Sunday, 30 May 2010

Darren Bent Should Be In The Final World Cup Squad

I'm writing this while watching England's staggeringly indifferent performance against Japan in our final friendly before the World Cup kicks off next Friday. Although he maybe hasn't delivered today and although (as a Sunderland fan) I will be left open to accusations of bias, I strongly believe that Darren Bent should be in the final squad for South Africa.

I have watched him this season as he scored a staggering 25 goals for Sunderland and seen a man who is a natural goalscorer. And a natural goalscorer is just what you need in the World Cup.

Just look at the players who have won the Golden Boot in recent World Cups. Klose for Germany last time - moving a largely unexciting German side to the semi finals (and almost the final with his skill as a natural goalscorer). Suker in 1998. Salenko in 1994. Other than Ronaldo is 2002, players who score goals in World Cups are those natural goalscorers, who know where the goal is and carve a goal out of almost any situation. They may not always be the flashiest or most exciting players but their goalscoring ability always has the potential of changing a game and changing a tournament.

Bent has been spectacular for Sunderland this season. He has been prolific and been the second top English goalscorer in the Premiership despite playing for a team that went through a nightmarish three month slump half way through the season.

I have little doubt that if he had scored 20 goals for a more 'glamorous' team, he would be seen as a certainty for the tournament. Sadly, North Eastern clubs have had the rum end of selection decisions for decades. It would maybe be optimistic to think that will change now.

But change it should. Darren Bent should be in the final squad. And if selected he will absolutely prove his worth.

The Moral, Social and Economic Case For A Living Wage

The Living Wage is an idea whose time has come. Boris Johnson has carried on with the introduction of a Living Wage in London, following the tremendous campaign from London Citizens and Ken Livingstone’s original introduction of the idea. Ed Miliband has made some kind of Living Wage central to his (so far very impressive) leadership campaign – a promise that will surely also be picked up by other leadership candidates. James Purnell – a much missed voice in Parliament for radical ideas - has been campaigning heavily for a Living Wage since leaving office.

Although it is a shame that senior Labour politicians didn’t consider ideas such as a Living Wage and Low or High Pay Commission until they were virtually out of office, at least it is now on the political agenda. Indeed, David Cameron used a Guardian column during the election campaign to name check the London living wage.

The idea, is of course, not a new one. The 1928 Labour platform had a ‘Living Wage’ as its number 1 pledge. A ‘Living Wage’ goes back, at the very least, to Victorian radical thought. The campaign for a Living Wage deserves to be on political centre stage. There is a strong moral, social and economic case for the Living Wage.

The moral case is clear. The minimum wage has, in many areas, fallen behind the rising cost of living. In an age of rising economic insecurity, where economic globalisation has had a detrimental effect on the take home pay of ordinary working people, low paid people are moving nearer to the poverty line. Too many low paid workers are still being paid below what economists regard as the ‘poverty threshold wage. One of the world’s richest societies should not have people being paid below the poverty threshold.

And this moral case leads entirely to the social case for the Living Wage. Low pay means that people have less time to spend with their children and their families. Low pay means that people have less time to get involved with their communities and play their part with the wider society. Low pay and closeness to the poverty line has effects on people’s health, morale and family life. If we genuinely believe in strengthening communities and empowering individuals, then a Living Wage should be an important part of making that happen.

There is also an economic case for a Living Wage. Take the experience in London – as the Mayor of London argues, paying the Living Wage, “makes good business sense too. What may be viewed to a company to be an unaffordable cost … should more often be viewed as a sound investment decision... Paying decent wages reduces staff turnover and produces a more motivated and productive workforce.”

A number of studies have supported the view that a Living Wage actually produces a more productive workforce and boosts the economy. And that is without going into the fact that a Living Wage is bound to improve incentives to work and alter the perverse disincentives that result from low pay and a poorly designed tax system.

The case for a Living Wage seems clear. It is both moral, social and economic. I am sure that the Living Wage campaign will continue to gain force and momentum over coming years.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Are The Drums The Next Big Thing?

I'm always a bit nervous when the NME et al jump on a bandwagon and declare that a band is the 'next big thing' or something like that. For every jackpot, such as the mighty Strokes, there is an Andrew WK. Of course, music journalists understand their ability to make critical weather - one of the reasons why being hyped up by the NME and gaining a spot on the coveted 'NME Awards Tour' is so important for a young band.

Having said that, the 'NME Awards Tour' does have a very impressive strike rate over the past few years. Last year, I was blown away when I saw Glasvegas, White Lies, Friendly Fires and Florence and the Machine. All of them have gone on to pretty substantial commercial success.

This year's product of hype has been US band 'The Drums'. Guttingly, I wasn't able to make the NME Awards Tour shows this year, but I did follow the hype by picking up the 'Summertime' EP. And it lives up to every piece of hype it has received. Shades of Beach Boys, shades of 50s rockabilly, shades of Echo and the Bunnymen and decades worth of classic harmony rock from both sides of the Atlantic and plenty of great melodies and very cheeky, but clever lyrics. All in all, brightening up a very rainy day in the UK.

Check out this and see what you think:

It all whets the appetite to the small club show they are playing at Heaven that I'm going to next week (probably the last time you can see them in such a small venue) and the release of the debut album. This time, they really could be the next big thing...

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

Freedom To Protest Should Mean Freedom To Protest

The right to protest and freedom of expression are fundamental elements of a pluralist democracy. Freedom of expression and freedom to protest peacefully should be indivisible. Protests close to Parliament represent a strong and momentous way for people to protest in a way that is highly visible to their elected representatives.

For all of these reasons, we should feel uncomfortable about the fact that the protesters in Parliament Square being moved on this morning and long standing protesters, such as Brian Haw being arrested.

It seems that much of the commentary about the break up of the demonstration seems to hinge on whether the commentators agree with the demonstration or not. I didn’t see some of the right wing commentators who seem so offended by the anti capitalist and anti war demonstrations lamenting the fact that the Countryside Alliance, for example, spent so much time in Parliament Square a few years ago.

Needless to say, whether you agree with the demonstrators or not should be beside the point. If you believe in freedom to protest then you believe in freedom to protest. The right to protest should not be limited because you do not agree with the views of the protestors or because you believe that the protest is creating an ‘eyesore’ (which is, after all, a subjective term anyhow). The right to protest should certainly not be limited because it causes a minor inconvenience to Members of Parliament.

We should be cherishing our freedoms and celebrating the fact that people (whether we agree with them or not) are politically engaged. The Police breaking up a peaceful protest about anything is something that we should be deeply concerned about.

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