Young Labour Grounded

Earlier this month, Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, wrote to the national committee of the party’s youth wing, Young Labour, ordering them not to send a delegation to the International Union of Socialist Youth’s summer camp in Malta. The camp is hosted annually by either IUSY or the Young European Socialists (YES). The Labour Party has taken part for many years. This August, though, McNicol said he would rather young members ‘focused their efforts on campaigning in the run up to the general election’. Labour is not currently ‘engaged with IUSY in a meaningful way’. More »

A Lifetime of Watching England Lose

Like many people, I imagine, I can remember exactly where I was and what I was doing each time England have been knocked out of the World Cup. In 2010 I was in Australia and had to get up in the middle of the night to watch England get thumped by Germany, which was a sterile and deadening experience. In 2006 I also happened to be in Australia, though that was my first time and I had only been in the country 24 hours, so seeing England lose on penalties to Portugal was more spacey and surreal. In 2002 I was in a meeting to grade student exams, which was interrupted briefly to tell us what we already knew, that England had lost to Brazil. In 1998 I saw England lose on penalties to Argentina in the front room of a house in Cambridge. In 1990 I saw England lose on penalties to Germany in the front room of a different house in Cambridge.

In 1986 I was at Glastonbury, where there were only a couple of small screens and far too many people to get a view of England’s match with Argentina; at one point a moan went through the crowd, which I discovered afterwards wasn’t for either of Maradona’s goals, but a cry of despair when Lineker narrowly failed to reach a cross from John Barnes at the death. In 1982 I was at boarding school and a teacher told us that England had failed to get the required result against Spain, which caused me inadvertently to swear in front of his wife. That’s it. In 1970 I was only three. In 1966 I hadn’t been born. It adds up to a conventional, privileged life, during which England are never going to win the World Cup. More »

At Yarl’s Wood

I took a cab from Bedford station to Yarl’s Wood last Sunday. Britain’s biggest immigration detention centre for women is on the edge of a business park in the middle of the countryside. The guard at the gate said there were ‘people around the premises’ when I asked him about the protest I’d come to join, but he wouldn’t tell me where they were. ‘I’m going to have to ask you to leave,’ he said. I walked away through the business park, past a giant warehouse that looked like an empty distribution centre, past the Red Bull Racing wind tunnel, until at last I saw a group of people protesting by a gate. But I was inside the business park and they were on the other side of the fence. More »

On Supporting England

‘Will you be supporting England?’ English people have asked me ever since I can remember. My family moved to London from Kiev in 1980, when I was three. The question might look like a football version of Norman Tebbit’s ‘cricket test’. But one of the earliest things I worked out as an immigrant child is that you’re not meant to rush into English identity. You can do that in the US maybe, but it would be utterly un-English to try to be too English too fast. ‘Who do you support?’ is a bit of a trick question. More »

Paying the Nuclear Tax to China

David Cameron has signed a piece of paper with his Chinese counterpart, Li Keqiang, opening the way for the company that makes the nuclear weapons for the world’s biggest Communist state to build and run nuclear power stations in Britain.

The deal is morally wrong, a betrayal of the British people, and a damaging blow to democratic principles.

Nuclear power in Britain can only be built with the help of large subsidies from citizens. In the past, these subsidies came through general taxation. Since electricity was privatised by Cameron’s predecessors, the tax to subsidise new nuclear will be a private tax, hidden in our electricity bills, the collectors of which will be the electricity firms themselves. More »

Free Alaa Abdel Fattah

On Wednesday 11 June, the Egyptian activist Alaa Abdel Fattah was one of 25 people sentenced to 15 years in prison for organising an illegal protest last November. Abdel Fattah is a 32-year-old software developer and blogger, and an habitué of Egypt’s street protests, court rooms and jails. He was first detained in 2006, under Mubarak, for protesting in favour of an independent judiciary. Supporters organised a ‘Free Alaa’ campaign. After being held for six weeks without charge, he was released. More »

The Most Reckless War in Modern Times

Edward Said writing in the LRB in April 2003 on the US-led invasion of Iraq:

With countries like Syria and Iran involved, their shaky regimes shaken even further, and general Arab outrage inflamed to boiling point, one cannot imagine that victory in Iraq will resemble any of the simple-minded myths posited by Bush and his entourage… This is the most reckless war in modern times. It is all about imperial arrogance unschooled in worldliness, unfettered either by competence or experience, undeterred by history or human complexity, unrepentant in its violence and the cruelty of its technology. What winning, or for that matter losing, such a war will ultimately entail is unthinkable. But pity the Iraqi civilians who must still suffer a great deal more before they are finally ‘liberated’.

The Basketball World Cup

The basketball World Cup ended on Sunday. The world won – they beat the Americans four games to one. The world’s team is represented by Argentina, Australia (twice), Brazil, Canada, France (also twice), Italy, the US Virgin Islands, and a handful of other Americans. They are based in San Antonio, Texas. The club they play for is owned by the great-grandson of the inventor of the caterpillar-tread tractor. Their coach comes from Indiana, the son of a Serb father and Croat mother; he graduated from the Air Force with a degree in Soviet Studies. I mention all this because people get funny ideas about Texas. They think it’s parochial. More »

Why goalkeepers don’t catch the ball

Football is a team game but it can also be a lonely business. Some positions come with massively outsized risks of getting fingered when things go wrong. Goalkeepers are notoriously vulnerable on this front. Lots of things contributed to Spain’s thumping defeat by the Dutch in their opening match but the most conspicuous mistake was the one made by Iker Casillas, so he was the one who ended up copping (and accepting) the blame. Referees too are highly prone to being scapegoated for their mishaps. A referee who has a good game will barely get noticed. But have a bad one and suddenly the whole world is on your case. Managers can find themselves in the same boat. An experimental team selection that comes off tends to redound to the credit of the player who got picked (hence the praise that is currently being heaped on Raheem Sterling). An unsuccessful one is the fault of the manager. More »


‘Housing is a right, tax-dodging is wrong,’ read a banner outside the Oxford Street branch of Vodafone on Saturday. UK Uncut had organised a day of action in cities around the UK. Vodafone recently reported a post-tax profit of £59.4 billion for the year to March. For the third year in a row the company has paid no corporation tax; in 2010 HMRC wrote off a £6 billion tax bill. Meanwhile, the government says it can’t afford not to make cuts to social housing.

The protest took the form of a housewarming party. There were balloons, music and fizzy drinks outside the shop; inside, a few people behind a half-lowered shutter. Three women, a toddler and a man in a wheelchair had managed to get in there early. The protesters at the door had a minor scrap with the staff, then chatted to the police. An activist in a Gary Barlow mask explained the amount allegedly owed by Vodafone. One of the officers asked him: ‘Yeah, but have you done your own investigation?’ More »

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