Don’t let Murphy drag football back into the 1970s

Since I wrote about the plight of the Scottish Labour Party back in November things have not improved despite the election of Jim Murphy as leader. The last Scottish poll I saw put them at 28 per cent, 17 points behind the SNP who are on 45. That would mean they would fall from 41 seats to 12 while the SNP would go from 6 seats to 47. A poll this month by ex Conservative donor and polling guru Lord Ashcroft was even worse. It suggested that even the ultra safe Labour seat of Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (majority 20,714 or 49.8 per cent making it the eighth safest Labour seat in the entire UK) would fall to a rampant SNP. Scottish Labour are still in deep trouble.
So what is Jim Murphy’s big plan to win back Labour voters? He wants to allow football fans to drink alcohol at games again. Quite apart from the fact that this issue is devolved to the Scottish Parliament and has nothing to do with the UK election the plan is a non starter as it would drag football in Scotland back to the 1970s. For those that don’t know alcohol was banned from Scottish football grounds after a hideous riot after the Rangers v Celtic Cup Final of 1980 where police on horseback had to disperse gangs of morons. The ban – imposed significantly by a woman Margaret Thatcher – had the effect of making football in Scotland civilised. Thirty five years on football wants it lifted but they are wrong totally wrong – and Murphy far from encouraging them to chase votes should be backing the law.
Football wants the ban lifted because fans want a drink, clubs want to make money and they argue that sports like rugby have fans drinking at games so why shouldn’t football? The last point is easy to deal with. There is no history of violence or racist and sexist abuse at rugby. There is at football. The chants at football matches are offensive enough when fans are sober. Imagine how bad they would be if they were drunk. Scottish Football Association head of Communications Darryl Broadfoot said in Saturday’s Daily Record that “We have allowed ourselves to be stigmatised – wrongly – as the pariahs of Scottish social culture”. But football fans are the pariahs of social culture because some of them can’t behave. Even my local junior team Kilbirnie Ladeside were at one time (2011) banned from hosting or visiting bitter rivals Beith because of hideous riots that needed more than 30 police officers to control – and this is for games watched by a few hundred people!
And if football is for lifting the ban society is not. The police are against it – after all football fans are hard enough for the police to deal with sober never mind with a drink in them. Women’s groups are against for fear that fans returning from games drunk would be more likely to beat up their partners (domestic violence in the UK is always worse after big football matches). And accident and emergency (A and E) departments at hospitals are against for fear that drunk fans would get involved in fights go to A and E and increase the workload on an already over worked department of the Health Service. Why should arrogant football’s demands be allowed to affect other areas of society? This is like the football v society debate that the Ched Evans affair caused when shamefully the headliner in January 9th’s Daily Telegraph said “FOOTBALL BACKS EVANS” (a convicted rapist by the way). But society – led by brave Jean Hatchet – did not and public opinion won. Football has NO right to impose its views on society. Why can’t Murphy get that? There are other examples of society imposing its views on groups. I’m sure drivers would like to travel at whatever speed they like and be free to drink or drive. But society – since the 1967 Road Safety Act passed by significantly a woman Barbara Castle – imposed speed limits and limited the amount of alcohol you were allowed to drink before you drove. An example of society’s desire for road safety trumping the selfish desire of motorists to do whatever they wanted. Castle got dog’s abuse from motorists – I imagine that if Twitter had existed in 1967 she would have got the same death/rape threats Hatchet has got for standing up to football – but the law saved lives. And that is important.
Another disappointing thing about Murphy wanting the ban lifted is that it goes against his views on football. He is supportive of women in football and in 2012 even asked “Why is there not a female manager of a male professional football team”?. He doesn’t seem to realise that the lifting of the ban on alcohol would make the grounds less safe and deter women (and children) from attending games. He also doesn’t realise that for some of the people wanting the ban lifted that might be the reason they want it lifted – to deter women from attending. I know the West of Scotland rather too well and I suspect there are Scottish equivalents of Dougie Brimson – who wrote in his book “The Geezer’s Guide to Football* (page 57) “if I had my way women wouldn’t even be allowed inside grounds” (He also wrote that women can’t play football or kick a ball with any degree of accuracy over a distance of 40 inches. Oh dear. This guy has clearly not seen goals by Carli Lloyd, Claire Lavogez, Dzsenifer Marozan , Eugenie Le Sommer, Stephanie Roche and Toni Duggan – among others – that make him look like the prat he is.)
The other thing that puzzles me about Murphy is why is he choosing to make an issue of this? There are far more important things than this he could be talking about. Like the fact that our health service is creaking at the seams. Like the fact that food bank use in the UK has rocketed since David Cameron became Prime Minister. Like the fact that the poor have been clobbered by the bedroom tax. Like the fact that big companies evade tax – and don’t pay the living wage. Like the fact that his UK party leader Ed Miliband is a gutless coward who is scared of the voters and won’t give us a referendum on EU membership. What has Murphy to say on those important issues? He’d better tell us. For unless he does his party is facing wipe out in May – and proposing to drag football back into the 1970s is NOT the way to save his party.
*Anyone who knows my views on football might wonder how I have this book – football’s answer to the “lads mags” that pollute newsagents. The answer is poof that males can be victims of gender stereotyping too. A well meaning relative got me it one Christmas on the basis that as I am a male who likes football I would agree with Brimson’s sexist drivel. Which I don’t.

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Who will rule the World?

The first if the three major sport World Cups played this year starts tomorrow (actually today in the UK because of the time difference) namely the Cricket World Cup which is being held in Australia and New Zealand. The first point is that the tournament’s format is terrible. A 14 team event lasts 44 days (the FIFA World Cup last year had 32 teams and lasted 32 days) and it takes a month to reduce the number of teams from 14 to 8 (and it is highly likely that we know who the last eight will be). With that said how will the tournament go?
A key feature of One Day international (ODI) cricket in recent years is that scores have been rocketing upwards. Two examples of this from this winter were Rohit Sharma’s 264 for India and AB de Villiers’ amazing 31-ball century for South Africa last month. Paradoxically that makes bowling more important. It is clear that unless a fielding side can take early wickets with the new ball, have a wicket taking spinner and have good “death bowling” then they will be hammered. Since the top eight sides all have destructive batting the sides that do well will be the ones that have the bowling to stop these strong batting line-ups.
So let’s take a team-by-team look at the teams in the World Cup.

Group A – Australia – The hosts are the favourites and rightly so. Aaron Finch, David Warner, Shane Watson, the vastly improved Steve Smith, captain Michael Clarke(when fit) and six hitting machine Glenn Maxwell make up a scary batting line up even by this tournament’s standards. And the fast bowling is formidable. Mitchells Johnson and Starc plus youngsters Pat Cummins and Josh Hazlewood. Two weak spots. They don’t have a wicket taking spinner. Maxwell’s bowling is far less scary than his batting and Xavier Doherty is average at best. And will the hype get to them? They flopped in 1992 as hosts. Could history repeat itself?

England – When England left Sri Lanka last year with their tails between their legs their World Cup chances looked slim. But the sacking of Alistair Cook and his replacement by Eoin Morgan has produced some improvement. Probably not enough. They were outclassed three times by Australia in their warm up tournament. There are signs of an exciting batting line up of Ian Bell, Moeen Ali, James Taylor, Joe Root, Morgan and the explosive Joss Buttler. However they are inconsistent. The bowling is a worry. If James Anderson and Stuart Broad don’t take wickets with the new ball and Steve Finn does not bowl quick it is very batsman friendly. If England can get to the Semi Finals – and they haven’t done that since 1992 – it will be an achievement.

New Zealand – New Zealand are usually the Oakland As of cricket. A team of underdogs punching above their weight. Not this time. This New Zealand team is seriously good. Three world class batsmen in captain Brendon McCullum, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, plus big hitters Corey Anderson and Luke Ronchi make a formidable batting line up. The bowling has depth in pace with Trent Boult, Tim Southee, Adam Milne and Mitchell McClenaghan plus a vetran spinner in Daniel Vittori. If they cope with the pressure this is the best chance New Zealand has ever had of getting to the Final.

Sri Lanka – One man holds the key to the 2011 Finalists chances. The batting is strong and experienced lead by Kumar Sangakkara, Mahela Jayawardane and captain Angelo Matthews. They also have a reliable spin attack. But Sri Lanka in order to perform well need Lasith Malinga the best death bowler in the world to be fit and firing. He is just coming back from injury and went at six an over in both Sri Lanka’s warm up games. If he is at his beat Sri Lanka could get to the last four at least. If he is not they will not get beyond the last eight.

As for the other three teams in the group Bangladesh could cause an upset – but only one – the fact that Afghanistan are here at all is a fairy tale – in 2008 they were in Division Five of the World Cricket League playing the likes of Jersey – but they and Scotland probably have no more realistic hope than to win the game against each other.

Group B – India – the holders have a strong batting line up led by Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, Shikar Dhawan and captain MS Dhoni but the bowling (especially the fast bowling) is not as good and their form is awful – they haven’t won an international match on their tour to Australia and confidence is low. If they lose their first two games to Pakistan and South Africa they will be under huge pressure from a demanding public(India is as fanatical about cricket as Brazil is about football and over a billion people in India will be watching them). Could get to the last four but unlikely to go further.

Pakistan – What Winston Churchill said about the USSR – “A riddle wrapped in a mystery wrapped inside an enigma” – could well apply to Pakistan. They could win the whole thing – or suffer a humiliating defeat by Ireland and go out before the last eight. One suspects they will struggle this time. Apart from two recent games in New Zealand they haven’t played outside Asia since 2013 and will need experienced players like captain Misbah-ul-Haq , Younis Khan and Shahid Afridi to fire to have a chance of a last four place. Still they beat England in a warm up match and can’t be written off.

South Africa – based on talent this team should be in the Final. AB de Villiers – the best batsman in the world – Hashim Amla , Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Vernon Philander are a world class core, Quinton de Kock, Rilee Rossouw and David Miller are exciting young batsmen and Imran Tahir is a wicket taking – if sometimes expensive – spinner. However they have a reputation for being “chokers” – not performing well in big games. A reputation is very hard to get rid of. South Africa could yet again win all their group games look unbeatable and then blow up when the pressure of knock out sport comes in the last eight (perhaps even losing to England?).

West Indies – Oh dear. From 1975 to 1983 they were the team every one wanted to beat. Now they could be the team everybody beats. For some reason best known to themselves they appointed a 23-year old rookie Jason Holder as captain and left out Dwayne Bravo and Kieron Pollard – probably because they lead a players’ revolt in India last year. They still have world class batsmen Chris Gayle and Marlon Samuels but the bowling is awful – as de Villiers showed in South Africa. There is a chance they don’t get out of the group. If they get beyond the last eight I will be amazed.

Of the other teams in the group Ireland humiliated Pakistan and England in the last two World Cups and if anyone is to stop the last eight comprising of the “big eight” it will be them. Zimbabwe beat Australia last year and could cause another upset while the UAE are probably the weakest team here and are unlikely to win a game.

So who will win? If I had to predict I would say that the Semi Finalists will be Australia, England, New Zealand and Sri Lanka with the Final on March 29 in Melbourne being between the hosts – Australia and New Zealand – with the Aussies favourites to win. But it is not a certainty by any means. Let the cricket begin…

Thatcher and the non-sexist myth

Not everybody in the UK agreed with Rashida Manjoo’s view (see previous post) that the UK was the “most in your face sexist country”. The right wing press used the fact that we had a female Prime Minister back in 1979 – long before among others Germany (2004) and Australia (2010) – and of course the US has never had a female President – as proof that the UK is not sexist. But the fact is that Margaret Thatcher became leader of her party despite sexism not because there wasn’t any. In fact she used sexism to her advantage! She got the job due to a conjunction of circumstances and a mixture of luck bravery and people underestimating her. As tomorrow is the 40th anniversary of her becoming her party’s leader I thought I’d explain the story of how she became leader of her party 40 years ago.
The fact she became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 was quite remarkable. After all the Conservative Party has a poor record in electing woman MPs. In 1975 she was one out of just 7 (out of 276) Conservative MPs who were women. There have been 18 post war elections in the UK. In only two of them – 1970 and 1983* has the party elected more women MPs than Labour. Add to that the fact that Thatcher herself – in a BBC interview in 1973 – said “there will never be a female Prime Minister in my lifetime”. Yet she became leader of her party only two years later. So what happened in between?
The first event that led to her becoming leader was in February 1974 when Conservative leader and UK Prime Minister Edward Heath called a General Election he did not need to. He had a secure majority and his mandate lasted until June 1975. But he wanted a new mandate to deal with a miners’ strike. His election slogan was “Who Governs Britain?” The voters decided “Not you mate!”. Although the election produced a hung parliament Labour had 301 seats to Heath’s 296. Heath tried (and failed) to form a Coalition with the Liberals but eventually resigned. He had thrown away power and went on to lose a second election the following October. People thought a leader that had lost two elections in a year should go.
It is interesting to note that in October 1974 Thatcher was still a 50-1 no hoper with the bookmakers to be leader and only Robert McKenzie of the BBC seemed to think she was a runner. During the BBC’s October 1974 results programme he said “Returned (to Parliament) a few minutes ago Mrs Thatcher could be one of the contenders”. William Whitelaw – a Heath loyalist – was considered the favourite.
But Heath wouldn’t resign. He would have to be forced out. This meant that as Whitelaw was still loyal someone would need to be found to challenge him. It could have been controversial maverick Enoch Powell – the Nigel Farage of his day – but back in February he had resigned his seat said he was voting LABOUR and told the electorate to do likewise. That of course meant he could hardly be the Conservative Party leader. So who would challenge Heath?
And this is where Thatcher got lucky. She had no intention of running for leader. As the British General Election of 1979 (page 62) put it “She was a supporter of the claims of Edward du Cann and Sir Keith Joseph. It was only after these two declined to be considered that she decided to oppose Mr Heath”. And of course no one gave her a chance. An example of the sexism she faced was from the Daily Mirror (February 3 1975) which said “with Margaret Thatcher it is sometimes a bit hard to tell whether she wants to be Prime Minister or housewife of the year”. In fact her campaign manager Aiery Neave even used sexism to her advantage. As she was the only serious candidate** to oppose Heath Neave was able to say to Conservative MPs “the only way to get a serious candidate like Whitelaw was to vote for “the filly” on the first ballot” (Dominic Sandbrook , “Seasons in the Sun: The Battle for Britain 1974-79”, page 246). Neave’s plan was not for Thatcher to win but to stop Heath getting a majority on the first ballot. One Conservative MP said “there were never 139 votes (the figure needed for a majority) for Margaret”
But on February 4 1975 Thatcher caused a sensation. She beat Heath by 130-119. Heath, humiliated, promptly resigned. But as she hadn’t got 139 votes other candidates could now enter the race. And they did. FOUR men announced their candidacy. Not just Whitelaw but Sir Geoffrey Howe, James Prior and John Peyton. The press weren’t fooled. It looked like a bunch of sexists were desperately trying to stop her winning. The Glasgow Herald headline on February 6th 1975 summed it up. “Male stampede to stop Mrs Thatcher”. The Daily Telegraph – on the same day – said “A whole herd of faint hearts had left it to a courageous and able woman to topple a formidable leader and then ganged up to deny her her just reward”. But it turned out to be another stroke of luck. Conservative MPs saw through the plan, momentum swung towards her and on February 11 1975 she won easily trouncing Whitelaw by 146-79 (no one else got more than 19). Britain against all the odds had a female leader of a major party. The governing Labour Party were happy though. Ministers said in private “That’s it We’re home and dry… no need to worry about the next election. It’s a forgone conclusion”(Sandbrook page 252). As it turned out they were wrong and Thatcher went on to win three elections in a row. But the fact was although she was brave to oppose Heath she was lucky to win. MPs were voting not for her but to get Heath out. And just look at this list of “Ifs” that would have changed history:
If Heath hadn’t called the February 1974 election.
If he had won it.
If Powell hadn’t told everyone to vote Labour.
If Heath had resigned after October allowing loyalists like Whitelaw to stand.
Or ifJoseph or du Cann had stood.
If any of those events had happened Thatcher would never had stood for the leadership never mind won it.
But did Thatcher’s win mean the UK is not sexist now? Hardly. First of all as Prime Minister Thatcher was no friend of women. During her 15 years as leader the number of Conservative female MPs only rose from 7 to 17 and for most of her time as PM she was the only woman in her Cabinet. That is why despite smashing the glass ceiling for women most feminists hate her as she did nothing to help other women. And since she resigned as PM in 1990 no other woman been elected leader of one of the UK’s three main parties***. In fact only three women since Thatcher have even stood for leadership of their parties – Diane Abbott, Jackie Ballard and Margaret Beckett. And only 22.8 per cent of MPs are women even today.
However there is hope. It is highly likely that whichever one of David Cameron or Ed Miliband loses this year’s election will also lose his job. And both the Conservatives with Home Secretary Theresa May and Labour with her shadow Yvette Cooper have genuine female contenders for leadership. In fact May has been mentioned as a future leader far more than Thatcher ever was. I reckon the odds are 50-50 that 2015 will be the year the UK gains its first female leader of one of our big parties since Thatcher back in 1975.
Yes Thatcher’s achievement in becoming Conservative leader and then Prime Minister was a great one. But anybody who thinks because of that the UK is not a sexist country needs to stop burying their heads in the sand like ostriches. Sexism is a problem in the UK. And anyone who says it is not are lying.
* And in 1983 the percentage of Conservative MPs who were female (13 out of 397 or 3.3 per cent) was lower than Labour’s (10 out of 209 or 4.8 per cent)
** There was one other candidate in the first ballot – Hugh Fraser the MP for Stafford and Stone. He was such a nonentity my politics teacher had never heard of him and he was not a serious candidate. He got 16 votes.
*** The Labour Party have had two female Deputy Leaders. Margaret Beckett and the current holder of the job Harriet Harman. Both were acting Leaders when the Party was between leaders – Beckett in 1994 and Harman in 2010.

Rape is rape. Why is that so difficult to understand?

To say 2014 was not a good year for gender equality in the UK is an understatement. A report for the United Nations Security Council by Rashida Manjoo said the UK was the “most in your face sexist country” with a “boys club sexist culture”. That of course is a matter of opinion. What is a fact is that last year the UK slipped to 26th place in the World Gender Equality League – below the likes of Rwanda and Burundi! – a big fall from 9th in the first table back in 2006.Also last year I read one of the most horrific things I’ve ever read. It was in a Daily Telegraph interview with Everyday Sexism founder Laura Bates and was a quote from an unnamed girl who said :

I am scared of going to university when I am older. Not because of exam stress but because of the horror stories of girls that have been subjected to assault for ‘banter’. I am scared. I am actually scared of being a female (my emphasis).

To my mind any man reading that should be ashamed. I know I am. And even worse her fears are justified. A survey in the Daily Telegraph (January 14th 2015) said “A third of female students in Britain have endured a sexual assault or unwanted advance at university”. And it gets worse. Another survey last year said that “A third of girls are groped or suffer some form of sexual assault while still at school”. What is wrong with this country?
There are two problems here. The first is the UK’s awful rape conviction rate. The Daily Telegraph (January 29th 2015) said that 85,000 women are victims of rape here every year. Of those rapes just 15,670 (18.4 per cent) were even reported to the police. Of that number 2,910 (18.6 per cent) got to court and of those just 1,070 got convictions. That is 36.8 per cent of those that went to court, 6.8 per cent of those reported to the police and just 1.3 per cent of all rapes. The Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales Alison Saunders sated that “men accused of rape will need to convince police that the woman consented”. That is all very well but the problem is not just with the police but with the UK public. A lot of people in the UK amazingly still think that if a woman wore a short skirt or dress that “she was asking for it”. Nonsense. Women should be able to wear what they want without it being seen as an open invitation to rape. Or if a women was drunk she is in some way to blame. Again tripe. Or if a woman doesn’t resist her attacker it means she was happy to accept sex. But some women would just freeze with fear when attacked. Some might take the pragmatic view if they try to defend themselves they’ll get killed. It didn’t mean they agreed to be raped!
But why do the public think like that? To my mind they are brainwashed by our awful media. A lot of the right wing press in the UK is full of sexist sewage. The Sun and the Star still have naked women for goodness sake. And in an awful editorial (January 30th 2015) the Daily Telegraph stated “A more honest approach (to rape) would be to consider once again whether a lesser offence of date rape is needed”. Nonsense. Rape is rape. It doesn’t matter whether its done by a stranger or someone the woman knows (which is the case in 90 per cent of rape cases). Just because a woman agrees to go on a date and is then raped it does NOT make it less serious than any other kind of rape. Good god. No wonder people think like that when the press is pumping such sexist propaganda to them on a daily basis.
So how to cut down the number of rapes/sexual assaults? We must improve the UK’s awful rape conviction rate. One way of doing that is to get rid of juries. It is clear that if a woman wore a short skirt/was drunk/didn’t resist her attacker a big group of the public(by no means all male) won’t have sympathy for her. Rape victims should not be at the mercy of the prejudices of the public. Rape trials should be heard before judges and magistrates who know the law and are would not be prejudiced against victims. Secondly the press have to be dealt with. The appeasement of Rupert Murdoch must stop. Page 3* should be banned and the likes of the Daily Mail should be stopped from publishing sexist sewage.
Long term however the key is to quote Tony Blair “Education, education, education”. We men have to learn that women aren’t playthings that we can treat whatever way we like. We have to understand they are human beings with a right to go through their lives without being subjected to rape/sexual abuse. Boys have to be taught at school that they should treat girls the way they want to be treated. if we teach them young that women aren’t our sexual playthings they hopefully will carry that on into adulthood. And then in the future maybe we can look forward to a UK where the rape conviction rate is zero. Not because of the prejudices of the police or the public. The rape conviction rate will be zero because men will have learned to respect women and there will be no rapes committed. It might seem like a dream. But there is no reason why we shouldn’t aim for a world where that happens.
*Page 3 is the page of the UK’s gutter press that has naked women on it.