Thursday, 25 May 2017

Transitional season for West Ham, who must do better to attain top six status

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic deserves credit for securing an 11th place finish amid a number of ongoing difficulties over the past season.

Bilic himself has spoken about the “obstacles” of this season, when West Ham failed to improve on the 7th position attained in the final iconic season at the old Upton Park ground.

Indeed, the move to the London Stadium proved to be an ongoing headache for much of the season. The team took time to settle in the new environment, with many of the supporters unhappy. There were stewarding problems and some incidents at the early games.

Fortunately, things have settled down, with the team managing to win seven home games in the league, whilst drawing four others. Things should be better next season.

On the field there were the problems with French talisman Dimitri Payet, who went rapidly from hero to zero with fans. From the moment the Frenchman decided he was going on strike, manager Bilic decided he had to leave the club.

The owners had wanted to make Payet stew in the reserves but the player was clearly causing such disharmony it was better to get rid of him. Indeed, Bilic managed the situation well, using the discontent to galvanise the rest of the squad. This saw a revival in fortunes over Christmas and New Year with siginficant back to back home wins over Burnley and Hull then another victory away to Swansea.

The problems for Bilic though did not just reside with the change of ground.The club did not recruit well last summer. The signing of striker Simone Zaza on loan, with a view to a permanent move, proved a disaster. The loan was cut short in January.

Others like Havard Nordtvelt and Sofiane Feghouli took time to find their feet. Record signing Andre Ayew was injured in the first game against Chelsea and did not really start showing what he can really do till the latter part of the season.
However, the most confusing thing was the failure of the club to recruit a right back, as well as forward cover. Making matters worse, for some reason, the versatile James Tomkins, who could be relied on at full back or centre back, was sold to Crystal Palace for £12 million.

Striker Enner Valencia was also loaned to Everton for the season – another strange move, as those brought in to play in his role clearly were not better than the Ecuadorian.

The strange thing was that with a jump in gate revenues from the 35,000 attendances at the old Boleyn ground to 57,000 at the London Stadium, the club did not splash out on players. When the sale of Payet for £25 million is put into the mix, West Ham only paid out around £15 million on new players over the season. What the salaries were for some of the free transfers is another question ofcourse.

Among the successes was 21 year old Edimilson Fernandes, an £8 million buy from Swiss club FC Sion, who looks a real find.

On the plus side, West Ham do have the makings of a really good team, if they can hang onto their best players. Michail Antonio was outstanding, finishing top scorer, despite having his season cut short in April. Manuel Lanzini has stepped up to take on Payet’s creative mantle and could even eclipse the Frenchman in time. Cheikou Kouyate continues to improve and together with Pedro Obiang should provide a strong midfield duo next year. At the back Winston Reid remains one of the best defenders in the Premier League, while full backs Aaron Creswell and Sam Byram could become a formidable pair. Given the addition of a few quaility players up front and at the back and West Ham can move on to become a top six side.

It would though have been good to see more from the youngsters coming up through the West Ham ranks. There were limited opportunities for the likes of Reece Oxford– not helped by the early exit from the Europa League.

The latter part of the season saw the team at its most consistent, losing just once in the last seven games. The highlight of the season for fans was the victory over Spurs, which effectively secured West Ham’s Premier league status, whilst ending the north Londoners title hopes. Other notable displays over the season included the victories over Swansea and Crystal Palace at home – the latter with Andy Carrolls spectacular overhead kick to score.

Matters were not made easier for Bilic over the closing months of the season with seeming constant stories in the media about his demise. Those stories must have come from somewhere. Whilst hindsight is a wonderful thing, West Ham were never in the relegation dogfight, yet there were some who seemed to want to make out that they were.

The manager has to now plan for the next season. He has notably retained his dignity, whilst making comment about obstacles that have been in the way this past season. He has also said that moving to a big stadium does not immediately make for a big club – the transition is a gradual process that takes place over time.

The fans seem happy with Bilic. Though, from the owners angle, they no doubt look to teams like West Brom and Bournemouth, where the manager has had less resources than Bilic and wonder whether things should not have been better.

However, if they want  success then the owners need to keep faith in Bilic and dig deep in their pockets this summer. They have the resources, with the increased gate and TV money.
Bilic is popular internationally and can attract top talent. If handled properly, West Ham can move onto the next stage and really challenge for a top six place.  So a difficult season but looking forward, the future at the London Stadium looks bright.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Bishop of Brentwood Alan Williams makes Migrant mass call for practical action to help refugees

Bishop of Brentwood Alan Williams called on people to “open their hearts but also look to do something practical and tangible for refugees.”

Delivering the homily at the 12th migrant mass being celebrated at St Anthony of Padua in Forest Gate, East London, Bishop Williams described child migrants as the most vulnerable group.

He called for refugees to be welcomed as a gift to parishes.

The bishop also recalled how helping refugees is not always a popular activity. He illustrated the point with a story about a charity he was involved with in central London, which was given a cash contribution by a bank, on the condition that the gift was anonymous.

There were prayers calling for legislators to enact “new policies that do justice for our country and those who would immigrate here.”

There was also a call for those “who fan the flames of fear and discrimination against the undocumented maybe touched with divine compassion.”

A joint collaboration between the diocese of Westminster, Southwark and Brentwood, it was the first time in the 12 years of the migrant mass that the celebration had been held in the Brentwood diocese.

More than 1500 people crammed into St Anthony of Padua Church, with banners representing the Keralan Catholic Chaplaincy, the Goan Chaplaincy UK and the Slovak Catholic Association forming part of the opening procession.

Community organization Citizens UK contributed to the celebration, telling how they have helped settle 1,000 unaccompanied child refugees over the past year under the Dubs Amendment. The day before Citizens UK had brought three young Syrian orphans to live with their grandparents in Winchester.

If you have a spare room and are interested in hosting a refugee see:

Read about Citizens UK refugee resettlement programme here:

Friday, 19 May 2017

Why is the growing ethnic diversity of the pew not reflected on the altar?

One of the most striking features of the annual migrant mass tomorrow will be the contrast in ethnic diversity between the people in the pew and the clergy on the altar.

The pews are awash with the many races that make up the universal Catholic Church, a panorama of multi-cultural diversity. On the altar, there is a uniformity of whiteness, with priests drawn in the main from the continent of Europe. The distinction is striking and instructive.

The Church ofcourse is not the only institution that fails to reflect the diversity of people on the ground amongst its representatives. Take Parliament, where there are just 41 Black and Ethnic Minority (BAME) MPs, some 76 short of the number required to reflect the diversity of the population.  Business is even worse, with less than 2% of the directors of FTSE 150 companies being drawn from a BAME background.

Public institutions, though, including the Church, have recognised the need for more diversity amongst their leaders. This was acknowledged with the publication of Lord William Macpherson’s report (1999), which defined institutional racism as being “the collective failure of an organisation to provide an appropriate and professional service to people because of their colour, culture or ethnic origin.” At the time, the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales welcomed the definition, urging “Catholic organisations and institutions to look again at how they could better serve minority ethnic communities in our society.” However, 18 years on, progress appears to have been very slow, certainly in terms of the clergy.   

A survey of the diocese of England and Wales by the Catholic Communications Network found many unaware of the number of BAME priests. And, where the figures were available, BAME representation tended to reflect migrant priests coming from abroad, rather than those who have come from the communities in the UK.

So, Arundel and Brighton diocese has four Polish parish priests plus another three as part of the Polish Chaplaincy and three Italian priests (two as part of the Italian Chaplaincy). There were also a Dutch, a Russian, an Indian and a Nigerian priest serving.

Of the 96 priests in Leeds diocese, six are from a BAME background – two from India, three from Africa and one Yorkshire born of mixed race.

Southwark diocese confirmed 23% of its priests were black, with another 10% from the Indian subcontinent.

The Middlesbrough diocese has “no BME priests actually incardinated into the diocese but does have four priests from abroad - three from Nigeria and one from India.”

One of the most surprising responses came from Brentwood, which includes East London - one of the most diverse areas in the country. A spokesperson for Brentwood diocese said: “I’m afraid I don’t have a record of whether a priest is black or from an ethnic minority – the main concern is whether he can offer Mass, hear confessions, etc., etc. and save souls. We could do a survey, but it would take time.  

So why the lack of progress in terms of BAME representation amongst the clergy?

Father Howard James, the first black Britain of Caribbean descent to be ordained a priest back in 1991, does not believe a lot has changed in the intervening years.

Father James doesn't think BAME men are drawn to the priesthood because they do not see members of their community as priests. “Sometimes as priests we are aloof from our people and we don’t encourage. Our Catholic community is not always welcoming and many of our black men see more welcoming family understanding in other faiths that they don’t see in the Catholic or even Christian faith,” said Father James, who recalled in his own case that it was involvement in Catholic youth movement in Jamaica and a number of youth groups in the UK, that his faith grew and encouraged toward the priesthood. “So that when the notion of priesthood came into my head and heart I was not scared or afraid to put myself forward,” said Father James, who believes that the schools are the place to start. “The Catholic sixth forms would be a place to look. I would also suggest fourth and fifth forms as places to look. We should encourage, especially in Catholic schools.”

Professor of religion and public policy at Birmingham University Francis Davis believes the schools are key but also emphasised that a strategy needed to be put in place to address the problems. “We know from every other institution that if there is not a strategy put in place to deal with the obstacles that those (BAME) communities face, then individuals don’t come through from those communities,” said Davis, who contrasts the lack of priority placed on the ethnic background of clergy with the approach of the Catholic Education Service, which chronicles in much detail the ethnic background of pupils.

The CES boasted in its 2016 census that: “Catholic schools in both primary and secondary phases are considerably more ethnically diverse than national school figures.”

Davis believes the fact that there are a high level of BAME pupils in Catholic schools but they do not then go onto become priests indicates a failing of formation and nurture on the part of the Church. “The fact that they are not going on to seminaries, indicates that they do not feel included,” said Davis

Oldham based priest Phil Summer believes that BAME people still feel alienated, not seeing the Church as an institution of their community. “We need to recognise identity much more in church, so when people walk in they don’t feel it is some sort of European establishment,” said Father Summer, who also believes this feeling resonates in the seminaries “If a young African Caribbean man was to put himself forward to become a priest, the institutional life of our seminaries would be such a culture shock as to make him feel as if he didn’t belong.”

This view though is refuted by Father John Oakley, rector of St Mary’s college, Oscott, who reports rising numbers of BAME  applicants. Of 63 students at St Marys, 16 come from a BAME background (six Africans, six Filipinos and four Indians). “There are signs that students are coming from the home communities,” said Father Oakley.

The late chair of the Catholic Association for Racial Justice Haynes Baptiste complained about the lack of a black bishop and the negative signal that this sent out to BAME people. He certainly had a point. Father Summer, though, is ambivalent about a BAME bishop, believing it could be a good or bad thing. He recalls some BAME bishops appointed in the Anglican Church having a tendency to denigrate their own background. On the other hand, he says probably the most prominent black Archbishop John Sentamu of York has done great work. “He has remained true to himself, a man of gravitas, who brings something different to the Anglican community,” said Father Summer.   

A BAME bishop would certainly give the communities someone to relate to, in a way that senior appointments in any public services have a similar effect.

The question as to why the diversity of the pew and school is not reflected in the clergy is an agenda that the CARJ has been attempting to address since it was established back in 1983.

“The persistent shortage of BAME priests in the Catholic Church in England and Wales over recent decades, and the reiterated call for this problem to be addressed, might prompt those in positions of responsibility, at all levels of the Church (eg parents, teachers, volunteers, priests, bishops, etc) – to look again at this important question,” said Richard Zipfel, a CARJ trustee. “Raising such a question, however, should not become a judgmental exercise or an effort to cast blame.  Rather, it should remain rooted in a genuine concern for the spiritual welfare of our Catholic community and the wider community that we seek to serve.”

For the present there is still much to be done if the ethnic gap between altar and pew is to be bridged. The suggestion that the Church is institutionally racist is unproven, though most would agree that it has not progressed as quickly as it might since the Macpherson report was published at the turn of the century. What though does still need to happen, if the altar is ever to really ethnically reflect the membership of the pews, is for some definite structures and practices to be put in place that will lead to BAME priests coming forward. Simply waiting for something to happen, ensures only that the status quo is maintained and the white concentration of the present clergy perpetuated.  

*published - Tablet - 20/5/2017 


Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Labour Party is offering a new vision of hope for the British electorate

The Labour Party has an uphill task if it is to win the general election on 8 June but there are signs that the gap maybe closing on the Tories.

The election was allegedly called because Prime Minister Theresa May wants a stronger hand to play with the EU over Brexit. This excuse ofcourse does not stand up to any sort of scrutiny. The Prime Minister has not had any problem with getting Article 50 through Parliament, receiving support from the Labour Party. What she does appear to object to is democratic accountability. First, there was the battle in the courts to give Parliament a say at all in the Brexit process. Then the Prime Minister objected to other parties and MPs within her own party trying to bring about accountability via Parliament.

Indeed, one thing that may lose the Conservative’s votes is the seeming growing demagogery of their leader. The presidential style election that the Prime Minister has so far pursued; refusing to debate with other party leaders on television, only meeting her own party devotees around the country and talking to only those she feels comfortable with in the media. The performance with husband Phillip sat alongside on the BBC's One Show couch was particularly excruciating.

The Labour Party though remains up against it. There have been the constant attacks on leader Jeremy Corbyn, often emanating from within the Parliamentary Labour Party itself. The hostility of the media, a number of whom seem to think a general election campaign, should be reported in the style of a series of the X factor has not helped.

Despite all of this the party has remained united in the face of hostility during the campaign. They should after all be in with a real chance. Despite the PM’s efforts to paint the election as all about Brexit, there is so much more at stake.  

The NHS needs more funding, not cuts. Unbelievably, schools are desperately seeking to raise money in order to continue to provide a decent education for children – amid cuts. Public services generally are being cut to the point of non-existence. Some three million children are going without food during school holidays, whilst one million people go to food banks. All this in the fifth richest country in the world Inequality continues to grow to dangerous levels. And things look set to get worse, with more austerity on the agenda and prices rising, courtesy of the falling value of the pound.

Labour does have some answers and has come up with imaginative ideas in its manifesto.  Policies include, putting £6 billion extra each year into the NHS - funded by higher taxes on the top five per cent of earners. The creation of a National Care Service to be funded with £8 billion over the next Parliament. Conditions for care workers are to be improved.

Investment in building one million new homes, including 100,000 council and housing association homes. There are also to be rent caps imposed.

More funding for education, with tuition fees scrapped and a return to maintenance grants.

There are to be 10,000 more police officers on the streets.

On labour rights, zero hours contracts are to be banned and employers stopped from only recruiting from overseas. Paternity leave is to be doubled to four weeks and paternity leave increased. There will also be four extra bank holidays marking the four patron saints of these islands.

On the elderly, the triple lock on pensions, ensuring a rise of at least 2.5% in the state pension is to be retained as are the universal benefits of free bus passes and the winter fuel allowance.

The railways are to be taken back into public ownership – instead of being owned by companies owned by other states. Water and Royal Mail are also to come back into public ownership.
A degree of public ownership is to be restored to the energy market, with a state operator in each region. The party is also investing in renewable sustainable energy systems and will ban fracking.

There will also be extra investment in infrastructure such as broadband and transport.

On Brexit, the party seems to be the first to stand up for the whole country not just the leavers or remainers. The manifesto commits to leaving the EU but insists on the need to retain access to the single market and customs union. The rights of EU nationals living and working here are to be guaranteed in exchange for similar guarantees from the EU regarding Britons working abroad. Importantly, there is no reckless suggestion of the type favoured by the Tories of walking away from the EU with no deal. There is to be no “no deal” option, with transitional arrangements envisaged after the two year negotiating period.

On the down side is the continued support for retaining the Trident nuclear weapons system, something that costs the British tax payer a huge amount of money but is controlled by the US.

So there is much in this programme to be optimistic about and get behind. Electorally, it will be difficult for Labour with the mathematics seemingly stacked against them. UKIP appear to be disintegrating, with its voters turning to the Conservative Party, which has after all adopted most of their policies. The Liberal Democrats show little sign of revival, so may not pick up those votes they lost to the Conservatives in 2015. Meanwhile, north of the border, the Labour Party still has some way to go to regain ground over the Scottish National Party hegemony.

One disappointing element of the Labour Party approach has been a seeming unwillingness on the part of the leadership to do deals with other parties in order to keep the Conservatives out. There have been some moves at local level to get Liberal Democrats and Greens to stand down in favour of Labour candidates and via versa. However, the leadership does not condone such tactical pacts. It is a pity because there must surely be room for progressive pacts to stop the prospect of five more years of austerity and damage being done to the country courtesy of another Conservative Government. So it’s an uphill task for leader but the prospects for success may not be as gloomy as some media soothsayers predict.  

Monday, 15 May 2017

Don't knock the 70s

I don't quite understand the jibe about Labour going back to the 1970s, as though it were a bad time. The 70s were a good time for many people. The gap between rich and poor was at its lowest level, consequently happiness levels were at their highest point. Working weeks were getting shorter, the retirement age coming down. There were even hot summers.

Then came Margaret Thatcher, who brought longer working weeks for less pay and ever later retirement ages. Today, stress and anxiety are commonplace complaints as mental health problems proliferate. Maybe its all a grand piece of obfuscation by the Tories, who also want to go back in time, only in their case it is to the workhouse days of the 1870s.

Published - Independent -14/5/2017 - 

16/5/2017 - Evening Standard

18/5/2017 - Wanstead & Woodford + Ilford Recorder

Liverpool crush West Ham 4-0 as they surge toward Champions League qualification

Liverpool moved closer to securing a Champions League place with yesterday’s comprehensive demolition of West Ham.

The hopes of Hammers fans were dispelled in the 35th minute, when a through ball from Philippe Coutinho set Daniel Sturridge free. The England striker then easily rounded Adrian and finished into an empty net.

The home side had the chance to hit back immediately, when a corner fell to Andre Ayew, who somehow managed to hit the post when it looked easier to score from a yard out.

After that it was all Liverpool, with the impressive Coutinho helping himself to two goals after the break and generally dominating proceedings.

There was controversy on the third goal, as defender Winston Reid was felled in the Liverpool area by Georginio Wijnaldum but referee Neil Swarbrick waved play on enabling Coutinho to score at the other end.  

The rout was completed by Divock Origi, who stabbed the ball home after West Ham failed to clear.

The game proved a huge anti-climax for the home fans, after the excitement of the Tottenham game last week.

In perhaps a fitting end to a first turbulent season at the London Stadium, the players were left to parade around an empty stadium for what was intended to be a thank you to the fans.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp was pleased with the way his side controlled the game. “We couldn’t have done better,” said Klopp, who praised Sturridge for “a fantastic game.”

Slaven Bilic was resigned to the defeat conceding that: “If you give space to players like Sturridge and Coutinho, they punish you.”

A Liverpool win over relegated Middlesbrough on the final day will take them back to Europe’s elite next season.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Dismembered - how the attack on the state harms us all

This timely book by Polly Toynbee and David Walker chronicles the ongoing war on the state, conducted by successive governments over the past four decades. The dismantling of state functions, whilst also outsourcing much of the work to the private sector.

The writers expose the lunacy of a growing population, requiring ever more from state structures, like the NHS, education and care services, whilst government continues to cut away at the base. The small state obsession of the Tories has seen spending on the state reduce from 45% to 39% between 2010 and 2017. The intention is that this will reduce to 36% over the next three years.  

Toynbee and Walker offer some praise for the role of previous Labour governments concerning the spending they put into public services. However, they criticise them for not putting a more positive spin on the vital role that the state plays in people’s lives.

A recurrent theme of the book is the need for the crucial work of the state, and those who work in that structure, to be articulated and recognised.  

The authors encourage state employees to be more vocal and speak out when they see things going wrong. There is though a failure to highlight the important role that trade unions could play in enabling such vocal contributions. People who feel under attack but remain dependent on the employer for their livelihoods need back up.

“Dismembered” makes a powerful case in favour of the state. Statistics abound, as to how education, care, prisons, the police and the health service have all been dismembered. However, there are also positive stories such as Thurrock Council where services have begun to be taken back in house. A tendency that is, ironically, growing as local government suffers more from the austerity agenda.   

This book provides a good analysis of the decimation that has gone on, whilst pointing toward ways that things could be improved in the future. However, whilst pouring opprobrium on successive Tory governments for their idealogical dogmatism in dismantling the state, there is a failure anywhere to mention how the best chance for realising the goals set out would be the election of a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour government. But reality check time, this is a book co-authored by the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee let’s not forget.
- Dismembered - published by Faber   price - £9.99

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Labour Party fighting an uphill battle in a country seemingly determined to sleep walk into Tory led oblivion

It is difficult to believe that the country appears to be sleep walking towards another five years of Tory government.

The election was allegedly called over that self-imposed wound, known as Brexit. The one thing we do know about the Brexit process is that the country is likely to be poorer as a result.

Theresa May called the election, she claimed, on the basis of a need for a stronger negotiating hand with the European Union. A line that should be easy to counter, given May’s failed efforts thus far to deal or engage with the EU.

The reality ofcourse is that she saw a great opportunity to strengthen her hand further in her own party and the country.

A vulnerable Labour Party, a weak Liberal Democratic Party and UKIP in disintegration - largely because the Tories have adopted all their policies. Things could only get worse for May and the Conservatives over the next three years, with austerity measures biting ever harder and prices rising - courtesy of the weak pound. So let’s have an election. Credit to her for nerve in going for it, unlike Gordon Brown in 2007, when in a similar position of strength.

There is, though, much wrong with the country, regardless of what happens over Brexit. The NHS needs more funding, not cuts. Unbelievably, schools are desperately seeking to raise money in order to continue to provide a decent education for children – amid cuts. Public services generally are being cut to the point of non-existence. Some three million children are going without food during school holidays, whilst one million people go to food banks. All this in the fifth richest country in the world Inequality continues to grow to dangerous levels.
Elsewhere, the government seems determined to continue with defence and foreign policies that are at least 100 years out of date. Britain no longer has an empire, does not need and cannot afford nuclear weapons. What is more leaving the EU will further diminish the standing of the country in the world. At present, Britain seems set to become a small country increasingly cut off in the north of Europe.  

Labour has come up with some imaginative solutions, including building 100,000 council houses a year, taking the railways back into public ownership, lifting the living wage, restoring trade union rights, raising investment in education (including cutting tuition fees) and the health service. The top 5% and corporations are to pay more in tax.

The attitude of the media has frankly been scandalous. Led around the country by May and her team, who treat them with disdain, adopting an attitude of speak when your spoken to. However, rather than be outraged, most appear to lap it up.

A large number of mainstream media journalists, effectively do the job of the Tory press office for them. They focus constantly on attacking Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and trashing the policies the party put forward. Meanwhile, May’s high handed approach goes virtually unchallenged, with Tory policy, no matter how ludicrous or damaging assuming the standing of the norm.

It is against this barrage that the Labour Party has to try to make progress. In reality, Labour should be out in front in the polls, not 20 points behind. Instead, it seems that voters will once again vote to become poorer again, as they did with the referendum vote last June.

The one hope moving forward is that the public might wake up to what the Tories are doing and vote for the alternative. Failing that, the Labour Party programme can lay the basis for a future challenge to the Tory hegemony. That ofcourse assumes the party does not rip itself apart amid recrimination and infighting following 8 June – a big if.  

Saturday, 6 May 2017

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic talks of "obstacles" to be overcome, as the London Stadium comes of age and Spurs are vanquished

West Ham 1-0

The London Stadium came of age last night, as bubbles rang out from the terraces and West Ham fans celebrated, whilst effectively ending keen rivals Tottenham’s Premier League hopes for another year.

The home team also banished any lingering mathematical chance there may have been of it getting drawn into the relegation fight – a threat that has been much over hyped in the media and no doubt fed by those who do not always wish the manager well.

A relieved West Ham boss Slaven Bilic praised his players for the character and determination they showed on the night. “The players deserve an enormous amount of praise for that performance,” said Bilic.

The manager turned to some of the problems that have dogged the club in this transition season from the old ground at Upton Park to the new London Stadium. “This is a great stadium. We needed time to adjust, maybe still need time to adjust. We need to do it week in week out as we did at Upton Park,” said Bilic, who has previously commented on how moving to a big stadium does not automatically make for a big club, something that it would seem not everyone associated with West Ham has always appreciated.

The manager spoke of “obstacles” that there had been this season but added that “it would be better to discuss these after the season rather than just now.”

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino was disappointed with the result. “Today was a game that was difficult, they didn’t give us space to play,” said Pochettino, who also expressed his great pride in his team. “We needed to play in possession, move the ball a little bit more. “

The Spurs boss confirmed his team were still fighting for the Premier League title but that it is “a bit more difficult than before.”

West Ham certainly began the game on the front foot, denying the visitors space, particularly to link play between the midfield and strikers. Once again deploying three central defenders, West Ham were able to limit the Spurs full backs, eventually bringing their own two full backs Aaron Creswell and Sam Byram more and more into the game as an attacking force.

An early move saw Byram and striker Andre Ayew combine to send Jonathan Calleri  clear but his shot went wide.

Spurs best moment in the first half came when first Harry Kane saw his shot pushed out by keeper Adrian to Deli Ali whose shot was then blocked by a defender. Kane then had a second chance but this was saved by Adrian.

Home fans were on their feet when Manuel Lanzini raced to meet a through ball, only to be clattered by Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris. Amazingly, referee Anthony Taylor waved play on.

Exchanges followed in the second half, with Son Heung-Min forcing a smart save out of Adrian.

It was the 64th minute that proved the turning point on the night, with Spurs failing to clear crosses from the left, first from Lanzini, then Cresswell. The ball was then put in from the other side by Byram, helped on by Ayew, which then left Lanzini an easy task to lash the ball home from the edge of the six yard box – the Spurs rearguard suddenly parting before him.
.Further chances then fell to the home side, with the industrious Calleri dispossessing a defender but then seeing his shot pushed aside by Loris. In the final minute, substitute Ashley Fletcher broke free, exchanging passes with Robert Snodgrass but saw his final effort go just wide of the post.

*published Morning Star -

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Why do over 3 million children go hungry in the school holidays and more than one million go to foodbanks in the fifth richest country in the world?

Hunger does not seem to be a subject that has figured prominently in the present general election campaign, yet its growing occurrence, particularly among children, is a national disgrace.

Two recent reports highlighted the growing scandal. The first from the Trussell Trust, which administers 427 foodbanks countrywide, reported how the number of people receiving emergency three day supplies of food rose by 73,000 over the past year to 1.182,954 people. The total included some 460,0000 children.

The primary causes of referral to foodbanks were low pay (26.45%) and benefit delays (26.01%)

The second report titled, Hungry Holidays, from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Hunger (APPGH) told how up to three million children risk going hungry in the school holidays. “This group comprises over a million children growing up in poverty who receive free school meals during term time, as well as an estimated two million who are disqualified from free school meals because their parents work for their poverty,” says the report. The latter group are those, so low paid, that they receive working tax credits.

There are many children across the country who receive free school meals, as well as attending breakfast and supper clubs where they can be fed. However, during the 13 weeks of school holidays, these same children can fall down the cracks. The meals that were being provided suddenly disappear.

For those on low pay, the need to suddenly provide, previously supplied, meals adds to the pressure on already strained budgets.

The hunger is evidenced in a number of ways, with some children simply not eating, parents going without so that their children have something to eat and others who provide cheap stodgy food which does not fill hungry stomachs and can bring about malnutrition.

The report describes children vomiting or dropping out of physical activity session, not having eaten properly for days.

These conditions also ofcourse stop the child actually being a child in the sense of being able to enjoy their holidays, going out to play and be with others.

Evidence received by the APPGH revealed how: “those children who exist on an impoverished diet, while taking part in little or no activity, return to school malnourished, sluggish and dreary-some even lose “significant” amounts of weight, whilst others gain a lot of weight.”

This group are disadvantaged compared to their counterparts who have had happy, healthy holiday breaks. They are then likely to fall behind – the rich/poor divide, thus being further increased.

The response to the sight of so many children suffering from hunger has come in the main from the schools, church and community based voluntary groups. They have set up holiday meal and fun ventures to meet the growing need.  These have helped children and parents alike, not just with the provision of food but also with information on nutrition, budgetary and other skills.  

The APPGH has called for government to impose a statutory duty on local authorities to “facilitate and co-ordinate the delivery of free meals and fun during school holidays.” There should be flexibility in the delivery of these services, with the APPGH suggesting that the voluntary sector playing a leading role.

The APPGH ask for government backing post general election for its Free School Meals (Provision in Holidays) Bill, which would impose the statutory duty on local authorities and provide the flexibility for those authorities to provide the services required in their areas.  

The work should then be funded by £41.5 million from the sugary drinks levy to “abolish school holiday hunger.”There should also be training and minimum standard provisions.

Something certainly needs to be done to address the scandal of growing hunger amongst children and adults in what is the fifth richest country in the world. The ever growing number of people going to food banks, amid a country that boasts over 100 billionaires is testimony to a society that grows more and more unequal with each passing month. A country that likes to think it is progressing forward into the 21st century but in terms of much of the population seems only to be going backward to ever more Dickensian times for many people. It must be hoped that the political parties pick up the  challenges put down by these two reports to address the growing levels of poverty and inequality in our society. Failure to do so, will lead only to ever more serious consequences in the future.

-more details - Hungry Holidays report -
                            Trussell Trust - 

Published - 4/5/2017 Why do 3 million children go hungry in the school holidays in the world's fifth richest country? -

- Hunger epidemic should figure in election battle -

- published - Morning Star - 11/5/2017 The scandal of three million starving children

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Good news for investors as Financial Ombudsman confirms it will adjudicate on Secured Energy Bonds

Good news for investors in the defunct Secured Energy Bonds, with the Financial Ombudsman’s Service (FOS) confirming that it has jurisdiction to look at Secured Energy Bonds (SEB), and the role of Independent Portfolio Managers (IPM).

The FOS confirmed that “IPM’s conduct did amount to the regulated activity of arranging deals in investments” and “there’s a customer-firm investment relationship between investors and IPM.”

IPM were appointed the Security Trustee to look out for the interests of the 973 investors, who put £7.37 million into Secured Energy Bonds. The bonds were intended to fund solar panel installations on 22 schools across the country. The investors return was to be 6.5% over three years.

The problems arose, when a large amount of the funds intended to provide solar panels on 22 school buildings was instead siphoned off by the Australian parent company CBD Energy for other purposes. CBD Energy went into administration in November 2014.

The first investors knew of the problems came at the end of January 2015 when an interest payment was not made. SEB went into administration early in 2015.

The investors formed a campaign group, the SEB Investors Action Group, which has been raising the case with the FCA, the FOS, the Treasury, Treasury Select Committee and well over a hundred MPs.

The latest ruling, follows some flip flopping by the FOS, which at first indicated it could look at the investors case against IPM, then produced an opposite view. Investors then felt compelled to obtain a barrister’s opinion to assist their complaints after the negative adjudication from FOS.
The latest decision is to be welcomed, as it has positive implications for SEB and possibly other mini-bond investors. It must be hoped that the decision means that those putting promotional literature into the media promoting such products will now be held more directly responsible for their actions.

The position before this decision amounted to companies being able to promote products under the aegis of their being FCA approved to the general public, without having to accept any responsibility. Now, it seems that the obligations that come with such a role will be upheld – this is good news for investors.  

* Investors who have not previously been in touch with the Investors Action Group are invited to contact:

Note: Chair of the Treasury Committee, Andrew Tyrie is standing down at the election, so there will be a new chair come the new Parliament.

- see also

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

A new view of Utopia

A Universal Basic Income and 15 hour week are among the radical ideas put forward by the young Dutch academic Rutger Bergman in his book Utopia for Realists.

Picking up on Thomas Moore’s concept of Utopia, Bergman puts forward a blueprint for a new future. The tone is one of thinking about how things are and saying why, whilst dreaming what they could be and asking why not.

The bold premise is that by implementing the Universal Basic Income (UBI), cutting the working week to 15 hours and opening borders to migration that poverty can largely be eradicated.

The idea of UBI has been gathering support since the Swiss referendum on the subject last June. The idea of giving people a basic amount to live on is now being trialed in parts of the Netherlands and Finland. But the idea is not new having been trialed during the 1960s and 70s in the US and Canada . Amazingly, US President Richard Nixon was on the verge of implementing UBI in the 1970s - the legislation finally falling in the Senate.

What Bergman argues is that the evidence from past experiments shows that when people are given money they use it sensibly. People are not innately lazy always looking for a way of skiving – which happens to be the premise on which the benefits system in the UK is now based.

There is the example of an experiment in the City of London in 2009, when 13 men living on the street were given £3,000 a year.

The result was not that they spent it on alcohol and drugs. After 18 months, seven had a roof over their heads, with two about to move into apartments.

The men had joined classes and reconnected with families. What was more the experiment saved money, with the total cost working out at £50,000, rather than the £400, 000 per annum it was previously costing to keep them on the street.

The central thrust of Bergman’s argument is that the evidence shows that when given a basic amount of money people act sensibly, they don’t stop working but do have more time for their families and education.

What is more it contributes to the common good by further cutting welfare costs.

The shorter working week is not a new idea either. It was a perfectly realistic goal in the post war world. Recalling once again that great liberal, Nixon, promising Americans a four day week in 1956.

The big change in attitude to ideas like the shorter working week came with the neo-liberal revolution of recent decades,  promoted at the outset by Margaret Thatcher in the UK and Ronald Reagan in the US.

Since that time people have worked longer for less, with requisite increases in levels of stress, mental illness and general unhappiness with life.

Now things need to change, not least for the welfare of the human person but also with the rapid advance of automation, there simply won’t be the jobs to do in the future.

An Oxford University study suggests 54% of jobs in Europe are likely to be done by machines in the next 20 years.

Bergman’s answer to the world’s problems is a massive redistribution of wealth, moving from the present grotesque inequalities that sees eight people owning as much of the world’s wealth as half of its population (3.5 billion). The means to achieve such redistribution will be implementation of UBI, a 15 hour working week and taxes on capital and not labour.

He also calls for an opening up of borders, arguing that if developed countries let in just 3% more immigrants that would provide a boost of US$305 billion for the world’s poor.

Bergman’s challenging ideas have much to recommend them, though, concepts like open borders, might take a bit more selling in the present febrile atmosphere.

*Utopia for realists and how we can get there By Rutger Bregman                     Published by Bloomberg £16.99

- published in the Catholic Universe - 23/4/2017

Saturday, 22 April 2017

West Ham have to share spoils, despite dominating Everton for 90 minutes

West Ham 0-0 Everton

The two teams in this game underwent something of a role reversal with West Ham looking like the side that was fifth in the table pushing for Europe.

The dominance of the home side was demonstrated by the fact that reinstalled keeper Adrian did not have one serious save to make in the whole game.

West Ham manager Slaven Bilic was delighted with the performance his side put in contesting every ball from start to finish. “I was really pleased with the way we played, how solid we were, how composed we were,” said Bilic.

The managers tactics were also spot on playing three centre backs and two wing backs with the restored Havard Nordtveit, having his best game in a claret and blue shirt, providing a defensive shield as the defending midfielder.

Indeed, it was a day when some of the much criticised signings of last summer came good. In addition to Nordtvelt, left back Arthur Masuaku was outstanding at left back, sound in defense and regularly providing the extra attacking option.

It was the first game in the last ten between these sides that Everton striker Romelu Lukaku did not score.

Bilic praised his own players for effectively cutting off service to the big striker from Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas. “They did an amazing job on Lukaku,” said Bilic.

Things though could have gone very differently, though, when early on a throw from Edimilson Fernandez back to Adrian caught the keeper short, with the ball almost squirming into the path of Lukaku on the six yard line.

From then on though it was all West Ham, with Manuel Lanzini at the centre of most of the creative ideas. In one delightful exchange of passes with Andre Ayew, the Argentinian clipped over a rabona style cross that was pushed away.

Lanzini also saw a rasping shot in mid-half saved at full stretch by Everton keeper Marten Stekelenburg. The other main attempt was a strike from 20 yards from Cheikhou Kouyate, which just crept wide.

The pressure continued in the second half, with a Lanzini pile driver felling defender Phil Jagielka, as he threw himself in the way.

Everton manager Ronald Koeman was unhappy, describing the performance of his side as being “far away from the level in every aspect of football.”

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

General election must be fought on policy not personality

Just minutes after Theresa May’s announcement of a proposed general election for 8 June.. and it is clear that the Labour Party has a battle on to focus the debate on policy rather than personality.

Jeremy Corbyn has been personally under attack since getting elected (twice) as leader of the Labour Party – something he has born with great dignity. Over recent weeks, Labour has been putting out its different policies on the economy, care, the NHS and education… most ignored by the mainstream media, whose one question for Corbyn seems to be a variation on when will you step down?

Things will get worse over the next few weeks but the battle will be for Labour to get over it’s  alternative slate of policies, based on social justice and the common good. This election is too important to be relegated to the level of a series of the X-factor. Re-election of the Tories, won’t just mean a hard Brexit, it will also see the total dismantling of public services, the privatisation of the NHS and destruction of the environment. This will be a vital election that must be fought on the policy alternatives, not personality distraction.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Brilliant the Donmar Warehouse until 15 April

Steve Water’s  provides a thoughtful witty script, well acted and given an edge by the relevance of the content to events today.

A right wing Tory leader, the Labour Party split, the march forward of the right worldwide and a war hungry US president – the year 1983.

The play centres around David and Debbie Owen’s kitchen table in Limehouse. The place, where famously the Gang of Four – Owen, Roy Jenkins, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams  - gather on a Sunday in January 1983 to discuss breaking away from the Labour Party to form a new party.  

Owen played by Tim Goodman Hill is the ranting angry former Foreign Secretary, who cannot stand the Labour Party anymore. Not a little ego driven, Owen is desperate to break away.

Jenkins, brilliantly played by Roger Allam, is returning from his stint as head of the European Commission. He has put the idea of a new party into the public domain with his Dimbleby lecture the year before.

There is much made of Jenkins love of claret and disdain for maccaroni cheese (the meal put together by Debbie Owen).

Williams is the stalwart Labour man, devoted to Shirley Williams, prepared to follow her to the ends of the earth.

Much rancour ensues about the new party, with Williams, Jenkins and Rodgers all outlining what a wrench it would be to leave the Labour Party. Jenkins declaring “I have never felt at home in the Labour Party but it  has been my home.”

Williams notably outlines the danger of the new party being rootless and just drawn from the well to do middle classes.. with a clear dig at Owen, as one such character. This ofcourse is what the Social Democratic Party turned out to be.

Owen is not really trusted by the other three, a feeling given more momentum, when they learn he has called a press conference for the late afternoon, to announce the new party.

How true this portrayal of events on that January day is open to question. The restriction of packing all the action into an hour and a half no doubt created many problems. As a result there is an uneveness, with the group careering around from agonising over whether to make the break to what  name should be adopted for the new party. Rodgers suggestion of New Labour raised the biggest laugh of the night.

At one point Williams leaves to go off to do a BBC interview, with the group divided. She seems strongly against. The remaining three totally fall out, only for Williams to return from the BBC to announce she is now totally converted to the idea of a new party. It’s then the press conference and the rest is history.

The Debbie Owen character, played by Nathalie Armin, sums up at the end with some telling what ifs. What if there had been no Falklands War and the SDP had gained substantial seats at the 1983 election? What  if Shirley Williams had led the new party instead of Roy Jenkins?

But the what if that should cause the most concern went unsaid, namely what if today we really are repeating history? What if this is the start of another 18 years of Tory rule, what if Labour does split and what about all those people out there who will suffer the consequences?  

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Tension eases for West Ham manager Slaven Bilic as Swansea are dismissed

West Ham 1-0 Swansea

The relief was clear for all to see on the final whistle as West ham manager Slaven Bilic punched the air.

The players and manager celebrated a significant result, after a week of unwarranted pressure built up on theclub – some of its own making.

After the game Bilic seemed to be looking forward to his weekly telephone chat with co-chairman David Sullivan. The other co-chairman David Gold had already congratulated Bilic on the result.

The manager though believes there is still “ a big job to be done” before West Ham reach safety. “We need four points as soon as possib le,” said Bilic, who believes 40 points with a good goal difference should be enough to avoid the drop.

Bilic declared himself relaxed about his job, revealing he had been under greater pressure at other times in his career,

The one negative from the afternoon was seeing top scorer Michail Antonio limping off. “The loss of Antonio will be a massive blow,” said Bilic who remained hopeful that the player would be back soon.

West Ham dominated the game but failed to put many of the chances away that they created.

Robert Snodgrass came close to putting the home side ahead, when his header from an Antonio cross was held on the line by Swansea keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

The impressive keeper then turned aside an Andre Ayew shot from the edge of the area. Fabianski, though, was beaten just before half time, as Snodgrass laid the ball into the path of Kouyate who strode forward to drill home his shot from 20 yards.

The West Ham pressure continued after the break with Ayew once again denied by Fabianksi, whilst Sam Byram and Jonathan Calleri hit the side netting when well placed.

The home side wobbled a little in the dying minutes of the game, with the resolute James Collins hooking the ball away, after keeper Darren Randolph had missed the cross. Byram then intervened to block another close range shot.

Disappointed Swansea boss Paul Clement declared that it was “a poor performance” in “a poor game.”

 “We played with a lot of anxiety, there was a lot of fear in our play,” said Clement. “There are seven games to go and a battle for survival.”  

The Swansea manager  admitted his side had made “a huge number of mistakes” but conceded they “have to deal with that.”

Published - Morning Star - 10/4/2017