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It’s ok to like Fantasy Football

Screen Shot 2015-07-22 at 21.23.29Someone on Twitter was moaning earlier about people who are happy when a player scores – even against the team they support – because they have them in their Fantasy Football team. I can’t find it now but this, from a Spurs fan, isn’t far off:

For those who enjoy moaning (and it’s obvious they do when it’s the summer and no-one in their right mind is thinking about Fantasy Football), it’s the latest symptom of the ills of modern football. It’s too easy to watch football, grounds are a bit too nice, fans don’t stab each other as much anymore. And people find consolation in Sergio Aguero scoring against them because they captained him this week. Football, it’s gone to the dogs.

Except it hasn’t. Because it’s meant to be a bit of fun, you can’t pick a Fantasy team consisting entirely of your own team’s players. That means you care a little more than you would about how other teams are doing. No big deal.

Besides, sometimes you can be pleased if a player scores, for other reasons – you had two quid on Berahino first goalscorer; you’re playing United and the thought of Robin van Persie scoring fills you with mortal fear, so much so that Rooney scoring is almost a relief.

You’re not happy, but it’s a sweetener. And so it is with Fantasy Football. Four points here, three points there, it all adds up. No need to get worked up.

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Economic migrants aren’t refugees

Blogger Left Outside has published an interesting piece arguing against drawing a distinction between refugees and economic migrants:

Every refugee finds themselves thinking “how do I improve my situation?” and the answer usually concerns safety, but often also concern economics.

It’s right to point out the multitude of complex reasons behind migration. As far as they choose the country in which they seek sanctuary, refugees often base their decision on things like language, family ties and economics, and I agree that there’s nothing wrong with this.

Similarly, refugees aren’t uniformly destitute or likely to put their lives in the hands of people traffickers. Many of the Syrians who have claimed asylum in the UK have been able to do so because they could afford to fly here; and many others were able to flee to neighbouring countries where they owned properties.

But it is wrong to suggest that, because economic migrants and refugees share some motivations, they are the same. After all, the primary reason a refugee leaves a country is due to war or persecution – the same cannot be said for any other type of migration. We don’t need a UN agency to identify tailors in Senegal and help them resettle in Italy. Economic migrants aren’t refugees and our approach to them should be different.

In a world without open borders, the refugee-economic migrant distinction is needed: the notion of refugeehood is not (just) an ideal, as Left Outside states, but a legal classification that gives those fleeing persecution some protection from the whims of European immigration policy.

What blurs the distinction is that we see both refugees and economic migrants on the boats sinking in the Med – so we need to be more tolerant and have a more open approach to both. For one thing, that means allowing safe and legal ways for people – regardless of their reason for migrating – to get to Europe.

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What do the manifestos say about immigration detention?

Last month, the report of the parliamentary inquiry into immigration detention was published. After an eight month inquiry the panel, made up of MPs and peers of all parties, recommended that there should be a 28 day time limit on the length of time anyone can be held in immigration detention. They also called for a presumption in favour of community-based alternatives to detention. The full report is available here.

This week has seen the publication of all the major parties’ manifestos, so it’s a good opportunity to see what each party would do about indefinite detention:

Conservatives

There is no mention of detention in the Conservatives’ manifesto.

Theresa May did announce a review, led by Stephen Shaw, of detainees’ welfare and conditions in detention in February. She has also asked Shaw to consider the inquiry’s recommendations. Conservative panel member David Burrowes also wrote this piece for ConservativeHome.

Greens

The Greens say they would:

Ensure that no prospective immigrant is held in detention. As a matter of urgency, the administrative detention of children and pregnant women should end immediately.

This appears to suggest they would not use detention at all. It’s not clear if failed asylum seekers or foreign national offenders are covered by the term “prospective immigrant”.

Labour

Labour have pledged to end indefinite detention. Their manifesto states:

We will end the indefinite detention of people in the asylum and immigration system, ending detention for pregnant women and those who have been the victims of sexual abuse or trafficking.

This was announced by Yvette Cooper last month. The Guardian at the time reported that the time limit would not apply to “those who have committed criminal offences and were being deported because of their criminal behaviour, or those who posed a threat to UK national security or public safety.”

Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats say in their manifesto that they would ‘end unnecessary detention’:

Liberal Democrats would end indefinite detention for immigration purposes, and use community-based alternatives instead.

It’s right to deport people who don’t have the right to be in the UK, and sometimes that requires holding them temporarily in a detention centre first. But locking people up has gone too far. Routinely detaining immigrants and asylum seekers indefinitely is a waste of time, resources and taxpayers’ money, and has a terrible effect on the physical and mental health of those detained.

Plaid Cymru

Nothing in their manifesto. In February, the BBC reported that Plaid Cymru would “lobby the Westminster government to ensure that they shut ‘detention’ centres.”

Scottish National Party

The SNP manifesto has not yet been published.

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Do search and rescue operations encourage more people to cross the Mediterranean?

Standing on a tiny North African fishing boat – known as TO6411 – in London’s South Docks Marina a couple of years ago, I tried to imagine what it had been like for the 36 migrants who had travelled in it across the Mediterranean to the Italian island of Lampedusa. Only a few of us could stand on the deck before it started taking on water, and UK authorities decided it could only safely hold eight people. It wasn’t too hard to imagine the Mediterranean swallowing up this rickety vessel and all those onboard. That this hadn’t happened, and that artist Lucy Wood had subsequently sailed it all the way to London, was astonishing.

I thought about TO6411 when the Government announced last year that it would no longer support search and rescue operations in the Mediterranean. They had created an “unintended ‘pull factor'”, one minister said, encouraging more migrants and refugees to risk their lives to get to Europe.

On the face of it, that made sense – 3,500 migrants died crossing the Med in 2014, compared to around 700 in 2013. James Brokenshire, the Immigration Minister, was right to point out that Italy’s Mare Nostrum rescue teams – introduced after the 2013 Lampedusa tragedy that claimed 359 lives – were being called nearer and nearer to Libyan waters. Libya is the main point of departure for those fleeing conflict and persecution in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa and, increasingly, Libya itself. This trend indicated that the introduction of the Mare Nostrum operation at the end of 2013 had encouraged more people to risk their lives.

There is significant uncertainty here, and the Government’s explanation – that the promise of likely rescue was incentivising behaviour we would want to discourage – sounded plausible. But it failed to account for the escalation of conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and the increasingly precarious situation for the millions of refugees in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. So far no-one has been able to provide a conclusive causal delineation for Med migration, allowing this kind of explanation to take root. At best, the Government looked like it was groping around in the dark; at worst, that it was willing to allow migrants to drown to put others off.

Even with Mare Nostrum in place, thousands drowned last year. We can therefore reasonably assume those making the crossing are willing to risk their lives to get to Europe.

What’s happened since the withdrawal of Mare Nostrum sadly reflects this: in the first quarter of 2015, nearly 500 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean. This weekend alone, nearly 6,000 people were rescued. Since the Government stopped support for search and rescue, more migrants have tried to cross the Mediterranean, and more have died doing so. 2015 is on course to see a record number of people drown in the Med.

In contrast to Mare Nostrum (which had one purpose – to prevent death), the EU’s new Triton border patrol has fewer vessels and only acts when there is immediate danger close to Europe’s coast. It’s becoming clear that many more of the 200,000 rescued last year would have drowned had it not been for Mare Nostrum. That’s why Médecins Sans Frontières have announced they are funding a new search and rescue mission to fill some of the gap that has been left.

Ultimately, politicians in the UK and EU alike are trying to solve a problem having ruled out the solution: the provision of safe and legal routes into Europe. The UK has offered resettlement to just 143 Syrians. Last month, the European Commissioner for Migration, Dimitris Avramopoulos, tried and failed to get agreement from EU ministers to establish centres in North Africa and the Middle East to apply for refugee status and resettlement in Europe from third countries.

With no end to the conflicts and violence in Syria and Iraq in sight, and instability increasing in other parts of the Middle East and Africa, the pursuit of policies to maintain ‘Fortress Europe’ by limiting resettlement opportunities and minimising rescue missions in the Mediterranean will only end one way.

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In defence of football ticket prices

Everyone’s in agreement: something must be done about the price of football. As someone who regularly spends up to £90 to watch my beloved Arsenal, I’m instinctively sympathetic with those who want football to be more affordable. 

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Photo via Guardian Witness

The argument is well-rehearsed so I don’t need to repeat it at length: hard-pressed fans who make English football what it is are being asked to fork out increasingly ridiculous sums to watch their team play. Meanwhile, clubs are charging ever higher prices whilst seeing their incomes balloon from new TV deals.

The consensus is that things need to change, and cutting ticket prices for fans seems like a much worthier way of using extra TV money than inflating agents’ fees or players’ wages further.

While the frustration is understandable, it’s not just ticket prices that have increased in the last few years – attendances have too. If ticket prices are too high, why are Premier League grounds around the country full – or nearly full – every week?

Admittedly, a Gooner unhappy with £90 tickets won’t go to watch Brentford for £27 instead: you can’t watch Arsenal at Griffin Park. But most Premier League games are available in some form or another on the internet. Despite this, each week the 60,000 seats at the Emirates are all sold.

In this context, it’s unclear to me what the correct pricing level should be, but if tickets are too expensive fans should stop buying them – clubs would soon respond by reducing prices.

Otherwise, a cap on prices is needed – imposed by the FA or the Government. There are some issues with doing that.

Although I’d like to pay less to see Arsenal, I’m also grateful for the opportunity to get tickets at all, such is the size of the club’s fanbase. Those wanting a season ticket must join a decade-long queue. A meaningful cut in prices would only increase the wait.

I’ve often tried to get tickets for away games, but it’s virtually impossible to get tickets unless you have been to every single game since Arsene Wenger took over. You could also travel without a ticket and take your chances with a tout. Many do it but, call me fairweather, I just don’t fancy taking a week off work to travel to Istanbul and haggle in three different languages with someone to pay 350 Lira for a bit of paper that may or may not get me into a Champions League qualifier that we’ll probably lose. That’s not the fault of ticket prices, and I would be concerned that a dramatic reduction in ticket prices would make it even harder to get a ticket.

Anyone who has been to the Emirates will have noticed the 60,000 seats aren’t filled with 60,000 people. Demand for season tickets is so high people are unwilling to relent theirs even if they can’t actually attend games. It’s weird that people are willing to pay some of the highest ticket prices in the country for the privilege of not actually going to a match, but it happens and it would happen even more if ticket prices were lower.

Of course, Arsenal are a well supported club. For my other team Colchester United, struggling down in League One, it’s hard to imagine such overwhelming demand in response to lower ticket prices. But if the U’s were forced to cut their prices, they would be forgoing income they can ill-afford to lose out on. Would that really be good for the game as a whole? And how would we sign players like Kenny McEvoy if we took £3 off matchday prices?

Ultimately, lower ticket prices aren’t a panacea. The biggest winners would be clubs that don’t have to rely on ticket income – clubs with an owner willing to pour their life’s immense earnings into them. Premier League clubs with their bumper TV deal would also be less affected than those in the Football League.

My other concern is that focussing on ticket prices comes at the expense of other genuine – and easier to solve – problems. Things like safe-standing and game times have a significant impact on the match-going experience. If the Government removed the ban on standing, we could increase capacity at Premier League grounds, reducing prices and improving atmosphere in the process. And if TV executives and the FA cared a bit more about away fans, we wouldn’t have to deal with Arsenal travelling to Manchester on a Monday night when the last train departs during the game.

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Responding to Simon Griffiths: What can the left learn from Friedrich Hayek?

Simon Griffiths, author of Engaging Enemies: Hayek and the left, has written a post on the LSE Politics and Policy blog asking what the left can learn from Hayek.

Motivated by an article by a group of Occupy activists in the FT, which argues that Hayek can inform a left-wing critique of capitalism, Griffiths outlines three lessons for the left. His points are interesting, and in my view he correctly identifies a key flaw in Hayek’s thought. Ultimately, however, any attempt to appropriate Hayek’s thought in this way quickly runs into problems.

Overall, I believe Griffiths makes a dubious contribution to post-Hayekian thought. The lessons Griffiths think the left can learn from Hayek require a ‘pick and choose’ approach that does little to further our understanding of Hayek. Nor can much be learnt from the fragments of Hayek’s thought Griffiths isolates to support his position.

The problem for the authors of the Occupy article is that there is nothing in Hayek’s work to justify the kind of statism they imagine it does. Either social-democrats and social-liberals must pick out pieces of Hayek’s thought so isolated from it in its entirety that they are not at all useful, or we adjust what we mean by social-democracy and social-liberalism to such an extent that they become indistinct from Hayek’s liberalism.

Despite his references to Hayek’s social theory and concern with knowledge, Griffiths also runs into problems in framing Hayek’s concern as solely with the market, and trying to extrapolate from this lessons for those who see a much bigger role for the state than Hayek ever did.

Griffiths’ first point is that the market is not the sole institutional mechanism we have to solve the dispersal of knowledge:

Understood socially, knowledge can be shared by people taking action to overcome the limits of their individual perspectives. [Founding editor of Red Pepper magazine Hilary] Wainwright’s work is full of examples of organisations – trade unions, women’s groups and co-ops – that have come together to pool knowledge in order to solve collective problems that cannot be solved by the market or by remote bureaucrats.

This is a straw man – Hayek may have viewed price signals rather than central state planning as the basis of spontaneous economic order, but his conception of spontaneous order encompassed the economy and society as whole. He therefore places value on other institutions and third sector groups within the social catallaxy. Another problem is that Wainwright’s concern – the pursuit of social justice – is for Hayek at best misguided and intellectually incoherent, and at worst a serious threat to spontaneous social order.

Griffiths’ second point is that the state has a role to play in guiding and shaping spontaneous orders. There are three possibilities here, all of which are problematic.

First, the left could see a role for the state in directing spontaneous orders towards particular goals. But Hayek’s philosophy is firmly not teleological – moreover, Hayek’s is an argument against the ability of the state to set particular end goals in advance. So it would be inconsistent to accept Hayek’s social theory but hold that the state is able to direct spontaneous orders. Second, the direction the left would go in – towards a socially-just order – undermines the notion of spontaneous orders entirely. Third, the “framework” Griffiths refers to could simply require state institutions to uphold the rule of law, within which spontaneous orders can develop and flourish. But it’s not clear why this offers any support to the left. Hayek’s repeatedly argues that social order is not designed by one mind of group of minds, which rules out it being much more substantial and prescriptive than that.

The most useful point – and one that Hayek accepted – was that the state can act where it is subject to competition, such as in the provision of public services. But in referencing Gamble’s focus on trial and error processes, the left may be able to learn more from Karl Popper than Hayek.

Griffiths’ third point, which relates to Hayek’s views on freedom, is the one I find most interesting:

For some on the left, however, while Hayek was right about the importance of these freedoms, his views are incomplete because he never explained why freedom is valuable to us. This must be because of our desire to act autonomously. In order to do this, we need certain resources – food, shelter, and education, for example. The state is crucial in providing these. Market freedoms are important, but so is the autonomy needed to pursue them. Hayek’s argument for freedom can end, not simply with a case for the free market, but with an account of those resources needed to make freedom valuable to us.

This has long been my problem with Hayek’s thought – the answer is that freedom’s value is probably limited to its role in supporting and sustaining social order, but he doesn’t offer a cogent and clear account of it. One consequence of this is that Hayek gives no explanation for why individuals should follow the social rules and inherited social traditions upon which his ‘catallaxy’ is based.

But while Griffiths’ point here is at first persuasive, he inserts into a gap in Hayek’s thought something that simply isn’t there. Asserting that Hayek must have viewed “our desire to act autonomously” as the reason to value liberty, he extrapolates an argument for the state to provide housing, education and welfare. The lack of a basis for this means there is little the left can learn from Hayek in this regard.

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