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tayloredandbespoken

We live in a world where our intake of fact is dictated by 30 minutes of news everyday. It is more than likely that you will be misinformed by it all. I take a step back and ask other questions.
tayloredandbespoken has written 126 posts for tayloredandbespoken

South Africa: A fading rainbow?


Democracy is not an easy thing to do. It is not something that can be implemented over night nor does the ability to vote mean that things will immediately turn out for the better. For democracy to work, institutions need to be in place and civil society must work together to grow something organically.

Notions of idealism have often ignored the fundamentals of rationalism and pragmatism. In effect, just because something may seem right, it doesn’t mean it is going to work. To a large extent, this forms the building blocks of modern Conservatism and many of the views of the 18th century politician Edmund Burke. Societies don’t become something overnight, they evolve through history and culture. The lessons of revolution and visionary leaders have often led to mass murder and the brutality of totalitarian regimes.

The problem with democracy is that when it is in place, citizens expect results immediately. Yet, when things don’t, old habits often die hard. One only has to look at Russia. Western critics of the current Russian leadership may have some salient points regarding Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian style, yet let us remember that democracy as we know it has never existed there at all. Before Stalin and Lenin, Russia was ruled by hereditary Tsars. Authoritarianism and the security blanket of socialism are the systems that Russians know; it may be some time before the framework of democracy beds-in.

The same can be said of South Africa. The pressure for the country to flourish remains intense, almost on the verge of burdensome. The peaceful legacy of Nelson Mandela’s leadership was a platform for countries overcoming long legacies of discrimination to aspire to, any step backward is deemed a desecration of Mandela’s legacy

The current crisis involving the South Africa questions not only the stability of the economy, but the essence of its democracy. The shooting and subsequent killings of protesting miners at a platinum mine near Rustenburg asks not only questions of the police, but questions about politics and society.

Since 16 August, South Africa’s platinum mines have become inoperable. Mass demonstrations by several unions have prevented workers returning to the pits and have put future operations in doubt. The protests have continued to gain momentum and not just in Rustenburg, miners from across the country have joined in wild-cat strikes. The return of the banished former ANC Youth Leader Julius Malema has only stoked the fire further.

Malema is no stranger to controversy. A fierce critic of South Africa’s current leadership, Malema has openly stated his admiration and friendship of Zimbabwe’s ageing tyrant Robert Mugabe, discredited the Government of Botswana and called for the South African mining sector to be renationalised. The 31-year-old raised headlines initially for singing the infamous ‘Shoot the Boer’ at ANC rallies, Boer being the white farmers who settled in South Africa in the 17th and 18th century, now a looser term for white South Africans. In April 2012, Malema was finally banned for calling President Zuma a dictator. Yet, it does not appear to have curtailed his opinions. Malema this week was talking to the South African army, in what has been perceived as a threat to national security.

Whilst Malema’s rhetoric can be deemed as absurd and opportunistic, to what extent does it echo with many of the workers in South Africa’s mining community? Since the end of Apartheid, are they materially better off? Life expectancy has dropped to 52 years old, over a tenth of the population is living with HIV, on top of poor educational standards, crime remains an inherent problem with high murder and violent crime rates. Figures also put the unemployment rate at 25%, though many believe it to be around 40%. Has freedom from Apartheid brought opportunity? For the masses living in black townships, how many would argue that much has changed?

Whilst many poor black South Africans have suffered, the political elite have prospered. 100 years since the ANC was born, to what extent does it really represent its constituents? Why has it introduced a secrecy law that critics believe to be akin to Apartheid-era politics. Why were the miners in Rustenburg arrested under an obscure Apartheid law?

South Africa has struggled like any country whilst it attempted to re-emerge from its bleak past. South Africa is held up as a beacon because what was enshrined in its constitution made it the world’s most equal society. Yet the strikes and gaps in wealth tell another story. A new black elite has managed to develop from the seeds of freedom. From what should have been an opportunity for liberation and new beginnings has led to greed, corruption and a failure of the masses. Whilst the miners may return to work this week, what remains is a seriously inequal society and the fault lines that will only become wider.

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Lance Armstrong: It was more than the bike.


As London’s carnival of sport comes to an end with the closing ceremony of the Paralympics, the city will close the curtain to what will be seen as a defining summer not only for sport, but for the nation as a whole. Team GB’s success in harnessing the public’s attention and its ability to capture medals, many of them gold, will ensure that the London Olympics will be recognised as the most success modern games on record.

Even the achievements of our Paralympians have exceeded expectations. The British public have filled out the arenas and have continued to enjoy the relentless success. Many commentators are arriving at the belief that all athletes should be held as equals, despite any physical or mental handicap. And, whilst the athletes would prefer journalists to ask questions about their training and their hopes for the games, for most, it would be odd not to ask about their disability. This year’s games have seen injured members of the armed forces to a survivor from the 7 July terrorist bombings in London; all with unique and harrowing stories.

Whilst we marvel and are inspired by their success, a man who overcame his own challenges and rose to the top, inspiring millions along the way, has seen his reputation dissipate before him. Lance Armstrong, the cancer surviving cyclist, who went on to win Tour de France seven times, announced in August that he would not be challenging charges made by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) in relation to doping offences during his cycling career. In doing so, Armstrong has been banned for life from the sport and all his successes, including medals and victories, will be stricken from the record books.

The subsequent press release from Armstrong signalled that he had spent his entire professional life fighting against doubters and doomsayers and that ‘enough is enough’. Armstrong felt that the ensuing investigations and allegations were having an effect on his family life and towards the work of his foundation. This in effect was not a confession of guilt, but a submission to the investigation.

Yet, as most involved in the sport point out, this is very un-Armstrong like. The Texan was renowned for his combative spirit, as well determination to take on obstacles. He fought his battle with cancer as he did when ascending the Alps; with the ultimate goal of winning. Why then is he suddenly stopping the pursuit?

It is likely that the investigations will uncover the scale of doping, not only committed by Armstrong, but by the whole US Postal Service team – maybe wider. Examinations and testimonies will apparently reveal that Armstrong was part of cycling’s dirty secret. Sport’s ultimate survivor did not possess superhuman qualities, but was tainted like many of others in the sport. Perhaps the prospect of seeing these allegations thrown at him in the courtroom was a step too far?

Undoubtedly, Armstrong will remain defiant despite what is thrown at him. Beyond witness testimony, there is no scientific proof of his guilt.

And it is that defiance which ultimately prevents Armstrong from saying anything further.

Anyone who has read his first autobiography ‘It’s Not About the Bike’, would not be moved by the American’s overcoming of cancer. His subsequent Livestrong foundation has helped raise millions of pounds and much more in awareness of the disease. Armstrong’s philosophy was that anyone can beat cancer and who knows how many it inspired in their own fight. This is perhaps where his reluctance-cum-intransigence stems from. Perhaps Armstrong feels that a confession of guilt would undermine his beliefs and everything the foundation represents. Not only would his reputation as an athlete be tarnished, but so too the charity he believes in anymore.

Are there any other precedents? It is now over a decade since the South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje died in an airplane crash. Cronje, a man who had led the country out of the sporting wilderness of Apartheid, inspiring millions of South Africans helped the team become one of the most feared sides in the 1990s. Yet, Cronje’s reputation was destroyed after allegations of match-fixing led to his ultimate confession in front of a South African courtroom. Cronje, a man of international standing, wept as he relayed his involvement in illegal match-fixing syndicates.

Cronje’s decision to confess all, perhaps partly down to the history of truth and reconciliation in South Africa, illustrated his willingness to confront the mistakes he had made and for the better of the game. His own personal reputation would forever be tarnished, even after his death. Yet people still recognise Cronje for his work to help rebuild South Africa, particularly his work in black townships, despite the match-fixing.

For Armstrong this is not even worth considering. He rode from the front in his career and it appears it is where he will remain.

How do you solve a problem like Syria?


Intervention remains a word that causes many diplomats to gasp. To what extent does intervention become an occupation and is there a point where intervention goes beyond a point of feasibility? Politicians have learnt to live with the consequences amidst the tides of history of whether to intervene within a country’s affairs. The demise of the Somali state was exacerbated by the White House’s decision to remove US troops after the failed ‘Black Hawk Down’ mission. The UN’s inertia in 1994 only led to greater intensity of killings in Rwanda. Yet, politicians know all too well of the risks that military action can ensue. The toxic-effect of the US-led invasion in Iraq in 2003 and the on-going stalemate in Afghanistan continue to poison the well of intention.

For over 18 months, the battle between the Assad regime and anti-government rebels has turned Syria into a warzone. Only recently Syria could be described as one of the most stable nations in the region, yet today it has the capacity to create an all out war in the Middle East. The reports of mass artillery bombardments in the cities of Homs and Aleppo, plus the massacres of women and children is creating a humanitarian disaster. With estimates of over 25,000 deaths, possibly more, is a foreign-led intervention an ideal proposition for the situation or is it bound to make the situation worse?
So far, the diplomatic efforts have produced little. Syria’s historically strongest ally, Russia, has continuously refused to back sanctions at the UN. A Libyan-style intervention or arming of opposition forces is deemed impossible. Yet what other solutions remain? The West’s idea that Russia could offer Assad and his inner circle political immunity in Moscow was voted down too. To what extent are we prepared to turn a blind eye to justice in the interest of peace and the deaths of fewer? Do we reach a threshold where justice becomes immaterial?

Will he stay or will he go?

Syria has not signed the International Criminal Court’s treaty and therefore as things stand, Assad can face no international court. However; it is true of anti-government troops as well. They may say they are killing in the name of freedom, but no one can deny the massacres that have taken place on either side. The original protests that led to children having their fingernails removed have led to torture and summary executions. What they may perceive as ‘natural justice’ on the battlefield cannot be translated as humanly dignified. The country is systematically combusting, as are the rules that most humans would see as sacred.
From a diplomatic perspective, is it simple to purely blame Russia for blocking resolutions? Whilst no one can ignore the atrocities, who’s not to say that on previous occasions other countries, particularly in the West, have protected their own interests. There is a degree of old-school Cold War politics. One could argue why Sri Lanka or Israel haven’t had any of their politicians in the dock, these instances on paper show clear breaches of human rights or crimes against humanity, yet impunity remains the watch word. There are crimes and no one likes to see criminals to evade justice, but Syria and Assad wouldn’t be the first to escape the net.
This war, as things stand, has more to come, and who knows how long for. The fact Kofi Annan left his job as peace envoy shows how difficult it is to overcome. If Assad already knows what could wait, then who is not to say he will go out in glory as Gadaffi tried. Who’s not to say that a quarter of a million more people may die through chemical weapons? Then again, if he is brought to justice then how does one prove the atrocities? There are very few journalists and do they have any proof? Not all news coming out of the country can be verified.
Be sure, Assad is resolute but is weak. The question is what do you do about it?

Debt and football: writing off the Greeks


Good news stories are something of a premium in Greece at the moment. Last night’s victory over Russia in Warsaw at the European Championships made it hard for any football supporter not to be delighted for the tournament’s rank outsiders. The energy and celebrations at the end of the game sent the thousands of Greeks fans in the stadium into ecstasy, whilst much of the country greeted the news in the same way back home.

Yet, this is far removed from the shock and optimism after the country’s victory in Euro 2004. Greece was a founding member of the Euro zone economy, its people were becoming wealthier and EU money was investing in capital projects that would help improve the way of life. That Greece is now a distant and rose-tinted memory. As the financial crisis began to bite in Europe, European delegates began to understand how desperate the situation in Greece had become. Several countries including France and Germany had broken the rules of the European Central Bank’s growth and stability pact. The pact stated that a country’s budget deficit should not exceed 3% of its GDP and its national debt should not exceed 60 per cent of GDP. Little did they know how Greece managed to stay in between the lines.

Captain Karagounis. (Guardian)

Even when the Euro finally became an economic reality, many officials believed that Greece simply wasn’t ready to join. The underlying currency and economic conditions would have made convergence for the whole of the Euro zone difficult. When the Greek government collapsed and its successors opened the books, the whole of the world was shocked. Previous administrations had managed to ‘cook the books’ on an enormous scale, using accounting methods that had placed huge chunks of the Greek national debt off the official records. Overnight officials discovered that Greece was running annual deficits of 12% with a national debt of 129% of GDP.

The downward spiral has continued from there since. As successive Greek governments have implemented severe austerity measures in return for EU bailouts, the social contract for ordinary citizens has begun to dissipate. Cuts to the public sector, higher taxes as well the inability to feed their families has seen Greeks take the streets on a daily basis. News footage no longer depicts Athens as the birthplace of democracy, but a city defiled with graffiti and polluted with tear gas. The language that invented the words crisis, chaos and catastrophe has brought them to life.

Panic on the streets of Athens.

The Greeks inability to trust any politician or economist makes its long term future even more indecisive. Since the crisis unfolded, over 10 per cent of the population has emigrated in search of work and most likely a settled life. With them, they have taken their money. Over a third of Greek bank deposits have left the country since the crisis began, €9 billion has left since the beginning of the year.

It is unsurprising then that many have turned to alternative parties in the recent elections. Not only has the far-right party Golden Dawn managed to generate great support, but the radical left party Syriza has taken votes away from the tradition socialist party Pasok. Syriza, led by its charismatic and young leader Alexis Tsipras has vowed that Greece will remain in the Euro but stop the austerity measures by reneging on its outstanding debt. A victory for Syriza in the re-run of last month’s general election is more than likely to be the first step of Greece leaving the Euro zone.

Yet how rational can the Greeks be at a time like this? Many have been unemployed for over two years, whereas those in work have not been paid for months. They are seeing all around them that a country in Western Europe has become destitute and suffering affliction that you would only associate with a war-torn nation. Suicide and food kitchens are part of the daily routine. Any political party that gives them a glimmer of hope is bound to cajole them to vote that way. Yet it is an entire fantasy. Greeks long to remain in the Euro because it once gave them everything they wanted, yet remaining in it would entirely undermine their recovery. The Syriza party may be acting out of goodwill, with a hue of opportunism, yet even they wouldn’t be able to remain in the EU without paying their debts. It would only lead to other debt-ridden countries in the Euro zone to doing the same, pushing the overall picture in the wrong direction.

The problem beyond both inside and outside of Greece is the fact no one is certain of what will happen next. The recent bail out of Spanish banks pushed Spanish and Italian bond yields to historical highs. The EU Troika may have finally laid down contingency plans for future crises, but inevitably they have acted too little and too late. If Greece falls then the economically uncompetitive Italy and Spain are bound to fall next, bringing down the already bailed out Irish and Portuguese. Capital flight may have created a safe haven in the non-Euro member UK, but its banks are heavily indebted to Spanish and Italian banks, who’s not to say that the UK could fall into another deep financial crisis as well?

The questions surrounding Euro bonds seem futile, they may avert short term crises, but they do not underwrite the fundamental problems that these countries face. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel is increasingly becoming isolated as world and EU leaders ask her to react, whilst her own country feels that their prudence should not be sacrificed for feckless southerners. If the Germans put forward the bulk of an EU firewall would it do anything or is it too late? Would a Greek return to the drachma see an instant return to growth or would it lead to high inflation. These are all the questions that no one seems to have the answer to.

The only thing that is certain is Greece will play Germany in the quarter-finals. Who will win? I’m not sure. We thought Greece would leave earlier, but they seem to have a knack of hanging on and causing a bit of damage. The football may be important to most, but Monday’s results will have implications for us all.

England expects?


The politics of following the English national team appears to get stranger and stranger as each tournament approaches. Not since 1966 has England managed to win a major international trophy and despite coming close on one or two occasions, most notably in 1990 and 1996, the dream of winning anything seems rather remote.

Yet, the English, who invented the game and this being rather noteworthy, appear to have a morbid fascination in seeing their football collapse and capitulate. For every tournament they enter, the whole country expects them to go and win it; this is despite the severe technical deficiencies and sheer exhaustion of playing a Premier League season. It is not just the fans who crank up the pressure; the media plays its role. For example, before most knock out games, be certain to see a headline play reference to Lord Admiral Nelson’s famous adage that ‘England expects everyman to do his duty’. In fact, ITV’s recent build up has parodied England going into the tournament on the back of their twelfth straight World Cup victory.

The ‘heroes’ of 1966

It is worth reminding that the so-called ‘Golden Generation’ that infamously went onto win nothing, was actually a name given to the team by none other than the Football Association. Talk about hyperbole.

For many years England did expect, purely because they did invent the game and that was that. England famously did not enter into early World Cup tournaments because they believed that they were not properly devised nor was the FA willing to acknowledge them.

Even the mentality was wrong, British players were often renowned for the idea that running with your head down can get you out of trouble. The so-called ‘kick and rush’ football may have worked in the British leagues and in the early half of the 20th century, but footballing tactics had moved on. England did not. One Dutch commentator said that his country admired the way the English played but they thought it was completely suicidal.

And here we are today. Less than two weeks before Euro 2012 kicks off in Poland and Ukraine and everyone is trying to down play it all. The preparation was not good. The departure of Italian Fabio Capello was not an ideal scenario. Despite Capello’s unpopularity with the press and a number of players, he was a winner and he knew what he wanted. The FA’s bizarre attempt to find an interim manager and hire him less than a month before the tournament speaks volume of the organisation.

I do not expect England to win, nor do I expect most people. Yet, I don’t understand this idea of trying to subvert any optimism. We don’t need to label ourselves as dark horses or chance outsiders. Why would you enter a tournament without thinking you were going to win it? You don’t go to a strip club to enjoy the furnishings.

Tournament success is about preparation and a spot of luck, for too long the conversation was ‘we invented the game so we’ll win it’ and later it became ‘we’ve got the best league in the world so we’ll win it’. Two remarkable truisms that have no real logic.

If England ever do win a tournament it will require hard work and good players, but it will mainly require ideas and knowledge. The FA’s previous solutions of throwing money at the problem will add nothing further disappointment. Let’s hope, but not get ahead of ourselves.

David Cameron: Be bold or blow it.


It is said that the unwritten rule in 10 Downing Street is not to mention to Prime Minister David Cameron why the Conservatives did not win an outright majority in 2010. Going by these standards it may be wise if ever in the Treasury not to mention the 2012 spring budget to George Osborne. Two months have passed since the chancellor delivered his now infamous budget and it has brought the government nothing but negative headlines ever since.

Not only did the Conservatives take a kicking in the recent local elections, but so have many of its ministers. Home Secretary Theresa May managed to get her days wrong when trying to finally deport radical Islamic cleric Abu Qatada, Sayeeda Warsi is the latest politician to be accused of fiddling her expenses. Not to mention the elephant in the room involving the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and his relationship with News International.

Happier times…

I suspect the chancellor; also the Conservative’s chief electoral strategist could not have foreseen what was coming around the corner. Far removed was the analysis regarding potential tax revenue increases or a shifting of the ‘Laffer Curve’, but endless reams of front pages calling it a tax break for millionaires and hyperbole over the so-called ‘pasty tax’. This decision was politically bold and one this blog believes to have been correct, but its aftermath has been managed appallingly. At a time of severe economic gloom and pain for many sectors of society, particularly the politically important C1s and C2s, if this change were to be ushered in, it had to be done effectively. This it was not.

As a consequence the Labour party have managed to take a 14-point lead in the polls with their leader Ed Miliband becoming noticeably better in his duels with Cameron at the weekly PMQs. Cameron, who has always ranked higher in approval ratings compared to his party, has also suffered. Probably the most popular Conservative in the country is the London mayor Boris Johnson and beyond that, people may start scratching their heads. The Liberal Democrat’s fortunes faded a long time before.

Theories of so-called ‘midterm blues’ have been thrown about by coalition MPs, but it’s not difficult to see why many already see the rot setting in. Despite the PM and his deputy Clegg renewing their vows in another rose garden moment at a factory in Basildon, the tensions are visible. Relations over Europe and most significantly the ways to see growth in the economy are causing tension.

Many commentators agree that it already appears to be getting to Cameron. He has lost his composure on several occasions of late, mostly during PMQs and particularly to the shadow chancellor Ed Balls. All coalition members are right to criticise Labour’s terrible economic legacy but even after two years of coalition government and a double-dip recession, Cameron is visibly pushing the same tired lines over and over again. It is not good politics and is increasingly starting to appear desperate.

Headache

The hysteria over comments about whether Cameron and Osborne were ‘too posh’ should not have been given as much coverage as it warranted. The reason is that at any point, politicians are accused of being ‘out of touch’ from those outside the Westminster village. This was a story that overlapped with some of the previous week’s articles, but the trend had already begun.

Stories involving spin and sleaze are always damaging and became chronic in both the Major and New Labour years, but for this government and this leadership the issue that would be most alarming would be accusations of incompetence. This of course was the a government coming together in the national interest. Admirers of Cameron’s leadership have always pointed to his ability to look for the practical solutions beyond ideology and his warmness to working with people. Cameron is best when he is bold. Most notably when he used the UK’s veto over the EU fiscal compact and when he famously called Gordon Brown’s bluff in the election that never was in 2008. So why does it appear to be going wrong? 

The fact the economy hasn’t grown in 18 months is not helping anybody. The Tories must pure and simply rely on the strength of the economy to win a majority in the next election; and as things stand, that may not happen. The prospect of another hung Parliament and a potential coalition with the Lib Dems is bound to worry many backbenchers. This has inevitably led to questions regarding Cameron and his style of leadership.

A strong theme that emanates from websites such as Conservative Home, is the fact that he is not Mrs Thatcher. Despite being retired from public life and sadly suffering from dementia, Mrs Thatcher is very much the political pin-up for many Tory backbenchers, whereas for Cameron and Osborne, it is more likely to be Tony Blair. They admire Blair’s political intelligence and his ability to win elections, but certainly appear to have ignored his style of presentation.

Fewer special advisors within Number 10 and critically a weak voice from the communications department are making Cameron’s government appear feckless. This government, in only two years, has been radical in its reforms on welfare and education, but its inability to take control over the past two months has made them appear slightly aloof and the poll numbers reflect this.

Any press criticism can be damaging, but it is in the interest of a party, whether political or business to set the record straight. The government needs to get out there on and talk directly to the public. The Conservatives will not win a majority if they fail to make inroads into the north and Cameron and Osborne’s real political legacy will only be judged if they can establish something beyond this Parliament. A reshuffle may help in the short term, but if they are going to win, then they need to be bolder.

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