Saturday, 19 November 2011

Shock! Horror! The Met have been telling porkie pies

The Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) have been investigating the circumstances surrounding Mark Duggan's death and their report is due early next year.  The Guardian newspaper have obtained excerpts which reveal that there is evidence he "was not holding a gun at the time he was shot.". 

The Guardian reveals that the gun which was recovered at the scene did not contain forensic evidence which could be linked to Duggan.  Critically it also revealed that the weapon had not been used and was not in his possession at the moment he was killed. 

While possessing a firearm is a criminal offence in the UK, there is a judicial process which must be followed and the ultimate sanction is a custodial sentence.  The UK does not have the death penalty as a punishment.  This flies in the face of anyone who attempts to explain away the actions of the police that day with the suggestion that this operation can be justified. 

I am just about old enough to remember the storm which surfaced almost 24 years ago when three unarmed IRA members were shot dead in Gibraltar in March 1988.  Then as now, a debate ensued which questioned whether the actions of British authorities in Gibraltar, in the form of SAS agents, had the law on their side when they opened fire on three unarmed people suspected of plotting a criminal act. 

Later that year it was ruled that the agents had acted lawfully but the decision was seen as hugely controversial at the time.  It was also the subject of an ITV documentary called "Death on the Rock".  The programme makers, Thames Television, angered the UK government with the broadcast, the consequences of which eventually resulted in the company losing their licence to broadcast at the end of 1992.

Interestingly the Guardian's revelations came just a few days after Tottenham MP David Lammy called for the officer involved in the shooting to be suspended pending the outcome of the IPCC investigation. 

"The officer involved in the Mark Duggan case hasn't been suspended and is still working...members of the community I represent find that quite incredible."

I find it incredible too, but on two levels.  Firstly it is a rare moment when I find myself in agreement with the ineffective local MP, and he is right to call for the sanction.  However I also find it incredible and hypocritical for him to use this platform now.  Lammy you may recall was busy condemning disorder in his constituency than showing any real conviction to ask any questions of the police.  This was of course a marked contrast with the actions of community leaders such as Stafford Scott who were asking these valid questions in the immediate aftermath of Duggan's death.

I warned in August that many were making a terrible error taking the Metropolitan Police's version of events at face value.  I highlighted previous examples and suggested that everyone needed to look at the circumstances in the context of remembering that we were dealing with a police force who had a colourful history of dishonesty and deliberate attempts to mislead the public.

An awful lot of people had far too much to say about Mark Duggan three months ago.  As the truth slowly emerges from that tragic Thursday summer's evening, their increasing silence serves as a stark reminder the next time anyone attempts to rush to endorse a shooting executed by the most corrupt police force in the land.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Fobbed off with broomsticks

Aside from my ritualistic devotion to the Gunners, I enjoy following other sports, albeit only in international competitions.  What frustrates my friends is the fact I support England/Britain at every single sport, except the one I have the most passion for- Football.  I’ll happily sing “swing low” when the Rugby is on, but when it comes to Football I’ve been a France fan since my teenage years, before the arrival of Monsieur Wenger in London I might add.

There are a few reasons for this. 

I watched a Panorama documentary about England fans at Euro 2000.  Unfortunately no videos of the broadcast are available online, but the scene which still sickens me 11 years on was the one involving England fans singing a song about World War 2 against local Dutch fans. 

I also despise the arrogance of the typical England fan, the table thumper, the one who recalls the events of July 1966 as if he was in the stadium; despite the fact he wasn’t even born. 

I detest the ignorance that because England invented the game they naturally must be the greatest and have an expectation to win World Cup’s or European Championships.  Of course this is amplified even more by the British media, but I don’t accept that this alone justifies the crude nature of England football fans.  It’s certainly not what I have found with followers of Rugby or Cricket.  Even when England lifted the World Cup in 2003, there was a humility which you just wouldn’t get with the England football fan base.  Likewise, more recently this can be seen as England have attained the status of best Test Match side in the Cricketing world.

Yet for me personally the story begins on a cold November night in 1994 at Wembley in North London where me and my father watched an England game for the very first time, an International friendly against Nigeria.  We were in the family enclosure which happened to be directly below a significant contingent of Nigerian fans.  What ensued was one of my most traumatic experiences as a football fan.  I witnessed one after another as England fans in our section, parents of accompanying young children too, racially abused the Nigerian fans sitting above.  Eventually enough was enough and as if fate would have it, an intervention from match day stewards came at the precise moment David Platt scored the only goal. 

Instead of some of the more decent fans applauding the worst antagonist of the abuse being led away, the occupiers of the Family enclosure were more concerned as to what they perceived to be an overreaction, a fuss over nothing no less.  I can still vividly recall a supporter who had also engaged in the abuse telling my Dad that it was “no big deal” and that “the stewards have nothing better to do”.

That was 17 years ago.  I have been to many football grounds since and it is true I have never experienced that level of racism since.  Yet in other ways football has not evolved from that horrid evening.  There is still a reluctance to face down this problem in England.  England fans and the English football establishment are legendary for patting themselves on the back about campaigns such as “Kick it Out” and finger wagging towards the rest of the world whenever there are incidents of racism elsewhere.  But when the problem rears its ugly head at home, there is a remarkable tendency to either look the other way or attempt to sweep the issue under the carpet.

I accept there is a bigger problem abroad; Eastern Europe resembles a time warp to a poisonous era at times.  Equally I am not for a minute suggesting that we are back in the 1980s with Bananas on the pitch as John Barnes runs down the wing. However there is now a culture that England has got rid of the problem, and cannot bear for a moment to consider the prospect that there are still elements to tackle today.  It is for this reason that people like Aragones can sneer when anybody from England attempts to offer any lectures.  A lot like my last post about people in glass houses.

When Dwight Yorke complained that he was racially abused against his former club Blackburn during a match for Birmingham in 2004, his Chairman David Sullivan had his broomstick ready for action.  Arguing that Yorke’s grievance had stemmed from an incident which had been “blown out of proportion” and then compounded his ignorance with the stereotypical response of every modern day racist- “I've got black friends, Indian friends and Jewish friends.”   At the time I reworked a well known football song to capture the events of the Spain v England match and the race row involving Yorke, Sullivan and Blackburn:

“Chim-Chiminey, Chim-Chiminey, Chim-Chim Cherrooo. The Spanish have racists, but England has too!”

It went down like a lead balloon amongst my England supporting friends, but I stand by the song today as I did in 2004.  Two recent incidents involving very high profile players threaten to rock the English football family to its very foundations.  Luis Suarez and John Terry are both alleged to have been responsible for making racist insults during two separate fixtures this month against Patrice Evra and Anton Ferdinand respectively.  Incredibly Gordon Taylor has suggested he would be ready to offer mediation services.  Mediation?  If this were not so offensive in itself it would be laughable!

Another attempt to cover up the problem as opposed to finally confront the issue head on.  I’ve had enough of English football chastising the rest of the world regarding racism in the game only to pathetically resort to a broom when it comes to its own issues.  Fans of all colours should reject the tedious act of being fobbed off with broomsticks.

Friday, 30 September 2011

People In Glass Houses...

My island of Mauritius was back in the news last week.  The MedPoint scandal took an unprecedented twist as Pravind Jugnauth, leader of the Militant Socialist Movement (MSM) and son of the President Aneerood, was arrested and subsequently charged under the Prevention of Corruption Act (POCA).  This followed the award of a £3.8m contract to MedPoint Limited while Finance Minister, a company his relative had a 29.59% interest in.
Mauritius has a chequered history of corruption, a number of which during the late 1990’s brought down the first tenure of current Prime Minister Navin Ramgoolam.  The rainbow island has endured a cruel stigma as being a rogue state where people in authority are influenced by bribes and unsolicited gifts, part of which sadly is warranted, the rest of which possibly a lazy and ignorant stereotype of African countries in general which is totally unwarranted.
Jugnauth is not going down without a fight, and there are a number of fascinating sub-plots playing out with an increasing probability that an early election will be called.  This in turn introduces the intriguing prospect of Paul Berenger returning as Prime Minister.
What has been interesting to note as ever has been the attitudes of British based ex-pats, what you might describe as a condescending glance of disgust.  A resignation  that this is typical of Mauritius, that things will never change and they will always be that way.  A sad and incredibly damaging indictment it must be said.
Former colonial republics like Mauritius look to nations like Britain to set an example, and despite replacing the Queen as head of state nineteen years ago still have the Privy Council as the highest point of appeal within the Mauritian legal system.  Like several Commonwealth nations, it’s almost a reinforcement of the idea that even after independence, there is still a nod to the former colonial powerhouse as the figure of guidance when administering their own affairs.
It’s perhaps this status as a position of guidance that provides ex-pats with a confidence in Britain, an unquestionable faith that it can teach Mauritius a few lessons in responsible governance.  But we all know what happens to people in glass houses.
For all the criticisms of Mauritius, there must at the very least be an acknowledgement that it is a country which is attempting to address the problem of corruption.  It’s open to conjecture as to how much more it could be doing of course, and critics will rightly argue that there is a long way to go. 
That being said I’m deeply troubled when British based ex-pats feel assured enough to take the moral high ground over Mauritius, I feel it is essentially a flawed position.  Britain is far from perfect, from “Cash for Questions” to “Cash for Honours”, and lest we forget the military scandals involving the sales of weapons to Iraq and Sierra Leone.  The biggest police force in the UK is currently working hard to bury a corruption scandal that saw the two most senior officers resign earlier this year.  Central to the controversy was the figure of Andy Coulson, who having left the newspaper at the centre of the allegations, went on to become the Director of Communications for British Prime Minister David Cameron. 
As things stand nobody has ever been charged with any offence in Britain related to any of these scandals.  A few low level MP’s were successfully prosecuted following the expenses scandal, but all of the scandals involving senior figures have all followed the same tired pattern.  A scandal arises; people are hauled in for questioning which is later followed by more questioning.  The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) will consider the case before reporting back several months later when the furore has evaporated and subsequently announce that there is a lack of evidence to proceed with any charges.
The next time somebody from Britain would like to lecture about the never ending web of corruption in Mauritius, try asking them this: whatever happened to “Lord Cashpoint”?

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Good Riddance Gaddafi- Now Get Out Of The Chagos Islands!

Its always been fascinating watching Britain join other nations in the last six months intervening in the Libyan civil war, a mission said to prevent genocide and uphold human rights.  I shed no tears for the demise of Gaddafi, but equally do not hold much aspiration that the motives of the British like her allies have been sincere.  Libya is home to some of the world’s largest oil reserves and one only has to look at Bahrain, Yemen & Saudi Arabia to witness regimes with some of the worst human rights records being supported by the same allies because their leadership is regarded as being in line with Western interests.

Of course there is no such hope of a taskforce being set up to liberate the Chagos Islands.  No such banging of the tables at the UN to demand the adoptions of resolutions condemning the illegal occupation and depopulation of an indigenous community.  So instead we are left to increase the pressure through alternative methods.

In July the long awaited verdict was delivered in the Al-Skeini v UK case which stated that the European Convention on Human Rights applied wherever the UK exercised “effective control”.  This ruling is being seen as potentially crucial to determining the outcome of the Chagos Islanders v UK case where a judgment is due before the end of the year.

Britain has long maintained that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had no jurisdiction over the depopulation and subsequent policy towards the Chagos Islands due to the fact that the Islands are located in the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles from the European Union.  This you may remember is the latest episode of a legal battle which has dominated the last decade and the impending verdict is seen as the final ruling as there are no further avenues of appeal open to either party.

It has been a ruling which the British have been determined to undermine by creating the worlds largest Marine Protection Zone, so as to prevent the return of the Chagossian people back to their Islands if the ECHR were to rule in their favour.

Much has been made of the recent introduction of the Government’s E-Petition website which suggests that any petition which accumulates 100,000 signatories will trigger a debate in Parliament.  The significance of this for anybody who has followed this story is that it is very rare for Parliament to discuss this particular issue, even Early Day Motions have been few and far between.  An opportunity to force this back on to the political agenda is always welcome and should be seized upon. 

The link to the petition can be found here.

We are seeking 100,000 signatures in 12 months, a very difficult challenge when you remember that the most successful petitions accumulated for this cause have made barely 10% of that figure.  Anybody in the UK can sign this petition, please circulate among your friends- let us stop this hypocrisy of the British interpretation of human rights and force this back up the political agenda.

It is indeed good riddance to Gaddafi, but its also now time for a rebellious community to get out of the Chagos Islands.

Why We Should All Be Scrutinising Corrupt Capital Cops

The recent disturbances in England affected me on a personal level for several different reasons.  Firstly because I spent 14 years of my life living in Tottenham, secondly because I have personally been distressed by realising what the Metropolitan Police were capable of and thirdly because I was visiting Tottenham the night Mark Duggan was shot dead by police.

I arrived in Tottenham roughly 18 months after the events of October 1985.  I was an inquisitive child and was always aware of significant watershed moments during my childhood.  So it was no surprise when I quickly established that my new neighbourhood had achieved national notoriety due to the guilty verdicts of Winston Silcott, Mark Braithwaite and Engin Raghip, referred to as the Tottenham Three, over the murder of PC Keith Blakelock.

Four years later our school was visited by a local Police Constable with a question and answer session thrown in for good measure.  This visit had coincided with the recent news that the Tottenham Three had been acquitted of Blakelock’s murder.  So I queried the PC about the revelation that evidence had been fabricated, how he felt about it personally and what he thought should happen to the police officers involved.  The questions were of course never answered, but I was assured that “Winston Silcott was a thoroughly nasty piece of work”. 

I think it would be fair to say that this innocuous exchange had not left me with a positive impression of the Metropolitan Police.  Although young, I could see what had happened.  Somebody had been framed, a fact finally recognised by the legal process of this country.  Yet rather than concede that mistakes had been made, I was instead being subjected to overt indoctrination in the hope I would overlook the errors which had occurred in the first place.  The presumption being that since Silcott was a horrible man he deserved everything he got.  This didn’t sit well with me.

Two years later Joy Gardner was killed by immigration officers attempting to deport her from the country back to Jamaica.  Sadly this was another case which affected my local community.  The case came to trial in May 1995 and three police officers were acquitted a month later at the Old Bailey- two weeks before the commencement of my work experience placement there.

Reading about almost 3 metres of tape gagged around her mouth doesn’t quite have the same impact as finding the photographs of Joy Gardner in the registry of the Old Bailey.  They were the images you would associate with a battered wife, not the deportation of a woman by immigration officers.  It was impossible for me to comprehend that the three people who did this had not only been acquitted but had also retained their careers.  It was a complete contradiction of the smear campaign that had been deployed immediately after her death that she was a violent and dangerous woman.

From that day I was suspicious of the Metropolitan Police.  I didn’t buy into the reforms of the Macpherson report.  The case of Jean Charles De Menezes genuinely scared me and for the first time I feared for my own safety simply for having Brown eyes!  So I really should have known better when I heard that somebody had been shot by police about 15 minutes from where I was.  The line doing the rounds was that someone had shot at police and was killed.  The indication being Mark Duggan was incredibly stupid and paid the price. 

By Friday morning the story had evolved to now suggest that there had been a car chase, implying a getaway car, and that Duggan had been a drug dealer.  There is no doubt in my mind that all of these snippets of information were part of an agenda to reduce interest in the story, as I am sure I was not alone when I reacted to the news with a shrug of the shoulders.  All of the clues added up to a sense of inevitability, and no reason to suspect any foul play.  Echoes you might recall of the initial deliberate misinformation regarding the mistaken shooting of De Menezes.

Barely 24 hours later, the story took a very different angle.  There was no car chase.  Duggan was in a minicab.  Duggan had not fired at police.  The gun which was recovered from Duggan was in a sock and unprepared for use.  Duggan was a father of four and had never been convicted of a criminal offence.

We all know what transpired next and the chain of events which unfolded and spread from this corner of North London to the rest of the country.  I simply do not believe that the police were unable to contain these outbreaks of disorder.  We had seen them do it time and time again in more prestigious areas of London such as the Student and anti-globalization riots.  Surely it cannot be a coincidence that the two most iconic images of the disturbances were of two very old buildings burning to the ground, apparently because it was too dangerous for fire crews to approach due to a fear of violence from rioters.  As my cousin pointed out at the time, had the Olympics Stadium been on fire, they would have found a way to put it out, danger or otherwise.

Furthermore the Metropolitan Police have a track record of regularly policing far larger gatherings of people such as concerts, sporting events and rallies.  So the idea that they were overwhelmed simply does not add up.

My theory is it was an orchestrated attempt by the Metropolitan Police, involved in a dispute against their own cuts, to provide a backdrop of chaos and loss of control to support the assertion that their budget must not be cut.  It worked beautifully as politicians lined up to denounce the austerity drive against the police.  How anybody could fall for it given that it was the very same police force drowning in corruption allegations only weeks earlier is even more astonishing.

I’m not a fan of the Metropolitan Police and probably never will be, but isn’t time we all start scrutinising this force a little bit more?

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Defending the rights of the Far-Right

Jeremy Paxman caused something of a stir this week when his interview on BBC Television’s Newsnight with Tommy Robinson from the EDL was deemed to be out of step with his traditional interrogation style he built his reputation on.  Some even questioned the idea of providing airtime to such a provocative individual, only three days after last week’s atrocities in Norway by the far-right extremist Anders Behring Breivik. 

I have always felt it is important in a democracy to provide a platform to people I don’t necessarily agree with.  I celebrated the appearance of the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time for example and the manner in which he was taken apart by fellow panelists and the studio audience. 

I will defend the right of people like Griffin and Robinson to have a stage to air their unusual views of the world.  But I also feel we need to look closer at what this freedom should entail.  If we are going to uphold the freedom’s of far right extremists, then we cannot screech in horror when some people decide to burn some poppies during a demonstration.

Freedom of speech is freedom of speech.  Some may say that Tommy Robinson’s appearance on the BBC amounted to inciting racial hatred and should not have been broadcast.  I disagree; I feel that it is right that he is provided an opportunity to share his political perspective, even if in doing so he makes me personally feel very uncomfortable.  Disturbed even.  Perhaps almost as disturbing as paying your respects during Remembrance ceremonies and hearing of somebody mocking the event by burning poppies.  Yet we cannot have a situation where we selectively defend and uphold the freedoms in some cases, while utilising the full force of the law to remove the right from others.

It is time we have a full and frank debate about what freedom of speech actually means.  And let me reiterate again, I do not want to see people like Robinson or Griffin banned, however I would like to see better consistency so that they have their stage, but that equally if some people wish to express their opposition to military campaigns around the world (and I do believe there are far better ways of doing this nonetheless) they should have the freedom to do so.  And if they want to purchase some flowers and burn them at the same time then that should be their right to do so.  I don’t expect you to agree with it, I’d be troubled personally if you did, but we must enable people a right to express their views, irrespective of how uncomfortable they may make us feel.

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Time To Stop Bullying The Unions

Growing up in London didn’t adequately enable my mind to fully comprehend the various dimensions of industrial disputes.  A long running saga involving signalmen meant that a Religious Education teacher regularly failed to make it to work during the mid 1990s.  This of course led to the unavoidable introduction of a substitute teacher during these spells which were always memorable occasions, though sadly not because we were accomplishing educational achievements. 

By the time I was 18 I had a very peculiar understanding of Unions and how they were relevant to modern life.  I look back and cringe now with embarrassment as I reflect on my comments which dismissed the existence of Unions as a “militant group that is ready to strike, ready to bring the country into anarchy at the drop of a hat.”

Yes I am sorry to say I was something of a Blairite in those days.

Moving to the Midlands did alter my mindset greatly, although in truth my ideological fascination with New Labour had reached the end of the road long before I packed up for Derby in the same week as 9/11.  Arriving in Nottingham less than a year later, I was a little wiser, but events like the Miners dispute of the 1980s had still largely passed me by. 

Coming from a London background, it was inevitable that my mind would have been corrupted by a poisonous right-wing dominated media, irrespective of my own personal political leanings.  As irony would have it, I spent a lot of time living in the very North of Nottingham, not far from the old Newstead pit which was the source of so much focus during the dispute.  Having lived here before and after the 20th anniversary of the strike, I was able to attain a far more comprehensive understanding as the local media heavily reflected on the divisions that not only existed at the time between the NUM and UDM, but continued to enflame tensions two decades on.

When I started visiting London regularly again in 2008, I had a very different outlook on industrial relations, irrespective of the sector it affected.  I was cautious as to the true intentions of the media.  I always made a point by default of supporting a period of industrial action unless the case they had put forward was in my view overwhelmingly weak. 

This was a total reversal of my position earlier in life, which had been very much a case of the opposite viewpoint.  In another twist of fate, this period coincided with a certain Boris Johnson becoming Mayor of London, and directly on collision course with the RMT on the London Underground.

I have followed the dispute closely and cannot find a single episode of industrial action in the last three years where a compelling case for a strike was not made.  This doesn’t necessarily ring true with protestations from London Underground bosses or the Mayor of London, who have regularly sought to whip up hysteria amongst the public against the RMT with rhetoric such as “holding London to ransom”.

Media coverage from the recent years has gone a long way to reinforcing the myth that the RMT resembled my view of Unions from 1998, but upon closer inspection we see that time and time again there has been a credible case for the Union to sanction industrial action.  

In June 2009 the traditional right-wing elements of the media continually projected the idea that the industrial action was about pay, perpetuating an all too familiar image of selfish tube workers in a climate of economic uncertainty.  No mention then of the compulsory redundancies being mooted, with 1000 jobs at risk.

By 2010 the volume had been increased as it became personal with both RMT leader Bob Crow and his Union labelled as “bullies”.   Regular reference was made to his generous salary of £150,000 per year.  A great deal of money by anybody’s estimation, but Boris Johnson himself regards a figure of £250,000 a year as “chicken feed” (in addition to his £143,911 remuneration package as Mayor of London) so its perhaps somewhat relative really.  Interestingly the issue at the heart of this spell of industrial action was once again the prospect of compulsory redundancies including front line staff which would have had an impact on passenger safetyparticularly late at night.

So here we are, the final days of June 2011 and awaiting one of the most monumental days in recent industrial relations history.  June 30th has been selected as a day of co-ordinated strikes.  Public Sector workers have effectively been left with the bill for the economic mess the country finds itself in and are being asked to delay retirement to pay for it.  Fair enough you might think for those in the public sector who are young enough to prepare for the change, but this is affecting people who are 56 and 57.  Women who were anticipating retirement in a few years are now being asked to contribute more to their pensions, receive less and work longer in order to tackle the national debt.

On the 30th June, workers from across the public sector spectrum, including Civil Servants and Teachers will join the walk out.  Is this selfish?  If you were in their shoes would you regard this as fair?

The RMT were originally scheduled to be joining them, this time fighting for the reinstatement of a tube driver, who had been vindicated by an employment tribunal and should never have been dismissed.  Last Thursday London Underground finally reinstated the driver and the RMT subsequently cancelled their intention to strike on June 30th.  Interestingly despite this The Mail has decided to run with its story anyway, presumably as part of a wider agenda to reiterate the propaganda of Unions being managed by “fat cats” and thus undermine public confidence in the strike at the end of June.

In response the Coalition Government are proposing to introduce new laws for industrial action, a threshold of a minimum turnout in order to enable any strike to proceed.  The notion being that industrial action should only proceed where 50% of the employees actually endorse one. 

The concept has potential I must admit, but very unfair considering such rules do not apply to elections of far greater importance such as those of local authorities or General Elections.  Last years election which was widely considered to be the closest for almost 2 decades had a turnout of just 65%. 

Brighton & Hove City Council elected their local authority with as little as 41% of registered voters actually participating.  The No to AV victory dismissed the prospect of electoral reform anytime soon on a far lower turnout for example: just 42%.   If Cameron had set such a threshold for General Elections then even the electoral landslides of 1983 and 1997 for the Tories and Labour respectably would have ended very differently since less than 50% of approval from the electorate was achieved in either election. 

The RMT are proposing to pass a resolution next week at their AGM which will support the right of return for the Chagossian community to the Chagos Islands, a cause I take a great deal of interest in.  I hope the proposal succeeds.  But even if they don’t I will still continue to support their industrial actions by default, unless they one day make the case otherwise. 

I have wasted far too much of my life believing the opposite.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Gunner vs Gooner

I have never known a week like it

Banter amongst rival fans is one thing, but last Sunday I took the unusual step of switching off my phone half an hour into our game against Aston Villa . Not because I was afraid of the texts from Spurs or Chelsea fans. Not even because I didn’t wish to be tormented by Man Utd fans still celebrating their 19 th title last Saturday.

No I switched off my phone to avoid confrontation with fellow Arsenal fans. Friends, close friends, the type who share a laugh and sigh as we follow our beloved Gunners together, but not last Sunday. It had been coming. The last few weeks, with the exception of that glorious afternoon on May 1 st , have been a horrible journey as we have jointly watched as our team self destructed from chasing four trophies at the end of February to another season of regret and sadness.

No trophies. Again. The scenes at the end of last Sunday’s match were amongst the most shameful I have ever had to witness as an Arsenal fan. To watch as a few thousand Arsenal fans stayed behind after the final whistle to abuse our players on their traditional lap of honour (or appreciation as its been referred to this week) was my saddest experience as a Gooner. Yes even topping the personal heartbreak I experienced watching us go so close in Paris . Sure enough I switched on the phone a short while later and not a single rival fan had bothered to leave a text. Quite tragic when we are so bad that we don’t even warrant any banter from our rivals anymore. But that didn’t mean my phone didn’t stop alerting me to the text messages I had waiting for me, from fellow Arsenal fans. The Arsenal civil war had begun.

I lashed out spectacularly. I accused one of not being fit to call himself an Arsenal fan, a few more of being a glory hunter’s, and another of being a fake fickle follower who abandoned us when the going got too tough. I stand by those sentiments today and make no apologies for the tone of my outburst. Let me first put my observations into context. As collapses go, this was right up there with Devon Loch and Newcastle United . Of course it saddened me to watch us go so close, to be so near yet so far to finally landing that elusive trophy after six agonising years. However I refuse to condemn my team too harshly because despite the way we have finished the season, we are still set to qualify for the Champions League for a 14 th successive year. Not even AC Milan and Barcelona can match that, let alone Chelsea and Liverpool. I believe the reason for Arsenal’s failiure to win the league this season has been down to our woeful home form. The performances away from the Emirates have been enough to secure the title, we’ve had one of our best away campaigns in years. The reason we are not planning for a trophy parade next weekend is down to the “fans” at the Emirates. The groans, booing, and general lack of support whenever we have not been 2-0 up after 25 minutes of “winnable” games is destructive and a cancer which I think the time has come to address.

I don’t buy into this argument that Arsenal are a poor team, how can we be? For any team to beat Barcelona, Man Utd and Chelsea at the Emirates in the same season has to be a special side. But the reason we succeeded in those games while failing so miserably against the likes of Newcastle, West Brom and of course Aston Villa is down to the kind of support we have been receiving. When Arsenal were 1-0 down after 65 minutes against Barcelona, all you could hear was the crowd crying “Come on Arsenal”. We know what happened next. Now think of the match against Newcastle at home? Boos at half time, more abuse at full time, and yet we are meant to be surprised? Arsenal fans are not stupid and realise that Barcelona are a great side, arguably the best in the world. But the club needs the kind of support and encouragement whether we are playing Chelsea or Crewe.

The past six years have been challenging. Though let’s not fool ourselves here. Yes we are a big club, but we haven’t successfully defended a league title since the 1930’s. The facts are that the period between 1998 and 2005 represent the most glittering and rewarding chapter of our long and proud history. The trophies only tell half the story, the records go a bit further . But the very fact that the slogan which became associated with Arsenal and still is true today is not the “boring boring boring Arsenal” I grew up around, but the “Arsenal always score” mantra which is almost always correct. Granted we have had a few bad days at the office this season, a few more than usual when it comes to scoring, but we are still right up there in terms of goals scored in the league.

Cast your minds back just under 20 years ago and we were managing 40 goals a season. Just about a goal a game. The dark old days when our goal difference was in single figures. There has been a re-emergence recently of an almost romantic vision of the gorgeous George Graham days. Possibly helped in turn by comments from that not so loveable rogue (and boyhood Chelsea fan) Paul Merson. George led the team to the first trophy in my lifetime , so despite the funny looking brown envelopes stuffed with cash , he will always retain a special place in my personal Arsenal history. No arguments there. Though to suddenly reminisce back to his management as some kind of golden era of silverwear and rich memories is not only distorting history, its borderline insulting. 2 league titles, an FA Cup, 2 league cups and 1 European Cup Winners Cup. We qualified for the European Cup once and missed out on the very first Champions League courtesy of an embarrassing defeat at home to Benfica who comprehensively put us to the sword in our own back yard . The Cup Winners Cup was always seen as the easiest of European trophies to win, hence the reason why it is not even contested anymore.

I’m not being horrible, just reflecting the reality for what it is. We were a team who only challenged for the title when we actually ended up winning it . In between we had some really awful seasons. One season we were actually talked of as part of the relegation battle. I will never forget the feature on London Tonight in 1995 (around the time when Graham was entering the final days of his reign) when they were actually discussing the possibility of Arsenal dropping out of the top flight for the first time since 1919. This is why I can’t tolerate people abusing our players, condemning the club, demanding the board be replaced or that Wenger be sacked. I can’t take these fickle little cretins as serious Arsenal fans. I have told them as such this week: if you don’t like it then get yourself down to the shop and go and buy a Chelsea or Man City shirt, because we really don’t want nor need your “support”. We are paying off a brand new stadium while retaining our position in the elite group of English football by always finishing in the top four. If we were debt free, finishing in 8 th place and empty handed maybe I would follow these Neanderthals. Even then it would have to be successive seasons; surely even the messiah is allowed one bad season.

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Why vote YES on May 5th?

I was an exception to the rule in terms of my interest in politics.  Young people generally don’t seem to share my fascination, and this is amplified even more so when considering people of ethnic heritage.  I have always put this down to the destructive nature of the First Past The Post (FPTP) political system which we have in this country.  I have been lucky, in my entire life I have always lived in “safe” Labour seats: Hackney, Tottenham, Derby and now Nottingham.  But what if I had lived in Kensington & Chelsea? 

I have been in favour of Proportional Representation (PR) since about 2005 when the General Election turnout plummeted to record depths.  I genuinely believe that an electoral system which banishes the concept of “safe seats” will engage the electorate far more and motivate more people to take an interest.  After all, it’s something that affects us all, whether we choose to vote or not.

This proposal for the AV system is not PR, it is not even close.  But it is fairer than FPTP, this is undeniable.  How on earth can we have a political system which allows for somebody who is rejected by as much as 70% of his/her constituency to represent them?  It’s incredible to think that we have allowed a system to be retained for so long.

What we should not be doing is retaining the existing system on the basis that the alternative does not satisfy all of the criticisms of FPTP.  This would be a huge mistake.  I accept that AV is complicated and at times comes across as more confusing than the Champions League first round draw.  However once one is able to grasp the basic notions of the concept, the argument for fairness is overriding.  It is not fair that elections in this country are normally decided by about 200,000 people in 100 of the marginal seats, while the other 500 seats making up the millions of other voters cast a vote which quite frankly is not worth the paper it is written on.  It is not fair that somebody in a constituency of about 30,000 registered voters can win with a majority of 1 vote and in a scenario where over two thirds of his/her constituency rejected their candidature unequivocally. 

I accept the argument that FPTP provides for strong governments, but dictatorships provide strong governments too, though I don’t see any of us campaigning for Gaddafi to go “on & on” in Libya.  This country desperately needs electoral reform.  AV should not be seen as the final solution, but instead as a gateway to debate.  Let us abolish FPTP, try AV for perhaps 1 or 2 elections.  In the meantime we can have an informed debate about the merits of the alternatives, including those of AV+ as proposed by Roy Jenkins as well PR.  Just because AV does not represent the utopia in terms of an answer for our need for reform, it does not mean that we should retain the status quo.

My dislike of the Conservative party is no hidden secret.  Well actually dislike is too polite a word. I hate Tories, I always have done. 

I think it was something that came about from growing up in two of the most economically deprived areas in terms of Hackney and Tottenham where I spent the first 21 years of my life.  I can still remember teachers at my school with their “Save ILEA” stickers, and although only 8 at the time, I was developing an unnatural intolerance for all things Tory.  Two years later, at the grand old age of 10, I attended a festival/demonstration at Ducketts Common in Turnpike Lane which was held to demonstrate opposition towards the Poll Tax.  I shall never forget the excitement and cheer which rang around the park when an effigy of Thatcher was introduced to place on top of a bonfire, and the cheers which rang around when I had aimed a petulant kick at this very same figure with a mask of the former Prime Minister.

Of course my understanding of politics in those days was very much in its infancy.  I was old enough to remember watching images on TV from anti-Poll Tax demonstrations, Hackney struck a chord with me because of my own personal connections, but the big one was that infamous gathering in Central London on 31st March 1990 as Trafalgar Square morphed into something from a war zone as protestors clashed with Police.  Even at a very young age, I was able to make the very justifiable connection between public fury and Tory policies. 

And I shall never forget that never to be forgotten morning when Thatcher resigned as Prime Minister in November 1990 and witnessing the delight among so many.  It’s a day which I recall with the same fondness as some of my Arsenal memories; though admittedly with each passing season do become slightly hazier.

As I got older I was able to substantiate this dislike and my fascination with politics never waned.  I was able to understand the historical distrust from people like me who were of ethnic heritage, a fact of course that could be traced back to Smethwick 1964 and the disgusting election slogan about voting Liberal or Labour.  I understood for example that all the legislation which had been introduced to protect people like me and my family had been introduced by a Labour administration, the last of which being the Race Relations Act of 1976.

Nor either shall I ever forget waking up that morning to go College in May 1997 which was my first experience of a Labour Government.  I had been born almost exactly 12 months to the day after Callaghan was swept from power, so unfortunately I had very much been a child of Thatcher.  Its also quite amusing to recall my father’s observation that morning that while it was wonderful that 18 years of Conservative rule had come to an end, it was important to remember that Tony Blair was a different kind of Labour leader and would not provide the kind of policies which Labour administrations of old would have introduced without hesitation.  “Real” Labour, would be an appropriate description of what he had been referring to.

Yet for all the disappointment of the Blair years, and the sad demise of Gordon Brown which followed, I always knew that the alternative was unthinkable.   Riots, people dying on hospital trolleys, schools crumbling: just some of the kind of despicable achievements of the Tory administration which provided the backdrop to the first seventeen years of my life.  Labour was far from perfect between 1997 and 2010, but the alternative was unthinkable.  I don’t think the events of the first eleven months of this Government has been too far off that assessment, although to date there have been no race riots which inflicted such scars on so many communities, most notably Broadwater Farm in Tottenham and the similar scenes in Brixton. 

But its early days yet!

So against this backdrop of why I detest the dominant political force of the last 300 years, it should come as no surprise why I am passionately endorsing a YES vote on May 5th.  It’s well known that the Conservatives would suffer under the Alternative Vote (AV) system being proposed.

The Liberal Democrats will be the big winners of this reform and given what has happened in the last eleven months, I can understand why this may trouble some as to why I would endorse such a proposal.  Labour does benefit but not by nearly as much.  The big losers will be the Conservatives, and yes this should be an added fillet to inspire similar thinkers to myself to come out on May 5th and vote Yes.  Yet this goes beyond party politics and my own irrational bias.  This is about what is fair and what will inspire people to once again participate in our elections, especially amongst young people. 

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Why East London and not Crystal Palace must have an athletics legacy

When Sepp Blatter revealed that Russia had won the race to stage the 2018 World Cup, my first reaction was that the likes of Seb Coe had played a crucial role in ensuring this country would never again be trusted to stage a major international sporting event again.  The promises of London 2012 and the much lauded Athletics legacy had been ripped up in favour of providing a Premier League football club with a stadium on the cheap.  It was a shameful and embarrassing indictment of this country’s ability to ever successfully execute all of the lofty assurances.

In many ways it was a scandal that London should even have been awarded the Olympics of 2012 in the first place.  The humiliation of Pickets Lock 2005 and the IAAF Athletics World Championships which were awarded to London were still fresh in the minds.  The farce that unravelled as the Championships were then forfeited after it was determined that the cost of the project couldn’t be justified.  This should have ensured that it would be a quarter of a century or more before this country would be considered to stage a crazy golf championship, let alone the largest sporting event in the world.

Somehow the IAAF president Lamine Diack was convinced to vote in favour of London as opposed to the rival Paris bid.  This was despite the fact that Diack himself is of Senegalese origin, therefore closer to the Francophone interests who could have expected him to support the Parisian package.  Diack has since condemned the proposals to renege the promises of 2005 with proposals of allowing a football club to takeover the Olympic stadium after 2012.  He says that Britain’s global reputation will be finished if Tottenham are allowed to demolish the athletics track and create a football only stadium. 

Putting my Arsenal bias aside, which can be incredibly difficult at the best of times, I have a tendency to agree with him.  Their half baked proposals to redevelop Crystal Palace National Sports Centre are a poor attempt to appease those concerned by the possibility of the promises of 2005 being broken in 2012.  So far the only credible voice from the world of athletics has come in the shape of Darren Campbell who argued that Tottenham’s bid should be considered.  The crucial difference between Stratford and Crystal Palace, as any visitor to London will tell you, is that the latter lacks the transport infrastructure of the East London terminus. 

I also think that after the ill feeling of the old Wimbledon FC who became Milton Keynes Dons, there is little appetite in football to back a club to move so far away from their natural catchment area.  Admittedly moving to a different borough in London is not quite the same as moving to a different city, there is still a feeling in the game that the lessons of MK Dons in 2002 must never be allowed to happen again.

West Ham appears to be the lesser of two evils, they have promised to retain the athletics track in a stadium revamp which would see the capacity reduced from 80,000 to just over 60,000.  On the face of it a perfect marriage in which a club in the same borough as Stratford gets to inherit the stadium while still ensuring the assurances of an athletics legacy in East London were met, and not torpedoed to a poorly located (and connected!) suburb of South East London.   But if recent opinion polls have supported West Ham’s bid for the Olympic Stadium, they may find they are about to encounter an unlikely barrier to their aspirations from a forgotten local neighbour.

Barry Hearn, Chairman of Leyton Orient, is concerned that West Ham taking up residency 2 miles away from their own stadium will entice supporters from the O’s to the Olympic stadium with cheap tickets and other incentive based membership schemes.  He would prefer Tottenham to win the bid, as they have a longer season ticket waiting list and are less likely to dramatically reduce their ticket prices in order to fill the stadium.  A realist however, he senses that recent momentum is behind the West Ham proposal.  Hearn is now considering the possibility of pursuing West Ham’s move with legal action, which with appeals could delay any move by as much as five years.

Its difficult not to feel sorry for Orient, they are London’s second oldest football club and were the original interested party in the stadium back in 2008, but ruled it out when the idea of 25,000 seater stadium was scrapped.  It would be ridiculous to even consider the idea of Leyton Orient playing in a 60,000 stadium, one only has to look to Scotland where Queen’s Park play their domestic football crowds in the National stadium at Hampden Park, a ground with a capacity of 52,000 while Queen’s Park average attendances of 750!

If West Ham did secure the Olympic stadium after 2012, there is a very real possibility that Leyton Orient would be squeezed out of existence.  On the other hand if Tottenham are allowed to fulfil their proposal, the East End of London will not have a dedicated athletics facility after 2012.  There are other important questions which need to be asked of the West Ham proposal, such as considering what would happen in the event that the club were to be relegated and were unable to fill the stadium.  A quick glance at the Premiership league table shows that this is a very realistic outcome in 2011 and would leave the taxpayer subsidising the stadium long after the Olympics stopped generating any revenue.

In an ideal world the promise of 2005 of an athletics only stadium would be fulfilled.  The reality of using a stadium once a year and staging a major international competition every 15 years would be impossible to justify, particularly in an existing financial climate of austerity and cuts.  Leyton Orient is the romantics’ choice, Tottenham the treasury’s choice.  This leaves West Ham as the option which neither satisfies the treasury or the romantics, but in retaining the athletics track, does at least induce the support of powerful voices from the world of athletics, including Lord Coe himself.  West Ham’s bid does not make financial sense, nor does it fill me with confidence that football fans will enjoy visiting a stadium where fans behind the goal are 45 metres from the action.  However Diack has pointed out, quite rightly, that until 2000 Wembley was one of the most celebrated stadiums in the world and had a track around the pitch which accommodated not only Greyhound racing (until 1998), but also motor racing events as well.

West Ham must be awarded the Olympic stadium in order to preserve Britain’s reputation on the global stage as a nation who can be held to their word.  For all the hand wringing of England’s failed 2018 football World Cup bid, there can be no possibility of Britain ever being taken seriously for any future major international events if the promises of 2005 are broken post 2012.  East London must have an athletics legacy, not in Crystal Palace but in Stratford. 

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Time to gooooo: Theoooooo

Admittedly as I write this I am emotionally drained.  I cannot find the words to best surmise my utter horror at watching my Arsenal not only make a meal of a broken and bruised Ipswich, but to somehow contrive to actually lose to them.  And indeed it is true that as a unit, the team just didn't perform as we know they are capable of.  There were moments of the Arsenal we know and love, but these were mere footnotes in an otherwise lamentable display.

I watched with a friend and the brunt of his anger was Arshavin, who again put in another sub-standard performance.  Its been a few months now since I felt that we were watching the beginning of the end of Andrei's Arsenal career.  I'd be surprised if he were still here next season.

I put it to my friend that regardless of how Andrei's Arsenal career concludes, he has actually already served the purpose of his purchase.  In January 2009 we were in serious danger of missing out on the Champions League for the first time since 1997, an unthinkable prospect when you consider the financial constraints the club works within since leaving Highbury almost five years ago.  Arshavin almost single handedly dragged us from the abyss that is Thursday nights on Channel Five and the miserable land of the Europa League and helped us to secure a top 4 finish.  That contribution probably paid £15m and then a sizeable chunk of interest on top as well.

One only has to look at the farce taking place at Anfield to see where a season out of the Champions League can lead to.

So yes I get frustrated with Andrei just like most other Arsenal fans, but I can never be too angry with him as he will always have a special place in Arsenal's history as being an important purchase at a critical milestone in our quest to go from biggest club in London to biggest club in the world. 

My frustrations, and general outright anger now, relate to a player whose arrival to the club had me very excited because he was well regarded for his age.  The one who would eventually replace the iconic Thierry Henry as the greatest player to ever pull on the famous red & white shirt.

Make no mistake about it, when Theo is a substitute coming on in a game in the 65th minute as teams are tiring, he can be an exceptional introduction.  Yes even a match winner.  His pace scares the life out of defenders and he does display moments of quality finishing in and around the box. 

My problem has been how the club would evolve him from this almost niche category he has managed to box himself into.  The aspirations of everyone around the club must surely have been to move him on from the impact player, to one who starts and influences matches from early on, and is consistent enough to last the 90 minutes. 

Theo joined the club five years ago next week. 

I just don't see how he has evolved into anything like the kind of player he should be at this stage of his career.  His game seems to solely rely on his natural pace, which of course becomes less explosive as the match goes on.  His finishing is still a lot to be desired, it can be described as erratic at times. 

I am mindful of the fact that most Arsenal fans will of course point out that Thierry was 21 when he joined us and didn't show signs of becoming the majestic superstar until 2 years later, but I think it's worth putting this into context.  Thierry joined Arsenal as a winger who was moved into the striker's position and the 2 years he took to truly adapt to his new role were to be expected.

Theo was signed as a winger, but even from the age of 17, he was always being groomed as the heir to Thierry.  He was always being developed with the long term objective of turning this prodigious talent into somebody who could possibly become the greatest player the club has ever had.

With this in mind, I just don't feel that this standard is acceptable for 5 years of development at the club.

So why do so many Arsenal fans defend Theo so passionately?  What has he brought to the club?  What crucial goals has he contributed to our recent history?

I can recall a wonder goal against Chelsea in the 2007 Carling Cup Final at Wembley, but we went on to lose the game, so hardly a significant chapter in our history!

I know he has scored a few, I was at St James' Park earlier this season when he scored 2 goals against Newcastle in a 4-0 win.  Would we still be in the Carling Cup if it weren't for Theo's contribution?  I'm not convinced that we wouldn't be.

So what is it with Theo and this almost unquestionable faith that my fellow Arsenal fans seem to have in him which I just cannot share nor empathise with.

The simple reality is the fans are more patient, forgiving and supportive of Theo because he is English and an England international.  I really don't think that fellow Arsenal fans would be nearly as understanding if Theo had been Greek, or German, or French, or from West Africa.  No indeed I not only don't think it would happen, I know it would not happen.

I accept that this is possibly a consequence of the fact that in recent years Arsenal haven't actually fielded that many English internationals, or indeed players from England.  Well not in the first team anyway.  And as a France fan, I suppose I could be forgiven for not completely showing apathy with Arsenal fans who are England fans. 

I think its time we put our international allegiances aside and tell it how it is: Theo Walcott is not good enough to represent Arsenal Football Club.  If you disagree, ask yourself this question and answer honestly: would you still maintain this stance if he were a Slovenian international?