Will women’s football blaze a trail of sporting sanity?

When the English FA unveiled it’s “Inspiring Positive Change” strategy for women’s and girl’s football back in October 2020 it included the “transformational” objective of winning a major tournament within four years. At the time the FA officially regarded that as an “ambitious” target despite the Lionesses having made it to the semi finals of 2019’s World Cup, where they lost to eventual winners the USA.

At their version of the World Cup in 2018 the Under 20s had taken third place. Georgia Stanway starred in that tournament, sharing the golden boot award as equal top scorer, whilst Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly had all scored in the 6-1 group stage win over Mexico.

The seeds of their recent success had been well and truly sown. Kay Cossington, who has been the head of women’s technical development at the FA for over five years, was confident they would bloom under their development plans.

She knew that they were “working from strong foundations with talented players and (that) it was now time to take it to another level.” Her eyes were nonetheless originally fixed on glory at next year’s World Cup finals in Australia/New Zealand. That winning a major tournament has come earlier than she hoped and the FA planned for is a monumental achievement whilst professional women’s football in England is still in its infancy.

Thankfully the FA’s strategy is also focussed on creating a sustainable future for the women’s game regardless of the national team’s glory. Alongside the stated ambition of establishing the world’s best professional leagues, hopefully they will enjoy more success in their objectives to be met by 2024 of increasing participation for fun, competition and excellence, as well as supporting the development of organisers, coaches and referees.

Baroness Sue Campbell, Head of Women’s Football since 2016, who was trusted with delivering “truly transformational change” to the women’s and girl’s game still believes that dealing with the recent success of the Euros and an “influx of people who now see that it has commercial value” must be handled “with great care”.

Her vision will come as music to the ears of those who hope the women’s game might mirror the men’s game in terms of its accessibility but not ape the antics of many of its players, coaches and managers, or the unrestrained financialisation. that have defined professional football for many years.

Talking on the Radio 4, the woman who had previously been Chair of UK Sport stated that “we all need to be responsible about how we manage the future (of women’s football) making sure we don’t lose the essence and feel. People talk to me about how we’ve demonstrated that the beautiful game is back. This is how men’s football used to be before it became too commercial. We want the women’s game to retain that feel, to retain that essence as we move forward.”

This House of Lords cross-bencher shares the general feeling that Sunday’s final had enjoyed “a very positive, inclusive, happy, joyful atmosphere.” She believes that “the culture around the women’s game is different and (that) as commerciality (sic) comes in, more money comes in, we’ve got to work very hard to preserve this wonderful culture that exists in the women’s game.”

Campbell stated that the players want to make sure that growth within the game is managed sensitively too. If that’s true it will make it much easier for women’s football to take this opportunity offered by the Euros and do great things with it. She claimed that “the women are really keen to play their part in growing the game but we all want to do it in a way that preserves the very best of what’s been fought for many, many years by many people.”

If women’s football can blaze a trail of sanity in how the game is managed, played and enjoyed, avoids the lure of monstrous transfer fees, salaries and excessive admission prices it would surely be a fitting legacy for their Euros success. With any luck it might also help to ensure that the men’s game sits up, takes notice and starts to put its own house in order.

This article was also published by The Morning Star.

Deep Deception

Deep Deception – Alison, Belinda, Helen Steel, Lisa and Naomi (Ebury, £20)

WHEN police spy Mark Kennedy’s cover was blown by political activists in the winter of 2010 the corporate media were quick to follow the official line that he was the one bad apple who had gone rogue and spoiled their otherwise spotless image. As part of his work he had deceived at least two women into intimate relationships.

Since then it has been proved that more than twenty spycops deliberately cheated at least fifty women into relationships. They had children with some of the women, robbed others of the chance to do so and wrecked the lives of normal, decent people through their treachery.

Police spies violated these women’s lives to try to prevent change, undermine democracy and prop up the interests of the wealthy and powerful in our society. Psychological and emotional abuse was routine, these women were exploited and “raped for the state.”

“Deep Deception” is the harrowing story of five women who were manipulated into long-term relationships by married undercover policemen. All of their courtships wouldn’t have sounded out of place on “Our Tune” and it’s gut-wrenching to read their seemingly innocent and intense love stories unfold, knowing, as the Metropolitan Police were eventually forced to admit, that policemen had “preyed on the women’s good nature”.

One of the women was not even an activist when she met her spy. She wasn’t interested in his supposedly steadfast political beliefs but thought he was merely “a good man who shunned capitalist values.” Whilst she worried about telling him of her job with the Electricity Board he consistently lied for a living about his background and lifestyle.

All of the spies were part of a secret political policing unit. The Special Demonstration Squad had been established in 1968 to spy on protestors and was succeeded by the National Public Order Intelligence Unit in 1999. It took an interest in only a handful of right-wing groups but infiltrated many hundreds of left-wing organisations. Its officers infamously stole the identities of dead children to hide their real lives and were issued with fake passports and driving licenses.

After a prolonged legal battle in which the police obstructed, delayed and created more stress for the women, their case was effectively blocked from going to the High Court. There were no answers to questions, no disclosure of files and none of those responsible were held to account. Even those men still employed by the police kept their jobs.

An official apology admitting human rights violations was finally made to seven women and a financial settlement was made out of court, but for these women, who made life decisions based on being with someone who didn’t even exist, there can be no compensation for the years stolen by the police when they were being deceived and then whilst fighting for justice.

The only saving graces in this sordid tale are the resilience and determination of the women involved and their support networks. Without them this disgraceful history would not have been brought to light and there would be no campaign for its full public unmasking.

That such an ultimately depressing and haunting book should be recommended reading is a damning criticism of our society but it is essential for this information to reach the widest possible audience. If it was a work of fiction it could be happily described as a page-turner. It’s certainly compelling reading but each page merely adds more horror to a disgusting saga.

Unfortunately stuff like this doesn’t only happen in books and their long fight for truth and justice continues. The public inquiry into undercover policing that was announced in 2015 and didn’t start until 2020 is expected to continue “well beyond 2023.” To the women it seems that the endless delays are an attempt to delay the process until most of the officers involved have retired. For them, justice delayed remains justice denied.

This review was also published in The Morning Star

The Cuckoo Cage

“The Cuckoo Cage” – edited by Ra Page (Comma Press)

Based on an idea that the cultural roots of modern-day superheroes can be traced back to the folklore of British social and political protest, twelve authors breathe new life into some of our lesser-known home-grown forces for good in this collection of short stories.

Following the traditions of righting wrongs when democratic means have been exhausted or usurped, these re-spawned crime fighters deal with issues that bear some relation to their origins and underline the depressingly long-standing nature of many of the struggles we face today.

It reminds us that the Luddites and their successors fought against what we now know as zero-hour contracts, surveillance of workers and punitive social security sanctions. Campaigners against genetically modified food can also trace their organic roots to Luddism.

The links to the past might seem tenuous in some of the tales but the background historical information and analysis that supplements, and helps to decode, each chapter is a strong selling point for The Cuckoo Cage.

Lady Skimmington is evolved from the 17th century Western Rising, with the power to freeze and re-wind time to lead an assault against contemporary gentrification and theft of common land. An updated Cassivellaunus, who originally fought against Caesar’s invasion, takes the role of “Malcolom X with a Yorkshire accent” to fight against corrupt elites.

The Hermione Mutineers are transformed into part of the civil refugee rescue fleet and an updated Captain Swing is betrayed by an agent provocateur spycop. The Midlands Revolt against the “encroaching tyrants who would grind our flesh on the whetsone of poverty”, originally crushed with over 40 protestors massacred in Northamptonshire, is commemorated as a seed of hope.

Whilst the crooks and charlatans continue to rule the roost it’s appropriate to be reminded of our duty to emulate the Kingswood Miners, “an ungovernable people”, fearful of neither god nor man, and especially active in resisting the introduction of tolls.

This book is motivated by the times when shared pseudonyms were common tools of resistance. It celebrates the histories of the many Jack-a-Lents, Captain Pouches and Ned Ludds who rose up to fight the power.

Collective bargaining by mass, usually violent, direct action, has been a crucial tool when effective political representation is unavailable. It may well become an essential part of the peoples’ armoury once again as so-called food “riots”, legitimate and rational common protest against hunger and poverty, increasingly stalk our world.

Anything that encourages latter day Robin Hoods to terrorise the capitalists will hopefully be welcomed with open arms by all of those who find themselves averse to today’s governing and opposition parties.

This review also appeared in The Morning Star.

The Black Agenda

“The Black Agenda” – Glen Ford (OR Books)

Glen Ford was an experienced independent journalist steered by what he described as a black-left perspective. He was a Marxist, primarily concerned with the welfare of black people but never shying away from castigating the United States’ history of imperialism and racism.

This collection of speeches and written work is uncompromising in its assault on the US attempt to “pillage the world with impunity,” re-enact the white man’s burden and impose its corporate mastery of the planet.

His critique of Thanksgiving, a “supremely white American holiday, the most ghoulish event on the national calendar… the most loathsome, humanity-insulting day of the year,” is a joy to behold. This affront to civilisation that celebrates the genocide of Native Americans by the European pilgrims whose god blessed every atrocity they committed is nothing less than “a pure glorification of racist barbarity.”

Ford persistently criticised and challenged members of what he called the American “black misleadership class”. Leading figures in the Black Lives Matter movement were dismissed as “role models of impotence, a chattering, swaggering class of self-servers.” Most black faces in high places were deemed to have brought “betrayal on an unprecedented scale.”

Special ire was reserved for the first black president of the USA, “the more effective, not lesser, evil,” who was deemed responsible for ultimately “corrupting the black American tradition of radical politics.” Like many a UK Labour Party politician, Obama carried out the policies of the ruling classes whilst appearing to oppose them.

Their 44th President continued the custom of being in hock to banks and militarists and “blithely broke every international law and covenant in the book while playing the globalist.”

Whilst Obama was arguably responsible for making endless war palatable black Americans seemingly became more concerned with protecting the “artificial aura of blackness that he brought to the White House” than demanding radical policies based on justice for all.

When Ford said “power to the people” he meant utterly disempowering the capitalists and white supremacists. He regarded a black-latino urban alliance as essential to withstanding capitalism’s onslaught.

For him, movements were about amassing people-power and not merely collecting promises from politicians.

Both Democrats and Republicans were dismissed as “rich men’s parties playing tag-team” with one ruling class agenda. Ford saw through the anti-Russian hysteria that surrounded Trump’s election and recognised that Bernie Sanders had removed stigma from the word socialism, but lambasted him as a “world-class imperialist pig in foreign affairs”.

Ford highlighted the disaster capitalism that followed Hurricane Katrina into New Orleans. He understood it as another example of the state and corporate juggernaut “remaking urban America in white-face,” scattering African American communities and diluting inner city black political power.

He examined the US as the headquarters of international terror and detailed its role in Rwanda and Uganda’s genocidal pillage of Congo. He noted that jihadists have been “the foot soldiers of imperialism” and a tool of US policy since the last days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency.

His analysis was reliably astute and accurate. He knew that finance capital is incapable of regulation and stood firmly on the side of socialism against barbarism.

His work was a direct challenge to the corporate-owned media that is hand in glove with domestic and international spy agencies. There are moments of repetition in this collection but it is a challenging, entertaining and informative book throughout.

Glen Ford died in July 2021. If you want to put a voice behind his words, episodes of the Black Agenda Report, which he hosted, can still be found online.

This review also appeared in The Morning Star.

now hear this (14/1/22)…

A review of what caught my ear online this past week.

“Landed” is a four part podcast from Farmerama exploring how the farmed landscapes of the Scottish Highlands and Islands have been shaped. From traditional land management values of the clan system to the growth of so-called family farms, many funded by the profits from inhuman colonial enterprises, it spares no blushes in examining a blood-stained history. It discusses the issues of reparative justice in one of the whitest areas of the British Isles, our extractive and exploitative relationships towards land, and enthusiastically details the benefits of crofting and the potential for non-capitalist land reform in Scotland.

The Socialist Program is currently broadcasting a mini-series examining Soviet History. Episode one, with Carlos Martinez, explores the October revolution, the civil war that followed and the problems encountered in rebuilding a country that was still under threat despite being devastated by the 1914-18 war. Vijay Prashad discusses the Soviet influence on colonised and lesser developed countries in episode two and Carlos Martinez returned to explain the challenges faced by the Soviet Union in the years leading up to the Second World War.

Aaron Mate’s “Pushback” interview with retired US Army Colonel and ex-Pentagon adviser Douglas Macgregor is an informative and thought-provoking investigation of the continued influence of the military industrial complex on US foreign policy. Macgregor, who served in the Trump administration, offers a coherent and surprisingly enlightened overview of America’s current role in the world and the malevolent influence of lobbyists and corporations within the White House.

Junglist

“Junglist” – Two Fingas and James T. Kirk (Repeater Books)

Jungle music was the backdrop to a distinct British youth culture that evolved in the early 1990s. Sampling musical influences from hip hop and reggae it was a heavyweight champion of dance music, characterised by throbbing basslines, looped percussive rhythms and rapid breakbeats.

Jungle was massive.

Junglist claims that drum and bass was “the engine which drove jungle” and for the uninitiated, “Burial” by Leviticus is often signposted as a gateway drug. Roni Size, Goldie and many others would later take the music mainstream.

Like the rave culture that preceded it in the UK, Jungle helped to create a youthful, multicultural, rag-tag community that rattled the status quo. It danced under the same roofs, used the same drugs, felt the same highs and lows, shared attitudes and developed its own way of life, but was ultimately shaped by a distinctly Black British identity.

Reprinted more than twenty years after its original publication, this short book details four young men’s shared yearning to be transported to a place where their minds were hermetically bound to a Jungle music soundtrack. It’s a search for somewhere between “unconscious thought and unconscious being” during a long weekend in a south London that is largely unrecognisable today.

Junglist is a quick-fire stream of thought that riffs on sex and relationships, drugs, ego, machismo and insecurities, without offering much in terms of profound or original insight. As befits something created by teenagers it is not written with any pretence of traditional style. This is a rediscovery of outsider art.

It rarely touches on politics, and its cultural analysis is generally under-developed, but it does make some relevant and insightful commentary on fashion and the roller-coaster of style. Whilst missing a beat when drifting into prose it successfully captures a snap-shot of a lifestyle that many will continue to enjoy and re-enact, albeit with a different soundtrack.

This review also appeared in The Morning Star.

Paint Your Town Red

Paint Your Town Red – Matthew Brown and Rhian E Jones (Repeater Books)

Local councils have never had it so bad. Since 2010 they’ve been carrying the bag for repetitive government austerity policies and at least 15 have been identified as being at risk of insolvency.

Expenditure on local public services has reduced by almost twenty percent in the last decade. Recent reports claim councils are planning to make another £1.7 billion of cuts this financial year, use more than £500 million of their reserves to help balance the books and raise council tax by an average of 4.3 percent.

Despite all of this, a collective £3 billion budget shortfall is being predicted by 2023-24!

Instead of merely trying to manage this increasingly desperate situation a small number of local authorities are fighting back. Preston is leading the way in attempting to break the relentless diet of austerity with ambitious local projects.

Its community wealth building approach uses the collective power of public institutions and local resources to rebalance the economy in favour of local residents and away from businesses that have repeatedly displayed no loyalty to the town.

The Council has built alliances with its large local employers that have redirected economic development towards supporting community wealth. By encouraging these businesses, and its own suppliers, to develop ethical behaviours they have shifted the distribution of spending through a process of “positive procurement”.

Preston identified areas where money was leaking out of the local economy and now issues contracts for council services to benefit local people and businesses. Local authority pension funds were even redirected from global markets to local investments.

It became the first Living Wage Foundation accredited employer in the north of England and localises a portion of its spending specifically in support of local worker co-operatives. The council also backed a city-wide credit union to take on high cost loan sharks.

The town has seen a significant economic upturn and real material improvements for its people. By 2020 Preston had achieved its highest employment rate and lowest levels of economic inactivity for 15 years. In the 2019 election it was one of the few constituencies to buck the national swing that saw Labour lose support in its former heartlands.

Their model is still developing and will not work everywhere, nor solve all council problems, but Preston is proving that effective action, done by local communities rather than being done to them, is an important source of hope and change.

This book is not a detailed economic case-study and it’s not all about Preston. It offers advice, interesting and inspirational ideas that demonstrate the potential of social activism to make meaningful improvement in all of our lives.

This review has also appeared in The Morning Star.

Feeding Britain – Our food problems and how to fix them

“Feeding Britain – Our Food Problems and How to Fix Them.” – Tim Lang (Pelican, £12.99)

Britain has a serious, yet largely hidden, food security problem – it doesn’t feed itself! Growing only about half of what is required to meet our needs, we are so far from the self-sufficiency good life, that if our food system was a bank, it would be bankrupt.

The UK’s yawning trade gap in foodstuffs was £24 billion in 2017 and we’re experiencing a dramatic decline in native production. Fruit and vegetable cultivation could, and should, be increasing but only 12% of the fruit we consume is currently grown here

We have been led into a false sense of security about our food. The default practices of recent governments, leaving everything in the hands of the Tescos of this world, have merely kicked the problems with our food system further down the road to ruin.

Enjoying full supermarket shelves, historically cheap, highly subsidised, and plentiful food has only been achieved with an ecologically and socially unsustainable footprint. The UK also has the highest rates of ultra-processed foods in Europe.

We’re awash with foods that aren’t doing us or the environment any good and poor diets have become the norm. We’re growing physically fatter, suffering a rise in food poverty and enduring more diet-related ill-health.

We’re certainly not taking back control of how and where we get our food from. Policy makers seem to have lost sight of the essential roles that diet, land use, fairness and sustainability play in ensuring food security. Britain cannot go on eating as it is without undermining its own interests.

Professor of Food Policy at City, University of London, Tim Lang exploress this “dangerous insecurity” within our food system and denounces the UK’s imperial tradition of assuming that others will provide for us.

As the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union launches its report demanding the right to decent food for every citizen “Feeding Britain” provides another thought provoking call to action.

Lang’s extended manifesto recognises that Britain’s food system reinforces the class divides which normalise systemic failure with foodbanks. His proposals would narrow social inequalities. ban unhealthy food advertising, slash food waste, reduce food miles and dramatically reshape our high fat, sugary, salty and meat-based diets.

The long-term route to food security cannot be outsourced. Our problems will only be cured when the food system is made fairer for everyone, involves input from all of its stakeholders, and is founded on a fundamentally more environmentally and economically sustainable basis.

This review was also published in The Morning Star.

The Nanny State Made Me

“The Nanny State Made Me” – Stuart Maconie (Ebury Press)

Even though the seed of this book was planted after an interview with Tony Benn in the Post Office Tower, it hasn’t germinated into a virulent anti-capitalist tirade. Broadcaster, journalist and BBC teamster Stuart Maconie is not a revolutionary.

He has however produced an enjoyable, entertaining, occasionally rambling, homage to the social security that many of us have enjoyed courtesy of a benevolent “big” state. It yearns for a return to the commitment of public good over private profit and an escape from the freak zone of neo-liberalism.

In documenting the vast community wealth that has been stolen from us, particularly during the Thatcher years, Maconie effectively leafs through the UK’s blossoming catalogue of failed privatisations and emphasises rampant capitalism’s propensity to destroy everything of real value.

He recognises that the basic fibres of society which hold us all together are in dire need of repair. Our last decades of so-called “free-market” dominance have rendered most of us “less happy, less productive and in a much duller and nastier place to live.”

Maconie blames Tory MP Iain Macleod for first coining the term “nanny state”, when moaning about the introduction of motorway speed limits, and rails against the likes of Jacob Rees Mogg, who still have nannies of their own and extremely cosseted lifestyles whilst espousing a vague notion of standing on one’s own two feet. (Despite Britain’s private sector often being utterly dependent on the state’s generosity to make its money.)

This part-autobiographical treatise proudly proclaims that nanny knows best when it comes to nationalised and properly funded health services, public transport systems, education and energy sectors, parks, libraries, even financial services. At his firebrand best Maconie also slams any opinion other than a conviction that private education should be abolished immediately as “cant and bullshit”.

He recognises that the barbarians have stormed the gates, are inside parliament and council offices ransacking society and need urgent removal, but Maconie believes that the British will continue to disappoint left wing intellectuals with their distinct lack of revolutionary ire.

It isn’t a modern-day “What Is To Be Done?” or “Value, Price and Profit” but is an overtly left-leaning book. It cries out for a justice that was promised by the social contract of the post war years to the 1970s and is well worth a read. It might even lead some more inquisitive souls a few steps further along the British road to socialism.

Also published in a slightly edited form by The Morning Star.

The Dawning of the Apocalypse

“The Dawning of the Apocalypse” – Gerald Horne (Monthly Review Press)

History continuously reminds us that racism and capitalism are two peas from the same pod. Those of a predominantly European descent wreak worldwide havoc, carrying out the much-fabled white man’s burden, imposing themselves as ruling elites. Black lives still don’t matter in many societies because the miserable claim of “white supremacy” has been effortlessly intertwined with the neo-religion; capitalism.

This book charts the depressingly holocaustic levels of slaughter and enslavement committed as empires and alliances ebbed and flowed five centuries ago. Prolific author and Professor of History Gerald Horne has unearthed the twisted roots of exploitation in an intensely engrossing, at times dizzying, history lesson.

Arguing that the evolution of “white supremacy” is found in the exploitative and deadly hand of religion, Horne emphasises that it was 16th century London’s moral-free racist variety of colonialism which effectively “changed the game” for the worse. English colonies were far more deadly for indigenous populations than those of its European rivals.

Unlike the earlier murderous Spanish forays into land and resource thievery, which demanded religious conformity amongst the conquered, England replaced religious homogeneity with “race” as the animating factor of society. This sleight of hand enabled detente with former “white” enemies and further expanded the base for a conquering class.

Even long term foes, notably the Scots and Irish, were embraced as fellow settlers in an extreme re-branding exercise of synthetic “whiteness” when they crossed the Atlantic. Class antagonisms amongst this mixed bag of “white” settler colonialists were also dulled by this official racist policy.

Without these marriages of convenience it’s unlikely that a minor kingdom on the fringes of Europe would have been able to take the upper hand and carve out its disgraceful legacy. England rose on the backs of enslaved Africans and indigenous peoples and arrested their development on a devastating continental-wide scale.

Of course there is no happy ending to this apocalyptical analysis. When fast forwarded to 1776, even those calculated racist atrocities of the long 16th century seem “almost improvisational” in comparison. Britain’s “revolting spawn” in the USA took wanton racism to untold levels of catastrophe.

And as if to prove that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it, there are areas of Dixieland that still hold parades and pageants in honour of Hernando de Soto, the Spanish conquistador, enslaver and pyschopathic killer, the “first white hero”.

This review also appeared in The Morning Star.