Friday, 18 September 2015

Yes, but why are all the refugees coming here?

In my last blog I noted how public opinion appeared to be changing around the issue of refugees following the tragic death of Aylan Kurdi.  Even The Sun was willing to suggest that David Cameron should allow Britain to take in larger numbers.

Whilst sympathy towards refugees has grown, there has also been something of a backlash.  The narrative appears to often now be "I understand that there are a lot of people fleeing war, but I don't understand why they're coming here".

The assumption is that large numbers of refugees have travelled right across the continent especially to try and gain access to living in Britain.  The belief being that as there are safe countries in between, if they are coming here it must be for economic reasons.  Or, to be crass, for benefits.

I've noticed this a lot on social media, with friends sharing various images suggesting just this.  I've seen pictures of Grannies asking "why are we not taking care of old people when we are giving asylum seekers £25,000 in benefits each year", and pictures of Europe with an arrow from the middle East to here, passing over a host of countries with the phrase "no war" written over them, and then the UK, Sweden and Germany highlighted with the phrase "benefits" written over them.

As for the first one, that figure of £25k is based on no facts whatsoever.  Seriously, I have tried to see what it could be, and I cannot find anything.  The reality is that asylum seekers get very little in benefits, and can be given as little as £5 a day to survive on.

A number of these images are created by groups such as "Britain First", and shared on Facebook.  Britain First is essentially a Nazi organisation, grown out of membership of the EDL and similar militant racist organisations.  Their aim is simply to whip up race hatred, and they are willing to pull on any strings to get it, whether that be sympathy for our elderly, members of the armed forces, etc.

Putting the propaganda of racist organisations through social media to one side, we still have to deal with the questions it throws up.

"Why are they all coming here?"

This is the idea that a large number of refugees are coming to Britain.  The war in Syria has led to 4 million people fleeing the country.  The vast majority, as is usually the case, are currently in the countries immediately neighbouring Syria, such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.

Here, the numbers are so large that it is genuinely a major strain on resources.  The refugee population in Jordan will soon be over 1 million in a country that only has a population of 6 million in the first place.  There are over 1.2 million refugees in Lebanon as well, which has led to a major strain on resources in the camps for basic things such as food and sanitation. (1)

Out of 4 million refugees from Syria only 4000 made it to the UK in the last year.  Of these, only 187 were allowed to settle in the country.

Refugees only come here so they can claim benefits

in 2010, there was research carried out by Swansea University in which they interviewed asylum seekers living in the UK to find out why they came to the country.  What they found was that people who chose to come here did so because they saw the UK as being a fair, democratic country in which you could live free from persecution, and also that it would be a country that would be sympathetic to them.

The vast majority interviewed also showed that they had very little knowledge of the system of welfare in the UK, and came here intending to work.  The main factors in coming to the UK was not the 'pull' factors of benefits, or even jobs and a higher standard of living, but rather 'push' factors - where living became untenable where they were and they had to leave.

Out of those interviewed, 2 thirds paid an agent to get them out of the country they were fleeing, and only knew of the destination once they arrived.(2)

These are the so called people smugglers.  Refugees will be willing to pay these people to help them to escape because it is not something they can do by themselves.  It also shows that they are not necessarily destitute, they can afford to pay.  It is isn't simply poverty that makes them want to leave.

People leave Syria not because they've heard you can get housing benefit in the UK and a free council house, they leave because there are bombs being dropped on their heads, and abuses of their human rights from various forces involved in the war, including the Assad regime and ISIS.

They come here because life is no longer possible in Syria, or even in the neighbouring countries they first arrive in.  They are willing to put their life at risk because that is the desperate choice they have to make.

If we want to stop the people smugglers putting lives at risk, we need to make a route available in which escape is possible.  Not just in the UK, but around Europe and the rest of the world.

There are many pensioners struggling to survive in Britain today, and that is a disgrace.  However, they are not struggling to survive because refugees from Syria are taking all the benefits.  They are struggling to survive because we live under a political system that does not care for them.

It does not care for pensioners in the same way that it does not care for people with disabilities, it does not care about young people, and it does not care about refugees.  We don't have to chose amongst who of the most desperate we help, we simply have to chose whether we care for all them or not.

The bankers put is in this desperate situation, and they've got off scot free, living off their riches which was stolen from us all in the first place.  Blame the bankers, tax the rich, and make sure that everyone, including our most vulnerable in society, are taken care of.

(2) -

Friday, 4 September 2015

Aylun Kurdi - Maybe we can be allowed to care for everyone now

Aylan Kurdi
There are times when you see a noticeable shift in public opinion, and sometimes a simple image can be all that is needed to trigger it.  When you see the picture of the corpse of 3 year old toddler, Aylan Kurdi, washed up on the beach of Akyarlar in Turkey, your heart breaks.

When watching the news it is easy to let events wash over you.  Even on good days, it is such a torrent of horror that you daren't allow yourself to truly take in what is happening.  When you are told of thousands being killed in a war zone, you note it as any other statistic - without emotion, merely a fact.

But there is something different within you when a young child is killed.  Adults make choices, make decisions, have personal responsibility.  A child does not.  Can not.  The sad news cannot be framed with questions about it's legitimacy, the emotional punch is immediate and without doubt.

Of course it doesn't take much for your brain to kick in and realise that if you feel that sad about a child dying, what about all the other people fleeing war zones?  Suddenly those empty statistics mean something.

There can be no doubt that public opinion has shifted significantly on the issue of this refugee crisis.  I know from experience that immigration can be a major concern for the public.  When campaigning on issues such as the Bedroom Tax I could be in Bolton town centre, for instance, doing a petition.

Getting support for petitions like that was not hard.  People knew the Bedroom Tax was bad news. If it wasn't affecting them personally, they knew someone who it was.  They would talk about the nasty Tory government, and agree with you about why they shouldn't be cutting funding for vital services.  At which point they would usually chime in with why immigration was also a major part of the problem.

At this point you would politely disagree and make an argument why immigration was not the problem.  Most of the time they would agree that you had a point,  but you knew they were not convinced.  After all, when all the newspapers and all of their friends thought differently, why were they going to listen to you?

But what has been really noticeable is the shift for those even on the right wing of politics.  From those quarters that are always vehementally anti-immigration, in any form.  Even they are shifting in their position.

I was reading The Sun (as always, I feel I have to stress it was someone elses copy, I didn't buy it myself!) yesterday.  They called on David Cameron to respond to this crisis and actually help the refugees.

Quite a change of position, and a welcome one.  The piece did, however, go on to explain that a major way he should help the refugees was by taking money from foreign aid budgets and spending it more on bombing ISIS positions in Syria.  Yes, that's right, they think the best thing we can do to help refugees is to bomb their country more!

It's... novel, I'll give them that.  In fairness, The Sun isn't used to trying to care for people, so maybe we should just give them a pat on the back for giving it a go.  Bless.

One of the homeless camps in Manchester

In Manchester at the moment there are currently two homeless camps.  They were both set up by homeless people who have nowhere to go and have protested to the council that all they want is somewhere to live.  Amongst them will be people suffering from mental illness as well as drug and alcohol dependency.  In short, these are people most in need of help.

But there is nowhere for them. The councils approach is to try to evict them from the areas they have set up their camps.  Again, a novel approach - evicting homeless people from sleeping on the street.  Have they been getting tips from The Sun?

But when you see this it does raise the question - If we don't have the resources to help people already living here, can we really provide help for large numbers of people coming here from abroad?

Sadly, the answer is probably not.

But I would suggest that the problem here is the question.  If you ask "do we have the resources that if we did things differently, we could actually help homeless people?"  The answer is yes.  If the answer to that question is yes, then you can also help refugees.

We don't have enough housing full stop, but we really don't have enough council housing.  This has been because of deliberate policies by previous Labour and Tory administrations.  This is why we need to get Jeremy Corbyn elected as leader of the Labour Party, to provide real opposition to the murderous doctrine of 'austerity'.  Then we can smash the Tory government.

Not that you rely on the Labour Party for that, but Corbyn's election will be inspiring for 1000s of activists around the country that need to organise the fight back, inside and outside of the Labour Party.

Refugees are welcome here, the Tories and 'austerity' are not!

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Fringe flu

I'm utterly exhausted.  My nose is streaming, and I'm going through toilet roll like a 14 year old boy going for the record.  This is what happens when you spend just 5 days at the Edinburgh festival.

I wouldn't mind, but I came back 4 days ago.  On the very last night there I felt my throat start to get a little scratchy, and now I feel as rough as ever with it.  This is what is known as Fringe flu.

Perhaps you've heard the term Freshers flu before, which is the term given for the unusually high number of people who get colds during the first couple of weeks of the university year, starting on account of such a high number of people turning up in one place at one time.  After the partying ends the academic year of lectures begins, at which time the students gladly stay in bed to allow the cloud of disease to pass.

Well the Fringe is like this, but so much more.  As with Freshers week, every day was spent drinking and eating some awful food.  Of course healthy food is available in Edinburgh, but the Scottish have such a creative range of fried foods that it's hard to resist.  Days later, it's me that's feeling battered.  Was it worth it?  Absolutely.

I have been up to Edinburgh a number of times, performing with my improv troupe ComedySportz.  It certainly helps being able to have what is essentially your extended family to live with during the festival.  Every year I have been previously I have not organised anything to do beforehand.  Well this year was different.

This year I was determined to actually get round and see as many shows as I could, as well as performing myself.  For the first time ever, before travelling, I actually sat and booked myself tickets to see shows rather than just tagging along with others and their plans.

I'm so glad I did, because I got to see a full array of comedy that left me, as a stand up comedian, feeling nothing less than inspired.  Such strong routines, concepts, delivery.  Shows ranging from one person free entry shows right up to larger scale collaborations in the largest, most prestigious venues.

ComedySportz - planning the siege
It makes me feel hungry to perform more solo stuff myself.  Unfortunately, I know from talking to many friends on the circuit how hard it is to get anything resembling a decent venue in a decent time slot.  It's amazing how far out of the city centre you can walk and still be walking past "venues".  Dead end locations that not even the most inspiring performer could fill, and yet there is still the quantity of acts willing to put on shows to have those slots taken.

As such, there is no guarantee that after writing a show you could get to perform it in any meaningful way at the Edinburgh Fringe.  A few years ago I did a solo show for just one week at the Fringe.  After dithering on which venue offer to take, the best slots went, so I ended up performing on the top deck of a bus at 1am.

No, really.  And yes, I did take the offer, because I wanted to push myself, see if I could do an hour.  Despite everything, I managed to fill that bus every day.  What a strange boast.  Perhaps I should send my CV to Stagecoach.

The difficulties in putting on a Fringe show of course doesn't take away from the many great, successful shows that are on in Edinburgh.  In fact, it's a sign of how good they are because they are doing well in the face of such competition.

Aside from my wants as a performer, as a fan of comedy my hunger was certainly sated.  I know I don't have to, but here is a (very) brief run down of the shows I saw.  If reading this means that anyone going up to the Fringe sees a show they might not have ordinarily, then this will all be worthwhile.  Shows purely in order of when I saw them:

Sam Simmons - Spaghetti for Breakfast (9pm, Underbelly Potterow) - As it happens, the best show I saw at the Fringe happened to be the first.  Aussie Simmons delivers a smartly anarchic show, and I'm not just saying that because at one point he made me wear a lettuce toupee!

Austentatious (1.15pm, Underbelly) - They get a title from the audience then improvise a 1 hour play in the style of Jane Austin.  A fantastic troupe performing longform improv.  No beat is missed.  The show I saw involved a rap battle between Eminem and his greatest foe, Dr Dre(fus).  Don't worry, no spoilers.  It's improv, there can't be!

George Egg - Anarchist Cook (2.45pm, Gilded Balloon) - Your standard comic-cooks-a-three-course-meal-only-using-hotel-room-equipment.  Oh wait, that is unusual isn't it?  A unique experience with a wonderful host, and you even get to eat the food at the end.

Paul Sinha - Postcards from the Z-List (5pm, Stand 1) - Before becoming a 'chaser' (in the TV quiz sense, rather than a sexual predator), Paul was an excellent stand up comedian.  His chops are just as strong as ever as evidenced in his latest show.

Pierre Novellie is Anxious Peter (9.30pm, Pleasance Courtyard) - Really likeable performer with an Anglo/South African background which is mined to great effect.  First time I've seen Pierre, I enjoyed his stuff

Tom Binns - The Club Sets (12.40pm, Assembly George Square Gardens) - In terms of pure funny, you really struggle to get better than Tom Binns, especially as he showcases the best of two of his established characters alongside a new skill - ventriloquism.  Seriously, as a stand up comedian I think we might have to assassinate this guy before he works out how to clone himself and perform ALL the gigs.

Jellybean Martinez - Mr Saturday Night TV (3.15pm, Just the Tonic @ The Caves) - A truly unique Fringe experience.  Jellybean mixes audience participation along with various sound and visual cues to create his very own Saturday night TV line up.  Except that in this particular tech heavy performance, the sound completely failed after 15 minutes.  What followed was a performer improvising a show to his back teeth, whilst pulling the audience along with him, and they absolutely loved him for it.  Well done that man.

Stuart Goldsmith - An Hour (4.55pm - Canon's Gait) - I know of Stuart from the podcast he hosts - The Comedian's Comedian podcast - where he, a comedian, interviews comedians, about comedy.  Simple.  This was a wonderful, absolutely solid hour of comedy.  His comedy is unique to his experience, which is more than fine as being in his company is an effortless pleasure.  What's more the show is free!  (well, it's free to get in...)

Christian Steel - Gloom Hunter (9.15pm, Cowgatehead) - a well seasoned pro act used to headlining clubs all around the country, this is his first Fringe show.  He's still finding his feet with the format, but he has already led a fascinating life, and has some very interesting stories to tell indeed.  If nothing else, see him so you can marvel at how he is still actually alive!  This is also a free show (well, it's free to get in...)

Michael Legge - Tell it like it is Steve (12.10pm, Stand 2) - Like Stuart Goldsmith I became aware of Michael Legge because of his output online, mostly through his acerbic blogs and Vitriola, the new music podcast he co-hosts with Robin Ince.  And, this is also a wonderfully put together hour of personal stand up.  To keep an audience's full attention for an hour just by talking is no mean feat.  Not a power point display in sight! - Also, it's always nice to start your day with a good dose of anger.

Stewart Lee - Room with a Stew (2.15pm, The Assembly Rooms) - Married to Bridget Christie, so I thought I would give him a go.  Apparently he has a bit of TV work lined up.  Good luck with it Stu!

Javier Jarquin - Card Ninja (3.45pm, Sin) - Stand up comedian presents a card stunt show.  Yes, but what's his USP?  Oh... right.  Great comedy showcasing Javier's unique skills, that reminds me of my very own ComedySportz - it's not a kids show, but it is a show that's suitable for kids (as long as you don't mind your kids hearing the word "bollocks" a few times.  From Javier, I should point out, not ComedySportz!).

Chris Martin - This Show has a Soundtrack (8.45pm - Three Sisters) - Yes it does.  An interesting concept that only enhances Chris' already strong stand up in this hour show evaluating his last year.  Chris' show was straight after ComedySportz in the same venue, and he was killing it every night in terms of audience numbers.  And why not, it is also a free show (seriously though, you have to give a donation at the end).

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Labour leadership contest - why can't we vote for hope?

In a recent article on the Guardian's 'Comment is Free' section, comedian Frankie Boyle suggested that following the decision to abstain in the recent welfare bill vote the Labour party was now so passive it could be "led by an out-of-office email".

It was indeed, a pathetic move by Labour.  Even if you agree with the tactics that Labour should attempt to fight the 'middle ground' with the Tories, this was still spectacularly unnecessary.  That bill will hurt the worst off in society, exactly the kind of people that you expect the Labour Party to want to protect as part of it's DNA.

This is the background to which the Labour Party leadership election is being fought.  And, I get to vote.

I'm not a member of the Labour Party for many reasons - I'm a revolutionary Socialist rather than a reformist.  However my Trade Union, the GMB, is a major backer of the party.  Personally my belief is that the political fund should be democratised, and MPs should be given backing on an individual basis, irrespective of party.

However, that is not an argument that has been won within the union, so whilst it continues to give part of my subs to the Labour party, I believe that I have a right to exercise my democratic rights in voting in this election.

Don't get me wrong, I understand why people do become members of the Labour Party, despite everything that it has done wrong.  People are pragmatic.  They don't expect perfection, but they know they have to fight for what they can.

When I lived in Bolton I knew a group of trade union activists who worked within the council who collectively joined the Labour Party because they were tired of being 100% ignored by the elected councillors.  Now they are only ignored 90%.

Why do people bother with Labour, when it is so 'top down' in it's 'democracy'?

I was talking to two Labour Party members on the TUC anti-austerity demo in October 2012.  Both were ordinary trade unionists who had joined Labour to continue the struggle from beyond their workplaces out in to the wider world.  Both had voted for Ed Milliband because he had been the only mainstream candidate who spoke about the need to correct Labour's mistakes (and he wasn't vague about those mistakes - he attacked the New Labour ethos and said that the invasion of Iraq was clearly wrong), and both now wished they had voted for David Milliband instead.

That wasn't because in hindsight they decided that the political agenda he put forward was now the correct one.  No, it was for one reason - they were frightened that the Tories would get re-elected.

Everything was driven by that fear.  That's why ordinary party members may look towards Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham (or the sadistic towards Liz Kendall).

But now we have a candidate worth voting for in Jeremy Corbyn.  He is pretty much spotless.  Not only has he always stood up for the right causes throughout his political career, he has also managed to do so without being a crazed ego maniac (oh George Galloway, I remember the hope we had only for you to smash that to smithereens).

The Daily Mirror has reported that Jeremy Corbyn is way ahead in the leadership contest so far with a 42% poll rating (Yvette Cooper currently second with 22.6%).  Hardly surprising, this is what the ordinary activists, both inside and outside of the Labour Party, actually want in a leader.

Who is voting against Corbyn?  Well, some activists who still have that 'pragmatic' fear of losing to the Tories, but also the 'professional' political figures within the party.

MP's make a good living from their position.  As such, it is a position they want to protect.  I'm not saying that none of them care about politics, but it makes a big difference when your income depends on winning elections.  In that position, you are desperate to keep your seat.  This is not a gravy train they wish to disembark from.

It certainly explains the tendency to lean to the right in such arguments.  The same goes for full time, unelected trade union officials.  They don't want to rock the boat with employers any more than they have to, because they have their own income to protect.  Again, it's not to say that none of them care about the workers they represent, it's just that it does explain the tendency to want to avoid fighting for what is right.

All union officials should be workplace based and elected by the members.  That way, if the members do not agree with their actions they can be removed from the post and go back to their job.  If that job is there, and their income doesn't change when elected, they will be a lot less likely to take the side of the bosses.

But still, is there any point in striving to elect a leader like Jeremy Corbyn if no-one will vote for Labour in a general election?  Well, it turns out that the general public actually agree with most of his policies, with a significant majority willing to support moves to renationalise the railways, bring in rent controls, etc.

There have been a number within the Labour Party who have complained about 'Communists' and members of other left wing groups 'infiltrating' the party.  Well, I'm a member of the SWP and I've not joined, nor has there been any call to do so.  Has it occurred to them that Corbyn might simply be attracting activists to join?

And that's the thing that could make a real difference.  When Tony Blair was elected with a massive majority one of the reasons he was able to do so was because he had over 60,000 activists campaigning on the streets.  He offered a vision that was clearly different to what the Tories had to offer.

Yes, he was a fucking abomination, but beyond that, this was why he was able to win so convincingly.  In the years that followed, the more he moved the party to the right, the more it appeared to be similar to the Tories, the more his majority fell.

Jeremy Corbyn stands up for policies that are right, and are what the mass majority of Labour members and supporters actually believe in, but have been too afraid to express in fear of losing the 'middle ground' to the Tories.

He is also someone who can carry forward arguments with the general public in a convincing fashion, and can attract a mass activist base to the Labour Party.  Yes, they are up against the right wing press, and that is the biggest problem by far.  Who gets to control the arguments for our political future, that which becomes seen as 'common sense'?

It will be a huge battle, and one that may well be lost in a coming election, but by God I'd rather it was lead by someone actually trying to fight than a party simply resigning itself to perpetual defeat.

I won't be joining the Labour Party, but I am part of the wider labour movement.  As such, I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn, I'll be voting for hope.  But I won't be leaving it to him to do, I'll keep working with everyone in the movements from below to try and bring about real change.

Friday, 10 July 2015

Friends on benefits

Fingers crossed I'll snare some people in to reading this blog with its almost sexy sounding title.  It's fair to say though that 'friends on benefits' is a lot different to 'friends with benefits'.  Simply, having a 'friend on benefits' means only one person is getting fucked.

That simple, not to mention crude, joke could still be taken more than one way.  Which in itself is another double entendre.  Ding.

My suggestion is that if you're on benefits you are going to be having a hard time, thus the use of the term saying that they're getting 'fucked'.  But, whilst to me that would be bleeding obvious, I cannot assume that is how everyone would understand it.

Many, it appears, would assume that by being the one not on benefits that you're the one getting 'fucked'.  That you are a 'striver' as politicians like to say.  You are working hard, and paying taxes, and it's actually the nasty, horrible 'spongers' on benefits who are living the life of riley.

This is the argument perpetuated by the Tories and their allies in the right wing press.  We are being told that people on benefits are a drain on the national resources, meaning less for everyone else.  Furthermore, there are many people who do not need to be on benefits.  What absolute bastards!

In fact the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) calculate that benefit fraud amounts to around £1.2 billion, or 0.7% of the total costs of benefits (which include pensions) each year.  Sounds like a lot, but by comparison HMRC (Revenue and Customs) themselves say that tax evasion means we lose out on around £4.1 billion pounds each year!  Well over three times more.  Even then, there are others who suggest the tax gap is in fact £120 billion!

It seems so strange to obsess over people on benefits when there are incredibly rich people not paying the tax they owe, and the money they owe is many times more.  In the world of stand up there are a lot of professional comedians who are owed tens of thousands of pounds from big clubs that are not paying their debts to them.  It would be like a comic spending all their energy getting annoyed at a friend asking to borrow £5 rather than the clubs who haven't paid their invoice from 6 months ago.

Why then are we so obsessed with benefit fraud?  I think the truth lies in a couple of factors.  One, it's much easier to relate to the concept of individuals 'sponging' benefits, because they will be people who live lives like ourselves - on similar incomes, in similar homes.

The second factor is that the right wing press is ramming it down our throats.  When you hear something like benefits being referred to as such a problem so much, you believe it.  It becomes 'common sense', like believing that immigration is a massive problem when clear evidence suggests that it is not.

Working people are not idiots, but they are people who work hard and have clear limits placed on their time.  Every person cannot spend hours reading up on statistics to inform their opinion - that's why tabloid papers are so popular.  For a small payment each day they let you know what's going on in the world, and also take time to entertain you on your break times as well.

I go on about the evils of the 'right wing press' like it's a conspiracy.  Is it?  Well, yes and no.

The Sun will mirror the opinions to a degree of it's ownership, which is ultimately Rupert Murdoch.  Whilst generally an unpleasant guy (to say the least), I don't actually believe he sits down and purposefully engineers propaganda to keep the masses down.

As one of the richest people in the world, as a capitalist it is in his interests to believe that the problems in society are not connected to rich people like himself, but rather people at the bottom end.  People on benefits, trade unionists fighting for better working rights, etc.  I think he genuinely believes that.

The most horrifying thing is that it's in his interests to believe that people on benefits are a problem but it is absolutely not in the interests of working class people, who are by far the majority of the population.

But again, we take it as common sense because it's the super rich like Rupert Murdoch who control the media and get their point of view accross that way.  It's not a conspiracy, but it is the system.  Therefore, the system itself is corrupt.

I had a friend on Facebook post a status saying that a guy she works with told her that his sister doesn't work, has 5 kids, and is on £28k a year.  Her partner also doesn't work.  Needless to say, apart from a few exceptions, most comments following that were ones of disgust and horror.  They agreed she was getting too much.

Now, from that information, do we actually know much about her circumstances?  Do we know if she is registered disabled and receiving benefits for that?  That aside, lets look at £28k as an income.

Me and my partner probably earn a similar amount per year between us.  With that we live a comfortable, but by no means extravagant, lifestyle.  However, that 'comfort' means living in one room together in a shared house with four other people.  Some would allow that to fuel their anger that someone else could earn the same by not working, but instead I can use that to put in to context how much £28k actually is.

We live ok, but I cannot even begin to imagine how on earth I would be able to clothe and feed five children.  Aside from the rights or wrong of having that many children, you cannot get away from the simple fact that bringing up children, even badly, costs a lot of money.

And time.  Making dinner and packed lunches for five kids.  Doing the school run back and forth each day for five kids.  Sounds exhausting.

Also, don't forget, children grow up and become adults.  You know, adults - people that work and pay taxes.  No doubt cynics would expect that they would continue a cycle of never working, but we don't know that.  Is it really likely that all the children from that relationship would never work?

Needless to say, I don't think people on benefits are the problem.  Whatever this woman who is getting £28k from benefits is like, I simply do not care.  Lets get angry about how many big companies and super rich individuals get to avoid paying tax.

People on benefits are not the enemy.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Women make watching England in a World Cup actually worth while!!

England women's football team celebrate

I can't say I've had a particularly productive day today, I slept in until past 11am this morning.  But I do have my reasons for needing sleep as I'm still recovering after watching the England Women's World Cup match against Japan on Wendesday night.

Well, I say Wednesday night.  As it started at midnight it was actually Thursday morning.  And I had to be up early for work in an office the next day, so I was exhausted.  Was it worth it?

Well, they did lose.  Even so, I'm happy to have stayed up and watched them, and indeed have enjoyed watching the whole women's World Cup.  England have not been the best technically, but they have fought and pushed themselves to their limits, and that effort took them all the way to the semi finals, the first time they have reached that stage.

Before this World Cup my attitude towards womens football is that I felt like it was something I should support, but actually doing so was a different matter.  Like many who are not convinced by the game, whenever I did watch it, it just seemed so off the pace compared to the mens game - why watch a sport if it's just plainly worse than what else is on offer?

But, I have changed my mind.  The starting point for enjoying women's football is, simply, to accept that it is a game in its own right and that it is not necesarily better or worse than the mens game, it is simply different.

The physical differences between men and women mean that it is not played with the same pace, but once you accept this you can learn to enjoy the game in its own right.  There is more close control on show in the womens game, and in many ways more battles of sheer strength as well.

A good comparison for me is like trying to compare the mens game of today compared to what it was like 60 years ago.  Englands greatest triumph in the game was winning the 1966 World Cup (not that we like mention it much... ahem).  But for anyone too young to have watched it first time around if you watch the footage of the matches they seem... bizarre.

So much less pace.  Compared to today it is played at a pace where people seem to be barely jogging.  The reasons were that the kits and the balls were different, both much heavier, and the pitches were chewed up like Worthy Farm the Tuesday after Glastonbury.

But we are told that the likes of Charlton, Moore, et al, were 'greats' of the game.  Well, they are, but the game was very different back then, and so it is hard to compare.  And I'm not trying to say the womens game is backward.  Again, it wasn't better or worse, it was just different.

It also seems like such a weird thing to feel the need to compare anyway, because we don't do that with sports where the womens equivelant is already well established.  Nobody ever said "sure, Paula Radcliffe is good, but how would she do racing against Mo Farah?"

In fact, you could argue that some of the differences are not just ok, but are in fact a very good thing.  For a start, we have the media coined term WAGs, meaning 'Wives and Girlfriends'.  Top football stars are in such demand that the media want to know everything about them, including saucy pics of their partners at movie premiers and on the beach.

Ask yourself - do you know the name of any of the England women's partners?  I know I don't, and I think that is a God send!  If only I didn't know who Victoria Beckham was, wouldn't that be amazing?

WAGS - maybe now we have a new kind of role model for young women
Also, these are young sportswomen.  I'm sure, like the guys, they like to go out and party.  Have a fair few drinks, let their hair down and bond.  However, when the men do it they ellicit headlines such as "Premier League stars' racist orgy shame caught on camera".

I mean, seriously, that is some headline.  Throw in the term 'hippy crack' and we get a full house on 'arsehole footballer bingo'.

So I'm not going to pretend that the women are not fully capable of getting wasted and acting stupid on a night out.  What I am saying is that I doubt they would manage to be so utterly, soul destroyingly awful.  Racism, sexism and rape - male footballers can just take your breath away sometimes.

The fact that the womens game has less attention actually makes it significantly more pallitable, because of all the other things that come with that level of 'fame'.

However, I'm not going to pretend that the women's game is perfect.  Indeed, there are some areas where you could make comparisons to the mens game where it isn't just different - there is still work to be done.

England showed a lot of fight and determination, as I've already said, throughout the whole tournment.  However, they fought so much because they had to, because they kept giving the ball away so easily.

The passing side of the game, in England at least, clearly needs attention.  Against Canada the commentators were full of praise for Jodie Taylor, the sole striker.  She ran after everything and made half chances where non should have been available.  But that's because half the time the ball was just being pumped blindly upfield in the hope she could scrap something out of it.

Passing from defence through midfield was practically non existent at times.  Yes, they were the home side, but there was little reason why we had to be so route one.  It was like watching the Wimbledon side of the 1990s - getting a crick in your neck from looking up so often.

That said though, here is something to think about - We only had a professional league set up in England in 2011.  Yes, there had already been a women's league structure in place before that, but this was the first attempt to make it professional.  In this league, the WSL (Women's Super League), the top 4 stars at each club are paid between £20-30,000 a year.  Top stars in the mens game make several times that in a week.

We are only in the last few years getting in to a position where women can play football as a full time profession, meaning they can now train every day as well.  How can they be expected to perform to the same level of men without this backing?

The FA are part funding the wages in the WSL as the clubs themselves simply do not get the revenue from gate receipts and TV rights that would make it financial viable in its own right.  At this point of course, it is a matter of chicken and egg - what comes first, the standard of players that makes people want to pay to watch them, or a financial system in place to develop the players in the first place.

In that sense, funding from the FA and elsewhere makes sense - they need that foot up.

The World Cup will have switched many on to watching women's football - myself included.  There is plenty of skill and technique on show from these women, and where the game might still be lacking compared to the mens game, that will come with greater levels of training and coaching.

What you can guarantee is the game is played honestly, and with passion.  Seeing how the England women played makes you feel proud.  I know it's just a completely different game, but I wonder if they could perhaps give that a go in the mens game as well?

Friday, 5 June 2015

The Labour leadership election - and I get to vote!

Hell yeah!
To be honest, I'm not really in the mood for an election right now, in the same way that when I last contracted the noro virus I didn't fancy visiting a carvery.  I feel uncomfortable, know there is nothing I can do about it and it means I will have to face a lot of shit.

Comparing the Tories to diarrhea?  Always a good start to a blog.

But now I have the opportunity to vote for the future leader of the Labour party.  Didn't see that one coming.  Mainly because I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Labour party.

As well as sounding like a statement from McCarthy era America, it also doesn't make much sense.  How can I vote for the Labour party leader if I'm not a member of the Labour party?  Well, that's because I'm a member of a Trade Union that is affiliated to the Labour party, and as such have the option to vote.

As a Socialist to the left of Labour, I argue that Unions should not be affiliated to the Labour party.  Instead, they should democratise their political funds, and then back indivdual MPs who back the work the Union do.  Most will be from the Labour party, but not all.

However, whilst I argue this is the right position it is not one that has been won within my Union at this time.  As such, if money is going from the Union to the Labour party, I am happy to exercise my right to have a say in this election.  After all, in a tiny way, I'm helping to pay for it!

The leadership debate, coming as it does immediately after the crushing general election defeat of Labour, is centred around the question "what went wrong?"  Unsurprisingly the core of leadership candidates all seem to think that Labour did not appear right wing enough to connect with a core of the electorate who can decide an election.

Needless to say, I don't agree.  The main problem they had is that what they presented just was not inspiring - they didn't seem to offer an alternative at all.  Really, they campaigned to say they would do the same as the Tories, just slightly nicer and slightly better.

Austerity lite, it has been referred to.

But that's just not good enough.  As is often the case, they lost right wing votes to Tories and UKIP, and left wing votes to Greens, SNP and the other big party in this election - Non of the above!

In some areas, such as the North East, I think there are still working class ties to the Labour Party.  Young people voting for the first time still have an understanding from their families as to why you vote against the Tories.  But elsewhere, it is evaporating.

The right wing in the Labour Party are worried by the emergence of the UK Independence Party (UKIP).  Ostensibly a party that campaigns for Britain to withdraw it's membership of the European Union, it is broadly speaking a nasty, populist, hard right, racist organisation.

They have taken votes away from the Tories, that's for certain, but it appears they have also taken votes from Labour.  Most concerning about this is that they appear to have taken young peoples votes from Labour.

Is this because they are racist?  I don't think so, although a majority of the population are taken in by the mainstream lie that immigration is a major problem.  What you can say though, is that this is a section who will consider voting away from the big two mainstream parties.

UKIP may seem unpleasant, and they are, but they at least represented an alternative.  It was the youth vote that meant the Lib Dems won two previous terms in an area of Manchester with a large student population.  Needless to say, as happened nationally, that vote evaporated.

What also happened though, is that it became clear that left wing, anti-austerity politics did have an audience.  In Scotland the Scottish National Party (SNP) wiped the floor with their opponents winning 56 from a possible 59 seats.

If anything, you have to feel sorry for the 3 SNP candidates who didn't win.  I mean, seriously, they must have been rubbish!

The SNP stood on a clear platform against austerity, and they clearly found their audience.  Mind you, there is more to this than meets the eye.

I would love to say this means that if a party stood with the same message across the UK they would also win a landslide, but that's not the case.  In England the biggest player in disseminating political ideas is the media.  The bulk of the media barons who own the newspapers support the Tories.  They control the editorial line of their newspapers, so the only stories that are printed are those that harmonise with that individuals viewpoint.

Of course, that is true throughout the UK, and indeed the world.  However, in Scotland, they recently had a process which meant that anti-austerity politics had a very real platform to break beyond that stranggle hold - The Independance referendum.

It was such a massively significant question being asked of the Scottish people that the vast majority had no choice but to engage.  The 'Yes' campaign lost in the end, only gaining 45%.  However, translate that percentage into mostly just one party standing in a 'first past the post' system election, and you get a landslide.

Great if you're Scottish, although it means that now you are still ruled by Tories from England.  Also, the SNP is not really that radical a party, with no traditional roots in the organised labour movement, so ultimately are unlikely to deliver real change.  But still, way to get your voices heard!

As part of the election campaign I saw a lot of videos online from celebrities such as Steve Coogan and Martin Freeman discussing why they were going to vote Labour.  They went to great pains to show they were being genuine, even in the filming of the ads themselves (showing make up being applied, etc, so you didn't get the idea that you were being fooled by a flashy campaign.  "Of course this is being filmed by a professional crew, and we know you know that").

One thing they, and many others said, was "I trust Labour with the NHS".  All politicians know that the NHS is sacrosanct to the British public, and is a very real concern to them that it is protected.

Many don't necesarily know recent immigrants to this country, so they can more readily believe lies about them.  However, everyone gets sick, so the NHS is not something you play with quite as easily.

One of the leasdership candidates, Andy Burnham, spent the last government as shadow health Secretary.  He has spoken very well on the issue, including against aspects of privitisation brought through by the Tories.  However, when Labour were in power he was involved in the awarding of the very first PFI contract.  He was there when Labour started the rot.

So do I trust Labour with the NHS?  No.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly trust them a hell of a lot more than the Tories.  But then that's a bit like needing a child minder last minute and having to chose between a drunk you found in the gutter outside LIDL, or Freddy Kreuger.

And that also highlights another problem - if I do vote in the leadership contest, who would I vote for?

All the candidates seem so similar, determind to drag Labour further to the right.  That is, until Jeremy Corbyn announced his intention to stand.

Jeremy Corbyn
There are a number of good MPs in the Labour party, but it's fair to say that no one is better than Jeremy Corbyn.  He's been an MP since 1983 and has consistently been right on everything.

No, really.  He was campaigning against Saddam Hussein before anyone in the West cared about him, but then was a passionate advocate against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  He knew that Saddam was bad, and that the UK should not back him, but he wasn't suckered in to thinking that the invasion would bring anything than what it has - death, turmoil and terror.

So I'm not intending on joining the Labour party anytime soon, but as a member of a Trade Union that does give funding to the Labour I know who I will be voting for!