Monday, 21 September 2009

And here we go again..

The post on the health debate in America will have to wait, because as many of you will have heard, the debate about university fees has reared its ugly head again, with the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) suggesting that fees should go up, loans be reduced, and less students be let into higher education. So, according to the CBI, not only should students have to pay higher fees, but they should also be given little, if any, money to live off while they study.

Now, one thing always strikes me whenever this debate resurfaces, namely that the biggest advocates of the 'students should pay more' argument fall into two types of person:

1) Mr/Mrs never-been-to-university-and-never-will: In the vast majority of cases, this type has an image in their head of students being the stereotypical layabout who sits around watching daytime tv and eating toast all day, then getting drunk every night. Naturally, this is all on the back of Mr/Mrs never been to..'s taxes. Granted, there are some students who lay around and don't study when they should be, but these are the minority in many cases - not to mention, they tend to be the ones who realise they've wasted three years around graduation time on picking up a 3rd class degree in film & tv, so there is some justice. My own experience from graduation this year is that those who didn't put in the work didn't get the results.

As for drinking, well thats another long paragraph potentiall in itself. All I will say is that in my experience, students get drunk a lot less than those in full time jobs. The main point, however, is that this person sticks rigidly to this negative stereotype of students and is all too quick to blabber on 'Have Your Say' about how students should get no help at all and should get jobs instead of studying.

2)Mr/Mrs forgotten-how-they-got-where-they-are: I can almost forgive the ignorance of the first type - its an easy view to hold when you don't know any different. But I really can't stand the types (such as those who run the CBI) who actually went to university themselves, yet still advocate raising fees. This is nothing less than climbing the ladder to the top, and then pulling it up out of reach of those at the bottom - and it is despicable. Especially so when you consider that these people got to where they were on the back of FREE university education, and were given grants on which to live.

I'm a realist about this though. I know we shall probably never see a return to free higher education, and I can accept students paying towards their degree if it means good quality institutions and teaching. What I never have been able to accept is attempts by those in power to introduce hikes in fees and reductions in grants that restrict who goes to university. Yes, I agree with the CBI that the 50% target isn't right (there shouldn';t be a target at all). However, for me, no person should be restricted in their educational opportunities because of their level of income. The kind of measures the CBI suggest will only set this country back by many years by restricting university education to those with the ability to afford it, rather than opening it to everyone who has the desire and academic ability to do a degree.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

'Diving' and a case of unexpected generosity (sort of)

Yeah.. that old committment to blog regularly seems to have fallen away. I'll admit, I do earmark things to blog about but usually by the time I've got back from work its slipped my mind.

Anyway enough of that, onto the first of my two football topics for today. Firstly, quick off the mark (or not..) as ever, I thought I'd talk about my thoughts on the whole recent diving controversy. I'll admit, I absolutely despise the occurence of diving in football; ok, its hardly up there with sticking a fake blood capsule in your mouth in cheating terms, but it's dishonest and outright unsporting behaviour. However, I welcomed the news that Eduardo's UEFA-imposed ban for diving (allegedly) in the Champions League match against Celtic was recently overturned. The decision initially to hand Eduardo a two match ban seemed all too reactionary for my liking, designed to appease those calling for harsher penalties on players who dive and, ultimately, to make an example of Eduardo. I agree with punishment for players who dive, but it must be applied even-handedly - at the end of the day, diving is an all too regular appearance in football (I'd argue that the penalty Wayne Rooney won in the match against Arsenal the following weekend was almost, if not equally, as dubious as the one Eduardo won). For me, difficult as it might be in an age when tv replays are watched over and over again in post-match analysis, the final word should rest with the match referee on the day.

Onto something a little more positive, with the news that the Premier League has made a one-off payment of £1million to the 68 clubs in the Football Conference (Conference Prem, Conf North and Conf South). As a fan of a Conference North team, I particuarly welcome this payment. While it may not be much in terms of the kind of money splashing around in the Premiership, it is nonetheless a welcome gesture at a time when clubs in the non-league pyramid are facing numerous financial problems. Furthermore, after the collapse of Setanta and the failure to reach a deal between ESPN and the Conference, this payment will be important in going some way towards plugging the gap left by the expected payments from Setanta, especially when most teams will have budgeted on the basis of receiving the money from the broadcaster. Shame we won't see a more sustained redistribution of wealth towards the lower leagues and the grassroots, but every little helps.

Next up on my blog: the American healthcare debate!

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The surprising adventures of Rich on public transport

I'm breaking with one of my self-imposed rules that I would not use this blog to carry on about my day to day activities, but I think this little story forms part of a wider tale about public transport. In particular, for me, it illustrates just why public transport has, for many people, yet to become a viable long term alternative to car usage.

Anyway, my car yesterday went in for its MOT which meant that for the first time since starting my new job two weeks ago, I had to rely on public transport to get myself from Telford to Walsall. My trip to work went something like this:

7.05 - Left my house
7.27 - Caught the train from Wellington station
8.20 - Arrived at Birmingham New Street
8.39 - Caught train for Rugeley Trent Valley
8.59 - Arrived in Walsall
9.15 - Arrived at work

On the face of it, such a journey doesn't look so horrific. However, the first thing that you will notice is that it, in effect, took me two hours to get from Telford to Walsall. Those of you familiar with the geography of Birmingham and the Black Country will also notice that, in one of those annoying quirks of the British rail network, I had to effectively double back on myself in the trajectory of my overall journey. Additionally, if I was to get a train from Wolverhampton to Walsall, that would take me 55 minutes, stopping at numerous stations in between, seemingly going into Birmingham, then back up to Walsall. Next, consider that on a normal day driving to work, the journey to Walsall would take me less than half the time it took by train. Even with the inevitable congestion on the M6, this journey rarely takes me more than 45 minutes, and I expect that when the schools go back the journey will still take not much more than an hour.

I know I've strayed into rant territory, but quite frankly it needed saying. For the UK to truly move away from car usage, it appears to me that we need substantial investment in the public transport infrastructure. Granted, we are in a recession and cuts are being made, but for us to have a truly world class rail system we need a clear vision, that will be adhered to, of how the government (whoever it may be) will drive forward the development of the network so that we can move towards higher speed, electrified lines across the country.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Hey big spenders!

Firstly, apologies once again for the lack of posts recently. The last couple of weeks have been rather busy, topped off with graduation this week, so writing things for this blog has taken a back seat. Anyway, I realise I may have said that this blog will 'mainly be about politics' when I first set it up but, in the interests of making more regular entries, I will be diversifying to include things I find of general interest.

So, onto today's topic: football. Or, more specifically, Manchester City. With the news today that City have added to their embarassment of riches up front by signing Arsenal's Emmanuel Adebayor it is interesting to consider the prospects for City in the forthcoming season. Regardless of the reasons why their new signings may have gone there, it is fair to say that a team with the likes of Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, Adebayor, Robinho, Roque Santa Cruz and Shaun Wright-Phillips (with presumably more to follow) can not be disregarded as a potential challenger to the top teams this season.

With seven weeks to go until the transfer window closes, it is reasonable to imagine that Man City will continue to spend like there's no tomorrow, with defenders presumably next on Mark Hughes's shopping list. Yes, he may be after John Terry but I can't realistically see him (and lets be honest here) throwing away his chance of ever winning the Champions League, the one big prize he hasn't yet won, in pursuit of an extra £60,000 a week (or whatever his salary increase would be). It will be interesting to see who City are able to bring in to strengthen the backline - certainly, if they can get in two or three quality defenders one would find it difficult to see how they wouldn't at the very least get into the top six, if not challenge the top four.

On paper, I fully expect City to have a squad on a par with the top four by the end of the transfer window. Some of the very best players will continue to shun them, but the last few weeks have proven that they are still capable of attracting a pretty good calibre of player. The challenge for City, and for Mark Hughes in particular, is now twofold. First, he has to turn a bunch of quality players into a team; its all well and good having top class players but they won't compete with the best if they can't play for each other. Second, he has one of the most difficult tasks a manager can have, and that is to consistently get the best out of some very talented players who, despite what they may say, are at City (at least in part) for the considerable amount of money on offer.

Sunday, 5 July 2009

'Gold Rush'?

Having had a lot of time on my hands recently, I've had to endure the inevitable shit adverts about car insurance and claims companies on daytime TV. However, amongst these a couple of adverts amused me, one of which I provide a link to below.

All I can say is, you know the country is in a recession when you have David Dickinson in a cheap (as chips) looking advert urging people to send in unwanted gold in return for cash!

Wednesday, 24 June 2009


I was supposed to be writing this while I was watching the programme on ITV1 entitled 'Spain: Paradise Lost', but obviously its a couple of hours later now so its not quite as fresh in my mind, but here we go anyway.

I only happened to catch this show by accident as my mom was watching it, but within the first few minutes it got me annoyed; well, enough to blog about it, which I suppose is quite annoyed! It got me thinking about one of those great ironies; that of the Express/Mail/Sun reading type who moans about how Britain is 'going to the dogs' because of the strain immigrants supposedly place on services, and who solves this issue by.... yes, thats right, becoming one of them by moving to Spain! No doubt they lounge by their pool or sit in the 'Irish' Bar lamenting the fact that local councils in the UK offer leaflets in different languages, for example.

I can't blame some of these people for moving to Spain in some ways. I mean, nice weather, relaxing lifestyle no doubt - wouldn't mind it myself one day. But alarm bells rang for me when the programme introduced a small town near Alicante where Brits outnumber the locals by four to one, giving the place the nickname 'Little Britian'. To be honest, I think its a bit sad going to live abroad only to live in a community surrounded entirely by your own countrymen, eating the exact same stuff you did back home, but I can sort of understand why the British expats do this, and they're hardly the only ones to do this; it happens pretty much everywhere with immigrant communities. What really riled me though was when the Brits were asked how much Spanish they knew; 'grande cerveza' was the sum of one gentleman's knowledge of the Spanish language, and 'vino blanco' the sum of another, female, expat's knowledge. What annoyed me as well was the indication that these people had no intention of trying to learn Spanish, as they didn't feel the need to. Additionally, a bloke who had opened a bar/cafe with his wife admitted that he'd be stuck if he had to serve a local, as he knew no Spanish. Part of me wonders if these people deliberately set out to further the stereotype of the ignorant tourist, but the realist in me concedes that its sheer laziness above all.

Now, it seems to me that if you intend to live and/or work in another country, it is your duty to attempt to learn the language of said country. Heaven knows, enough people expect it of people who come to live and work in Britain (and rightly so). I wouldn't at all suggest that these British expats have to be fluent in Spanish before they move there, but surely a basic command of the language, and an intention to become more proficient in the language, would be common courtesy. In my experience, at least attempting to communicate in the local language goes a long way towards winning over the locals and making the stay more enjoyable. For that reason, if I moved abroad I would make every effort to become fluent in the language and assimilate into the community. As it is, I felt it difficult to have any sympathy with the expats who were struggling, when they set up their 'traditional British' bars and clearly had no intention of attracting any custom outside of the bloody expat community!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Iranian elections 09

This is something I've been planning on writing about since I turned on the news last Sunday (14th June) to find that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected as President of Iran with over 60% of the vote. My genuine reaction, as my girlfriend will testify, was to remark that if he was going to rig the election, he could at least rig it so the result was at least plausible. I for one am not of the 'Ahmadinejad couldn't possibly have won' argument; I think its perfectly possible that he did indeed poll the most votes, but I remain sceptical that he won by such a huge vote, and I think this scepticism is justified for a number of reasons.

The reports of districts where the number of votes cast was higher than the number of registered voters is one such reason, as are the reports of the other candidates being heavily defeated electorally in their own hometowns. To be sure, it will be interesting to see what the outcome of any investigations into electoral fraud will be.

Nonetheless, what makes me sceptical above all is the widespread suppression of dissent in the aftermath of the elections. I've kept a close eye on the developments in Iran and I've been surprised at the extent to which the authorities have suppressed communications, whether this be mobile phones, broadcasting, or elements of the internet. Iran's leadership may talk about the strength of its democracy, but to me the true mark of a democratic, free country is an abilty to tolerate dissent and allow a reasonable degree of freedom of speech. It strikes me that if the Iranian leadership were confident that Ahmadinejad had won fairly, they would be able to deal with any questioning of the result in a fair manner, rather than resort to violence and threats against supporters of the opposition.

Doing a degree in Politics has made me somewhat wary of always holding up other societies to Western democratic ideals. I don't agree with the presence of religious figures in politics who are there by virtue of their position and not any expertise they may or many not have. Therefore, I'm suspicious of democracies with a strong theocratic element such as Iran's, with a clerical Supreme Leader, but I would add that I respect the right of any nation to work by such a system. Nonetheless, to me freedom of speech and the ability to express dissent against the government is the hallmark of a true democracy, and it disturbs me that such dissent is being reacted to with such a strong hand in Iran.

It will be interesting to see how things develop in Iran. It seems to me that the supporters of the opposition will not stop in their quest to get the result anulled, or the election re-run. As information continues to flow out of the country from a variety of sources, through various types of media that the authorities appear to be struggling to control, one gets the feeling that this issue is far from over.