boroughs in the UK.

Anyone living in London or familiar with the city will know there are areas where huge amounts of wealth and poverty exist next to each other. In many respects London has always been like this, going all the way back to the 19th Century. The book 'A tale of two cities' by Charles Dickens immediately springs to mind when you think about London and Grenfell Tower.

There's no doubt that the tragedy and its aftermath is a failure of both local and central government. It's clear that the poorest in our society, those on low incomes and towards the bottom of the social scale have been ignored for too long. Residents had repeatedly complained to the council about safety measures at the tower block but their concerns were ignored.

When you consider why the tower had lethal flammable cladding, no sprinklers fitted into the tower and just one inner staircase as an escape route, it comes as no surprise that residents had previously urged the management company - Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) to improve the buildings safety - their concerns were ignored.

I recently read that in November last year, a resident's organisation the Grenfell Action Group warned on its blog that it believed "only a catastrophic event will expose the ineptitude and incompetence of our landlord" and end the dangerous living conditions and neglect of health and safety legislation that they inflict upon their tenants and leaseholders"

After the fire had started, some residents stayed in their flats as they had been told to do so in the event of a fire - this guidance ultimately cost some residents their lives.

The response from both local and central government has come in for heavy criticism. Theresa May again showed her political weakness by failing to immediately meet with residents of Grenfell Tower. Such things are important and do matter as being a leader is about capturing the public mood at such moments and having the ability to clearly show empathy. Kensington and Chelsea Borough Council have not come out of this any better either.

The response has raised lots of questions about the state's role in providing a safety net for the country's poorest and most vulnerable people. I've heard comments saying that the tragedy is being made too political by opponents of the government; but how can this event be anything other than political?

Since the election of Margret Thatcher in 1979 and the advent of the new political consensus (I have to use the term neo-liberalism - it's such a cliche now) our ideas on the role of the state and what the state should do has radically changed. Fewer people now live in social housing and for those that do, the role of the state in providing maintenance, services and regulatory standards has diminished.

There's a growing feeling that the state needs to take a more active role and responsibility in many areas of society; whether it's in the economy or public services. This partly explains the rise in support for Jeremy Corbyn.

The tragedy comes at a time where it feels like the country is in turmoil. We've had a General Election which resulted in a hung parliament and not the expected Tory majority. We now have a weak minority government with a lame duck Prime Minister. During the election we had terrorist attacks in Manchester and London and we still have the issue of Brexit to deal with.

If feels like the country is in crisis. That there are forces developing that are leading the country to a new era of doing things. Perhaps this is what it was like towards the end of the 1970s. I was only a small child at the time but from everything I've heard and read, it felt like the country was coming to the end of a particular chapter which of course it was. It was the end of the 'Consensus post-war Period that was about to be replaced by Thatcherism.

I wonder if in years to come whether the Grenfell fire will be seen as part of a development that led to a new era of British politics and society. Only time will tell.

Monday 12 June 2017

Election 2017: Who saw this result coming?

Last Thursday with 2 hours left before the polls closed, I popped into one of my local betting shops and put a bet of £20 on The Conservative Party to win the General Election with a majority of 50 - 75 seats. I felt pretty confident, but as a 'hedge' bet I also had money on a Tory majority of over 75 seats.

Chatting about the election with the guy who took my bet, he said I shouldn't rule out the possibility of a hung parliament. I didn't hide my scepticism to that thought and went home confident that I was going to pick up some money the next day.

I'm sure you can imagine my surprise along with so many other people in the country when the exit poll was revealed at 10. I think I spent the next two hours in state of disbelief. Yet again the opinion polls got it completely wrong and all the assumptions about this election and the expected result proved to be a million miles off the mark.

The result of a hung parliament is an absolute humiliation for Teresa May and the Conservatives. I know life is about taking risks and it was always a risk to call this election but the odds were in her favour.

It's clear that the Tories fought an appalling campaign. I agree with the thought that it wasn't particularly positive or inspiring. It assumed that ultimately not enough Labour supporters would back a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party. What is evident is that although Teresa May has been a front line politician for over a decade, it was only in this election campaign that the public got a chance to really know her. What I and everyone else discovered is that she is a terrible campaigner with little personality or charisma.

She remains as Prime Minister for now, telling her party that she got them into this mess and is the person to get them out of it. She's on borrowed time and would have gone if it wasn't for next week's Brexit negotiations and the fact there is no obvious candidate to become the new Tory leader.

A personal victory for Jeremy Corbyn: Time to eat humble pie?

At the start of the year, I genuinely felt that Labour would end up with under 200 seats in Parliament. I thought any General Election would damage Labour so badly it would take at least another 10 - 15 years for Labour to become electable again. I couldn't see how a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party could ever succeed when a left wing manifesto was put to the British people. Ultimately I thought he was incompetent and unelectable!

Well like many people it's time for me to admit that some of these assumptions were wrong. I'm not going to apologies for these views as many of Labour MPs agreed with me.

I've been incredibly critical on Jeremy Corbyn since he became Labour Leader. I voted in both Labour leadership elections in 2015 and 2016 and voted against him. I have to admit he had a great campaign. He's grown into the role of leader. He seemed to enjoy his time meeting voters around the country unlike Teresa May. And he was positive and optimistic in his message.

He put forward every left wingers dream manifesto. More nationalisation, an end to austerity, more taxes for the rich, investment for the NHS. Populist and left wing. Whether Labour could deliver any of this is another question but it galvanised voters, especially young people who finally realised that if you come out and vote then collectively you can make a difference.

It was a great achievement for Labour to gain seats but it shouldn't be forgotten that ultimately Labour lost the election. The performance is a moral victory which is something the left love to indulge in.

Despite recognising that Jeremy Corbyn has improved as a leader and has earned to right to continue leading the Labour Party, it doesn't mean that I'm going to abandon all of my previous views and jump on a 'Jez we can' bandwagon.

For the last 35 years Corbyn has stuck rigidly to his views and values and has been lauded for his "principled" stance. Well many of us across the political spectrum have principles it's not something unique to leftwingers.

There are still policies proposed by Labour I don't agree with. Parts of their manifesto could cynically be described as a populist bribe. I'm unconvinced that many of the promises made could be implemented but I've realised that Corbyn supporter simply don't care.

Labour are still a long way from being in government. They need at least another 70 seats to gain a small majority and still need to convince more of the electorate that they are ready for power. However, judging by the ineptitude of the Conservatives - Labour might just be in with a chance.

A period of chaos

Putting aside the performance of Labour and the Tories, my immediate thoughts on Thursday night centered on the view that as a country we are in chaos. We are about to embark on negotiations to leave the EU. Instead of having the 'strong and stable' government that was promised to deal with the biggest issue facing the country since the 2nd World War.

We have a government in crisis that is being propped up by the ultra conservative Northern Irish DUP.

The rest of Europe must be laughing at us. With Brexit and now this election I feel embarrassed at the state we now find ourselves in. Rather than thinking we can all have some time off from politics and elections we can instead look forward to another election within the next 12 months and more Brexit talks!

Sometimes I wish I wasn't interested in politics!

Thursday 8 June 2017

Election night thoughts

With just over an hour before the polls close I thought now would be a good time to review the election campaign and make my predictions for tonight's result.

Thinking back to 7 weeks ago when Teresa May I imagined that this would be the most boring and predictable General Election campaign that I'd ever witnessed. It's turned out to be far more interesting than anyone could have imagined. This is because it hasn't gone to script.

Teresa May was the 'strong and stable' leader who would lead the Conservatives to a crushing landslide victory over Jeremy Corbyn's party. The electorate would deliver a damning verdict on Labour's 'Hard Left' manifesto!

I have to admit, this is what I thought so I've been proved wrong along with many others but this election has revealed a number of things:

1. Teresa May isn't very good on the campaign trail. It's no wonder we saw so little of her during the EU referendum campaign.

2. The Conservatives have led a poor campaign. It hasn't been particularly inspiring. Teresa May has been evasive with the public and the media and that's before we even mention the 'dementia tax

3. Jeremy Corbyn has had a really good campaign. He looks like he's enjoyed it. He looks comfortable and has grown into the role of Labour leader. I have to admit I've found it unexpected.

4. Two party politics is back in fashion. After 2015 it seemed that the old two party politics were over. Although the Lib Dems suffered a humiliating loss of seats, the likes of UKIP and Greens gained a much larger share of votes and in Scotland, the SNP became the dominant party.

Things look very different now. The expected Lib Dem revival hasn't taken place and following Brexit, UKIP have become an irrelevance. The Green Party seem to be suffering now that the radical left option has been filled by Jeremy Corbyn. It seems only the SNP will remain in a strong position following tonight's result.

5. Terrorism and security have become significant issues. The campaign has sadly been overshadowed by the awful events in Manchester and London Bridge but it's raised awkward questions for both Corbyn and May. Firstly due to his previous support for the IRA and voting record in anti terror legislation and for May her record as Home Secretary.

6. Brexit has been surprisingly absent from the election debate

It's this point which has stood out as on a personal level as it's the most important issue for me.

This morning I decided to vote for the Liberal Democrates and my vote for them was based purely on the issue of Brexit. I voted Remain in last year's referendum and although I accept the result and don't want a re-run I certainly don't want a 'hard brexit' and want continued access to Single Market.

Of course there are other issues, like the the NHS, and public services, immigration and social care but for me, everything begins with Brexit. The direction which the country will take and how it deals with the issues mentioned will influenced directly by Brexit.

The Lib Dems won't win in my safe Tory constituency but I feel comfortable voting Lib Dem knowing that my vote is making my feelings known on the issue of Brexit.

Both Labour and the Conservative have had almost nothing to say on the issue which I find both ridiculous but unsurprising in equal measures. Teresa May seem determined to continue down the road of a hard Brexit and Labour seem to have little interest in the topic but then that was the case during the referendum.

It seems clear the Conservatives are going to win tonight probably with a majority of between 50 - 75 seats. It will not be a great victory for the Tory Party or Teresa May. Due to her performance she is very much a diminished figure and politician.

Jeremy Corbyn has exceeded all expectations but then those expectations were low to begin with. Corbyn has energised his base but I don't think it will translate into more seats, He will simply win more votes in already safe Labour seats.

I've written extensively about Jeremy Corbyn since he became leader of the Labour Party. If you've read any of my previous posts it will come as no surprise to know that I think he would be an mitigating disaster for this country.

This election is not a great election for somebody like me. I firmly believe that Brexit has and will damage this country; both Corbyn and Teresa May will simply damage the country in different ways. If I had to say who would be worse Teresa May and the Tories will be the lesser of the two evils.

I never thought I'd ever say that.

Sunday 28 May 2017

No easy answers in the fight against Islamic terrorism

It's been an incredibly sad and emotional week for the city Manchester and the rest of country following the bombing at the Manchester arena.

The two main feelings that I felt was firstly what an awful waste of life to so many innocent people who went out to enjoy themselves at a music concert. The second feeling I had and one which I always feel with such attacks is: What do these people (the terrorists) actually want?

I grew up in the 80s and 90s when IRA terrorism was still prominent throughout the UK and Ireland. I never supported their acts of violence but I understood they had a political objective which was a united Ireland.

What is the political objective of ISIS and Islamic terrorism in general? There isn't one. They simply hate who we are and our way of life. It's this that I find difficult to understand. There is no ultimate objective, so in theory we could never sit down with these terrorists and reach some sort of peace agreement.

I certainly don't agree with Jeremy Corbyn and the Left's view point that British Foreign policy is somehow to blame for these attacks. That argument falls down when you consider we've had attacks in Sweden and Belgium, two countries that were not involved in Iraq, Libya or Syria. Besides Islamic fundamentalists groups have been around for decades with some groups beginning life in the 50s and 60s.

This form of Islam hates Western values and ultimately has a nihilistic mentality that wants to do harm to us simply for the sake of it. All we can do is continue with our security efforts to prevent future attacks but just as important is to find ways to stop British born or raised Muslims from turning to extremism.

At the weekend when I was out with my sister in a bar where we ended up in a slightly heated conversation with a guy who is a friend of some friends. He was drunkenly saying: "Something needs to be done about the Muslims" before talking about how we need to go in and 'wipe out' the terrorists.

My sister and I pointed out that there is a difference between Islamic terrorism and the wider Muslim community and that going into the Middle East and 'wiping out hundreds of 'jihadists' is unlikely to permanently kill off this form of terrorism.

For our thoughts we were both labelled as Lefties!

Ultimately there are no easy answers and solutions to these terrorist attacks and this is what makes the challenge so difficult.

Tuesday 18 April 2017

General Election 2017: Not another one

This morning the biggest news story for me was discovering that Harry Redknapp had been appointed the new Birmingham City manager following the nightmare that was GianFranco Zola.

That story was soon trumped by the announcement by Teresa May that there will be another General Election on the 8 June.

I have to admit I was quite excited when I heard there was going to be an announcement at 11:15 and I will enjoy election night but I'm not looking forward to another 7 weeks of political debate.

I get why we're having an election. The Conservatives have a huge lead over Labour in the polls and it makes political sense to go to the polls and strengthen the majority. I've read loads of opinion pieces about how this is a cynical ploy by the Conservative Party. A staggering U-turn by Teresa May. Personally I just think it's good politics.

We know the Conservative Party are going to win the election, it's simply a question on how big the majority will be. This is really the Brexit vote part II.

I'm more interested in seeing how the Labour Party will do. They certainly can't win this election and I fully expect them to dip below 200 seats. Anything below 170 will be an absolute disaster. Jeremy Corbyn may still have large support from Labour Party members but it's clear that the electorate at large do not see him as a potential Prime Minister.

Even when the inevitable happens and Labour loses, I'm not convinced he will step down as leader. Despite what he might say, the real aim of Jeremy Corbyn is to change the Labour Party and ensure that the Left maintain control. When he loses, his supporters will ensure that he is not held responsible for the defeat. It will because of disloyal 'Blairite' MPs and the hostile media!

We should see a Liberal Democrat revival. With only 9 MPs the only way is up and I can see them increasing their numbers in Parliament to between 25 - 40 seats. The great selling point for the Lib Dems are that they avidly pro Europe and will appeal to those Remain voters who are seeking a 'soft Brexit'

I don't really see the point of UKIP anymore and don't expect them to have any seats after 8 June while in Scotland the SNP will continue their dominance.

After the initial excitement of hearing the General Election declaration, I do understand those people who feel a sense of election fatigue. I just want the election to happen now. We know what the result is likely to be, I'm more interested in the election fallout.

Thursday 26 January 2017

Article 50: One small victory

For those of us who voted Remain in the EU referendum we may have lost the war but there are still lots of smaller battles to be won.

Yesterday's Supreme Court decision on article 50 felt like a small victory for Remain voters. The decision means the government can't trigger Article 50 without approval from Parliament.

As expected critics have labelled the decision as some sort of attempt to thwart the will of the British people and Gina Miller the woman who started the legal fight to get Parliament to vote on the act has received some horrific abuse and threats.

Like many people who voted remain I accept we are leaving the EU, I don't feel I need to pretend that I like it but I've come to terms with it. What hasn't been decided is how we leave and the process and debate involved.

Brexit supporters love to go on about how the British people have decided to leave the EU but the way this narrative is presented you would think that over 75% of people voted to leave rather than the small majority of 52% who voted for Brexit.

There are still millions of people who did not want to leave the EU and it's right that their views and opinion on the type of Brexit we have are heard. This is the role Parliament should be taking and Parliament should play a role in representing all of the electorate and properly debating and scrutinising the terms and conditions by which we leave the EU.

In these anti-establishment, anti-politician times that we live in too many people seem to think a vote for Brexit is the beginning and end of the matter. The people have spoken and we need to get on with it!

Well it might upset quite a lot of leave voters but we do still live in a parliamentary democracy. The referendum was a simple in/out question. We voted out but the terms and conditions on how we leave are up for debate.

It's only right that Parliament are involved, I've had quite enough of 'direct democracy'. The reason we have MPs is precisely for such occasions, the effects of Brexit will be felt for decades to come and how we leave needs to be debated and assessed properly.

It looks as if we're heading for a 'Hard Brexit' something many people did not vote for. My hope is that before Article 50 is triggered we arrive at a deal that better reflects the views of the electorate. Of course I know this will be difficult. Brexit is arguably the most divisive issue I've experienced living in the UK.

With more than 6 months now gone since the referendum result, I'm quite happy to admit that my disappointment and anger has only increased. I would say it's now bordering on a loathing for what I feel Brexit represents.

There's no doubt in my mind that individually and as a nation we will be poorer but for some the bigger issue is controlling borders.

Immigration is a fact of life, the country needs some for immigration. The volume and type of immigration (particularly in certain parts of the country) is the real issue.

But for me it's not just the economic and financial impact of Brexit that I'm opposed to, there's the cultural issues that Brexit represents. It's a kind of arrogance where the UK feels it can turn its back on its nearest neighbours, unwilling to make concessions and accept rules of membership of a club. Instead we will go out into the world and believe we can have all these great trade deals with the rest of the world which will always be in our favour.

Brexiteers will hate my analysis but I simply don't care.

Monday 23 January 2017

Donald Trump and the Divided States of America

It hasn't been a good week for those of us who consider ourselves to be liberal progressives types.

On Friday Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America. It feels if we're heading on journey into the unknown which you know is going to get very bumpy in places.

In the analysis following Trump's inauguration we're told how America is a divided nation but they say this after every US election when a new President is elected.

We've seen demonstrations in Washington and in cities across the world protesting against the rhetoric and language that Donald Trump as displayed throughout the election campaign and during the run up to him taking office.

I've realised that this is what happens in US politics. I remember in the 90s when Bill Clinton was in office. The Republican Party went into melt down in opposition to him. In 2000, Democrats and Liberals were outraged as George Bush won the election after winning the state of Florida which was too close to call.

In 2008 many celebrated the election of Barack Obama as America's first black president, but again conservatives were immediately hostile with some claiming he was illegitimate as President as he supposedly wasn't born in America

This is American politics and America in a nutshell, split down the middle between liberal and conservative America. Both sides descending into hostility and outrage when the other occupies the Presidency.

Will Donald Trump unite this divided nation? Of course he won't. He's too much of a divisive figure for that to happen and I expect the next four years to be pretty hostile from both sides of the political divide.

What to expect from a Trump Presidency

With Trump now in power I'm looking forward to seeing what happens when his rhetoric and bravado comes face to face with the realities of domestic politics and international relations.

It's easy to come out with slogans like, 'lets make America great again' and 'America first' but actually delivering on such statements is the real hard part.

Perhaps it's just me, but I don't get carried away with politicians telling me how they're going to change the world, or are going to make things great again. I look back to 2008 when Obama was elected. I was genuinely excited and optimistic. He spoke about how 'change had come to America'. I listened to political commentators tell me how we were now entering a 'post-racial' world.

Eight years later what real radical change did Obama bring? He didn't change America and as for a post-racial world if that was truly the case we wouldn't have the need for a Black Lives matter movement. This isn't a criticism of Obama, I'm just stating the point that the rhetoric and ideals espoused by politicians rarely matches reality.

This is what will happen with Donald Trump. Bringing back manufacturing jobs to the US from other countries is going to be incredibly difficult. Having a protectionist policy towards trade is unlikely to reap the benefits of making America great again.

As leader of the United States you still have a great deal of power and influence but I just don't believe that Presidents and elected officials can have the power and influence to change everything in the ways that we sometimes hope as voters.

If there is one defining feeling I have about Donald Trump it's the feeling of entering the unknown. We're in uncharted waters with his election. This could be a car crash waiting to happen. Something tells me it won't be as bad as some are predicting but a Donald Trump presidency will never be one in which I can truly feel comfortable with.