Monday, December 23, 2013

Seasonal Satire

Just a little trio of tunes, loosely based on recent events and with a festive flavour. Enjoy!

As the spectre of corruption looms over football, players across the country are working on their karaoke for the team Christmas party…
(To the tune of “Merry Christmas – War Is Over”)
So this is Christmas
And what have we done?
Smashed in an own goal
Got sent off for a bung
So this is Christmas
And win lose or draw
We’re hoping that next year
We get bunged some more

That bloke with the briefcase
I’m sure he’s alright
But we’re just footballers
And not very bright

And so this is Christmas
What do we have planned?
Picking up a booking
For seventy grand
So if your team is losing
Then you know the score
Maybe next season
You’ll pay us some more

We’ll handball it, miss penalties
We’ll score own goals, when you want it
Taking bribes and falling over
You can’t trust us any more

So this is football, such an epic fail
Instead of Old Trafford, we’ll be going to jail

If you think things are bad now, just wait and see who they have lined up to replace Santa...

He doesn’t care if you pout
He doesn’t care if you cry
You better watch out
I’m telling you why
IDS is coming to town

He doesn’t care about truth
Or being out of touch
He doesn’t care what you get
He just knows it’s too much
IDS is coming to town

Whether you’re poor or disabled
He doesn’t really care
He sees into your bedrooms
And he knows which ones are spare

He’ll come up with a ruse
He’ll come up with a trap
So you don’t get ahead
Just a benefit cap
IDS is coming to town

You better not claim
You better not try
Just be a good slacker
Hurry up and die
IDS is coming to town…

Last, and by all means least, as her career hits hard times Nigella Lawson is booked as Eartha Kitt on Celebrity Stars In Their Eyes...

Santa baby, slip a kilo under the tree, for me
My head’s been in a whirl. 
Santa baby, won’t you be my dealer tonight

Santa baby, just a few ounces of dope, I hope
Got some brownies ready to go
Santa baby, get me off my boobies on blow
Think of all the hands I’ve had around my throat
Think of all the times I’ve slept with that old goat
The chance of getting out my tree
Is all that’s keeping me afloat

Santa cutie, just a little LSD you see
If I endorse it will it be free?
Santa baby, want to see the dancing hippos tonight

Santa honey, give my finances a hand
I’ve lost 600 grand
Santa baby, get me another book deal, alright?
Santa baby, hurry down my chimney tonight…

Friday, December 20, 2013

Rendered Speechless

Yesterday, retired judge Sir Peter Gibson reported on his review of 20,000 top secret documents following allegations of wrongdoing against MI5 and MI6 officers. Gibson found evidence that the UK had been "inappropriately involved" in some renditions, and that a further investigation was needed into investigations of complicity.

Let me just spell that out for you. The UK has been involved in the illegal transfer of persons to another country for the purposes of torture.

Documents found in the Libyan foreign ministry after the civil war in 2011 show that both the CIA and MI6 rendered suspects to the Libyan authorities in the full knowledge they would be tortured. Yes, you heard right. Two western democracies were flying people in to what they for years had considered a rogue, terrorist state so they could circumvent their own justice system. On some occasions, these were their own citizens.

So why isn't there widespread outrage in the UK about this? Simple. We've been led to believe that it is somehow vital for our "national security" that we allow the security forces to operate outside the rule of law. That they be allowed to employ torture - widely regarded as ineffective in obtaining accurate, useful information - to "protect" us.

Not that these actions did much to protect Shaker Aamer. A Saudi citizen and a British resident, Aamer was picked up by the CIA in Afghanistan in November 2001 and rendered to Guantanamo Bay three months later. He has been held there since without charge.  Aamer has never been charged with any offence, never received a trial and has been cleared for release by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

Aamer was rendered to Guantanamo Bay on the basis of information provided by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, who turned him over to the US forces in exchange for a cash bounty. The evidence for detaining him in Guantanamo came from a detainee dismissed as "entirely unreliable"  and who is known to have been tortured in order to obtain information.

There is no other reason for him to still be in Guantanamo, other than the fact that if he is released he will be in position to reveal the methods used by the CIA, MI5 and MI6 supposedly for our protection, and they don't want to lose what little public support they have left.

The Gibson report came out on the same day as the verdict was delivered on the two men who murdered soldier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. Coincidence? Maybe. 

What better way to reinforce the idea that we need to export people with no connection to terrorism to foreign states where they can be tortured, than to remind us of the threat of terrorism on our own doorstep?

The rendition and Rigby stories have at least provoked some debate on what drives Islamic terrorism. Sadly the fact that the key driver is Western foreign policy, in particular the way the US and UK dealt with Afghanistan and Iraq under the guise of "tackling terrorism", is the elephant in the room. Anyone positing that as a cause of Islamic terrorism is dismissed as a radical to be hectored and ridiculed on news shows.

If we want to prevent Islamic terrorism either on our streets or against British targets in the Middle East, how about we start repairing some of the damage we've done? Be a much more worthwhile investment than the social and moral cost of sending innocent people into torture.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday is Funday

Guests at the upcoming Charles Manson wedding have been advised to politely decline if the groom suggests a toast.

Two people have denied keeping three women as slaves in their home for thirty years, claiming they were actually unpaid interns.

China has made the first successful test flight of a stealth drone. According to eyewitnesses….

After the publicity success of Movember, the government are hoping that rising fuel prices will do the same for the elderly during “Decimatember”

I don’t understand the concept behind Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s like paying double to go into Nandos and eat raw chicken.

James Arthur is following the well-worn path of celebrity self-destruction. Fame, Twitter spat, abusive text messages. Expect to see him on next year’s Children in Need in a PVC catsuit, twerking at Gloria Hunniford.

The John Lewis ad. The heartwarming story of a bear discovering the real meaning of Christmas, and his woodland friends discovering the real meaning of “omnivorous”

If you are thinking of moving banks from the Co-Op because someone who works there did drugs, you’re going to be snort of options

Shoplifters in Hull have taken to stealing probiotic drinks. They’re real culture vultures.

Gordon Brown only agreed to the Commonwealth summit being in Sri Lanka this year so Glasgow would look better next year.

341 people have been arrested for child porn offences in Toronto. All have said that they only accessed the material while in a drunken stupor.

Nick Clegg has said that Roma immigrants need to be sensitive to British traditions. Like the press labelling them baby-stealing, benefit-scrounging health tourists.

The woman who stalked Alec Baldwin has been jailed for contempt of court. The woman who stalked Billy Baldwin has been jailed for contempt of her self-esteem

UK schools are being put on flu watch. The things the BBC will do to keep Chris Packham busy.

Dear work. Sorry, but I can’t come in tomorrow. I appear to have padlocked myself in a holdall, like you do.

Welcome to Amazon assist, how can we help? Ah, hello. I’m calling because I need to delete ten year’s worth of speeches from the internet.

And finally, a few thoughts on our esteemed leader's trip to Sri Lanka...

David Cameron promises to send a strong message to Sri Lanka, after the chocolate on his pillow had melted by the time he got back to his hotel room.

David Cameron has acknowledged that his trip into Tamil territory will be difficult. The hotel he’s staying in doesn’t even have a whirlpool bath.

David Cameron has said that his talks in Sri Lanka will be “robust”, and that he did not and would never remove the Toblerone from the minibar.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Ideology Over Ideas

Let's face it, whether we consider ourselves to be a political animal or not, we all have an ideology we follow. A way of doing things that we believe to be "the right way".

In my case, I'm a socialist and a liberal (note the small "l").

I happen to believe that a good society is one that looks after those who are unable to look after themselves, and which gives its citizens the right to go about their business equally irrespective of gender, sexuality, race or religion.

Where it needs to be, my ideology is flexible enough that I can still object to things that I consider to be bad ideas - irrespective of what colour political coat they happen to be dressed in.

For some people though, the pull of their ideology is just so strong that it blinkers them to seeing what absolute crackpot nonsense their ideas are. One such case has reared its head from the government this week.

The Department for Education (DfE) has seen one of its internal reports leaked to the press. The report was commissioned to look at where a further £260m of savings could be made by the Department from its budget.

One of the suggestions related to the forced conversion of schools to Academy status. Academies are the pet project of the Education Secretary Michael Gove. Schools which are deemed to be "failing" will have their governors removed and forced to convert to Academy status, irrespective of the wishes of parents, pupils or staff and even where they are already showing signs of improvement.

Often the Academy will be run in association with a private sector "sponsor". It is funded directly by central government and therefore taken out of local authority control,.

Forcing a school to convert to an Academy is a resource intensive process. It takes a lot of time and money out of the DfE budget,, for what in some cases can be very little in terms of positive outcomes. So the report suggested that value for money be taken into account when deciding whether to force a conversion to Academy status. A pretty reasonable suggestion, given the way the Tories bang on about keeping public spending under control you would think.

It was immediately ruled out by Michael Gove as "totally wrong". Leaving the potential grammatical inaccuracies in that statement aside, how can something which takes account of value for money and the potential benefits to a school be "wrong"?

Simple. Getting schools out of local authority control and increasing private sector involvement in education is Gove's ideology. It's an ideology which he will not be swayed from, even when civil servants in his own department come up with ideas that will save money from his budget. It's the same reason the DfE sat on reports of £80,000 of financial "irregularities" at a flagship Academy in Bradford for months. Nothing must be said or done which makes the ideology look bad.

This isn't an isolated example either. Take the sell-off of £12bn worth of the NHS, for no other reason than the ideology that private sector = good, public sector = bad. Or the re-privatisation of the East Coast Main Line rail franchise, which has returned a surplus to the taxpayer since it has been back in public hands but must now be franchised, because apparently only the private sector knows how to properly run a railway.

Two separate studies from University College London this week have shown that immigrants make a significant net contribution to the Treasury. They are more likely to pay more in than they take out when compared to those of a similar age and gender born in the UK. The studies consider that the government's targets to reduce net migration substantially are neither a "useful tool nor measure of policy effectiveness".

The government's response? To continue to insist that the country is overrun with "benefit tourists" who are a drain on society, despite all the evidence that flies in the face of that statement.

I actually feel a little sorry for David Cameron. He seems like a reasonably decent sort of bloke trying to do his best, but he's painted into a corner by the frothing lunatics that form the basis of his core support. A cadre that was brought up in a post-war, mainly white Britain with a rigid class system where the poor made things that the rich could sell and keep all the money from.

Any attempt to modernise or move away from their ideology will see them desert the Tories for the even loonier fringes of UKIP, which is itself splitting at the seams.

So for now, expect to see more ideology over ideas. The good news is that in 18 months, we can all do something about it and start putting some common sense back into Britain. Don't waste your chance.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Mambo Number 13

The 2013 rugby league World Cup starts next weekend. In its honour, I've re-worked the lyrics to Lou Bega's "Mambo Number 5" for your delectation.

The original is here ( for those of you who can't remember it.

Ladies and gentlemen, I bring you "Mambo Number 13..."

"One, two, three, four, five
Everybody in your cars, come on let's drive
To stadiums across the country
For the biggest stars of rugby league
You'll ever see
Show their skills, every week
Cause in this game, well talk is cheap
There's Australia, England, Wales and New Zealand
And so it continues with Scotland, France and Ireland
So who is going to lift to the trophy at Old Trafford?
We all hope it's going to be England
It's rugby league, it's our favourite game
With all these stars, remember their names

A little bit of Charnley on the right
A little bit of Ryan Hall in full flight
A little bit of Tomkins out the back
A bit of Sinfield keeping it on track
A little bit of Roby around the ruck
The bounce of the ball and a little luck
A ground full of fans making some noise
Let's all get behind the England boys.

Mambo Number 13!"

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Ed Milliband - The Musical

Scene: The podium at the Labour party conference. Ed Milliband stands before a hushed audience, waiting to deliver his speech. He tentatively clears his throat…

“Conference. Fellow Labour members. Much has been said and written about my family and I over the last twelve months, not all of it flattering. Comparisons have been drawn to many people, including Mr Bean and both Wallace and Gromit. Yet both I and the party have emerged stronger from these difficult times, and let me tell you why. It’s because..”

(To the tune of “I Am What I Am”)

“I’m Ed Milliband.
I don’t need notes, I don’t need prompters
I write my own speech, even though some
Might think that’s bonkers.
I’m like a warrior that’s on a mission
I’m out to give a kicking to the Coalition
I don’t give a damn, just let me shout out
I’m Ed Milliband.

I’m Ed Milliband
I’m not our Dave, no I’m not Tony
I’m still my own man
Trade unions, don’t try to own me.
UKIP are such a joke they've got me in stitches
Ladies, I don't care what's gathering behind your fridges
From Cornwall to Shetland, stand up and say
Vote Ed Milliband

I’m Ed Milliband
Whatever you say I’ll rise above it
Clarkson, bring it on
Stand against me, I’ll bloody love it
Socialists, time to get out of the closet
Let’s laugh when Nick Clegg loses his deposit
This government’s a sham, it’s time for change
I’m Ed Millibaaaaaaaaand.”

Rapturous applause, bouquets being thrown on from the side of the stage.

Short silence

Working class voice: “Blimey, that Michael Ball’s lost some weight hasn’t he?”


Saturday, September 28, 2013

Weekend Whimsy

Just for fun, a few bits you might find amusing. Go on, unleash your inner giggle...

Ryanair have vowed to remove everything from their service that unnecessarily annoys their passengers. So that’ll be their website, staff, Chief Executive...

UKIP – doing for the immigration debate what sailors on shore leave do for city centres

The Godfrey Bloom scandal has overshadowed the important policy decisions made at the UKIP conference – immigration, public spending and the unicorn cull.

Not keen on this new game where you have to kidnap the first Chancellor of a united Germany – Grand Theft Otto V B.

Durham police have left red boxes around the town for people to deposit their drugs in as part of an amnesty. That’s going to be a really good game of Deal or No Deal when they get those back to the station. “Box 12 please Sarge.” “It’s a blue Chief, a blister pack of Viagra.”

Ed Milliband has promised this week to keep public spending under control, disassociate his party from the Unions and keep a cap on immigration. Did he wander into the wrong conference by mistake or something?

Bradley Wiggins got a knighthood for winning the Tour de France. For winning the Tour of Britain he gets a Tufty club badge and a year’s free hire of Boris bikes.

In this series of Downton Abbey, the part of Lady Grantham will be played by a replacement bus service between Lady Peterborough and Lady Newark Northgate.

So the Edinburgh Zoo panda may not be pregnant after all. Hard to tell with pandas though. Nothing’s ever black or white.

The developers of the new Grand Theft Auto game have responded to criticism that their games are too violent by making some changes. Players must now raise funds for Comic Relief to set up a rehab centre for former prostitutes.

Security is being reviewed at Buckingham Palace after guards challenged a loudmouthed, unemployed ex-serviceman found strolling through the grounds like his family owned the place.

George Osborne is right, the economy has turned a corner. Straight into a branch of Cash Converters.

Have you seen the designs for the new Olympic Stadium in Tokyo? It's the size of a pinhead but still seats 3 million people.

Went to a preview screening of the new Diana film. Bit of a car crash to be honest.

Dennis Nilsen's old flat is up for sale. Still full of lots of original features. A nose, a couple of ears, a penis...

They say always finish on a song. This one's a sneak preview of Miley Cyrus's new interpretation of Dolly Parton's "9 to 5"

Wake up in the evening, cursing and a bitchin’
Wish my talent matched my ambition
Bump and grind, just to feel alive
Jump on the stage and the blood starts pumping
Forget your popping, locking or crumping
Girls like me love to twerk from 9 to 5

Twerking 9 to 5
I used to be on Nickelodeon
Now I shake my thang
When I’m up there on the podium
My poor Pa
It makes his heart all achy breaky
I swear sometimes
He don’t know how to take me

Twerking 9 to 5
No more Hannah Montana
It’s a sex tape next
Where did I put that banana
Twerking 9 to 5
Making lines all nice and blurry
Driving teenage boys
Into a masturbating fury
Twerking – 9 to 5...

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

An Intelligent Design For Life

Let's get this straight from the off. I'm a man of science. Show me something that's true and actual, and everything will be satisfactual.

I'm not a man of faith. If you have faith, I'm happy for you. If you've found a God and a belief system that you can work with then kudos.

Just keep it to yourself will you? In particular, don't try to teach anyone that it's worth the same or more than science.

One of the big areas of frustration for me is the insistence that evolution isn't really how living things got to be like they are. Instead, everything was designed by God to be like this - the process known as "intelligent design". No matter what evidence you might be able to throw at the ID crowd (not to be confused with the IT Crowd, or the 1D Crowd) - little things like the fossil record for example - they're not having it.

So let's examine how their claims stack up against The Bible shall we? Exactly how intelligent was their creator's "Design For Life"?

I'll even be generous. I'll assume that the first person on earth (let's call him Adam for sake of argument).was designed in his entirety by God. Not a great job mind, given God put his reproductive bits in an enormously perilous and uncomfortable position, stuck his brain on the very top where stuff could fall on it and his heart behind a protective "cage" with huge gaps in the middle.

So anyway, there we have Adam. The Bible then tells us that Adam got a wife from God, made out of one of his ribs. Now thanks to the work of scientists, we know about DNA. If you take a rib out of someone and use it to make someone else, that someone else is going to have the DNA of the rib donor. So they are going to be effectively identical twins. God, in his ultimate wisdom, created identical twins and made them breed.

Again - intelligent? Those in charge of zoo breeding programmes for endangered species know that you have to keep genetically similar lines of breeding apart, otherwise you get all sorts of health issues. Look at Norfolk for example.

Not God though. Oh no. His intelligent design knew much better. So Adam and the new girl (let's call her Eve) have kids. Now the Bible gets fuzzy here on how many and of what gender. Only three are named, and they are all boys, so it throws in a disclaimer to say that there are "other sons and daughters" in the mix too. Here's the thing though. They've all got the same parents, and they are supposed to be the root of the rest of mankind.

So we're not just talking two people committing incest here, we're talking about a whole family at it. Brothers and sisters, for generation after generation, doing the nasty and giving birth to more inbred offspring each time. Again, as a man of science I would query the "intelligence" behind this sort of design. It's no wonder we're all 99 point whatever percent identical from a DNA perspective with that kind of background.

That's just the physical stuff. I haven't even touched on the fact we're wired to be competitive, malevolent, selfish scrotebags with a short temper and the capacity to build weapons of infinite capacity to deliver death and suffering. Way to go, big guy!

So that's people sorted. All in all, not a great report card so far for God. Must do better next time, see me. Although preferably not via a piece of toast, or a teatowel, or whatever way you keep manifesting yourself.

So what about the environment he gave people to work with. The playground where we, and all the other species he found time to create, including the stuff that will kill us given half the chance, are meant to thrive and prosper.

Well for a start, two-thirds of it is covered in the wet stuff. Most of the things that live in the wet stuff can't survive on the dry stuff, and most of the things that live on the dry stuff can't survive in the wet stuff. Not great planning that.

The bits at the top and bottom are so cold to be completely inhospitable to anything above a microbial level. There are bits around the middle which are so hot and dry that they support the odd few reptiles, insects and other stuff that doesn't need much of the wet stuff - did I mention that, the things that can't live in the wet stuff still need it to survive, only some of the wet stuff will kill them if they drink it while the other won't.

So assuming God made us all in his own image - and that must have been the plan all along - why did he bother building a planet where we can only actually live on twenty percent of its surface area? Hardly an efficient use of time and resources, all that wasted carbon. Why make the moon and the stars and all the other guff in the universe that's so far away we'll never actually get to go there? Showing off? Why not put some of that hydrogen and helium to good use closer to home?

So that's the physical and mental aspects of people, and the planet on which we live, all designed by a supposedly hyper-intelligent supreme being. Frankly, if we ever have to start over we may as well just give the job to Kevin McLeod and let him get on with it. See if "Grand Intelligent Designs" makes a better job, it can hardly do any worse.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Let Sanity Prevail

Some sports like to market themselves as a contact sport. Not rugby league.

The 13-man code rightly markets itself as a "collision" sport.

Strong, athletic players hurtling into collisions at high speed and in charged atmospheres. Tempers are occasionally going to rise as the intensity and will to win predominant in professional athletes takes hold.

There will be flash points, words will be exchanged and occasionally things will get physical beyond the boundaries of the laws. Fans, for the most part, love it and almost expect it. A good confrontation can lift the volume and passion in a crowd, particularly the next time the players involved come face to face during the game.

So why are the disciplinary bodies in both hemispheres seemingly hell bent on taking it out of the game? Leeds Rhinos player Ryan Bailey recently found himself suspended for having the temerity to throw one back when an opposition player took a swing at him, for example.

Let me clarify, I'm not advocating the cheap shot. The king hit. The sly elbow of Cassidy on Morley, or Boyd on Brohman. I'm talking about two fellas coming face to face and blows being traded before it all gets broken up.

When the sin bin was introduced back in the 1980s, that was one of its main purposes. Send both players off for ten minutes, let them calm down and then get back to the game. Now however it seems that anything that vaguely resembles a bout of fisticuffs is going to lead to you sitting out a game or two on the sidelines.

I get that the sport has a public image it wants to project to broadcasters, sponsors and the parents of potential young players as a safe environment for families to watch and play sport. That makes sense, and like I have said I'm as much in favour of getting rid of thuggery from the game as the next fan.

The occasional punch up though, is and always has been part and parcel of the game. To have players sitting in the stands rather than on the pitch as a result of a bit of handbags is tipping the balance too far, a rush to sanitisation overtaking sanity.

Monday, August 05, 2013

A little light relief

I'm conscious things have been terribly serious in this little corner of the Internet for a while now, so I thought I'd share with you a couple of songs, sketches, jokes old and new, with us around, you won't feel blue, so meet the gang... sorry, sidetracked there for a minute.

Ahem. Anyway, for your delectation may I first present...

Theresa (to the tune of "Delilah" by Tom Jones)

I saw your van every night as it passed by my window
I saw the words telling me to pick up the phone
You want me out of your country
But all I want is for you to just leave me alone

My, my, my Theresa.
Why, why, why Theresa?
Can’t you see, you may be Home Secretary
I’ve applied for asylum so why can’t you just let me be?

I get why you want rid of Hamza and Abu Qatada
You don’t want them here preaching their sermons of hate
I just came to escape persecution
So why do you treat me like an enemy of the state?

My, my, my Theresa.
Why, why, why Theresa?
Hear my song, no wonder feelings are strong
No matter the motive you couldn’t have got it more wrong

I see your men every morning at Kensal Rise station
Demanding the papers of anyone Asian or black
You claim to be guarding your borders
UKIP must have you worried so you’re going on the attack

My, my, my Theresa.
Why, why, why Theresa?
You’re too far right, it’s time to put up a fight
Forgive me Theresa, but you’re clearly not very bright

Forgive me Theresa, but you’re clearly not very bright.

Second on the bill, may I present as a tribute to the late Mel Smith...

I Believe (2013) - if you don't know the tune then the original can be found here

I believe Obama is trying to do his best.
I believe Bruce Willis still looks good in a vest
I believe Zimmerman's as innocent as Fred West
I believe, yes I believe

I believe the royal baby is going to be black
I believe Abu Qatada will be coming back
I believe Piers Morgan isn't a talentless hack
I believe, yes I believe

I believe we love our weather
That Bruce Forsyth will live for ever
And that Walford's a bit dull without...

I believe that there is beef in Findus pancakes
I believe that Tony Blair admits to his mistakes
I believe that Ed Milliband is better than Dave
And that even the Mexicans love that bloody wave

I believe everyone likes a vuvuzela
I believe that Simon Cowell's a lovely fella
I believe that nobody really knew about Savile
I believe Ed Snowden really hates air travel
And I believe the NHS is safe with Jeremy Hunt
But I can't believe David Cameron's not a ....

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Saturday, August 03, 2013

Time to make a decision...

There has been some terrific cricket played, mainly by England, so far in this Ashes series.

The focus however has been less on the quality of the play, and more on the umpiring. In particular, the Decision Review System (DRS) has come in for some criticism.

For those who don't follow the sport, DRS is a system which permits the players to challenge umpiring decisions that they believe might be wrong. Each side gets a maximum of two reviews per innings, the incident being referred to an off-field umpire who can use technology to examine whether the on-field call was correct. If the review goes your way, it doesn't count as one of your two for the innings.

It's not a novel idea, a similar system exists in professional tennis. Both codes of rugby have a process where the on-field referee can ask for incidents to be reviewed to determine the correct decision. The main difference however, and where cricket stands alone, is that these sports use it to establish the correct decision. In cricket, there is a presumption that the on-field decision was correct unless there is overriding evidence to the contrary.

Therein, lies cricket's problem with technology. Other sports have been able to embrace the concept that sometimes their officials need help in getting it right, and that a game where officials get most of their decisions correct is a better one for players, spectators and sponsors alike.

Cricket however remains stuck in a bygone age of gentlemen and players, where the umpire's decision is always correct, even when it isn't. That it operates in this presumption is causing it untold problems, as is the insistence on no more than two unsuccessful referrals per innings.

The Australian first innings in the 3rd Test at Old Trafford provides a perfect example.

Australian batsman Usman Khawaja was given out caught behind. Khawaja asked for a review, believing he'd not hit it. The thermal imaging system known as "Hot Spot" showed no evidence of the ball striking the edge of the bat. There was a noise, but it was some way after the ball had passed the bat. So there was no evidence to suggest that Khawaja had hit the ball.

However, as the original decision was that Khawaja was out, in order for this to be overturned there needed to be clear evidence that he hadn't hit the ball, not clear evidence that he had. Result, the original decision was upheld and he was given out by the off-field umpire.

How was Khawaja meant to prove that he hadn't done something? The only thing that could possibly have saved him would have been if the ball had been shown to hit something else other than his bat. So a clearly incorrect decision was allowed to stand because of the presumption that the on-field umpire was correct.

The knock-on effect could be seen in England's innings. Tim Bresnan was given out caught behind off a ball that brushed the clothing rather than the edge of the bat. Yet Bresnan chose not to review. Was he influenced by the difficulty Khawaja had in trying to prove a negative and thought better of potentially wasting a review?

Later in the Australian innings, England appealed for an lbw decision against Steve Smith. The on-field decision was not out, and was clearly shown to be incorrect by subsequent replays. However, England had already used their two unsuccessful reviews in that innings on other marginal decisions, so they couldn't ask the off-field umpire to review and overturn the on-field decision. 

So what's the solution to the problems that DRS is creating? In my opinion, it isn't to scrap it. It picks up and corrects too many poor decisions to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The solution is two-fold. 

An automatic review of every dismissal. If a batsman is given out on the field, he shouldn't be limited by whether his team-mates have already used all the side's reviews earlier in the innings.

The second part of the solution may not be as palatable to cricket's administrators. It's time to end the automatic presumption that the on-field call was correct. Review each decision on its merits from first principles. Remove the "umpire's call" element on leg before wicket decisions, so that if a ball meets all the criteria in the laws for it to be given out, then it's out whether it is  a marginal call or plumb in front.

In other words, use technology in the way other sports have embraced it. To provide the correct decision. It may be too much for cricket's Corinthian attitudes, but it's the only way the game can take DRS forward with any confidence.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Graham Murray (1955-2013)

"Nice guys finish last."

Or so one school of thought would have us believe anyway. It doesn't have to be so, and if you want proof you could do much worse than look to Graham Murray.

Murray, who passed away in a Brisbane hospital following his second major heart attack in six months, was undoubtedly a nice guy. The tributes that have flowed in from around the rugby league community following his death have spoken only briefly about Murray the coach, focussing instead on Murray the person.

A man who valued honesty - to others, but most importantly to yourself - as the key to success. A man who wasted no time bearing grudges, to the point where he was out enjoying a drink with Bob Millward the day after the Illawarra chairman had sacked him as first grade coach. No bitter recriminations, no mud-slinging through tame journalists in the media. It just wasn't the Murray way.

Don't let the lack of focus on his professional life convince you that he couldn't coach though.

Wherever he went,  Murray left a positive footprint. First coach to win a trophy at Illawarra. World Club Challenge runner-up with the fledgling Hunter Mariners. First Leeds coach to win the Challenge Cup in 21 years. First coach to take the Roosters to a Grand Final in 25 years.

These are just the bare facts and achievements. What isn't as easily measurable is the culture change he left behind, and nowhere was this more obvious than at Headingley.

When Murray arrived at Leeds in 1998, the club was not so much a long time between drinks as dying of dehydration on the steps of the pub. It had spent money it didn't have trying - and failing - to keep up with the all conquering Wigan side of the 1990s and was being rebuilt by the team of Paul Caddick and Gary Hetherington.

The club had not been to a major final since the 1984 John Player Trophy win and hadn't won the Challenge Cup since 1978 or the Championship since 1972.

Not that Murray's impact was immediate. An opening game last second defeat to local rivals Castleford didn't do much to warm the Leeds fans towards the new man. What happened next however, most definitely did.

Murray put together a side, and a forward pack in particular, that took intensity and physicality to a new level. Led by the likes of Darren Fleary, Anthony Farrell, Barrie McDermott, Adrian Morley and Australian veteran Mark Glanville it played the game as hard, fast yet fair as the rules allowed. To the point where the RFL took the unprecedented step of writing to the club and asking it to "play nice" with the other boys.

It wasn't all just biff and barge however. Behind the scrum Murray could call on the mercurial talents of the young Iestyn Harris, the experience and direction of Daryl Powell and the magical handling of Brad Godden. Leeds were as capable of going around you as they were through you.

By the end of the season, Leeds were in the inaugural Super League Grand Final, losing narrowly to Wigan on a filthy night at Old Trafford. 1998 however, was just the appetiser to a very special main course.

The following year, Leeds made it to the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley. They had been here before in 1994 and 95, losing both times to Wigan. On this occasion they were to face the London Broncos, now featuring their tormentor on both those previous occasions in Martin Offiah.

From the fifty minute mark onwards, the result of the game was never really in doubt. Young winger Leroy Rivett scored four tries, Barrie McDermott threw an audacious sidestep in to score one of his own and Leeds ran up a record score in a Challenge Cup Final to claim the trophy for the first time in 21 years.

At the end of the season Murray returned home to Australia, but by the time he did so he had not only righted the ship at Leeds but pointed it squarely on a course that would see it become the dominant side of the last 10 years. His influence continues to be felt in the number of his former players who are coaching at a high level either in first grade or junior development.

A top coach, a great bloke and a sadly missed family member and friend to many. RIP Muzz, proof that being a nice guy doesn't stop you being a winner.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies and Politics

Let's face it, none of us genuinely think that politicians are telling us the whole truth all of the time. While the field of political communications may not be quite the bloodbath portrayed in "The Thick Of It" and "In The Loop", it's fair to assume that some figures receive massages that not even the most blatant of MPs would put on their expenses.

From the Iraq war "45 minutes" to Grant Shapps "a third of government spending is on welfare", there are plenty of examples out there of politicians playing around with numbers for support - in much the same way as a drunk seeks out a lamppost.

This week however has seen a couple of special examples of the art.

The Department of Health briefed the media ahead of the publication of the report into eleven failing NHS Trusts by clinical director Sir Bruce Keogh. This led to the widespread reporting of a figure of 13,000 "excess" deaths in the Trusts investigated. It's fair to assume that this briefing and in particular the 13,000 excess deaths figure went on with Ministerial approval.

And yet, Keogh himself has come out and dismissed the mortality rates used to come up with this 13,000 figure as "meaningless". It simply was not possible, in his opinion, to extrapolate a figure of excess deaths from his statistics with any degree of accuracy.

Now I don't much care for Sir Bruce. His actions in the debate on children's heart surgery in Leeds showed that he's not above using irrelevant statistics to justify his own ideology and opinions.

It seems in this case that he has kicked a stool out from under the Health Secretary's claims.  Keogh's rebuttal however, has received nothing like the same coverage in the media as the distorted statistics that prompted it in the first place.

If you think that's a bit of poor form, just wait. You haven't seen anything yet.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith (he of the rent-free living in his father in law's country mansion) stated that 8,000 people who otherwise wouldn't have taken up work had done so as a result of the pilot of the new benefits cap.

This claim was referred to the Office for National Statistics, who decided that there was no "causal link between the benefits cap and people moving into work". In other words, that he made the numbers up. So what does IDS do? Apologise? Keep quiet and hope it goes away? Oh no, not him.

He came out on yesterday's "Today" programme on Radio 4 with probably the most bare-faced pile of codswallop I've heard in a long time. Read on, and prepare for your jaw dropping...

"You cannot absolutely prove those two things are connected – you cannot disprove what I said. I believe this to be right. I believe we are already seeing people going back to work who were not going back to work until this group were capped."

Get a load of that. He made a statement and it was pointed out to him that there was no evidence to back it up. However, he believes what he said to be right. Facts. Schmacts. Who needs evidence based assessment and research when you can just believe stuff and it becomes true? It's the political equivalent of Dorothy putting on her ruby slippers, clicking her heels three times and telling us there are no lies like politicians lies.

So why does it matter? Why are we so bothered? The lies have been exposed now, it's not like anyone is going to keep believing them outside of IDS's own fantasy world, is it?

In a poll conducted by IPSOS-MORI last month on a representative sample of over 1,000 adults, they were quizzed on what they thought they knew about public services, welfare, immigration and a number of other topics.

A couple of alarming results jumped out.

In response to the question "In your opinion, what proportion of girls under the age of 16 get pregnant in Britain every year", the mean response was 15%. That would be more than one in seven. The actual figure of course is much lower, at 0.6%.

To the question "Of every £100 spent on the welfare budget, how much do you think is claimed fraudulently?" the mean response was £24. That would account for a quarter of the welfare budget being given out to people who are not entitled to it. The actual figure? No surprise to realise it is much lower at 0.7%. So for every £100, only 70p is down to fraud.

Across the whole spectrum of the survey, things were shown to be not as "bad" as the public perceived them to be. The percentage of the UK population that were immigrants, black or Asian, Muslim - all much lower than the responses suggested. 

So why do we have such a distorted opinion of what is happening in our own country? I refer the honourable reader to the answer I gave some moments earlier. A government determined to place ideology ahead of evidence and a media either too complicit or casual to care.

Time to put down the Kool-Aid, before it's too late.

If you're interested, the topline results of the IPSOS-MORI survey "Perils of Perception" can be found at

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Voice of a Nation

Last night saw the final of the UK version of singing contest "The Voice", won in the end by partially sighted Northern Irish singer Andrea Begley. The final had also featured the quirky voice of Leah McFall, the Salfordian answer to Garth Brooks in Mike Ward and Matt Henry, who can now look forward to a career as a lookalike if nothing else.

The show came in for some grief early in its run, when last year's winner and former holiday camp performer Leanne Mitchell saw her debut album fail to make much of a dent in the charts. Mitchell had been something of a middle-of-the-road ballad singer, the kind you would find doing turns in clubs up and down the country on any given Saturday night.

The same format worked this year for Begley, who looked at her most uncomfortable when asked to perform an up tempo duet with her coach Danny O'Donoghue and his band The Script. Give her anything slow and emotional though and she was note perfect, even managing to make an Evanescence song sound like something you would hear being played in the background of a Werthers Originals advert.

For a large part of this series, viewers had little input into who went forward to the next round of the show, with those decisions being in the hands of the coaches. Only in the later stages did the viewers get their say, and in the most part their decisions seemed fairly reasonable and sensible.

McFall in particular looked a nailed-on finalist from the early stages, with a spine-chilling version of Minnie Ripperton's "Loving You" a particular highlight. Perhaps on another show she may well have won, but those who seek success on The Voice seemingly need to appeal to a certain kind of market. It's something that seems to be a common theme running through a number of such shows.

The final of Britain's Got Talent this year was won by a Hungarian shadow theatre troupe, while X Factor turned out a steady stream of the anodyne - culminating in the eventual winner James Arthur whose tattoos and history of homelessness at least gave him some character that his personality couldn't.

The link between the three shows? Their time in the television schedule.

Both X Factor and The Voice make significant amounts of noise about finding credible, successful artists for the future. How realistic an expectation is that though, for a television talent show that relies on members of the public to pick its winners? 

If you were to draw a Venn diagram of the audience for these shows and the record buying public, there would most likely be a very small area of crossover. The majority of "new" music is bought by a younger age group, who at 8:15 on a Saturday night are unlikely to be at home in front of their television, phone in hand and ready to vote.

So the acts which are successful in these shows are ones that appeal to a more mature audience, one that is more likely to be voting not solely on the basis of whose records they would buy, but on who they like as much for personality as for music.

In these days of Youtube, social media and music editing software you can run on a home PC, genuine talent will find a way to get out there, get seen and get signed by record companies. In the same way that there are very few talented young footballers missed by professional clubs, there scouting networks of the major record labels don't miss much in terms of young musicians.

Perhaps it's time television ditched shows like X Factor and The Voice which promise to make stars out of hopeful amateurs and exploit their emotions for our viewing pleasure and advertising/telephone revenues? Maybe. Or at least just drop the act that they are doing it for our benefit.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Justice For Sale

I know you're all good, law-abiding folk out there, but imagine this scenario.

You were assaulted in the street. In response, you turned around and gave your assailant a good hiding, at which point the police have turned up and arrested you despite your pleas that it was self defence.

You already have a solicitor that has dealt with your family for years on other non-criminal matters, knows you well and is suitably qualified and experienced to present the case for your defence in court.

However, you can't afford to pay him due to your present financial circumstances, and will need to claim legal aid.

Your solicitor is happy to do the work for legal aid rates. You're a repeat customer, he's got every incentive to work as hard as he possibly can for you in the knowledge you'll come back next time you want some legal work doing.

As you're claiming legal aid however, you can't use your trusted, respected family solicitor. Instead, you have to go through a subsidiary of a national haulage firm, which has won the contract to allocate clients to legal aid solicitors.

The one they allocate you to is 30 miles away in the nearest big city. You incur costs and spend a lot of time travelling back and forth to meetings. They don't know you, have no idea about your previous character or any interest in you being a repeat customer.

Not only that, but whatever your plea or the outcome of any court case, they get paid exactly the same amount. So if they can persuade you to plead guilty and thereby cut out the need for a trial, they have a bigger profit margin on the job.

All in all, a pretty unsatisfactory state of affairs wouldn't you agree? Well that's the future that awaits if the Ministry of Justice gets its way and introduces PCT (Price Competitive Tendering) for criminal legal aid work.

Legal firms will be forced to bid for a small number of legal aid contracts in their area. Any that are unsuccessful or choose not to bid will not be permitted to undertake legal criminal aid work. This is expected to reduce the number of firms available to do this kind of work from around 1,600 to as few as 400 for the whole of the country.

It will create wastelands in areas where there are no successful bidders such as rural locations. For speakers of minority languages it could leave them with no legal aid solicitor who actually speaks their language within a reasonable travelling distance.

Smaller firms will find themselves pushed into a "merge or die" scenario if they want to continue delivering criminal legal aid work. Stobart Solicitors, a subsidiary of the Stobart haulage group has already expressed an interest in bidding. No doubt the usual suspects when it comes to public sector contracting rounds - G4S, for example - will be submitting expensively prepared, professional bids from their experienced in-house contracting teams.

Are these the types of organisations you want representing you in court?

Those firms that are successful will be faced with no guarantees of work. What work they do get will be at a reduced fee per case. A successful bid could well end up crippling some firms. What happens then in terms of providing representation in that locality?

The Ministry of Justice would have us believe that the current UK legal aid system is bloated and is not providing "value for money". It cites as its evidence "lawyers earning hundreds of thousands of pounds from two or three cases", when in fact the average criminal defence solicitor in the UK earns between £20k and £45k per year and is often required to work weekends, nights and bank holidays for no extra reward.

Make no bones about it, if the Ministry of Justice manages to get these proposals through the consultation stage and implemented - there will be no phased roll out, no pilot schemes to evaluate its success, just straight from one system to the other - then it won't just stop at criminal legal aid work. It has already said as much. The civil and family courts will be next in line, with the potential for this system to be rolled out in other areas. How do you fancy having your GP chosen for you by a regional panel which has no interest in what is right or convenient for your welfare?

Much as I am loathe to quote her, Margaret Thatcher - never one to promote the public sector or the private - once said that ‘any country or Government which wants to proceed towards tyranny starts to undermine legal rights and undermine the law’.

Putting out justice to the highest bidder is the first step in that process.

If you haven't done so already, please let the Ministry of Justice know how you feel about the proposed changes and the potential removal of your right to select your legal advocate. Sign the petition now at: