Football will eat itself…

So, it’s perfectly OK for one well-known footballer to bring a gun into his workplace and fire it at someone, because the club concerned has ‘dealt with it internally’ while it’s perfectly OK for another footballer to forearm smash a fellow professional and escape further action because the ref – having said that he had seen the incident at the time – insists that a free-kick was sufficient punishment.

Looks like one law for the strong, to me. When football gets this much out of control because the authorities are quite simply afraid to upset the powerful – and for fear that the rich will take their cash somewhere else – the whole game suffers. The (sweet) FA needs to realise that money is making a mockery out of football, that discipline is becoming very much secondary to personalities and that it needs to take steps to control this charade if the game is not to give up its credibility entirely.

Meanwhile, the two clubs involved meet each other tomorrow night – and what a right little nest of vipers that will be. They absolutely deserve each other. Even if the mighty Royals weren’t playing tomorrow night, my attention would be absolutely elsewhere.

[Edit 1 March: I don’t agree with the whole piece, but Henry Winter makes some of the same points in today’s Torygraph]

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Voice of Lightness, Vol. 2

Vol. 2 of the superb collection by Stern’s of the music of Tabu Ley Rochereau, the giant of Congolese music, was published a couple of months back and has been on my turntable (OK, in my CD player) pretty much ever since.

Covering the period from 1977 where Vol. 1 left off, to 1993 and Tabu Ley’s virtual retirement from record making, Vol. 2 covers a complex musical period kicking off with Tabu Ley at the peak of his powers to eventual slow decline amidst a surfeit of the synths which did so much to wreck African guitar music (at least, for me). Ever sensitive to the issues here, the selection of tracks here skirts lightly around the latter (while not avoiding it completely), leaving us with – well, you know what to expect: insistent, driving rhythms; melodic, hypnotic guitar lines that ask, nay demand, you put on your dancing feet; and soaring, honeyed vocals that are an absolute delight to listen to (click on the link above – listen to Lisanga ya Banganga (one of his two collaborations on this collection with Franco, the other Congolese giant), and I utterly defy you to sit still!). You get Tabu Ley himself, you get Franco, you get Dr. Nico on his temporary reconciliation with Taby Ley, you get a succession of other fantastic guitarists, and you get quite insane drummers that leave you gasping for breath and you get smooth production values (and a nicely remastered set which doesn’t quite relieve itself of the clicks and pops of old vinyl and tapes!). And a bit of politics too, with Tabu Ley in exile and then, in Le Glas A Sonné (The Bell Has Tolled) an overt call for revolution against Mobutu which has strong echoes in which is happening in 2011 across north Africa and the middle East.

The package is, once again, beautifully put together, dovetailing neatly with the companion volumes in the Congo Classics series by Franco and by Mbilia Bel, encompassing not just two CDs crammed full of beautiful music but also a 56-page dual language booklet with an insighful essay by Ken Braun, former manager of Stern’s US shop and a Tabu Ley enthusiast, as well as rare photos and as comprehensive a listing of the personnel on each track as you’re likely to find (evidently, no mean feat given shifting personnel, individual clashes and egos and faulty memories).

Friday night music at its unstoppable, head-clearing, working week-closing best. Have a little drink, have a little dance, put a big smile on your face.

Even The Dogs

Dying alone, un-noticed and un-cared for is, I guess, a common fear – and that is the opening of Jon McGregor’s third novel. Thereafter, the novel takes us on an unrelentingly bleak trip through addictions, homelessness, squalor and human inadequacies as they try but surely fail to deal with the world around them, and as Robert’s story and the desire to establish the reason (or reasons) for his death unfolds in parallel to the journey his body takes to mortuary, the pathologist’s slab and finally to the crematory fire.

Robert’s journey is accompanied by a somewhat ethereal chorus of observers drawn from the disenfranchised among us and – as with the nature of addiction – the telling of the fragments of his life and death is made by witnesses who may well not be reliable, as well as being loose, episodic and fractured. Indeed, the novel appears frequently to be little more than fragments from the writer’s notebook.

At its best – for example, in a memorable passage focusing on Afghanistan – the novel succeeds brilliantly. Its scenes of drug use and the work of both pathologist and coroner are well-observed and researched, the latter both delivering a neat, precise counterpoint to the disjointed, unfocused remainder (as well as a welcome element of light). A few targets – people like Robert getting better care in their death than they do in their life, the failures of the rehabilitation industry and the ex-soldier’s lament of the lack of desire for Queen and country to serve him as much as he had served them – are squarely hit. The political tone of the novel is clear and, with the cuts this government is intent on making to public services, it is also worryingly, chillingly prophetic. Unfortunately, the successes are rare. I want the novel to succeed – McGregor is courageously taking immense risks with language and form in this novel and that is laudable – but ultimately novels work best when they engage the reader and McGregor makes few concessions in this direction. The casual reader is unlikely to make it much beyond a particularly difficult and over-long (and deliberately unsettling) second section. There is a good story here and a powerful message that needs to emerge, but it remains rather too deeply buried.

Are successful novels only those which are ‘popular’? No – of course not, but novels must engage their audience if writers are to get their ideas across and I suspect that this one is mired too heavily in troublesome punctuation and a writing style based on streams of (barely)consciousness to be ‘popular’. A creditable effort – but ‘less is more’ is more than just a minimalist touchstone.

Mayday! Indeed…

What better place to look for some informed comment on the Tory plans to relocate the May Day bank holiday to later in the year than the TUC’s ToUChstone blog?

Paul Sellers’s post hits all the right notes on the issue, but I also learned – courtesy of ToUChstone commentator Adrian Cruden – that the UK actually came into being, as a result of the Act of Union of 1707, on 1 May. And so it did. What better day indeed to celebrate ‘UK Day’?

(Meanwhile, Adrian has some interesting, and radical, alternative suggestions of his own for a Bank Holiday date later in the year.)

A lesson in nationalisation

The players of Stirling Albion, a supporters trust-owned club, have agreed to go without wages for the month in support of the fans’ attempt to support their club, which has gone without revenue for some months on account of the adverse weather which has led to games being postponed.

An interesting contrast with the position of bankers on their bonuses – not even wages – in the state-held banking sector.

Looks to me a prime justification for the value of full nationalisation and workers’ control over this country’s banks…

ODA money spent in Britain

The Commons International Development select committee today questioned why £1.85m was taken from DFID funds to cover some of the £10m costs of the Pope’s visit to Britain back in September last year. The money was handed to the Foreign Office, and the Committee has asked for answers as to what the money was spent on and why it was imagined that this was compliant with the rules on overseas development aid.

DFID has pointed out that the money is separate to the overseas aid budget – so will have come from departmental running costs, i.e. the bits of DFID that is not ring-fenced from the cuts. (Although it is interesting that Harriet Harman has warned today that the government’s ‘fragile’ commitment to spending 0.7% of GNP on overseas aid by 2013 means it may not be realised.)

Perhaps the comment by a member of the Pope’s entourage that arriving in Britain was like landing in a third world country led to DFID being caught up by this view and thinking that the spending of the money in this country was legitimate …

That employer charter…

Been a little busy recently; hence the lack of posts for a while…

One thing I have been catching upon, however, is BIS’s publication last week of its draft employer charter. I had spotted the headline issue at the time – the withdrawal of the right to claim unfair dismissal (other than in discrimination cases) unless you have been employed for two years* – but the charter was new to me until today.

Apart from its abuse of the English language (continuing the ConDem tradition in this respect) – charters, historically, represent social progress rather than a menu of what you can do in the workplace to undermine it – I love the charter.

I think trade unions should embrace this – not so much to lambast it, although that is certainly one option – but as an extremely effective recruiting sergeant. Handing the charter out to non-members with a simple message to say:

Look at what employers can already to you – and that’s before the ConDems start attacking your rights at work. Join the union and make sure you’re protected

seems a very powerful message about the importance of joining the union. If I wasn’t already a committed and engaged member, I’d certainly be asking where I should sign.

* Attacking workers rights in a recession is a typically Tory agenda approach to life (which the LibDems appear to share). Yet, there is no evidence that it will actually increase employment and it is likely that, regardless of the promise, vulnerable workers will be most harshly affected. And the notion that you can’t be unfairly dismissed unless you can fulfil a two-year service criterion is, quite simply, bizarre. It will remove essential employment rights from 12% of employees at a stroke, and providing encouragement to poor employers will do nothing for jobs.