Archive for December, 2010

My (Wo)Man of the Year

Posted in Person of the Year with tags , , , , , on December 22, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Finally, and with no fanfare whatsoever, I can unveil my nominations for Man of the Year, unquestionably the least distinguished accolade anybody in public life is ever likely to get.

I’d like to start with a personal choice. Rafael Benitez was a brilliant manager of Liverpool Football Club but the manner of his departure was the real measure of the man. A day after his “mutual’ dismissal he made a visit to the offices of the Hillsborough Family Support Group, which does invaluable work with the relatives of those who lost their lives in the Hillsborough Disaster, and made a donation of £96,000 for the 96 supporters who lost their lives that day. At a time when he was suffering acute personal disappointment and facing the prospect of uprooting his family from their home on the Wirral, this was an extraordinary gesture.

Another great injustice was also righted this year. Lord Saville’s report on Bloody Sunday, the darkest day in the history of Northern Ireland’s troubles, finally gave some measure of justice to the people of Londonderry. Will it result in prosecutions? Probably not, but that isn’t the point.

It’s been a dire year for English football, both on and off the pitch, but there is some hope that we might finally be forced to put our house in order. That the main instigator of reform is a Frenchman will unquestionably stick in the craw of many English football fans, but the new UEFA financial regulations, masterminded by Michel Platini, the President of UEFA, will hopefully force English clubs to plan for a more sustainable financial model, rather than depend on debt and wealthy foreign backers.

One man has managed to laugh at American politics this year while the rest of us have just been appalled. John Stewart, host of the Daily Show on More 4, has combined humour with biting criticism of the tone of political debate in the US which gets ever more hysterical. His Rally to Restore Sanity at the Lincoln Memorial attracted 215,000 people carrying banners like “I don’t agree with you, but I’m pretty sure you’re not Hitler” and “I’m a little annoyed but I’ll get over it.”

The Back from the Death Award this year has to go to British manufacturing. God only knows we’ve tried to kill it off enough times, but mercifully it is still there and, by all accounts, performing well. If we are to continue to pull ourselves out of the recession we need it more than ever.

The British Electorate also deserves a mention this year after sending a clear message to our politicians that the era of two-party politics has been dying for some time, they just haven’t noticed. The General Election result demonstrates that what the public wants is consensus politics, not wild swings from left to right and back again. I only hope we all remember this when it comes to the referendum vote on Electoral Reform in May.

However, my winner this year managed to pass historic healthcare reform through the American House of Representatives, where LBJ and Bill Clinton had previously failed, then followed it up with the one-two punch by reforming those that caused the financial meltdown with the Wall Street Reform Act and finally giving US citizens some much needed protection with the American Consumer Protection Act. That she then lost her job as Speaker of the House of Representatives only goes to show that the best politicians are often operating out on a limb, leading their electorate not following.

My Woman of the Year is Nancy Pelosi.

Finally, I’ll take it upon myself to thank all readers of this blog this year, we start again on January 4th 2011! Happy Christmas.

My Villain of the Year

Posted in Person of the Year with tags , , , , on December 21, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness (isn’t that the US Postal Service motto?) can stop the blogs. It’s that time of year again when I unveil my Villain of the Year and Man of the Year nominations. I intend to start with the villains so that we can end on a positive note by celebrating the achievers tomorrow.

Whilst Sepp Blatter, President of FIFA, has sat atop a corrupt organisation which he has stubbornly refused to reform, my nomination for Sporting Villain[s] of the Year goes to three Premier League footballers, namely John Terry, Ashley Cole and Wayne Rooney. Their antics, whilst being paid extraordinary amounts of money and failing dismally at international level, has contributed to many football fans falling out of love with the game they grew up with. Never has the people’s game seemed so far away from errr . . . the people.

Scapegoat of the Year is undoubtedly Tony Hayward of BP who found himself at the centre of a media storm when Deepwater Horizon exploded. However, I can’t help but feel that Hayward was a lightning rod for criticism rather than an instigator of the BP meltdown. For me, the real culprit is his predecessor Lord Browne whose cost-cutting directly led hundreds of safety violations. Browne was forced out of BP before the big one could hit only to resurface with the Browne Report on Higher Education funding which promises to saddle future generations with enormous debts. What a legacy!

Glenn Beck also deserves a mention. For those who don’t know, he is a right-wing TV presenter in the US who likes to use Nazi analogies to describe current US politics. That his antics appear on FOX News, owned by News Corporation, not some backwoods radio station, should act as a warning to those who see no harm in Murdoch’s war against the BBC and attempts to take sole control of BSkyB.

Politicians are never far away from my list of villains and this year we have had to put up with the American Tea Party Movement and Silvio Berlusconi whose contempt for the Italian Constitution, the Courts and most importantly the electorate is shaming. However, this year a British politician has gone from hero to zero in record time. Nick Clegg, if he’s not careful, is about to finish the job that David Lloyd George started nearly a century ago and be responsible for the death of liberalism in British politics.

However, only one politician this year has engaged in piracy on the high seas and has publicly humiliated the Vice President of the United States. By publicly announcing the resumption of settlement building on the West Bank at exactly the same moment as Joe Biden’s plane touched down in Tel Aviv, our nominee alienated Israel’s most important ally. He then topped this by ordering Israeli troops to board an aid ship trying to run the Gaza blockade, in the process killing eleven passengers. It is actions like these that make a Middle Eastern Peace Agreement seem as far away as ever.

My Villain of the Year is Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu.

Lucky George, manufacturing points the way for UK economy!

Posted in business with tags , , , on December 7, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

Two sets of figures released in the last week have provided a tremendous boost for UK manufacturing.

For those who missed the stories the main points are these. The Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index rose to 58 in November, the highest the index has been since September 1994. Essentially, any number above 50 signifies growth rather than contraction.

The hiring part of the index was particularly strong, showing that manufacturers took on employees at their fastest rate since the survey began 18 years ago. Wait, there’s more. Backlogs of work (yes backlogs!) increased for the first time in five months, the data revealed, while new orders rose at their fastest pace since April.

This was followed yesterday by even more positive numbers from the Engineering Employers Federation. Strong positive output and order balances for third quarter running across all sectors of manufacturing, good investment and training numbers, a significant jump in price balances and increasing optimism.

All in all these both these sets of figures seem to suggest that private sector growth could be quite a bit stronger than the doom-mongers at the IMF are currently predicting which means that the Coalition Government’s economic bet could come good.

The key issue now is, will this continue into 2011. It’s probably still too early to say, but the Government badly needs business, and manufacturing in particular, to take up the baton and drive growth forward as we slowly deleverage consumer debt without tipping ourselves into another recession.

Napoleon used to say that he wanted ‘lucky’ generals. If it carries on like this for George Osborne, our Prime Minister might well have found himself one.

English football must reform itself before it tackles FIFA

Posted in Sport with tags , , , , on December 6, 2010 by Tom Leatherbarrow

FIFA is a corrupt, undemocratic organisation which is accountable to no one, but if we have any sense we won’t go to war with it – for the time being.

One of the basic tenets of negotiation is that you do it from a position of strength and, currently, English football is not in a strong position and I’m not just talking about the state of the nation’s football team.

After reading the Sunday papers, my own reading of the events of last Thursday is that any number of chickens have come home to roost, most of them involving the power of the Premier League.

That the PL is a remarkable success is a given, but like a multi-national company it tramples all before it. So what I hear you cry, is it wrong to be a commercial success? Of course not, but the PL like many multi-nationals is not satisfied with its existing markets, but is always looking for new ones.

The result is that in South East Asia, in China, in India, the local population watches the English Premier League. My own mother, a Liverpool lass, tells of waking up in a hotel in Singapore and looking out of the window to see a truck full of Indian workers being ferried around in a lorry with the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” and a Liver Bird logo plastered on the side.

And, like many multi-nationals it doesn’t know when to stop, witness its proposal for the 39th game to be played abroad. Of course, what has been ignored is that this proposal cuts straight across FIFA’s stated aim of encouraging domestic football leagues not just exporting the Premiership. My personal suspicion is that this behavior is regarded as little more than cultural imperialism by many of the national associations on whom we have to rely on for votes when it comes to deciding where to host a World Cup.

Of course that doesn’t even take into account the behavior of Premier League teams who regard continental academies at Lens, Ajax of Amsterdam, Fiorentina etal as ripe for plundering. The Gael Kakuta affair involving Chelsea is one of many instances where English Premier clubs have played hard and fast with the rules in order to steal continental talent. Again, this is no way to win friends and influence people.

The fact of the matter is, the way the Premier League now operates is directly against the interests of the game in this country by alienating many of those we need for support from on the international stage. 20 years ago the FA created a monster which is a massive commercial success but has no interest in youth development, international football or cultivating influence in the world.

Does it have the bottle to rein it back in? I doubt it, which is why the announcement that a House of Commons Select Committee is to investigate the failed bid was a rare shaft of light in a dark, dark week.

One final point. I was reminded yesterday that former French President Jacques Chirac refused to get involved in Paris’ attempts to win the Olympics six years ago which eventually went to London. His reasoning that “the President of France pleads with no one” is one that our political leaders, and those in line to the throne, should heed from now on.