Thursday, 23 December 2010

Cable Conducts Storm

this is my requested response on the subject to the Evening Standard


Vince Cable is clearly still the lightning rod capable of conducting the flow of political events!

The Business Sec's remarks can be considered to have damaged his internal standing within the coalition and reduced his influence, but by stating the obvious he has regained some sympathy at large within the country for his party too - which will certainly help in the forthcoming Oldham by-election where a strong LibDem showing is vital to maintaining membership confidence in party leaders.

Under discussionImage by Steve Punter via FlickrDr Cable has demonstrated in essence that LibDems are engaging in heavy-weight policy discussions behind the scenes with all the voluable disagreements one should expect in any serious grown-up discussion. This will reassure many that policies are being decided on their merits, despite ongoing anxiety about the speed of announcements. The fact that the differences between the parties have been kept under wraps until now is a testament to the determination of both sides to make the coalition work in the national interest.

LibDem ministers have made their point that they aren't attached to power for its own sake, but they can no longer bluff their way through vital upcoming discussions - and this will also satisfy right-wingers that their own concerns are not being completely overlooked.

In particular Vince Cable's public exhortation against Rupert Murdoch is evidence of ruthless calculation, not a gaffe.

It is common knowledge LibDems are worried about the imbalance in media power represented by NewsCorp, but the tide has been against preventing a takeover of the BSkyB (it is already effectively under Murdoch's control with a 39% holding, and has long been treated as such by government departments) since the precedent set by the last government with its decision on ITV. So the handover of the decision-making power to the prominent Murdoch cheerleader and tory Culture Sec Jeremy Hunt MP can be considered a concession with an obvious outcome.

However the manner in which this give and take was made was a matter of delicate manoeuvering and Cable's only real option was to disqualify himself from the task by whatever means he had at his disposal so as to avoid the political booby-trap of further angering his own supporter base. With Tuition Fees it was the lesser of two evils, but BSkyB was Hobson's Choice.

The trade-off between Cable's personal and public standing somewhat neutralises his 'nuclear option' by setting out some much needed boundaries (such as on certain totemic welfare measures) which bolsters the Cameron-Clegg partnership by giving each side a bit of what they want. As a result the separate identities in the interdependent coalition relationship are more clearly defined.

And LibDems certainly aren't displeased to see Ed Miliband make a complete reversal of his strategy overnight - one day LibDems were shielding ideological tories, the next their attacks on the hardliners are impotent. That's the man who leads the official opposition and hopes to replace the coalition, and he can't even hold a consistent line with himself!

Monday, 20 December 2010

Song of the Day

The sun has set for today, but tomorrow morning - for the first time in 6 centuries - a full lunar eclipse will coincide with the Winter Solstice.

It will be visible over the north and west of Europe, but for best viewing (weather permitting) make your way to the outer Hebrides.

Due to the refraction of the solar rays the moon will appear a beautiful blood red.

It's the turning of the seasons.

And it's my birthday.


The song was written about the Solidarity movement, and Bono said, "It would be stupid to start drawing up battle lines," suggesting the unconventional song's success indicated a sense of popular disillusionment regarding contemporary music... and politicians.

There's something hauntingly apt about the tonality of this song, which was set against a backdrop of increasing militancy and political conflict of the early 1980s.

But where U2's development of greater harmony as a musical response to their environment and paved their way to unifying the market and become the accepted global behemoth they now are divergence and stratification among and between musical styles is preventing the emergence of spokespeople for new generations who can synthesise the thoughts of the masses.

Where are the modern bards?

It's illuminating that the names put forward to offer commentary on the implications of the recent X-Factor phenomenon include Elton John, Paul Weller, Seal, Suggs, Alice Cooper, Bernard Sumner, Brett Anderson and Damon Albarn.

Perhaps JLS and Alison Goldfrapp still have time to create greater popular resonance with their art, but is it me or are contemporary musicians not making the same impact?


more music

Saturday, 11 December 2010

A Prize Less Nobel

Those crazy Norwegians have done it again - last year the Nobel Institute awarded their premier annual honorarium to Barack Obama, now this year they've stirred controversy again by deeming Liu Xiaobo (profile) as worthy of placing in their exclusive pantheon of peace campaigners.

On several levels this is a bad decision, but it is also indicative of a deeper trend within the establishment institute.

First of all the list of nations boycotting the ceremonial proceeedings has grown to include Vietnam, the Philippines, Kazakhstan, Russia, Serbia, Ukraine, Colombia, Venezuela, Cuba, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan - in addition to China.

While this may comprise a list of most of the less desirable national regimes in the world it strikes me as odd for the institute to wish to unify them in opposition to the supposed aim of world peace, and it can only increase friction and lead to greater global instability - thereby undermining the efforts of individuals for greater harmony.

This is summed up for the BBC by Chatham House's Kerry Brown,
"the dialogue is now hardening into precisely the kind of 'clash of civilisations' that former elite leaders in China like Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s did their best to avoid."
So whatever the actual merits of Mr Liu as a peace campaigner, the recognition of him by the Nobel Institute is contrary to their near-term intentions.

In one particular way this is indicative of the politicisation involved in the process and it highlights the dominant tendency in those parts for a more confrontational approach to high politics. Under these prevailing conditions polarisation escalates until a clash is inevitable. And that prospect is a cause for major concern.

But regarding Mr Liu, his Nobel citation states that the award is "for his long and non-violent struggle for fundamental human rights in China."

In other words the institute is aligning itself not for any successful achievements, but for being on the frontline of a struggle which it wishes to show its support for.

As Francis Sejested, chair of the awarding committee from 1991-1999, wrote in 2001, the prize has had a distinct and sometimes uncomfortable history. He explains:
"Some [laureates] won the prize for their non-violent struggle against racial discrimination, and some for their efforts to establish international human rights organizations, but most were given the award for peaceful but effective struggles for civil and political rights in their own countries."
Clearly not all laureates are given the award on equal merit, and just as clearly Mr Liu falls into the first category.

So it obviously wasn't a year where there was an outstanding candidate, though it was nevertheless a marked improvement on the grounds provided for handing it to Obama last year shortly after he obtained office.

As I said then, this comes down to the arbitrary and artificial nature of an award given on an annual basis and reflecting contemporary circumstances rather than as something objective which will stand the test of time - after all real peace is not a transient state of affairs.

And equally this raises some challenging questions about what we mean by 'fundamental rights' or freedoms, human, civil or otherwise.


Which brings me to asking you, who you think has been the most/least deserving recipient of the Peace Prize and why?

Gandhi would be a common favorite candidate, but he was never given it. Henry Kissinger and Anwar Sadat would be less fovourable for what transpired after their respective 'successful' peace negotiations.

For me the #1 is an often overlooked figure - Fridtjof Nansen - who was a polar explorer, scientist and diplomat.

His life's work can't easily be summed up, but his advances to oceanography, zoology and as a pioneer in neurology alone would be sufficient for one lifetime.

However he did this all while pushing back the boundaries of human endurance in the 'race for the pole' (think Shackleton crossed with Darwin), before then being a principle mover in the establishment of a stable and independent Norway and founding the precursor to UNHCR when millions of people were displaced after the end of World War One and their national statuses were in limbo after partition of the defeated empires (a similar situation three decades later when independence for India resulted in partition couldn't prevent the deaths of millions in mass outbreaks of civil violence even with the intervention of the aforesaid Gandhi).

Nansen's very real and lasting achievements epitomise the worthy contribution to all humanity evisioned by Alfred Nobel when he wrote in his Will that the peace prize should be given for whoever made "the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding of peace congresses," and the memory of Nansen is something his countrymen shouldn't diminish in their zeal to progress their subjective vision of a global ideology.

Saturday, 4 December 2010

More thoughts on the Fifa vote

Shorter than previously, but worth adding anyway.

I've just read the sympathetic and balanced view from the Beeb, and the acting Chairman declares he will will reverse his reversed decision to apply for the job on a permanent basis explaining that in his liason role it is necessary to build relationships of trust.

The unspoken truth is blinding - Fifa's decision-making process was highly politicised.

Qatar may seem like a strange choice, even when the expansionary argument that it will 'grow the game' is put on the table (it's a country with less than 1m permanent residents). But this is about the machinations of power.

This bidding event was Sepp Blatter's apotheosis - it was his last great opportunity to influence and shape the world in his image, before he is replaced by his anointed successor... the Qatari President of the Asian Football Confederation Mohammed bin Hamman.

Collusion? Nepotism? Corruption? It's the world on a plate.

Or, as Pele said, 'Football is a metaphor for life'.

And as Shakespeare almost certainly didn't say, 'All the world isn't a level playing field'.

It strikes me as an unwise politics which fails to recognise all decisions are inherently and necessarily political. And any politician who fails to maximise their strengths and who then complains about their opponents tactics is simply not worthy - we should be warned about where they will lead us.

This reality is a truth played out on the green spaces (or white this weekend) where we play our games every time the threshold is crossed.

Be it the Ashes, Wimbledon, your Saturday local league or any friendly kick-about: you know the ground rules, they are established before you start.

Unfairness is unsporting and will cause rancor.

Everyone has an opinion on what is most fair, but your opinion is always a reflection of the view from your seat and we should understand therefore that true fairness is a gift.

So the bidding process wasn't objectively objective and only three of the exectutive committee members read all of the 500-page documents with supporting appendices made by each bid. So England's FA spent between £15m and £50m on it. So the technical and commercial sides of the England's bid should have put it in pole position.

We wuz robbed.

"We played all the football and created the better chances." The other teams dived and fouled and cheated and won off a lucky deflected shot which the 'keeper should've had covered after the ref disallowed one for us which was blatantly onside and, anyway, we definitely should've been given us a penalty after a stonewaller in the box...

As is also said - the table stands up because never lies. After all the dust dies down and all the recrimination is buried in the hope it isn't dragged up next time we will see what we've learnt and how we will be able to improve.

We praise the powerful when they show us favour, but we criticise when they turn away from us.

Such is, but should not be. Take note students.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Coe's colossal miscalculation

The fallout from England's failed bid to host the World Cup has been everywhere to see following yesterday's Fifa vote.

With bitter grapes over 'corrupt' members of the executive committee exposed by Britain's free press, anger at the 'reward' given to the racism shown by football fans in the Russian 'mafia-state', confusion over the misleading feedback provided in the technical report fingers are being pointed in all directions. Everyone is asking how it could possibly be that the FA weren't the most deserving.

In this nobody comes out well. Not any of the politicians who hitched their status to the prestige bandwagon, unrealistic levels of expectancy fed to and lapped up by a baying public and commercial interests willing a multi-billion pound economic boon during times of uncertainty.

In all the haste to divvy out blame real understanding why the English bid failed is entirely lacking.

Enthusiasm to mount a successful bid grew in the wake of the victory to host the 2012 Olympics.

When London surprised commentators in Singapore to overturn the long-time favorite Paris there was a feeling of momentum that Britain had the wherewithal to upset any odds and finally bring football home.

Credit was duly given to bid leader Sebastian Coe for putting together a deliverable package which held sufficient appeal to the 200+ IOC voters, but appointing him to a similar position reflected a complete failure to recognise Fifa's 24-man committee is an entirely different beast.

Where the Olympic Games are a sporting event treated as an almost cult-like spectacle, football is the game of the people. Where the IOC are the guardians of absolutist performance between the best of the best, Fifa oversees the relative interdependent competition imbued in matchplay. Where races and demonstrations between top individuals comprise athletics, gymnastics, swimming, cycling and the rest, football is mass participation with a primarily team-based ethic.

The Olympics is the showcase and for every Corinthian fringe activity, but football is the singular zenith of mass-participation regular routine: Olympic success inspires transient shock and awe, World Cup success inspires universal and eternal passion and despair.

The two greatest sporting events in the world calendar are positioned at the opposite ends of the modern political spectrum.

It may seem perverse that we shouldn't treat these two impostors just the same, but with hindsight fresh in our mirrors it should be obvious that the philosophy which goes into a successful bidding process for an Olympic Games and the World Cup must not replicate each other.

These opposing psychologies are reflected in the interests represented by the members of each voting committee. So while London won by presenting itself as the secure option and Paris lost with an emotional appeal it was almost a guarantee that England (and the Iberian or US bids for that matter) would lose out by characterising themselves as the less risky (read more profitable) option in the face of the opportunity proffered by a more vibrant alternative however far out of leftfield it came.

Tony Blair's inherent consensualism was credited as decisive when it came to making vital last-minute converts in Singapore, but the interminable schmoozing and inevitable backbiting during the run-up to the decision made yesterday in Zurich only reinforced the likelihood of a choice more controversial to establishment figureheads associated with it (such as Lord Triesman, Prince William and David Cameron).

And for me it was this fundamental political miscalculation at the heart of the England World Cup bid that almost certainly doomed the outcome from the very start.

If the finger of blame must be pointed then it can only be directed at the principle names associated with both. And there is only one. Sebastian Coe.

In his active athletic career Seb Coe rose to prominence as an Olympic great from outside the establishment circles. He rejected standard training methods and ruffled many feathers by refusing to attend meetings when it didn't fit with his schedule in order that he could peak at the right moment.

During the early 80s the prodigious Coe set a pattern which is now copied by most elite performers and risked non-selection for it. In the latter part of the decade he became more of a money athlete, knowing that he had been surpassed as others adopted a more radical regime and he could trade on his gold-medal-winning reputation to maximise his earning potential.

And his career as an administrator has followed a similar trajectory - the radical outsider broke into the establishment becoming favoured with official responsibility in recognition for his successes and knighted in the process, but declining in his overall performance and less able to deliver excellence as it has been demanded with ever-more consistency after the powers-that-be turned to him on the basis of his track record.

He can be forgiven - even applauded - the first time round, as he was doing it for its own rewards. But after he had accepted the duty to serve others and represent the interests of his country to then fail to understand his requirement to learn how the circumstances are different would lead to certain failure of the shared enterprise.

So if people are looking for reasons and to scapegoat individuals then in Lord Sebastian Coe a better candidate couldn't be found. His is a cautionary political fable.