Sunday, 23 October 2016

Ken Loach's film, I, Daniel Blake, exposes how the welfare system has changed from support to punishment, with devastating consequences for the poor and vulnerable

Ken Loach’s film, I, Daniel Blake, offers a great insight into the way that the welfare system has been changed from a support structure for those in need to a means of punishing the poor and vulnerable.

The film demonstrates this transition, highlighting how in the worst cases, the punative inhumane actions of those in charge are actually killing people.

The growing inhumanity of the system has been well documented by charities such as the Caritas Social Action Network which produced a report last year titled the Impact of Welfare Changes which highlighted how claimants were being pushed to the brink.

Indeed, it has been the charities that have been called on to pick up the pieces left by the devastation caused by the punitive system.

Foodbanks have grown expotentially over recent years to a point where more than one million people now go to them for support. Yet the steady institutionalistation of foodbanks has continued apace.

Sadly, few ask why in a country as rich as the UK, that boasts more than 120 billionaires, more than one million people go to food banks?

Loach deserves great credit for bringing the appalling injustices together in a heart wrenching narrative. The acting from Dave Johns (Daniel Blake) and Heyley Squires (Katie) is brilliant but the skill of Loach as director and the power of the screen play written by Paul Laverty make this film work so well.

It is a must see for anyone interested in social justice in Britain today. It will make you angry but don’t forget to take a box of tissues along as well.

Well done Ken Loach for this brilliant film, opening a window on what grinding poverty looks like in 21st century Britain.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

West Ham secure 1-0 win over hapless Sunderland

West Ham snatched a late winner in this closely contested game at the London Stadium.

The home side started in the same high tempo style as they deployed so successfully at Crystal Palace last week.

A series of chances came and went in the first half with Dimitri Payet at the centre of most of the best moves.

Early on, the French international whipped a shot past the post prior to dancing past three defenders only to see his shot turned away by Sunderland keeper Jordan Pickford.

The keeper was again in action minutes later pushing aside a Simone Zaza shot, after a slick move involving Payet and Manuel Lanzini.

The best effort of the half saw Lanzini again feed Payet who made space, only to see his shot rock back off the post.

The second half proved a lacklustre affair, with little action in either goal mouth.

The game appeared to have reached stalemate when in the final minute Noble and Payet to combine for the latter to lay the ball on for advancing defender Winston Reid to strike his shot through a forest of players and into the Sunderland net.

West Ham were relieved to secure their second Premier league win at the London stadium, with manager Slaven Bilic singling out confidence as the vital missing component earlier in the season. “We never lost our energy, faith and self belief. We lost our confidence,” said Bilic. “No training, no motivation can get that back. Now we need to scrap to keep this momentum. In many areas we are looking much better now.”

The manager also felt his side should have had a penalty in the first half when Reid was wrestled to the ground.

There must be areas though that worry the manager, such as the failure to find a cutting edge up front. Zaza tries hard but has continued to draw blanks in front of goal, while Ashley Fletcher and Jonathan Calleri, who both came on, lack confidence.

Full backs are another area of concern, with Michail Antonio again looking uncomfortable in the role in this game, whilst make shift left back Edmilson Fernandes did well in the role but he is clearly a midfield player. Indeed, at times later in the game it seemed like West Ham were playing with no full backs.
It must be an enduring mystery to the fans how West Ham brought in so many players in the summer but failed to secure a top class right back.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Labour communications teams needs to get its act together to counter the press onslaught against Jeremy Corbyn

The demonisation of Jeremy Corbyn by much of the media over the past year has been something to behold.
The Vince Cable jibe against Gordon Brown that he had gone from Stalin to Mr Bean needs recalibration in the case of Jeremy Corbyn — he’s been variously depicted in the media as both characters at the same time.
The hostility that has greeted his arrival as Labour leader must surely be unprecedented. Ed Miliband, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and Neil Kinnock all endured heavy personal attack from the media. But the assault on Corbyn has reached new levels.
Journalistic Representation of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press, a study focusing on the period from September to November 2015 by the media and communications department at the London School of Economics (LSE), found half of all news articles critical or antagonistic in tone, compared to two-thirds of all editorial and opinion pieces.
There have been dismissive attempts to undermine Corbyn, with the usual personal jibes and claims he will never lead the Labour Party to victory and the LSE study found a delegitimisation process unrolling that involved failing to carry Corbyn’s voice or a distortion of it, ridicule, scorn or personal attacks and seeking to link him with terrorism.
But if he really is no threat to the status quo, and unelectable, why the huge amount of effort made to discredit him?
Remember, nothing put forward by the Corbyn-led Labour Party thus far is to the left of the programmes of the Labour governments of the 1960s and ’70s. The way in which his platform has been attacked shows just how far right the whole agenda has moved over the past four decades.
Corbyn disconcerts many in the media because what you see is what you get. He is not spun but an honest man who voices the socialist principles that he has believed in all his life. He wants to treat the public like grown-ups and debate on the real issues that affect their lives.
Corbyn represents the antithesis of the celebrity style X-factor approach that so often passes for political analysis in the media today. He is rightly not that interested in the childish antics of some inquisitors who seem to think that suitability to lead the country equates to a knowledge of the celeb world of Ant and Dec.
The aggressive antagonistic media approach to Corbyn and his growing support in Labour is difficult to fathom. Regularly, the cry is heard about the lack of people’s interest, especially the young, in politics. But when someone comes along who inspires that very constituency to get involved he and his supporters are vilified.
Even so, the Corbyn team’s approach to the media really does need to change and become more professional and proactive. A number of what could be called public gaffes — like the failure to sing the national anthem and mishandling of the Trident nuclear issue at conference — could easily have been avoided with a good media operation.
And when the leadership comes under attack is not the time to go silent — a more robust approach is needed.
A good example of such an approach came recently with Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry, who when quizzed by Sky’s Dermott Murnaghan turned the tables on her inquisitor, accusing him of adopting a pub quiz-type approach.
There could be more of this proactive approach — questioning the inquisitors own background, for instance — when it comes to questions like education and poverty.
On immigration, why not turn the tables and challenge the frame of reference that immigration is a bad thing and success can only be judged in terms of how much numbers can be reduced.
There is a problem within the Labour Party communications team which stretches into other elements of the operation. This amounts to the existence of a siege mentality, an attitude that can result in the employment of people based on their loyalty to the leader, rather than ability to do the job.
The mass media does offer an important channel to the voting public. It’s not the only avenue but it’s an important one and if Labour are serious about winning power, they cannot focus only on social media and ignore the mainstream. Not everyone in the mainstream is opposed to the Corbyn agenda. There are the usual supportive suspects like left commentators Paul Mason and Owen Jones but there is potential in areas like the business pages of many outlets where there is a growing disillusion with the neoliberal way of doing things, not forgetting, of course, the excellent coverage in the Morning Star.
There is also a genuine belief in much of the media in the need for an effective opposition to the government of the day, representing a real alternative. This, after all, is supposed to be a democracy.
The problem for the Corbyn team is to shift that media belief into giving air to a radically alternative ways of doing government. To date, the mainstream has shown itself prepared to support democracy. But this only means, in Labour Party terms, tolerating a neoliberal-lite version of the type represented by Tony Blair. There is still some shifting of the agenda required before a Corbyn style agenda is seen as a real alternative.
The hostility will continue. But that is no reason for the Labour media team to stop trying to get their message over. They need to become more proactive and reach out.
A strongly led media team would also insist on stronger discipline in the parliamentary party, even playing an active role in asserting that discipline.
Quite deliberately, over the past 12 months dissident Labour MPs have created story after story for the media to report of internal bickering and discontent. Quelling this discontent and asserting party discipline will enable Corbyn’s core message to be more seriously considered.
So, yes, it is an uphill task for Labour to communicate its message to the public via the media. But it is not impossible. A more professional and proactive media operation is a vital part of getting that message across.
The re-election of Corbyn as leader strengthens the possibility of communicating that message, though some changes of approach are desperately needed.

* published Morning Star - 14/10/2016

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Sad demise of Progressio

The sad news that Progressio is to cease operating  will have dismayed if not surprised many in the social justice world.
The organisation seems to have been in terminal decline for some years, becoming increasingly dependent on government money to perform its aid work. Now that this funding has diminished so the organisation has ceased to operate.
Progressio has a proud record stretching back over 70 years to its founding in the 1940s by Cardinal Hinsley.
Originally called the Sword of the Spirit, it was renamed the Catholic Institute for International Relations (CIIR) in 1965 before its most recent metamorphosis into Progressio in 2006.
A major strength of the organisation has been its ability over the years to read the signs of the times. It provided aid via sending out skilled workers overseas but also developed an education and advocacy role at home. The latter function brought international injustices to the attention of politicians, opinion formers and media.
The development of the education and advocacy role, under the leadership of Mildred Nevile, saw the organisation again well ahead of its time, doing something that would later be copied and effectively taken over by the big agencies like Oxfam, Christian Aid and CAFOD.
Attending the then CIIR conferences in the 1980s and 1990s there was a feeling that they really had their finger on the pulse of coming developments. It was the place to be if you wanted to be ahead of the game.
One notable initiative saw renowned US political thinker Noam Chomsky invited to address a conference in the early 1990s.
There were also important initiatives on the drugs trade and the importance of trade unions as central structures in building community. It was borrowing from the south to inform the north.
Important relationships were built with those in struggle across the world from Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador and the Sandinistas in Nicaragua to the ANC in South Africa. CIIR had strong links with those involved in liberation theologians like Gustavo Guttierez, Jon Sobrino and Albert Nolan.

There was also excellent work in Zimbabwe and East Timor, helping lay the paths for peace.

More recently the organisation took principled stands against the use of germinator gene technology.There were though fundamental problems in the background. The organisation was always split between the education role it had played and provision of aid overseas. There was also a period of seeming constant reorganisation of the staff in the UK, which saw an obsession with managerialism.

There also seemed to be a tension in the relationship with the Church, CIIR/Progressio never had the close ties with the hierarchy that operated at CAFOD. The organisation preferred very much an arms length relationship. Neither did it develop the close link that CAFOD did with more progressive elements of Church like the justice and peace networks.

Both CIIR and Progressio also rarely came to terms with the need to have a properly funded and resourced communications operation. A number of well meaning people served in the press function over the years, most notably Jo Barratt in the early noughties, but there always seemed a suspicion of media and a failure to give it the priority required.


CIIR/Progressio could be cited as one of the many agencies which produced great detailed reports identifying crucial issues but then failed to communicate the information in such a way that it reached the widest possible audience.


There were other developments that ran against the organisation. In the earlier days, CIIR did much of the policy work for other agencies but as time went on the bigger organisations like CAFOD, Oxfam and Christian Aid developed their own policy operations. To some degree, CIIR was a victim of its own success.


The education role declined, whilst the aid provision element became more dependent on government. The justifying arguments of non governmental organisations across the board relating to dealings with government is that they are pushing the boundaries but in many few seem to know where the boundary stands.


What Progressio should have done was to have pushed ahead in the direction it seemed to be going in the 1990s, moving to become an organisation that critiqued the neo-liberal market system across the world. It could have brought that expertise in the developing world together with what was happening in the developed world – essentially the same thing but not recognised as such for a very long time.

Much of the work now done by organisations like the New Economics Foundation and Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement).could have come under such a remit.

There should have been a stronger link developed with the National Justice and Peace Network. Though the dominance of CAFOD in this area would have made such a development difficult to achieve.

There should also have been more prioritisation of media operations, maximising the impact of much of the vital work done by the organisation, ensuring it reached as wider audience as possible.


But this is all conjecture about what might have been. Sadly, Progressio will soon be no more. Perhaps now should be a time to celebrate its many achievements down the years and accept that maybe it’s work in present form is now done. Time to move on.


Sunday, 2 October 2016

Payet moment of magic lights up dour draw at London Stadium

West Ham 1-1 Middlesbrough

A brilliant piece of individual skill from Dimitri Payet to bring West Ham level lite up a game of dour endeavour.

The home side fell behind in the 50th minute, having conceded a corner when West Ham keeper Adrian blocked out striker Jordon Rhodes.

The resulting corner was met by CristhianStuani, whose header was judged by referee Neil Swarbrick to have crossed the line, despite Mark Noble’s efforts to clear.

It was a mere six minutes later when the Payet magic show ensued, He received a long ball on the left from Winston Reid, the French international then moved inside cutting his way across the penalty area, beating four men in the process, before finishing the move exquisitely knocking the ball past the keeper.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic described the goal as “a brilliant moment of magic” but was dismayed that with half an hour of the game still to go, his side did not go on and take all three points.

Bilic described himself as being happy with the result “having gone four games in the Premier League without getting anything.”

The manager was pleased that his side played more as a team for the whole 90 minutes but that is the minimum he expected..”it was not enough in the Premier league.”

“The team did what I asked them today, they came out and worked hard,” said Bilic.

Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka was pleased with the point after his side lost their last three games against Everton, Spurs and Crystal Palace. “The point was good, though we needed to be a bit calmer after we scored,” said Karanka.

West Ham certainly looked the more likely winners given the amount of possession they had for much of the match.

Bilic rang the changes, initially playing Michail Antonio through the middle as the main striker, Simone Zaza came on in the second half.

Both Payet and Noble came close in the first half, with the latter seeing his powerful shot from the edge of the area hitting the bar and bouncing out.

West Ham can feel pleased that they stopped the rot with this result though they really should have taken all three points. There is still much to be done both on and off the pitch at the London stadium. At this game there were some chants of we want to go home.

A chant that no doubt grew louder with the latest transport debacle that saw the gates at Stratford station shut leaving thousands of fans looking for other ways to get home.

The London Stadium experiences is still undergoing many teething problems and really does need some urgent streamlining.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

If rebel Labour MPs continue to defy leadership, constituency parties are bound to move to deselection

A simple question for the Guardian's  Polly Toynbee (27/9) is if not de-selection, what should happen to Labour MPs who repeatedly refuse to abide by the will of the membership regarding who leads the party?

The discontents behind the ill fated coup have been plotting to overthrow Corbyn ever since he was first elected last year. It has been this simmering civil war – mainly based at Westminster – that has partly delayed the rolling out of thought out and costed policies.

If the coup backers genuinely do unite and get behind the leader now well and good but many made it crystal clear during the leadership contest that if Corbyn won a second time they still would not accept his leadership.
What to do – put up with another 12 months of infighting culminating in another leadership challenge? No the coup backing MPs need to be put on notice, they either fall in line or they are out. And the decision let’s remember comes from the local constituency, where the members – the majority of whom backed Corbyn – could grow a little tired of tramping the streets come election time to get MPs elected who then ensure by their conduct that Labour will never become a government

Sunday, 25 September 2016

West Ham trounced 3-0 by Southampton

The West Ham defensive horror show continued with this comprehensive home defeat against Southampton.

The home side began in confident style but as with previous games, this quickly evaporated, allowing Southampton to slice through the rear guard, often at will.

The first major incision saw Dusan Tadic knock a ball inside makeshift right back Havard Nordtveit, which was picked up by the overlapping left back Ryan Bertrand, who pulled the ball back for Charlie Austen to sweep home his fifth goal in four games.

The ever dangerous Nathan Redmond then saw his effort saved with his feet by Adrian at point blank range.

Things got worse for the Hammers after the break, when Austin fed Tadic through the middle, who slid the ball under the advancing Adrian.

The nature of the game was reflected by the fact that Adrian was the home team’s man of the match, single handedly thwarting Southampton on a number of occasions.

A bit more urgency from West Ham in the last 20 minutes saw a clear penalty denied to Sofiane Feghouli, whose shot was handled.

A quiet Dimitri Payet then swept a shot wide whilst a shot from Simone Zaza was cleared off the line by Virgil van Dijk.

Southampton though were not finished. Two minutes into injury time, Redmond played Steven Davis in down the line, who crossed for substitute James Ward Prowse to finish with aplomb.

A downcast West Ham manager Slaven Bilic identified the team’s problem as a collective lack of confidence. “It is my team and my responsibility,” said Bilic, who underlined that this is pretty much the same team that did so well last season. “We can solve this, it is four games now – we have to change this now big time.”.