The August Riots

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Wednesday, 16 September 2009

The next election – who is there to vote for?

In the midst of an economic recession, a costly war in Afghanistan and rising prices Britons must make one of the most important electoral choices for many years. The additional presence and recently increased importance of the potentially destabilising BNP, who stand to potentially increase their proportion of the vote, gives the election an added significance. With the date for the election as yet unclear, it is nigh-on impossible to tell what the deciding issue will be. Yet what is clear is that a time such as this the public need the three major parties to step up and provide voters with a proper choice. It seems to me that the electoral choice is, at the moment, and barring a sudden change in leadership, extremely limited.

Gordon Brown’s record has arguably turned the public against him, rightly or wrongly, and the blunders made by his government and the Blair administration are still in the public consciousness. Whilst the global economic recession cannot be blamed entirely on Gordon Brown or the Labour government, their reaction and the time in which Britons are forced to endure these conditions will affect the voters. The stark possibly of cuts to services being made in the near future could affect Labour’s standing even further, given the fact that Labour had previously remained committed to protecting investment in core services. The need to halve the budget deficit in four yearswill almost certainly be a key issue at the next election, with the Conservatives continually stating that they would reduce spending immediately, yet this issue is very much a double-edged sword for Brown. If he were to commit to a policy of reducing expenditure, trade unions have announced the possibility of strike action if jobs are put at risk, whilst retaining the current level of spending will increase the deficit, currently at £175 billion, which will likely cause Labour to lose the election. Labour’s economic policy seems to focus mostly on past achievements, which whilst being impressive, do not show the existence of a clear path to recovery in Westminster. As far as immigration policy goes Labour has a clearer idea, introducing a number of intelligent ideas such as a ‘points-based’ system for new migrants and a system whereby British citizenship must be earned. However we are yet to see the benefit of any such changes and whether they will actually make a real-life difference.

Meanwhile David Cameron has, almost unarguably transformed the electoral chances of the previously-moribund Conservatives, as well as drastically improving their public image. Yet voters may be left feeling slightly cold by Cameron’s Blair-esque PR tricks and appearance-based politics. Voters desire political parties that listen to their concerns and act upon their suggestions, as well as providing an effective manifesto to address current issues and problems affecting ordinary Britons. Yet is Cameron capable of delivering post-election? Whilst he is more than capable of pointing out the fairly frequent failings of the current administration, can he really do any better, and if yes, does he have any policies with which to do so? The Conservatives describe a seemingly rather vague policy of “a responsible fiscal policy bolstered by independent oversight” plus “a responsible attitude to economic development that fosters more balanced economic growth”. Whilst these may be eye-catching and do sound rather impressive, they do not provide any statistics, facts or numbers to show how they will enforce these aims. The Conservatives support the concept of a ‘needs-based’ immigration policy whilst also imposing an annual limit on migrants, yet will this be enough to satisfy the electorate, for whom immigration is fast becoming a very important issue? Meanwhile the Liberal Democrats are frankly unlikely to pose a serious threat to either Labour or the Conservatives, and will only become a major player in this election in the event of them holding the balance of power in a tight electoral contest.

Then we come to the British National Party, whose recent attempts to mobilise supporters to launch highly provocative protests in majority-Muslim areas against Islam have seen minor street-level violence. Yet if they were to increase their vote, which seems very likely, these clashes could become more frequent, and are likely to get more violent. The fact is that the BNP are an organisation that, in their words, calls “for an immediate halt to all further immigration” in order to ensure “that the British people maintain their homeland and identity”. I do not wish to discuss whether the BNP are right or wrong to promote this policy or any other relating to immigration. Yet in the 2005 election the BNP increased both their number of candidates to 119 from 33 in 2001, and their percentage of the vote from 0.2% in 2001 to 0.7%. Their success has come mainly by winning the support of former Labour voters in mostly working-class constituencies. Whilst 0.5% of the vote is no where near enough to give the BNP a serious foothold in British politics, it is extremely likely that this vote will increase in the next election. This will occur primarily because the three main parties are currently failing to deal with the issue of immigration in a manner that some members of the public find acceptable. This failure comes to a head in a time of economic recession, as the public anger at the Labour party for the effects of the downturn is translated into a BNP vote, as they promise, despite any mention of how they plan to provide them, jobs for British workers.

The most recent opinion poll, conducted by YouGov puts the Conservative party ahead with 41% of the vote, Labour second with 27% and the Liberal Democrats at 18%. The Conservatives have held the lead in each poll conducted since June 17th, with an average lead of around 14% over Labour. Therefore it seems the next election will be a foregone conclusion, and that Gordon Brown might just as well not bother to turn up. Yet whilst this may spell victory for the Conservative party it will most likely be the public that loses out. There is certainly no evidence to suggest that the Conservative party will do a worse job than Labour since the 2005 general election, yet there is equally little to suggest they will do any better. The policies of Labour and the Conservatives regarding the economy, what I deem to be the most important issue at the next election given the events of the past year or so, are vague to say the least and provide no real explanation of how we will recover. Which leads to me pose the question, does either party even know? Cameron may know how to work the cameras and deal with the media, but is he capable of solving the worst recession we have seen in Britain? Are partisan politics the ideal way to solve our economic problems, or would Britain and the general public benefit much more from a reasoned and rounded approach the problem, drawing in ideas from across the political spectrum? I believe so, and if the election were to produce a hung parliament, I would be delighted. A national government solved the last major economic crisis in the 1930s, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t again. Yet modern politicians would be bemused at the concept of working together in order to solve problems, as it would differ greatly from their usual game of one-upmanship. Hopefully all three parties will listen to their constituents and come up with meaningful, positive manifestos that spell out in no uncertain terms what each party aims to do, how they aim to do it, and whether the finance is available for them to do it. Whilst this will probably not happen, it would be a breath of fresh air into British politics, and give first-time voters such as myself a reason to fill out the ballot paper in 2010.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Champions League Preview – have Real bought the tournament? Or will English clubs reign supreme again?

The UEFA Champions League returns to our screens this evening, with thirty-two teams fighting for the chance to take home European football’s premier trophy. Whilst all four British qualifiers reached the quarter-finals last year, with only Liverpool missing out on a place in the semis after defeat by Chelsea, this year their dominance could be slightly curtailed following the extravagant spending by La Liga runners-up Real Madrid. The acquisitions of Kaká, Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Raúl Albiol and Alvaro Arbeloa have certainly transformed Madrid’s chances both domestically and on the European stage. Barcelona have also been busy, despite losing Samuel Eto’o to Barcelona, bringing in Zlatan Ibrahimović, Dymtro Chygrynskiy and Maxwell, improving last year’s treble winning squad. Whereas other top European sides have chosen to strengthen, it seems that the English sides have failed to do so. Manchester United are nowhere near as powerful a force as last season, having lost Ronaldo and Tévez, whilst Arsenal have been forced to sell both Adebayor and Touré. Quarter-finalists Liverpool have lost Xabi Alonso, replacing him with the currently injured Alberto Aquilani, whilst Chelsea have been subjected to a transfer ban until January 2010.

In terms of the group stages it should be fairly simple to foresee which teams will emerge, although there may still be a shock or two. Group A sees Bundesliga runners-up Bayern Munich pitted against Maccabi Haifa, the first Israeli team to qualify for the group stages of the Champions League, this evening. The rest of the group is made up of former Italian champions Juventus and French title winners Bordeaux. Although Maccabi Haifa may pose a threat to the their opponents at home, it is almost certain that either Bayern or Juventus will be qualifying for the knock-out stage, with Bordeaux likely to enter the last 32 of the Europa League, formerly known as the UEFA Cup. Yet on paper this group is one of the toughest, especially given Bordeaux’s recent renaissance under Laurent Blanc. Manchester United have been drawn in Group B alongside Russian outfit CSKA Moscow, Turkcell Süper Lig winners Beşiktaş and German champions VFL Wolfsburg. Whilst Manchester United would expect to emerge with ease from this group, Wolfsburg’s strike partnership of Edin Džeko and Grafite, retained despite significant interest throughout Europe, could see them qualify ahead of CSKA. However, away trips to Moscow and Istanbul could provide interesting tests for both United and Wolfsburg.

Group C will no doubt be one that many people, both in Europe and worldwide, will be watching closely, in order to see whether or not Real Madrid are able to turn a collection of expensive superstars into a cohesive, balanced team. Although even if Real’s ‘galacticos’ fail to shine in the early stages they should still have the measure of the group, with AC Milan the only other team likely to pose a significant threat. Marseille look odds-on favourites for third spot, and therefore the consolation prize of a place in the newly-formed Europa League. Group D sees Chelsea’s pursuit of the so-far elusive Champions League trophy, with 2004 winners FC Porto and Atlético Madrid likely to fight it out for second place. Although following a summer in which Porto received more than £70 million from transfers they have used just over £20 million of this to complete their squad, and lost their talismanic goal-scorer Lisandro Lopez. Therefore despite their defensive frailties it appears likely that the electrifying attack of Agüero, Forlán, Maxi Rodríguez and Simão will be enough to see Atlético Madrid through. Group E features five-time European champions Liverpool, who will be hoping to make a return to form in this year’s competition, having failed to reach the semi-finals for the first time since 2006 last year in their quarter-final defeat to Chelsea. Whether or not Liverpool’s squad will prove capable enough against in the latter stages remains to be seen, yet they should have sufficient quality to see off the challenge of Lyon, Fiorentina and the first Hungarian side to qualify for the Champions League group stages in fourteen years, Debrecen. It may well prove an interesting battle between Fiorentina and Lyon, as whilst the French outfit would be the more likely to take second place, the loss of Karim Benzema will undoubtedly hurt them.

In what is probably the most interesting group of this year’s tournament, Barcelona and Inter Milan will go head-to-head for the coveted first place which would allow either team a more favourable draw for the first knock-out round. As we have already seen Barcelona have spent moderately to improve their squad, mostly on defensive options, whilst Inter Milan have made a number of clever signings over the summer. Inter’s ability to score goals, especially in crucial games, has increased no end with the signing of Samuel Eto’o, in my opinion one of the best strikers in the world. Barcelona’s frankly baffling decision to swap a player with a goal-per-game ratio of more than one in every two for the extremely skilful, show-boating, big-game bottler Zlatan Ibrahimovic, will be the main talking point. It will certainly be interesting to see which player is able to score more goals in the knock-out stages, as there is very little chance of Dynamo Kiev providing any significant threat, much less Russian newcomers Rubin Kazan, despite their success in winning the Russian league. Unfortunately for Rangers, groups G and H appear to be just as straight-forward and predictable. Although Sevilla are odds-on favourites to claim first place in Group G, there is a chance that VFB Stuttgart could continue the recent German tradition and perform disastrously in the group stages, thereby allowing Rangers to go through in second place. However it appears the Europa League is the most likely destination for the Scottish champions, with first-time Romanian qualifiers Unirea Urziceni almost certain to finish last. Finally Group H is, at least on paper, the easiest draw of all; Arsenal will have the chance to pit their youngsters against the combined talents of Olympiacos, Standard Liege and AZ Alkmaar, in what should prove to be a mostly uneventful sequence of games. Olympiacos, thanks to their experience of the Champions League are probably the most likely to follow Arsenal through.

In terms of the knock-out stages it is impossible pass comment on what will happen until the draw is made on December 19th. However, predicting the quarter and semi-final participants should be slightly easier. Obviously depending on the draw, and the possibility of the English sides being pitched against each other, it would be reasonable to suggest that all four sides should make the quarter-finals at least. In terms of the other four sides, Spanish giants Barcelona and big-spending Real Madrid will almost certainly take part, as well as dark-horses Inter Milan and anyone from Bayern Munich, Juventus and AC Milan. Other potential candidates are Atlético Madrid, Porto, Lyon, Fiorentina and Sevilla, who could stand to benefit from any failure by English sides, if it were to occur. Any semi-final predictions must be made on the premise that the first-round and quarter-final draws are favourable for the participants, yet based simply on the quality of players available, there is a strong possibility that the four sides contesting the semi-finals will be Inter Milan, Barcelona, Real Madrid and Chelsea. Of these Chelsea, along with Real Madrid look to be favourites, on the premise that Real’s signings are able to gel sufficiently in time and Chelsea don’t suffer inordinately from their transfer ban. However Barcelona have a similar chance of reaching the final for a second year, assuming Ibrahimović can score the crucial goals Eto’o was able to. Current odds appear to support this conclusion, with Barcelona favourites at 4/1, Real Madrid 9/2 and Chelsea 6/1. Whilst Inter Milan are behind both Manchester United and Arsenal, they are a good outside bet at 12/1 if Mourinho can enable his players to face up to the threat posed by the English sides.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The ‘red-haired one’ and the resurgence of synth pop

In the past ten months or so we have witnessed a stream of 80’s inspired artists representing the ‘synth pop’ genre made famous by the Human League and Depeche Mode amongst others. At the forefront of this ‘revival of sorts’ are La Roux, made up of androgynous lead singer Elly Jackson and “anonymous machine operator” Ben Langmaid. Their name means, in slightly-inaccurate French, the ‘red-haired one’, and despite being a fully fledged band La Roux can frequently appear to be a solo act thanks to the attention afforded Jackson in the band’s videos and live performances. Their first single ‘Quicksand’ was released on December 15th last year, yet it failed to break the UK Top 100, peaking at a disappointing #153. However since the advent of 2009 La Roux have become increasingly more popular and their debut album La Roux has sold over 200,000 copies in Britain, whilst reaching #2 in the charts. It has received mostly positive reviews from critics and a nomination for the prestigious Mercury Music Prize, but does it live up to the hype?

The album’s opener is their breakthrough UK single ‘in For The Kill’ which, according to Jackson is about “about telling someone how you feel regardless of what you get back, and not waiting to find out if they want you or not”. The song charges at you with some considerable force from its first beat and features a simple repeated rhythm accompanied by Jackson’s ferocious delivery of what seems to be a statement of deadly intent. The catchy nature of the melody and sing along lyrics make it instantly memorable even on first listen, even more so alongside the “Blade Runner meets Top Gear” video. However, whilst her “shrill and synthetic sounding” vocals may appeal to some, once the shock value has faded they unfortunately become rather difficult to appreciate. ‘Tigerlily’ which according to Jackson shows ‘a nice other side’ to the band, features a “Thriller-style world bridge” plus dark, threatening lyrics. Described as when ‘she [Jackson] gets all stalkerish’ and inspired, as with the remainder of the album, by a “traumatic” five year relationship that didn’t work out, it certainly stands out. Next up is their debut ‘Quicksand’, which if re-released would almost certainly claim a place in the Top 10. It combines early 80’s-style hooks with “frosty soulfulness to give the song's obsession a shot of excitement”. Bulletproof, the band’s first UK number one, came across on first listen as a weak effort, with a lazy, meaningless chorus backed by a jazzy rhythm aiming to cover up for it’s deficiencies. Whilst Jackson has admitted it can be “whatever you want it to be about”, the music, a “bright, bouncy slice of Yazoo-ish electro pop”, easily makes up for the lyrical shortcomings and lack of any definitive meaning.

The rest of the album crucially maintains for the most part the consistent nature of the first four tracks, as it would be easy for listeners to lose interest having already heard the three singles. ‘Colourless Colour’ features, for the first time on the album Jackson’s far more bearable lower register delivering a seemingly anachronistic reference to “early nineties décor”. ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ manages to impressively combine a calypso flick and jaunty rhythm with lyrics detailing an apparently unrequited love ‘returned’ just for show. ‘Cover My Eyes’ provides the album’s most emotional and poignant moment, with Jackson’s tale of rejection, heartbreak and jealousy echoed by the London Community Gospel Choir, to in the words of NME’s Luke Turner, “curiously hymnal effect”. ‘As If By Magic’ sees Jackson lamenting her position and wishing to be ‘the one’, using wishes and daydreams as armour against further heartache”. ‘Fascination’ shares the energy and dance floor appeal of ‘Bulletproof’ and ‘in For The Kill’ yet is unfortunately let down by lyrics more akin to Girls Aloud in terms of simplicity and meaninglessness. ‘Reflections Are Protections’ is filled with “chilly oddness” and features a seemingly intentionally stiff sound whilst reflecting on the mistakes of the past, learning from them and moving forward in a clear direction. The penultimate track features murky synth sounds, strong bass and heavy drum beats that strangely complement Jackson’s pleasant vocals and desperate plea not be left alone. The album’s closer ‘Growing Pains’ confirms something that had become noticeable in the preceding few tracks, that Jackson’s voice begins to bear similarities to that of Lily Allen, as does the song’s subject matter.

The album is a strong first effort and manages the difficult feat being a unique, yet familiar and for the most part, catchy yet not to the point of irritation. Perhaps it is just a personal opinion, but Jackson’s constant references to failed relationships, unfulfilled romances, unrequited love and jealousy do begin to take their toll after a while. Hopefully she will be able to find a different source of lyrical inspiration for the next album. Although that’s not to say the lyrics are weak, as Jackson is able to effectively convey her emotions, which makes them very easy to relate to. Possibly because of the dearth of talent in the charts at the current time, or the media’s usual habit of building a potential star up just so they can knock them down, La Roux have been significantly hyped up, possibly a little too much. Whilst the way in which the songs are delivered is original and impressive, the band’s synth pop style most certainly isn’t. Although the majority of reviews will concentrate on the headline-grabbing singles, there are a number of other key tracks, namely the stand-out ‘Cover My Eyes’, ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ and ‘Tigerlily’. Jackson herself has stated that Depeche Mode, and particularly the Speak and Spell era, were one of the inspirations behind the album. If La Roux were able to mature in a similar way they may well earn even greater plaudits.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The expenses scandal – who do MPs think they are?

The scandal surrounding expenses unleashed a whirlwind of public fury and outrage as it illustrated for the first time the true extent to which MPs are willing to abuse both their positions and the trust afforded to them by the general public. It is quite probable that the reputation of MPs has been permanently besmirched and that the public will never truly be able to trust the people they vote to represent their views. No matter how many times MPs state that they ‘acted appropriately’ the expenses issue will never be forgotten about. Not only were many of the claims outrageous but they revealed the sad truth that MPs are completely out-of-touch with the people they are elected by, and the lengths to which they will go in order to squeeze every last drop out of the system.

When the Daily Telegraph began publishing details of MPs expenses in May, they would surely have foreseen the reaction amongst the general public. Feeling understandably angry and betrayed it was a metaphorical ‘slap in the face’ of the highest order that from the point of view of the economy could not have come at a worse time. Whilst ordinary Britons struggled to pay of mortgages, repossessions soared, and the purchase of everyday essentials became more and more difficult greedy, self-obsessed, blissfully unaware MPs were gladly shoving their snouts firmly into the trough without any regard for the people whose money they were wasting. Thankfully the level of public anger has meant that more than thirty MPs have stepped down since details of expenses were first revealed on May 8th. Indeed the case of Ian Gibson, Labour MP for Norwich North, who was barred from standing for re-election by a Labour disciplinary panel, is a victory for the just and fair use of parliamentary allowances. Mr Gibson had claimed nearly £80,000 for mortgage interest and bills on his second home in West London, which he subsequently sold to his daughter and her partner for well below market value. It seems therefore that it is not just integrity and morals Mr Gibson lacks, he is clearly an extremely ineffectual businessman! Yet whilst he very kindly offered to stand down if his constituents so wished, it is insulting that, according to his constituency chairman Martin Booth, “he did not think he had done anything to stand down for”. It’s a similar story for the other three MPs banned from standing for re-election. For example, Margaret Moran had the misfortunate to learn that her ‘designated second home’ over a hundred miles away in Southampton was suffering from dry-rot. At least her sorrow was alleviated by the very generous, yet unwitting donation of £22,500 from her Luton South constituents which ultimately resolved the issue. The highest-profile casualty of the expenses row was former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, who saw fit to leave her position in June. The damaging report showed her expenses claim to have included two adult movies watched by her husband, creating a media whirlwind and a crisis of confidence in Ms. Smith that ultimately proved too much for her. At least now she will have more time to spend with her husband, exploring his obvious passion for films and cinema. Perhaps they can create a blockbuster of their own.

One of the focal points of the expenses scandal, at least in my view, is the way it showed MPs at their worst; greedy, completely out-of-touch and incredibly selfish. It also seems that MPs nowadays are different from ordinary people. Many seem to believe that having two letters after their names affords them the right to live by a different moral code and escape criticism by ‘denying any wrongdoing’. I’m sure that the public would gladly afford many of these MPs many more letters after their names now. Whilst the majority of people are perfectly satisfied with ownership of one property, it seems Alan and Ann Keen are slightly different; it was alleged that they had claimed £137,679 between them towards a flat in London just ten miles from their main home in Brentford, Mr Keen’s constituency. The claim of Ruth Kelly MP for £31,000 of taxpayers’ money due to flood damage in her constituency home seems to be a fair use of the system, until it emerges that the property in question was in fact covered under a buildings insurance policy at the time. Hazel Blears’ greed is particularly shocking taking into account that she managed to claim for three different properties in a single year, whilst spending £5,000 of taxpayers’ money on furniture. Yet all of these examples pale into insignificance in the face of the unspeakable greed by Conservative MPs who merely exacerbate the stereotype of the ‘old Tory’. Claiming for as much as £2,000 to clear a moat and for the maintenance of a helipad certainly suggest that Conservative MPs fundamentally believe they are outside the law, and invulnerable to criticism. Quite simply MPs do not live on the same planet as the rest of us; they are completely aloof and seem to be willing to take from their hard-working constituents until they have nothing left to give. My question therefore is; how can these people ever represent us?

Although looking at this issue from a different angle, maybe it’s not the MPs that are to blame? Perhaps if we were put into their position and given an allowance to claim for expenses “wholly, exclusively and necessarily incurred for the performance of a Member’s parliamentary duties” we would abuse it in a similar fashion? Thanks to the revelations regarding MPs expenses the issue of reforming the allowances system has been brought forward and is very much in the public consciousness at this current time. According to the ‘Green Book’ which lays out the principles governing Members’ allowances, MPs “are provided with financial support in the form of allowances to enable them to work effectively in Parliament and in their constituencies”. These allowances provide support for staffing expenditure, administrative and office expenditure, additional accommodation expenditure, communications expenditure, house stationary and postage and travel expenditure. The rules also state that “members who are contemplating incurring an expense which is large or unusual, or who are uncertain about any allowance, should contact the Department beforehand for advice”. Despite the clarity of this message it appears MPs have become complacent over the years and begun to push the rules to the limit. I very much doubt that cutting back hedges around a helipad counts as reasonable ‘house stationary and postage’ expenditure. Currently there is no outside body to regulate MPs expenses, and they are expected to judge themselves what constitutes a reasonable claim, according to the House of Commons’ Code of Conduct for Members of Parliament. The Code states clearly that “members shall at all times ensure that their use of expenses, allowances, facilities and services provided from the public purse is strictly in accordance with the rules laid down on these matters” and that they “shall at all times conduct themselves in a manner which will tend to maintain and strengthen the public's trust and confidence in the integrity of Parliament”. It is clear that these ‘rules’ are not being observed and the reason for this is that it is almost a fantasy to think that MPs could possibly regulate their own activities in a system that practically encourages greed. The use of words such as ‘selflessness’, ‘integrity’, ‘accountability’, ‘openness’ and ‘honesty’ in the Code of Conduct almost acts as a concise guide to what is missing from our MPs. It certainly seems that very few of the above expenses claims have been made in the public interest, a phrase consistently used throughout the Code of Conduct.

It is clear therefore that the system must be reformed; MPs cannot continue ‘regulating themselves’, i.e. making unjust and inappropriate claims on expenses knowing that they will not suffer the consequences. Although MPs have been quick to criticise their counterparts and absolve themselves from blame, as well as suggesting ‘urgent’ reforms to the system, Commons leader Harriet Harman’s claim that moving from self to external regulation was necessary for “reparation and reassurance” following the expenses row is spot on. The creation of a new Parliamentary Standards Authority with sufficient authority to punish those that err from the path of honest usage of allowances cannot come soon enough. This would be effective even if it were merely acting as a deterrent, finally placing some form of limit on MPs. Yet it seems that whilst the creation of the Parliamentary Standards Authority provides a victory of sorts for the outraged general public, it has been severely watered down on its passage though parliament. Changes to the original proposals include the rejection of powers to instruct errant MPs to repay allowances, deletion of a clause explicitly excluding the Lords from the Parliamentary Standards Act and the defeat of a proposed legally binding code of conduct for many aspects of MPs’ behaviour.

Whether any real change will come about through the creation of the Parliamentary Standards Authority remains to be seen; in the same vein it is impossible to predict whether or not MPs will renounce their previous ways and act in a manner appropriate of their positions. However the expenses revelations have been a necessary ‘shock to the system’ for the both Members of Parliament and the general public. Perhaps we should have been more vigilant, and kept watch on MPs as if they were our children. After all it has been our money they’ve happily squandered. Yet when all aspects of the expenses debate are taken into account, MPs cannot shoulder the blame alone. The system they were operating within was one that encouraged its Members to take and disregard the consequences of their actions. Although a number of MPs showed unspeakable greed and self-centredness, many chose to abide by the rules and operate in a perfectly fair and correct manner. Hopefully the changes brought about this summer will force the creation a new culture of ‘honesty’, ‘integrity’ and ‘accountability’ rather than simply hoping for it to emerge.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

England – One hand on the cup already?

Although the headlines will be predictably jingoistic, horrendously over-optimistic and foolishly lauding Fabio Capello’s England side as the greatest since 1996, as well as being favourites to win the World Cup in South Africa next summer, this shouldn’t detract from what was a very impressive performance. Although the so-called ‘Wally with a Brolly’ was comprehensively outwitted by Slaven Bilic and his England side outdone by their Croatian counterparts, under Capello the tables have well and truly turned. A 5-1 victory, even despite home advantage, against a team that is #9 in the FIFA World Rankings, just 26 points behind England at #7, is most certainly an impressive result. Although the spectre of England flags flying from car windows looms large for the next eleven months or so, along with fans and ‘pundits’ alike praising Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard as ‘one of the greatest midfield partnerships England has ever had’, there are many reasons to be positive. Although admittedly following the abject failure to qualify for the 2008 European Championships any vague improvement would have been cause for tremendous optimism, it seems England are steadily improving. Despite the team’s weak showing against Slovakia on Saturday, the players seem to have developed the ability to up their game when it matters most, and the way in which England attacked the admittedly weakened Croatia side from the first minute is indicative of this.

Aaron Lennon’s inclusion on the right-hand side of midfield in preference to Shaun Wright-Phillips was immediately effective when he was scythed down by Josip Simunic in the area after just seven minutes and the referee pointed to the spot. Lampard emphatically dispatched the penalty into the bottom left-hand corner, and just ten minutes later Lennon’s cross was met by a header from Steven Gerrard, deployed on the left in a free-role of sorts. The selection of Darijo Srna at left-back was a dreadful mistake from Bilic, yet as Kevin McCarra states "it was no fault of the Tottenham Hotspur winger" that a sub-standard Croatian defence was unable to provide him with a proper test. Whilst Glen Johnson’s defensive qualities are regularly called into question, there can no doubts about his attacking potential, and in the 59th minute he sent in a pin-point cross which was met by Lampard for his fifth international goal in just six games. Gerrard added to England's tally with his second header of the night in the sixty-eighth minute from a Rooney cross. Arsenal striker Eduardo took advantage of a period of relative Croatian pressure plus Johnson’s failure to prevent Rakitic’s cross to slot home following a double-save from Robert Green. However England’s four-goal cushion was restored after a disastrous error from the Croatian ‘keeper Runje provided Wayne Rooney with possibly the simplest goal he will ever score. It was a shame for Runje as his mistake blighted what was otherwise a hugely impressive performance. Were it not his numerous interventions, as well Emile Heskey’s lacklustre finishing, the final score would have been dramatically different.

Despite the score line there are a number of areas within the team that need to be addressed, especially in advance of the friendly with Brazil on November 14th, where the defensive side of Glen Johnson’s game will be given a significantly more extensive work-out. Although the impressive result and emphatic nature of England’s performance will likely mask many of the weaknesses in the side, Emile Heskey’s form will be of great interest to Capello. As Kevin McCarra of the Guardian observes “there are those who are finding it ever more insufferable that Heskey should be the striker”, and the combination of Jermaine Defoe’s lethal Premier League record of late and Heskey’s failure to convert any of the handful of chances afforded to him will have only exacerbated the problem. Indeed if England must play with a ‘target-man’ alongside Wayne Rooney there are many who believe it should be Peter Crouch, as he undoubtedly offers far more in terms of goal-scoring. Indeed Heskey has only managed a return of seven goals in fifty-six England appearances, whilst John Terry, from centre-back, has contributed six goals in fifty-four games. It is also debatable as to whether a side such as Spain, Brazil, France or Germany, whom England would need to overcome in order to progress to the latter stages of the World Cup, would afford Steven Gerrard the type of freedom he received courtesy of the Croatians. Gareth Barry’s relative international inexperience is also an issue, as he had hardly been tested by any of the teams in England’s World Cup Qualification Group prior to the Croatia game, and still hasn't been. However it appears the recurring issue of the England goalkeeper’s position may be no more, with Robert Green affording the back four a sense of stability that was undoubtedly lacking with both Scott Carson and Paul Robinson.

The headlines tomorrow will be full of praise for England’s performance and rightly so, yet there will be many more tests to come for Fabio Capello and his players. However the ease with which the team has qualified for South Africa means that the last few group games can be used to ‘iron out’ the faults and alleviate the fierce competition for places within the squad. In the words of Peter Fraser of Sky Sports, England “under Capello, know exactly where they are going” and have come a long way from the abject failure of Steve McLaren's tenure to score nine goals in two games “against a Croatia team they were not expected to finish above when the draw was made”.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

University – is it worth what we pay, and if fees increase, will it ever be?

As a university student this question is of particular interest to me, as it should be to everyone given the fact that Britain is in the midst of a significant economic downturn. With both universities and students looking for value for money it appears the two will soon collide, with potentially disastrous results for higher education in this country, and those wishing to enter it. Currently fees are capped at £3,145 per year, meaning that completion of a three-year course at a British university would cost £9,435, which not only places a burden on the majority of families but the students themselves. The inconvenient truth is that already potential students from working-class backgrounds have taken a smaller share of places at universities since the introduction of tuition fees in 2006. Those that have been able to attend university will likely be left feeling ripped-off, especially if they study a subject such as English or History. Many students feel that there should not be a flat rate for tuition fees, and that other aspects should be taken into account, such as the average number of contact hours each course provides and the actual amount it costs the university to run it. On this basis a second-year English student with just five or six contact hours per week would feel extremely hard done by, especially considering the cost involved in the purchase of course books and other necessary material. On the other hand a Pharmacy student would be far more satisfied paying over £3000 for more than thirty contact hours per week. Whilst most students can understand that fees are necessary in order to keep universities running and provide the type of education they feel is appropriate, it is the way in which universities disregard the needs and views of students on this issue, and are seemingly unaware of the pressure students are put under financially that creates a problem. A student graduating in 2011 can expect to be burdened with over £17,000 worth of debt, with the figure rising to £23,000 for those finishing just a year later in 2012, as well as huge difficulty in finding suitable employment, especially in the current economic climate. Yet it seems vice-Chancellors are conveniently ignoring these facts.

Seeing as the increase in university attendance over the last few years has come about to a large extent due to the Labour government encouraging more people into higher education, many current and potential students take a dim view of the proposed fee increases. Indeed a report by Universities UK (UUK) predicts that raising tuition fees from £3000 to £5000 a year would not put students off higher education and would in fact maintain the status quo, merely making it significantly more expensive. Although UUK has given the go-ahead to raising fees, it seems to be, along with the government ignoring the fact that this potential rise would mean students graduating in 2016 would have to pay back over £32,000, almost double the amount for 2011 graduates. University vice-Chancellors have long argued for a ‘sharp increase in tuition fees’, aiming at between £4,000 and £20,000 per year. Two thirds of vice-chancellors want the current cap on tuition fees to be raised whilst more than half wanted fees of at least £5,000 or more, or for there to be no upper limit. The National Union of Students has understandably reacted angrily to the proposed increases, with President Wes Streeting pointing out that “in the context of the current recession it is extremely arrogant for university vice-chancellors to be fantasising about charging their students even higher fees and plunging them into over £32,000 worth of debt”. It appears then that university vice-chancellors are seriously out-of-touch with the views of ordinary students, who are merely attempting to gain an education and complete further study in the hope that it will enable them to have a successful future career and enter whatever profession they wish.

When asked vice-Chancellors suggested a wide range of figures for tuition fees, with £6,500 the average amount. They claim that due to spiralling operating costs fee rises are essential, yet fail to realise that if university fees were raised to £7,000 per year then students from low-income families would be discouraged, thereby re-enforcing the type of class barriers New Labour set out to remove. It seems therefore that gaining a university education is fast becoming a privilege for the few, ill-reflecting the working situation within this country. Over the past few years it has become almost impossible to gain employment with sufficient prospects without a degree. By increasing fees to the levels talked about the government would be essentially betraying itself; destroying the educational system it helped to create and leaving a generation to suffer the consequences of its actions. The fact that some institutions, such as the University of Reading have seen fit to close departments that aren’t cost efficient shows that the gap between what the government and universities are saying and what they are doing is growing sharply. Ministers may want 50% of young people to be in higher education, but the figure will only drop from the current 43% level if fees are allowed to spiral out of control. An increase to between £5000 and £7000 will hit middle-class families, many of which fall outside the boundary of government support, hardest and will mean, in the words of NUS President Wes Streeting that “many more people from poorer backgrounds will be forced to conclude that they simply cannot afford to go to university at all”. At least then they won’t have to consider whether or not a particular course offers them sufficient value for money.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Suede - the forgotten geniuses

With all the media frenzy and hysteria surrounding Blur and Oasis and the ‘Battle of Britpop’ in the 1990s one could easily be lead to believe that there were few other noteworthy acts during this period. Whilst bands such as Radiohead, Pulp and Supergrass, despite being overshadowed by the ‘big two’, remain extremely popular, there is one band everybody seems to have forgotten about. The band in question is Suede, for me one of the most under-appreciated of all time, only truly understood by a comparatively small and devoted fan base. Tragic underdogs, beautifully imperfect, Suede are a band that can never be copied.

Their debut album, the imaginatively titled Suede, was on its release in 1993 the fastest selling debut album in British history, and it is often credited with starting the ‘Britpop’ movement. Although the term ‘Britpop’ was coined by the media and essentially used to help sell albums released by British artists in the 1990s, and in actual fact Suede’s music was at times the antithesis of ‘Britpop’, this illustrates the impact the album had. Suede had been described as ‘the best new band in Britain’ by Melody Maker magazine without having released a single, yet the hype was well and truly justified. Suede is one of the finest albums to have come out of the ‘Britpop’ era, including in the words of Stephen Erlewine of Allmusic, “effortlessly catchy, crunching glam hooks” as well as “grand, darkly romantic soundscapes” which are brought to life through Brett Anderson’s Bowie-esque vocals that perfectly complement the poetic nature of his lyrics.

The crowning moment of Suede, and possibly the band’s entire career, is the flawless ‘Animal Nitrate’. Although there is some confusion over the exact meaning of the lyrics, the name relates to a drug ‘amyl nitrate’ which was popular within the gay community, and the song appears to tell the story of incestual homosexual abuse taking place within a working class family living in council housing. This was Anderson’s great strength, being able to eloquently express the realities of life in Britain, to describe what it felt like to be young and imperfect; it is no surprise therefore that Suede’s lyrics struck a chord with many people at the time and continue to do so. Although Suede was credited with starting the ‘Britpop movement’ it is far removed from the upbeat ‘Cool Britannia’ style of later albums such as Parklife and Definitely Maybe.

Suede was an exercise in urban misery; ‘Sleeping Pills’, allegedly written by Anderson whilst doing voluntary work at a community centre in Highgate, features harrowing and moving lyrics combined with an ethereal tone and desperate vocals. The majority of Suede’s lyrics were influenced by personal and highly emotional experiences in Anderson’s life. ‘The Next Life’ was a lament to his lost mother, and one of the album’s most ambitious recordings, whilst ‘Breakdown’ dealt with a slide into depression. ‘So Young’ was inspired by his girlfriend’s overdose and ‘She’s Not Dead’ described the joint suicide of Anderson’s aunt and her clandestine lover. It’s hard to imagine a more personal group of songs, yet Anderson was still able to describe these events with a deeply poetic style, whilst ensuring Butler’s grand melodies weren’t overshadowed by the emotion within the lyrics.

Suede may have fulfilled the Melody Maker prophecy, yet it was Dog Man Star that showcased Suede’s soaring ambition. John Harris of NME stated that it was “surrounded by the white heat of something close to genius” and it’s easy to see why. Opener ‘Introducing the Band’ appears at first glance surreal and dark, yet it is merely the precursor for what follows. It was undoubtedly Suede’s least commercial album, far removed from the 1996 sequel Coming Up, and almost all of their contemporaries. As Anderson commented, Britpop had become "horribly twisted, a musical Carry On film" and it seems that Dog Man Star was created precisely because of this. “You could not find a less Britpop record” added Anderson, “It's tortured, epic, extremely sexual and personal. None of those things apply to Britpop”.

Anderson’s desperate plea in ‘Heroine’ seems very personal indeed, almost an acceptance of the drug problems that blighted him during this period. Ten-minute long ‘Asphalt World’ continues this theme, sounding like a rock opera and exploring the effects of ecstasy in a hazy, grandiose style. Opening single ‘We Are the Pigs’ detailed squalor and the desperation of city life as only Suede could, whilst ‘The Wild Ones’ remains one of the band’s most endearing and heartwarming songs. ‘Still Life’ is the album’s epic orchestral closer, showing the band at its most ambitious. Despite the melancholic lyrics the song has a triumphant, almost cathartic sound to it. A sublime slice of Suede in their prime, it would unfortunately never be repeated.

Whilst Dog Man Star was tragic in every sense of the word, Coming Up is Suede’s euphoric resurgence and transition into mainstream Britpop. In the words of Stephen Erlewine the album is “spiked with an invigorating sense of self-belief” and is ‘a remarkable consolidation and crystallisation of Suede’s talents”. Whilst some fans choose to ignore Coming Up in favour of the more critically acclaimed Suede and Dog Man Star, it is very much a strong sequel. It remains Suede’s most commercial album, with five singles released, ‘Trash’, ‘Beautiful Ones’, ‘Saturday Night’, ‘Lazy’ and ‘Filmstar’, all of which reached the Top Ten. It is inconceivable that the departure of Butler would have had no effect upon Suede’s fortunes yet as Erlewine states “Anderson is out to prove he is a survivor” and does so, confirming that he “was always the guiding force behind the band”. ‘By The Sea’ harks back to the stately ballads of their eponymous debut and ‘The Chemistry between us’ comments ironically on the role of drugs in Anderson’s relationships. Songs such as ‘Starcrazy’ and ‘Filmstar’ show Suede as having joined the Britpop party, yet they are still instantly recognisable thanks to Anderson’s vocals. Far from selling out Coming Up illustrates that Suede have moved on and created a separate, post-Butler identity. The swirling, dream-like quality of songs on Dog Man Star remains in ‘Picnic by the Motorway’. It seems that Suede chose to tell a different story on Coming Up. Suede was flooded with sadness and misery, Dog Man Star was grandiose and operatic, and Coming Up was simply a slice of Britpop pleasure, “about celebrating being young, going out, taking drugs, having sex, and living life”.

Coming Up was to be the last Suede album to truly represent the band’s talents, and the follow ups, Head Music in 1999 and A New Morning in 2002 were critically and commercially disappointing. There can be no doubt that Suede lost their way after Coming Up, and to all intents and purpose became a singles band. One could argue that Bernard Butler served as Suede’s quality control on the first two albums, and that without this and the sense of belief displayed by the band on Coming Up, a dip in quality was forthcoming. In spite of this the singles released from Head Music remain credible entries to Suede’s canon, especially the poignant ‘Everything Will Flow’ and the dreamy ‘She’s In Fashion’. Other releases ‘Electricity’ and ‘Can’t Get Enough’ were well received too, showing that the band was still able to produce strong singles. As for the rest of Head Music, ‘Down’ shares the intentions of ‘By The Sea’ and is a charming ballad, ‘Hi-Fi’ provides the album’s most experimental point and ‘Indian Strings’, according to Stephen Erlewine “comes close to capturing the feel” of early Suede. However the album’s weaknesses greatly outweigh its strengths, and the decline continued with A New Morning, which showed the band to be on its last legs; ‘Obsessions’ being one of few worthy parting moments.

It appears unlikely to me that Suede’s legacy will match the artistic value of their work, and in twenty years time most people will have forgotten the names of Brett Anderson and Bernard Butler. Yet I believe them to be one of the great musical partnerships in British music. Anderson the poet, providing a vivid social commentary as well as eloquently describing brutal personal memories and Butler the artist, crafting striking melodies and anthemic singles. Although Suede may be included in future greatest album polls, it will never be as well-known as the albums that surround it. Yet this is what makes the band special. Suede were never meant to be popular, to break America or to have legions on fans singing their choruses. They were always meant to inspire a select few. It’s just a shame that Anderson and Butler were unable to work together for a sufficient amount of time to live up to their full potential, and that bitter internal disputes nearly destroyed the band, and went on to cause its eventual decline.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

Oasis split - but is it twelve years too late?

Whilst the ‘Britpop’ party may have ended in 1997, for some it would have taken a single announcement on August 28th 2009, twelve years after the release of Oasis’ disappointing third album Be Here Now, to push the final nail into Britpop’s coffin. Whilst it was predicted and anticipated by many, and it followed years of sibling disputes and infighting, it was still no less dramatic to hear Noel Gallagher state “it’s with some sadness and great relief to tell you that I quit Oasis tonight. People will write and say what they like, but I simply could not go on working with Liam a day longer”.

In a week in which the Beatles’ sublime legacy is being celebrated through the release of their re-mastered back catalogue, Oasis’ end is symptomatic of the situation the band has found itself in since its glorious heyday in the mid-1990s. There can be no doubt that Oasis will be remembered as one of the front-runners of the ‘Britpop revolution’, and there will be few attempting to deny that both Definitely Maybe and (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? are albums deserving of high critical acclaim. However much of the music produced by Oasis since has been of questionable quality when compared with their previous work. Somebody once said to me that if the Gallagher brothers were to have died in a car accident prior to releasing Be Here Now, it would have afforded them a far greater legacy as they would have been taken in their prime, having hit their creative peak and transformed Oasis into the biggest band in Britain.

Yet by the turn of the century, and the release of the inappropriately-titled Standing on the Shoulder of Giants, Oasis were quite clearly a band that had run out of ideas. As Neil McCormick states “their moment came and went” and “musically they have been treading water ever since”. This is a fair summation of Oasis’ final years, in which they released four albums aiming to re-capture the energy, sound and essence of Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory. Unlike their contemporaries Blur, Oasis remained staunchly committed to producing the same type of music throughout their existence; McCormick describes Oasis as “nostalgic reactionaries” who “resisted change with a Luddite belligerence”, unlike the “musical revolutionaries” that Noel and Liam so revered. Perhaps if as they claimed, Oasis had been more like the Beatles, they would have embraced a new sound and regained the critical respect that seemed to go missing following the release of Be Here Now.

Yet this is not to say that the post-1997 years saw nothing of any value produced by the band, indeed they were able to release singles of a fairly high quality, with a number of these having been included on the 2006 greatest hits compilation Stop the Clocks, attesting to this view. It seems that the band transferred their ability to create consistent, fresh and vibrant albums to producing singles, as shown by the recent offering the Shock of the Lightning, which was very well received by critics and fans alike, and seen as a throwback to the sound and raw energy of Definitely Maybe. Indeed Heathen Chemistry, released in 2002, can be best thought of as a collection of singles, with Little by Little, The Hindu Times, Songbird and Stop Crying Your Heart Out worthy of Oasis’ reputation, and able to ‘cover up’ for the dearth of quality amongst songs such as (Probably) All in the Mind and Born on a Different Cloud. Yet on the subject of poor quality control, it is Standing on the Shoulder of Giants that will likely be forever thought of as the nadir. Little James, for example, Liam’s sole contribution to the album, is undoubtedly the worst Oasis song ever, due to it containing such lines as ‘live for your toys, even though they make noise’ and ‘have you ever played with plasticine, even tried a trampoline?’ However of all Oasis’ follow-ups to Definitely Maybe and Morning Glory, it has the most to gain from retrospective analysis, as it was so poorly received at the time of its release, and actually contains some worthy material.

Other efforts such as Love Like a Bomb from 2003’s Don’t Believe the Truth and recent To Be Where There’s Life only serve to demonstrate the malaise the band has suffered since Be Here Now. I had the pleasure to see Oasis at Wembley Stadium recently in what turned out to be one of their final gigs, and whilst it satisfied a life ambition for me, it left me longing to have been at Maine Road, to have witnessed the Glastonbury gig, and to have been around at a time when Oasis’ popularity was based on them producing great music, rather than past glories. I will personally remember Oasis as a band that outlived their ability and used up the majority of their creative energy on creating three brilliant musical works, the third of which being the 1998 b-side collection The Masterplan. It’s a sad indictment of Oasis’ inflated sense of self-importance after Morning Glory that if Be Here Now had been subjected to drastic reductions in song length and edited in places it would be regarded more favourably by both critics and fans. It remains to be seen how Oasis will be thought of in fifty years time; but it is likely that most of their work post-Morning Glory will be seen in a far less appreciative light. A shame, seeing that if they had been able to foresee what would eventually come to pass, all the material recorded for the final five albums could have perhaps been reduced to just three albums worth, which may have potentially ensured the band a greater legacy.

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Summer Transfer Window – Was it opened far enough for the English clubs?


This summer’s transfer window was, despite the efforts of Manchester City and its attempted charge towards the Top Four, arguably quite tedious in comparison to previous years. This conclusion is borne out by the figures, with Premier League transfer revenue falling by 10% from £500 million in 2008 to £450 million. Whilst the concept of a ‘marquee signing’ may be rather more suited to Major League Soccer, it is undeniable that Real Madrid has generated considerable interest and excitement with the arrivals of Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo. Both of these can be called, with strong justification, marquee signings, whereas Liverpool’s acquisition of Alberto Aquilani cannot be classified as such, despite having shelled out £17 million. This is because Liverpool has lost a player of both superior quality and reputation in Xabi Alonso to big-spending Real Madrid.

It speaks volumes for the lack of high-profile transfer activity in the English game that four of the five largest fees have been for players arriving at Manchester City, somewhat an anomaly given the presence of their multi-billionaire benefactors, the Abu Dhabi United Group. It remains to be seen whether or not City will be able to dislodge one of the current Premier League top four, yet in terms of transfer activity they are already streets ahead. Champions Manchester United has set about replacing last year’s top scorer of twenty six goals, Cristiano Ronaldo, with Antonio Valencia. Whilst Valencia is a talented and improving player, his total of three goals means the void left by Ronaldo very much remains. Whilst the signing of Michael Owen isn't a gamble in financial terms thanks to a £70,000 a week 'pay-as-you-play' contract, he is very much an unknown quantity with regards to fitness, pace and goal scoring potential. Certainly it is not clear whether or not Owen will prove a worthy replacement for the departed Carlos Tevez in terms of goals, appearances or work-rate. Third-placed Chelsea have made an intelligent signing in the shape of Yuri Zhirkov, for a fee in the region of £17 million, yet he still lacks the star quotient of even a player such as Diego, signed by Juventus this summer from Werder Bremen. In addition it appears that Arsenal is far weaker than last season, having lost Kolo Touré and Emmanuel Adebayor to Manchester City.

Judging by the evidence it seems that some English clubs may struggle to reach the same heights as they have managed in the last few years. We shouldn’t be surprised to see the last four places in the Champions League occupied by teams such as last year’s winners Barcelona, Real Madrid and Inter Milan. This summer’s transfer deadline day was indicative of the window as a whole, with only a handful of notable transfers completed. These included Niko Kranjcar’s move from Portsmouth to Tottenham that will reunite him with former boss Harry Redknapp, Richard Dunne’s acquisition by Aston Villa, and Jonny Heitinga arriving at Everton from Atlético Madrid. Last year the world was marvelling at Manchester City’s attempts to hijack Manchester United’s bid to sign Dimitar Berbatov, and their eventual swoop for Brazil international Robinho for a record £32 million.

However the lack of signings amongst the top four this summer does mean that the Premier League avoids the type of situation seen in La Liga, whereby transfer spending has been essentially monopolised by Barcelona and Real Madrid, with only three other clubs having spent more than €5 million on a single player. Real’s summer spending stands at €268 million, Barcelona’s at just under €125 million. This means of Spain’s headline-grabbing summer expenditure of €472 million, just €79 million of this was spent by clubs outside the ‘big two’. In England clubs such as Sunderland have splashed out over £30 million on several players, despite finishing 16th last season. Others such as Tottenham have been able to spend a similar amount, albeit with aspirations to finish in the top six.

There is no guarantee that money will provide success, and there will be many clubs in Europe hoping that Real Madrid’s stars fail to gel and underperform in the Champions League, yet the view that English clubs have slightly ‘missed out’ this summer prevails. Arsenal star Andrey Arshavin has warned of an “exodus” from the Premier League, and whilst there is currently no evidence to support this assertion, it is clear that the Premier League has lost out to La Liga in the transfer race. The question remains as to whether English clubs will lose out to their Spanish counterparts in European competitions.