Sunday, 27 April 2008

1st May, 2008  


Yes, it’s election time again! And we all know what that means – a poor turnout caused by voter disillusion and antipathy towards all politicians! The only thing is that, this time, being the London Mayoral elections, this is not necessarily the case.

It appears that Londoners like myself, are going to be flocking to the polling stations in order to elect a mayor. This is likely to be the most closely fought election in recent memory helped by a proportional representation system that, like with the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh assembly, allows the London assembly the mayor to be truly chosen by the all the electorate.

And, with the desire by the electorate to elect their chosen candidate as mayor, we are also going to get a higher turnout to choose London assembly members (themselves voted for by the traditional, first-past-the-post system). This can only be good for democracy in the UK in general, particularly considering the usually dismal turnout in recent local elections and even, to a lesser extent, general elections.

What, then, has made people so keen to vote in this election?

One reason that is often overlooked is the one already mentioned – the proportional representation system of voting in the mayor. The principal problem with the traditional method of voting in local and general elections in the UK is that for many their vote simply will not count. If I am a Tory supporter and live in Liverpool I would feel that my vote is wasted as there would be not chance that the Tories will win a seat in Liverpool. Equally, there is no chance that Labour can win a seat in Kensington & Chelsea. As such what would be the point of voting if a Tory supporter in Liverpool, or a Labour supporter in Kensington? There would be simply no point at all. Even more so, if I were a Liberal Democrat supporter, knowing that my party in the last election were securing nearly as many votes as the Tories, but that through the traditional voting system are never likely to go above third place, I would be disillusioned with the political system in this country. In the mayoral election all the votes count and so the winner can truly be said to be representative of the people.

Secondly, the two main candidates are clear characters with differing policies and ideologies. It is true that Brian Paddick is a bit of a damp squib and that the Liberals should have been more ambitious in their selection of a candidate (my local MP, Vince Cable would have been a wonderful choice). It is also true that ‘Red Ken’ has questions to answer regarding the possible fraudulent activities of one or two his employees and that ‘Boris’, as the Labour machine insist on calling him, has demonstrated the kind of pompous and elitist attitude which has made the Tories so unpopular with so many voters. However, it is in these two characters and their flaws that we get a clear difference between the candidates and can engage with them and their policies.

Finally, London’s successes and failures are representative of the country as a whole. It is likely that the turnout at the next general election, however much the antiquated electoral system puts many voters off, will still have a larger turnout. The present Labour administration has hit a point similar to the Conservatives in the late 1990s, where they have been in power so long that people feel they are no longer in touch with the general populace. Equally, the electorate will always want change, no matter how well or badly a government has performed. With the economy in doubt and with a leader who is not performing well in the opinion polls, it is likely that the next election, like that of the 1997 election, will result in a higher turnout and, if the present incumbents do not improve in the opinion polls significantly, another landslide. The only chance to vote right now is in the London Mayoral election and Londoners are seizing on the opportunity to express themselves.

Let’s hope that there is a move towards proportional representation (as was promised by the present administration in their 1997 manifesto) and that all UK voters get the same fever for democracy as Londoners so that all of us can say that we have had a say in our democracy.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Karen & Kate  


Two stories that have dominated the tabloids have been the 'abductions' of two very different young chlildren.

In The Independent (before Karen Matthews was arrested for having some part in her own daughter's disappearance) the newspaper contrasted the two different cases.

The McCanns' case received a cast amount of positive media coverage, monetary donations and support from celebrities, politicians and even, most famously, the pope. The Independent used the following figures to illustrate its argument that there was an unfair amount of attention given to the McCanns' case because they were middle class, successful and respectable as opposed to the Matthews case where a woman has had seven children, with five different fathers and who lives in one of the most deprived areas of the UK:

Madeleine McCann
Age: Four. Parents: Kate, 40, a GP. Gerry, 39, a cardiologist. Siblings: Twins, now aged two.
Home: Detached house, Leicestershire.
UK press stories after nine days: 465.
Rewards offered: £2.6m: the 'News of the World', Stephen Winyard, Philip Green, Simon Cowell, Coleen McLoughlin, 'The Sun', Sir Richard Branson, J K Rowling.
Public donations: £1.1m:
J K Rowling, Bryan Adams, David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo, John Terry, Phil Neville, David Moyes, the England cricket team.
Wikipedia profile: 2,182 words after nine days.
Shannon Matthews
Age: Nine. Parents: Karen, 32, and Leon Rose, 29. Stepfather, Craig, 22. Siblings: Six boys and girls, from her mother's partnerships with five different men.
Home: Three-bed council house, Dewsbury Moor.
UK press stories after nine days: 242.
Rewards offered: £25,500. Made up of £20,000 by 'The Sun', £5,000 from Huddersfield firm Joseph International, £500 from Wakefield pensioner Winston Bedford.
Public donations: Thousands at most, including Leona Lewis.
Wikipedia profile: 151 words after nine days.

The fact that there are so many blogs (e.g. Justice for ALL the family), that there were so many posters put up around the world (I saw several in Japan and Korea, for example) and that there was such a huge amount of international media coverage - all devoted to "Maddie"- demonstrates an unprecedented level of interest in a missing child.

The comparison between the two cases is certainly a sharp one. There are other reasons for the success of the McCanns' media drive over that of Karen Matthews. Kate McCann is slim, attractive and photogenic and her husband appears to be loyal & supportive as well as being erudite and media savvy. Karen Matthews demonstrated a very poor grasp of English and can hardly be described as photogenic.

Despite The Independent's earnest attempt to highlight an apparently wronged mother, few now believe that Karen Matthews is not in fact the wrong-doer. The tabloids have gorged themselves on stories of the 'chav' single mother being arrested for perverting the course of justice (e.g. The Sun's headline Shannon's Mum Karen in knicked); they have fallen over themselves with the arrest of Craig Meehan (Sharon's stepfather) for possessing child pornography and the Waltonesque size of her otherwise far from Waltonesque family.

The majority of the public have difficulty believing that a pretty, middle class mother could conceive of murdering her own daughter and yet, when if comes to a 'chav' from a rough estate they have no difficulty believing the worst. Karen Matthews is not guilty of murdering her daughter as she is still, thankfully, very much alive. However, Matthews is almost certainly guilty of perverting the course of justice and of being in some way behind her daughter's 'abduction'. It is hideous that that her now ex-boyfriend possessed child porn and that she allowed him and his uncle, Michael Donovan, to hide her child in the drawer of a divan while pretending to police and the public that she was an innocent victim.

She also tried to claim money from the fund set up by the McCanns to find their daughter and other missing children. It would seem that she had seen the success of the McCanns' campaign, and the millions of pounds made and wanted a piece of the action.

The story, like the McCanns', is fascinating and the public cannot wait to turn the pages of their newspapers to find more. However, it seems to me that people are interested in the Matthews case because of all the negative aspects of humanity represented by the family, whereas they are more likely to be interested in finding Madelaine safe and sound.

Perhaps these two stories are less about the abduction of a child, and more about the mothers. However poorly the Portuguese police have acted and however incompetently, they did find evidence which suggested the McCanns' guilt in their daughter's death. The DNA evidence, found in a car rented by the McCanns' two weeks after their daughter's death was not enough to convict them, but they will remain aguidos as they are (thus far) the only credible suspects. I am not saying they are guilty and, if they are innocent they have every right to use every method at their disposal to find their daughter, but there was at least some evidence to the contrary and the police are right to treat them as suspects as long as this evidence is not countered with better evidence.

The media have quickly fallen behind the McCanns' (particularly after they took the Express group to court) and have instead attacked the Portuguese police rather than admit that there is some suggestion of guilt. The taboo of a mother hurting her child is as strong as ever - provided we are thinking about a middle class doctor who was holidaying in an exclusive resort. It is not so strong when thinking of a 'chav slapper living in a dodgy estate'.

I do hope the McCanns are innocent and that they find their child, and I also hope that Karen Matthews, and her seemingly despicable family see swift justice. But, possibly naively, I hope that people will think about the two cases and examine their own attitudes.

I find it distasteful that the Madelaine McCann story took over the media's attention when there were so many other stories that needed coverage and publicity. In 2004 there were 846 children abducted in the UK and this number has been increasing. The fact that one of these children was seen as more newsworthy than the others (however much it makes sense to anyone who understands the media) is unpleasant. Equally, on the 8th of May - 5 days after Madelaine went missing and right in the middle of the first wave of media coverage - several children were killed in Iraq. The story gets a ten paragraph article gets a ten paragraph article on the BBC website. It was not reported on the BBC news itself.

Fundamentally, the police in both cases should be allowed to do their jobs. The media have made the McCann situation into a circus and the Matthews case into a freak show. As much as it is the role of the media to select and promote stories it feels are of interest to its consumers - it also has a moral duty to represent the news and not only those stories that excite the middle classes into pity (in the case of the McCanns) or loathing and feelings of superiority (in the case of Karen Matthews).

These two women are very different to one another. One of them is almost certainly guilty of a heinous crime and the other will, hopefully, find her child. What they share is the glare of the media. Rather than judge Karen Matthews ourselves, however, we should look at the two cases and judge our own reaction to them.

Tags: , , , , ,

Monday, 14 April 2008

Arsene Around  


Sports News

Sports news will appear in this blog occasionally and I have absolutely no idea when. Probably just when there are at least two 'SHOCK STORIES'. We are sticking with football for today's entry, as it has two such SHOCK STORIES.

The latest SHOCKER is that Arsene Wenger is a bad loser. Admittedly this fact is not too much of a surprise as he has shown, throughout his illustrious career of winning lots of things that he is not keen on failing to do so. However, he has clearly gone a little too far with his completely insane rant concluding with accusations of referees conspiring against his team. I was fortunate enough to watch the match (a pulsating affair, dominated bt Arsenal but won by Manchester United), and I can claim without bias, that William Gallas handled the ball and that it was a freekick. It is inconsequential whether Arsenal deserved to win, whether they deserved at least one penalty when they played Liverpool and whether referees make mistakes; it is farcical, offensive and downright ludicrous to accuse referees of a vast conspiracy against Arsenal. Let's not forget that Adebayor clearly palmed the ball into the net to claim Arsenal's opening goal and, however deserved it was, they should not have been given it by the referee.

The second SHOCKER was the shameful treatment of Rafael Benitez by his club's owners. Despite some often bizarre decisions by Benitez, he has been the most successful Liverpool since Kenny Dalgliesh and (unlike the latter) done this with his own team. He is popular with the fans, accomplished as a tactician and well respected by other managers. One would not bet against Benitez out-thinking Chelsea in the Champions League yet again and reaching a third final in the competition in four years. And yet the owners of his club are talking to a German who lives in California and has never managed in the Premier League or the Champions League. What is going on at Liverpool?

When one adds the owners' squabbles and Rick Parry's attempts at resolving the in-fighting by falling out with everyone, and you have the classical Premiership farce.

Liverpool are not a team to be messed with, however. With such a loyal fan base across the world and in the ground itself and with such a great history of success behind it, the current owners have to make the right choice. They are not the right people to run Liverpool FC and, even if DIC are not, they certainly cannot be worse.

It is a sad state of affairs that one of the world's greatest clubs has been handled in such a despicable way and it, like Wenger's overreaction, points to the game's biggest SHOCKER; a lack of respect in the game, and in the way its most powerful individual's treat the people who make the game what it is.


Sunday, 6 April 2008

Chaelton Heston Dies  


Charlton Heston had, quite rightly, been much maligned for the last couple of decades of his eventful life. There is no doubt that Heston's strong support for Americans' rights to bear arms and his presidency of the NRA, gave much surfeit to an industry that is responsible for the deaths of every American who has killed another human being with a gun.

However, we should not remember Heston as 'just another right-wing gun nut' and that, for Americans, arguing for the right to bear arms is not purely about guns.

It is true that it is hard to ignore images of Heston with his rifle held aloft daring anti-gun lobbyists to pry the gun "from my cold, dead hands." For Americans the right to bear arms is enshrined in the constitution as the second amendment. of the Bill of Rights. The constitution is America, and to change it would require an almighty effort; and any change to the constitution would be profoundly uncomfortable for the majority of Americans.

An amendment to the constitution has only been repealed once and that was in the case of prohibition, which was simply splitting the country apart. The fact is, quite understandably, the constitution is rigorously protected and, however antiquated and ridiculous it may sound to keep the second amendment it is understandable that Heston would feel the need to protect the constitution itself.

That is not to say that Heston was right to defend guns themselves or that I agree with him whatsoever. There is no place for guns in the 21st century and Heston's views often belonged to a previous age. However, let's not forget that Heston was once as rigorous a defender for the rights of black Americans as much as he ended his life as a advocate for guns. When anyone dies we should remember the good they brought to the world and in standing against white racism and segregation Heston helped to bring a lot of good into this world.

Ben Hur was a hell of a movie as well.