Leading Questions

On our unofficial football forum occasionally we get requests to fill in questionnaires on a variety of subjects but generally related to football in some way, for example this one on the issue of safe standing.

Sometimes we get different requests which are made by universities, such as this one posted last week by Staffordshire University on the subject of ‘Barbaric Britain‘, titled:

In the first phase of this research a third of the people who participated believed Britain was returning to a less civilized, barbaric condition, while the rest thought this was an exaggeration. We’d now like to explore this more deeply.

However despite intentions of ‘exploring this more deeply’ as an example of leading questions I’m not sure this can be bettered – trying to achieve certain responses couldn’t be more obvious, here’s an example of the questions (click to enlarge):

And

The questionnaire has such an amateurish feel to it, initial reaction is that it is one designed for a undergraduate’s thesis. But no, here’s the profiles of the two senior academics involved:

Dr Jamie Cleland, Senior Lecturer in Sport Sociology:

I joined the teaching staff at Staffordshire University in September 2005 and teach on the sport sociology modules. I achieved my PhD from the University of Liverpool in 2008 under the supervision of Dr Roger Levermore and Dr Vic Duke and continue to be research active.

Expertise: Sociological analysis of sport (see research interests below)
Qualitative methods of data collection and analysis

And Professor Ellis Cashmore, Professor of culture, media and sport:

I am professor of culture, media and sport. Previously, I was professor of sociology at the University of Tampa, USA, and, before, that lecturer in sociology at the University of Hong Kong.

Expertise: I have been doing research in race and ethnicity and other aspects of contemporary culture for over thirty years.

Their research findings feature in national publications such as the Guardian, based on an equally suspect questionnaire. Interestingly enough, on Staffordshire Univeristy’s Research Funding Opportunities page we have this:

EU Funding is provided by the European Union, the funding involves a partnership of companies and Universities. The University has recently being working with Italian based organisation CE.S.I.E. This company works towards the promotion of cultural, educational, scientific and economic development by using innovative tools and methods. Staffordshire University, CE.S.I.E and other European organisations have secured over €350,000 from the European Commission. They will be working together to produce a more effective way of improving people’s skills whilst they are at work.

Anyway you can fill in the questionnaire here, not that I for one moment is suggesting that my readers attempt to skewer the results but…er…knock yourself out.

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November 2014 – The End?

One of the dispiriting aspects of the eurosceptic movement is the tendency to indulge in hyperbole the consequence of which often lives up to the stereotype of foaming-at-the-mouth little Englanders.

One increasingly prevalent recent example are claims via some blogs but mostly by newspaper comments (2nd one down) that after 1st November 2014 the UK cannot leave the EU:

David Cameron, has adopted the Distraction Game, a system of calculated plodding over taking action over our membership (unlawful membership) of the EU.

If he can successfully put off giving us a say on the EU, until, 1 November 2014, he will have won, because from that date, QMV (Quality Majority Voting) come into force.

No country will be allowed to make any meaningful decision, including leaving the EU, unless it is approved by the majority vote in the EU Parliament.

And:

It is outrageous that we have not been informed that in just two years time individual national withdrawal from the EU will be banned, unless agreed by a majority vote in the self serving EU Parliament [sic]. 

Now it’s true that voting method will change for the Council under Lisbon regarding withdrawal, as noted in Article 50 – the exit clause – page 45 (my emphasis):

[the negotiations of exit] shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority…a qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.

Article 238(3)(b) says (page 156):

As from 1 November 2014 and subject to the provisions laid down in the Protocol on transitional provisions, in cases where, under the Treaties, not all the members of the Council participate in voting, a qualified majority shall be defined as follows:

  • (b) By way of derogation from point (a), where the Council does not act on a proposal from the Commission or from the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the qualified majority shall be defined as at least 72 % of the members of the Council representing the participating Member States, comprising at least 65 % of the population of these States.

But, but, but…the method the Council uses to vote is largely irrelevant. That they vote by absolute majority, simple majority, QMV, or indeed whilst standing on their heads, stuffing their faces with doughnuts wearing clown suits matters not. Because of Section 3 of Article 50 (page 46) which states quite clearly (my emphasis):

3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

In other words, if there’s no agreement and the Council votes against us, we’re still out in 2 years by default….even after 1st November 2014.

Cash In Hand

It was just over four weeks ago when the coalition, namely Cameron, walked straight into a perfectly avoidable tax bear trap, regarding that time Jimmy Carr.

One would think lessons would have been learned but oh no. David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary decides to take on (probably) the majority of the British public at a time of economic uncertainty and accuse them of being morally wrong by paying plumbers etc cash in hand. Leaving aside that most of us are certainly not going to take any lectures from MPs on morals when they quite happily rip off expenses and spend hard-earned taxpayers’ money on a whim such as here

Commons Speaker John Bercow charged taxpayers £624 to have his chauffeur rush him to Devon for a ‘dirty weekend’ with wife Sally before she entered Celebrity Big Brother.

….such sanctimonious pontification from an MP is obviously going to lead to papers asking awkward questions. And so it proves:

People who pay plumbers and cleaners cash in hand are doing nothing illegal or immoral, a cabinet minister insisted on Tuesday, as senior members of the Government were forced to admit engaging in the practice themselves. 

David Cameron and other senior cabinet ministers including Nick Clegg and George Osborne admitted that they had paid traders cash in hand in the past. And an analysis of expenses claims by The Daily Telegraph showed that two other members of the government — Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary and Sir George Young, Leader of the House of Commons — paid suppliers hundreds of pounds in cash, and claimed back the money from the taxpayer. 

One is tempted yet again to accuse the coalition of being amateurs but I do wonder if that is too much of a compliment.

And So It Rumbles On…

I haven’t done a Eurozone post for a while largely because it consists of soporific repetition, however rumble on it still does:

And:

And:

It all reminds me of this post by the FT in 2010 regarding the sterling devaluation crisis in the 1960’s:

To some who went through the unsuccessful struggle from 1961 to 1967 to stave off sterling devaluation, the series of crises surrounding the euro will be drearily familiar. First there is a surprise loss of confidence. Then there is a series of rescue operations, usually taking the form of international guarantees of one kind or another. These are backed up by domestic restrictive measures leading to a domestic recession of sorts. In time the financial pressures ease and near-normality is seen to return. But then, when few are looking, there is another crisis, another set of international rescues and another set of domestic restrictions. And so on. Eventually the struggle is abandoned, and political and financial leaders work to pick up the pieces.

During the period when sterling devaluation was known as “the great unmentionable” a tiny band of Treasury officials kept “a war book” on how to deal with the unmentionable if it nevertheless happened. Harold Wilson, the prime minister, ordered that the “war book” be physically burned, which it was of course not. It is difficult to believe that such a manual does not exist in Athens, Frankfurt and perhaps other European centres.

Can we put it out of its misery yet…?

Impotent

With recent dramatic developments in Syria, one is interested in the BBC profiles of Syrian leaders linked to prominently on its front page. There are a number of ways of interpreting how the BBC reports this, that what it reports is true, or it’s a consequence of its inherent prejudice or it’s a mixture of both. (My emphasis throughout):

First up on the two killed ministers. Assef Shawkat, deputy defence minister:

The US and EU imposed sanctions on Gen Shawkat in 2011, accusing him of playing a key role in suppressing demonstrations.

Then a profile of the other, Daoud Rajiha, defence minister:

The EU also added him to its list of designated officials, saying he was responsible for the military’s involvement in the crackdown on protesters.

Then also prominent on the BBC website are profiles of others within the Syrian regime.

First up a profile of Maher al-Assad, Republican Guard chief:

The EU also imposed sanctions on Maher, describing him as the “principal overseer of violence against demonstrators”.

Then a profile of Rami Makhlouf:

In May 2011, the EU imposed sanctions against Mr Makhlouf, saying he was an “associate of Maher al-Assad” who “bankrolls the regime allowing violence against demonstrators”.

And a profile of Abdul Fatah Qudsiya, head of Military Intelligence:

In May 2011, Gen Qudsiya was included in a list of Syrian officials subjected to EU sanctions for their roles in violence against protesters.

Then Ali Mamluk, head of the General Security Directorate:

The next month, the EU also imposed sanctions on Gen Mamluk, saying he had been involved in efforts to crush anti-government protesters.

Then Jamil Hassan, head of Air Force Intelligence

The next month, the EU said Gen Hassan was “involved in the repression against the civilian population” during the recent anti-government unrest, and imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on him.

And Mohammed Dib Zaitoun, head of the Political Security Directorate:

In May 2011, the EU accused Gen Zaitoun of involvement in violence against demonstrators, and announced a travel ban and asset freeze. The US also imposed sanctions on him later that month, accusing him of human rights abuses.

And Zuhair Hamad, deputy head of the General Security Directorate:

In November 2011, the EU accused Gen Hamad of responsibility “for the use of violence across Syria and for intimidation and torture of protesters” and imposed sanctions on him.

Then Hafez Makhlouf, head of General Security Directorate in Damascus:

In May 2011, the EU imposed sanctions on Col Makhlouf, saying he was “close to Maher al-Assad” had been “involved in violence against demonstrators” as head of the GSD’s Damascus branch. 

A profile of Mohammed Nasif Kheirbek, deputy vice-president for security affairs:

In May 2011, the EU imposed sanctions on Gen Kheirbek, saying he had been “involved in violence against the civilian population”.

Then a profile of Hisham Ikhtiar, director of the National Security Bureau (NSB):

Gen Shalish is Bashar’s first cousin and head of Presidential Security. In June 2011, the EU imposed sanctions of him, saying he had been “involved in violence against demonstrators”.

And finally Rustum Ghazali, head of Military Intelligence in Damascus Countryside:

In May 2011, the EU said Gen Ghazali was head of Military Intelligence in Damascus Countryside (Rif Dimashq) governorate, which borders Deraa governorate, and was involved in “violence against the civilian population”.

Throughout note what information is missing, as reported elsewhere:

LONDON — Foreign Secretary William Hague said a suicide bombing that killed two top Syrian security officials on Wednesday showed the need for a UN resolution to end the crisis.

"Choc Ice"

Racism connected with free speech is a subject I tend to stay away from on this blog, but the recent spat between a number of footballers on the issue of race and racism is a clear example of where we’re going wrong in this country.

For the non football readers among my readers, English and Chelsea footballer John Terry was up in court recently for allegedly making the racist remark – f****** black, c***. It’s with deep irony that the word which landed Terry before the courts was the one word I haven’t removed – the word ‘black’.

Nobody on the football field at the time heard the comment, even the player it was allegedly directed to. The trial only came about because of an off-duty copper who lip-read the comment on tv.

During the trial, at tax payers’ expense, we subsequently had another English footballer; Rio Ferdinand – who understandably takes the issue of racism seriously – giving a running twitter account verdict of the 5 day trial, oblivious to the fact that Mr Terry is and was innocent and entitled to a fair trial.

When the verdict was returned, i.e. it couldn’t be proved beyond reasonable doubt, Mr Ferdinand decided to endorse a racially-loaded term regarding the witness for the defence Mr Ashley Cole (who’s black) ‘choc ice. A term that is universally understood to mean ‘black on the outside, white on the inside’. Unsurprisingly someone has complained:

A possible racist comment made against Chelsea footballer Ashley Cole is being investigated by Derbyshire Police.

A Twitter user, believed to be from Derbyshire, referred to Mr Cole as a “choc ice” on the social networking site over the weekend.

Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand then replied: “I hear you fella! Choc ice is classic hahahahahaha!!”

A Derbyshire Police spokeswoman said the force had received complaints “regarding alleged racist comments”.

“These concerns will be fully investigated to establish whether any criminal offences have been committed,” the spokeswoman added.

Obviously this brings up the legitimate criticism, or observation, of who draws the line with free speech and where to draw it. Once lines get drawn, anomalies appear left, right and centre. Be careful Mr Ferdinand for what you wish for – getting one of your own Twitter followers into trouble.

And it’s precisely this culture that closes down debates such as immigration al la the excellent post from Witterings from Witney:

Challenges seem all the rage nowadays, what with Cameron receiving a hand delivered letter from the leader of a ‘political party’ (well, they consider themselves a political party hence my use of the term in inverted commas) challenging him to a debate on Britain’s relationship with ‘Europe’. Dan Hodges, Daily Telegraph, wishes to challenge anyone to a debate on the subject of immigration, but as one commentor – Davy – points out:

“You want a debate about immigration? Me too. Bring it on. Just as an observation, Dan, you’ve got the best part of sixty comments already and you haven’t engaged with any of them. If you say you want a debate, you’ve got one below. Step up, eh?”

And there we have another democratic failure when considering the state of our democracy. It is so easy for politicians to state that this country should remain in the EU as it is for ‘journalists’ to challenge anyone to a debate on immigration – and then to totally ignore the cries for a debate.

Mr Ferdinand defends himself by calling the usage of ‘choc ice’ a way of criticising someone of being fake – on those terms I would apply it to Dan Hodges – someone who pretends to want a debate on unlimited immigration but has absolutely no intention of following through with his ‘wishes’…

Post Harrogate

Having attended the Harrogate meeting (now an agenda) I wish to articulate a few post meeting thoughts here. Firstly many thanks to the organiser Niall Warry who among other things ensured that the agenda was tightly kept to, meaning that it went without a hitch (or seemingly so) and also thanks to WfW for the lift. The meeting was great to have the opportunity to put faces to ‘internet’ names.

Like many others I’m a veteran of such things, yet rather than suffering an overdose of corporate flim flam where the only benefit is the free food, this meeting had a sense of purpose attended as it was by people with a deep passion to make our country better.

Given the tight timetable it was probably unrealistic to expect a declaration to be fully formed which could be signed by us all at the end, and so it proved. Many good points were raised and trying to whittle them down in to 6 concise ‘demands’ is not easy, although proposals such as separation of powers and a constitution had general agreement by virtue of being raised independently by several groups.

I did feel though at times, discussions got bogged down with too much detail. Our demands have to be simple and concise and if they’re good sound proposals the detail will naturally follow. As an example of the problems detail causes, when I arrived back home yesterday, I was debriefed (or intensively ‘grilled’ depending on how you look at it) on my weekend by Mrs TBF. While she has an interest in politics or at least how it affects her directly the discussion of separation of powers (a very good proposal) veers off into political theory territory. Now she understood once I explained it, but that’s the point – it took explanation. I feel therefore as a demand it could be phrased as ‘a directly elected Prime Minister’: simple concise and easily understood. And the outcome of which is precisely the same – separation of powers.

On another note, one subject I meant to raise, but unfortunately forgot was establishing a principle (not one of the demands) of methods. A invitable source of conflict is likely to emerge should the movement gain traction between peaceful or more belligerent methods. This is a conflict which blighted Chartism, Women’s Suffrage and more notoriously Irish Republicanism. I feel it’s important to try to negate this potential problem from the outset establishing a principle of peaceful methods within the current framework, as tempting as it is to want to line certain people up against a wall.

These are a couple of my immediate thoughts…more to follow.