Tag Archives: London

Financial Implications of Brexit, Currency Crash, Stock Markets Tumble

Osborne & Carney try to stabilise markets … and fail, at first

Pound v Dollar lowest in 31 years
Pound v Dollar lowest in 31 years

As George Osborne, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and the Bank of England’s Mark Carney rush to reassure the financial markets – the Pound, the FTSE, and the UK’s sovereign credit rating all dive. Sterling has been battered and remains at a 31-year low, the FTSE 250 has witnessed in as many days two of its top-five one-day losses, and S&P have trashed our credit outlook by two-notches, increasing borrowing for the Government and businesses. A second BoE reassurance on Tuesday 5 July caused the FTSE 250 and Pound to dive further.

Former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King essentially said “Keep Calm, Don’t Panic”:

“Markets move up, markets move down. We don’t yet know where they will find their level…What we need is a bit of calm now, there’s no reason for any of us to panic.”

Was this just a two-day shock? We haven’t seen all out financial Armageddon, but just what are we getting, and for how long?

As of Tuesday 28 June morning, adventurous investors were buying into the flatlined market and the FTSE 100 was up 2% and FTSE 250 up 3.3%, although within the hour the gains had fallen back to 2.6-2.8% – still 11% down since the Referendum. At the close it was 3.5% up, restoring a quarter of its Brexit losses. To quote the Financial Times, Markets Live blog:

“It’s still a bloody mess, even if markets have steadied.” FT, 11am Tuesday 28 June

In the first hour of Tuesday’s trading the Pound was up just 1%, barely 1.5c higher after its 18c fall, but by 10.30am had lost half that gain already, only to regain it after lunch and lost most of it by 5pm. There has been no recovery against the € Euro.

Perhaps, this was on hopes of a second referendum, called for by millions including Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Sir Richard Branson, despite being ruled out by the outgoing PM, David Cameron.

By Wednesday 29 June midday, the FTSE 100 had recovered all of its losses, whilst the FTSE 250 remained 10% down.

It could be, too, that the market is recovering on the news that nothing will happen in the short term, that Brexit reality is delayed, and won’t kick-in properly till after Article 50 is actioned and up to 2 years later Exit terms agreed and then years worth, but some counts 5-10 years, of negotiating new trading terms with the EU and some 50 agreements with the rest of the world that were based on our membership of and access to the European Single Market.

Thursday 30 June saw previous day gains restore the FTSE 100 to parity and by the close it was 2% above 23 June’s high. Whilst the more British based companies index, the FTSE 250, remains 7% down despite two more days of gains. It has gained 8.5% or 1300pts up on 14,967 since its low point on Monday. The Pound:Dollar exchange rate added 2%, lost 1% overnight, then made it back by lunch but after Mark Carney said financial easing might be required and Boris Johnson ruled himself out of the Conservative leadership, the Pound lost all the week’s gains, falling another 1.5% and remains 12% down.

In a Radio 4 interview early this week, George Osborne repeated his claim that Brexit “would make Britain poorer” and lead to “an economic downturn”.

Mark Carney had been accused of breaching the Bank of England‘s (BoE) independence by commenting quite forcefully pre-Referendum that Brexit might trigger recession. So, for him to say we are “resilient” now, is a little “flip-flop” but he did say that in the long term growth would be slower and the Bank could only “mitigate” against negative effects rather than resolve them. Mitigation includes the possible injection of £250bn.

Currency Markets

Currency Markets GBP Pound Crash against USDollar
Currency Markets GBP Pound Crash against USDollar

The £ Pound on Monday did not rally against the $ Dollar, instead, it continued its slide to around $1.31, nearly 13% off its 2016 peak to which it had risen on the short term belief that the UK would Remain. Instead, it has settled at its lowest level for 31 years, despite a 1% recovery on Tuesday morning. A week later, and by Wed 6 July Sterling dropped as low as $1.28 and is now hovering at $1.29, a 15% devaluation.

Sterling is predicted to fall further to around $1.15-$1.25, a 20-25% devaluation. This could add 15-20p to a gallon/3-5p a litre to the price of petrol within the month, as oil is priced in Dollars. There could be an 8% rise in food and drink prices imported from Europe since at €1.17 the Pound is 23% off its Euro peak and nearly 9% down since Thursday.

Global Stocks and UK Shares

FTSE 250 drops 11.4%, worst drop ever
FTSE 250 drops 11.4%, worst drop ever

Some $2.5 trillion was wiped off global markets in hours after the Referendum result – between 100-400 years worth of the nobody-can-agree-on-the-actual-figure of UK contributions to the European Union. Seeing £100bn wiped off leading FTSE companies in 2 days is way more than the £350m a week (less than £10bn/year after rebates) supposed EU savings, i.e., equivalent to more than a decade’s worth of EU contributions. So no new money for the NHS then!

Stock markets in the poor-performing economies of Europe, e.g., Greece, Italy and Spain, tumbled 12-15% on Friday, other world markets fell 3-8%.

Italy announced a €40bn rescue of its banks after they lost a third of their value post-Brexit vote, despite a 5% bounceback they remain over 25% down since Thursday, June 23.

FTSE 250 as UK Financial Indicator

FTSE 250 Share Index Crash
FTSE 250 Share Index sees record one-day fall

A far better indicator than the FTSE 100, which has ‘only’ seen 2-3% daily falls since Brexit and a 2% recovery on Tuesday, is the FTSE 250. It is made up of more mid-size predominantly British companies with 50-70% UK-based trade – the powerhouse of employment in the UK. Some 75% of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) voted Remain.

The FTSE 250 has lost over 14% since Thursday’s vote, reaching 7% late-afternoon, continuing its near-8% slide last Friday when, at its worst, it dropped 14% in hours – its “worst drop ever”. It’s nearly 20% off its peak due to Brexit uncertainty over the last few months, its worst crash since 1987. During the 2008 crash, over a number of months, it lost nearly half its value leading to lay-offs. recession and austerity.

As to the financial market reaction not being as bad as 2008, that is not yet evident. The FTSE 100 is insulated by its international makeup but the FTSE 250 is more British. Back in October 2008’s crash it suffered a one-day fall of around 6.5% amounting to nearly 40% over 3-4 months. After the Referendum, it’s lost 8% and 7% across 2 days. It’s fourth and fifth biggest one-day falls ever from Sep/Oct 2008 have been eclipsed by Brexit day 1 and day 2, so far. This is the worst FTSE 250 crash since 1987, although Brexit days 3 and 4 are looking brighter, having recovered over a third of the losses, yet it remains 10% down, despite 1.9% gains Wednesday morning. A week later and by Wed 6 July, the FTSE 250 was down again drifting towards an 11% loss, eradicating any intervening recovery,

The FTSE 350 lost £140bn in a day, recovered, lost it all again by 4.30pm Monday but has now recovered 5% from its 7% loss.

Banking Sector

Banks (domestic and foreign) in Britain have been told by EU members France and Netherlands that they will not be able to use the European financial ‘single passport’ access to unhindered trading resulting in additional banking costs and a reduced incentive for US and Asian banks to be based in the UK – Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris, are suddenly more attractive and expected to gain financial jobs from the City of London. Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) have lost 35% in value since Thursday and had their shares temporarily suspended on Monday. On Tuesday there was around a 5% recovery.

Whilst many 99%-ers on the Left might celebrate another banking collapse, those businesses that employ millions depend upon a stable lending banking system to finance their growth and pay wages.

Inflation Risk

The costs of imported raw materials, food, wine, petrol etc could rise 10% because of the Pound’s fall alone. If British businesses selling at home want to keep prices the same, they will have to cut back office costs and jobs instead. Yes, we will recover, but book a “one-way ticket”, to quote George Osborne, for more austerity, unemployment and inflation pain first.

Housing Market

House prices may fall in the short term according to Savills but so will affordability, mortgages, and lending criteria stress tests may rise. International buyers may take advantage of a cheaper Pound to buy here, whilst locals are priced out of the mid-market. House builders have seen significant share price falls and the FTSE triggered its ‘circuit-breaker’ to suspend trading in all house builders temporarily. For instance, Taylor Wimpey fell 16% (40% since Thursday), Persimmon 17.4% (38% in 2 days) and Barratt Developments fell almost 20.7% (38.4% in 2 days), Bovis Homes 33% in 2 day etc. In addition, with the credit rating trashing they will find it harder to fund new building developments, further intensifying our domestic housing crisis.

Radio 4’s You and Yours is reporting people seeing immediate 5% drops in house sale prices due to Brexit – ‘Brexundering’.

We could eventually see a quadruple-whammy of wage restraint, credit crunch, inflation and interest rate rises, affecting house buyers and stifling the pressured renting sector too.

Pensions

It has been reported that particularly those living abroad may lose UK annual increases with inflation to their pensions, but also those at home might lose the “triple lock” guarantee. Pension funds held privately on the stock market will obviously go up and down with the fortunes of the FTSE, currently down. Of course, Leave leader, Boris Johnson said pensions would be unaffected, he also said the NHS would get £350m a week and that among many pseudo-promises has already been pulled.

Credit Rating and Economic Outlook

After the Brexit vote, Moody’s changed the UK credit outlook to “negative” from stable. Fitch see it likewise and downgraded it to AA negative. Today, Standard & Poor (S&P) have followed suit and downgraded our last remaining Triple-A national credit rating two-notches from AAA to AA:

“In the nationwide referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union (EU), the majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU. In our opinion, this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the U.K. … The vote for “remain” in Scotland and Northern Ireland also creates wider constitutional issues for the country as a whole. Consequently, we are lowering our long-term sovereign credit ratings on the U.K. by two notches to ‘AA’ from ‘AAA’.” – S&P

“Fitch has revised down its forecast for real GDP growth to 1.6% in 2016 (from 1.9%), 0.9% in 2017 and 0.9% in 2018 (both from 2.0% respectively), leaving the level of real GDP a cumulative 2.3% lower in 2018 than in its prior ‘Remain’ base case.” – Fitch

“S&P maintained its negative outlook on the UK, which means there is a one-in-three chance of another downgrade in the next two years. The UK is now deemed less credit worthy than the US and EU by S&P, and the decsion marks its exit from an elite club of countries such as Switzerland and Australia that stil have a AAA rating.” – Daily Telegraph

A survey of 1,000 directors at the weekend reveals that roughly 20% are expecting to issue redundancies, over 20% are freezing recruitment, and 20% considering moving some operations to Europe.

Worst Economic Crisis since WWII

A former Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economist has warned that the UK faces its worst economic crisis since the Second World War. It is certainly on track to challenge 2008’s banking crisis and 1987’s Black Monday crashes which saw £63bn wiped out. Other crises include  the 1974 General Election which saw one-day losses of 7.1%. Back in 1929 the Dow Jones witnessed a 22.5% drop in a single day.

Always Look on the Bright Side …

Yes, we will weather it, and in the long term it may make little difference, but the short-medium term is going to be harder. We still have to pay into the EU budget, but will begin to be shut out of meetings and decisions, we will still have freedom of movement and migration for EU citizens for at least 2 years, if not beyond if we follow the likely Norway or Swiss models. It is highly unlikely the EU will allow us the Canadian model, indeed Angela Merkel said today that the UK would have to accept freedom of movement. The EU do not want to encourage other exits. Many are trying to find legal ways to vote out of the Referendum result.

 

‘Honest’ Nigel Farage & his “victory for real, ordinary, decent people”?

Real, Ordinary, Decent Nigel Farage?

More lies from Leave.EU and UKIP‘s ‘normal Nigel’ – I’m glad I’m not normal! Presumably, unlike Nigel Farage and his supporters, I’m not real, ordinary or decent, either! That said, he stood by his convictions, and was more down to earth than other EU or UK politicians, no wonder his message, however much I disagree with it, clicked with an increasing number of working class people. The worry – where do we go from here and what next for English and other nationalists? Democracy sucks when you’re on the losing side!

“We’ve got our country back” – Nigel Farage

“Dare to dream that dawn is breaking on an independent united kingdom…” – Nope, we are disunited and the Kingdom is likely to fracture and Vote Leave the UK next.

“a victory for real, ordinary, decent people” – What does that make Remainers?

“we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit…honesty, decency is going to win” – Erm no, you perpetuated and propagated lies about migrants, EU costs, fishing and more.

“we have done it without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired” – Tell that to Jo Cox MP.

“let’s get rid of the flag, the anthem, Brussels and all that has gone wrong, let June 23rd go down in history as our Independence Day”

Destroying the EU and the UK?

“The E.U.’s failing. The E.U.’s dying. I hope we’ve knocked the first brick out of the wall.” – Nigel Farage

And so it begins. The BBC described the UK’s Brexit as “receiving a rapturous welcome from Europe’s far Right”, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Worrying praise indeed.

Geert Wilders calls for E.U. Referendum in the Netherlands, “The Netherlands will be next”, he said. A Dutch television station Een Vandaag had a recent survey polling that a majority of the Dutch would vote ‘Out’ on a European Union referendum.

In FranceMarine Le Pen said that “The French must now also have the chance to choose”.

Spain is calling for Gibraltar back. Sweden, too, has suggested it might Swexit along with Frexit and Nexit.

Nicola Sturgeon says that Scotland will be drawing up legislation to leave the UK to protect its position, after “significant and material changes in circumstances”, subject to the Scottish Parliament’s will, and this will take place the 2-year Article 50 timeframe.

“The entire island of Ireland should be able to vote on unification”. Sinn Fein called for a referendum and said that the UK had lost the mandate to speak for Northern Ireland.

Even “Remain” London is stirring up London’s independence – #londependence! The vintage comedy film, Passport to Pimlico, comes to mind!

£350m a week “free money”, a “feather bed”

Nigel Farage Brexit thanks
Nigel Farage Brexit thanks

But it won’t go the NHS, despite the ads. The ads were a “mistake” and nothing to do with me, says ‘honest’ Nige, in an ITV Good Morning Britain interview with Susanna Reid.

UK EU Referendum results

51.9% voted for ‘Leave,’ 48.1% for ‘Remain’
Leave won 17,410,742 votes to Remain’s 16,141,241 votes

Highest Numbers Ever on World Refugee Day as Humanitarian Crisis Escalates

World Refugee Day, Record Numbers

Refugees from “forced displacement” recorded worldwide in 2015 numbered over 65 million according to UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. That’s nearly 1% of the world currently homeless, nationless, fleeing wars, terror, persecution and the slow death and disease of refugee poverty from relying on handouts and the generosity of others, NGOs, international aid and agencies. So far, this year, over 3,500 have died on their migrant journeys to apparent safety. World Refugee Day highlights the plight and peril of people seeking safety amidst an escalating humanitarian crisis.

“At sea, a frightening number of refugees and migrants are dying each year; on land, people fleeing war are finding their way blocked by closed borders. Closing borders does not solve the problem.” – Filippo Grandi, UN High Commissioner for Refugees

Refugees & Migrants are People Too!

But numbers, percentages, records, are not facts or statistics, they are people too. They are not just migrants, often prefixed with the dehumanising word “illegal”, or trafficked by exploiters and transporters of vulnerable people with nothing left to risk except their life itself. They are desperate migrant peoples, refugees, asylum seekers, human beings, not cattle or ballast to be bounced around from port to port, dragged back out to sea, or denied entry based upon the decision that they may harbour an ISIL terrorist.

It’s a humanitarian crisis because they share a common humanity with the 99% of people that have settled homes and domestic security. Whilst 1% of the world control half its wealth, another 1% don’t even have a dollar a day because they are stateless, which in some countries means they officially don’t exist, being without permanent address or social security numbers. 50% of the world has access to just 1% of the world’s wealth. Global economic disparity and inequality are an injustice demanding those that have, to aid those that don’t. It’s a moral crisis as well as a humanitarian one.

Definition of a Refugee

Article 1 of the 1951 UN Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as:

“A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.” 1951 UN Refugee Convention

Will you stand #WithRefugees?

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

A Global Community & Worldwide Village

The benefits of global bodies like the United Nations and regional socio-economic communities like the African Union or European Union are that they can act as greater than the sum of their nation parts when they pull disparate national interests into international focus on issues facing the world as a whole, for which we a have a common responsibility.

Immigration and the EU Referendum

Whilst the United Kingdom votes this week to Leave or Remain in the EU, thinking little England rather than Great Britain, the world has bigger issues than one nation’s sovereignty or solvency. Immigration has become one of the most divisive issues in the EU Referendum campaign and the responses have turned ugly. Campaign posters have been called racist, Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, has admitted that we cannot control EU migrant numbers, however, nor would we be able to if we adopted a Norwegian or Swiss-style model of European Economic Area affiliation rather than full EU membership.

“Immigration has overtaken the economy as the most important issue to how the public will vote…[it] is now the most critical issue, cited as very important to their vote by 33%, up five points in a month, including just over half (52%) of leave supporters…which coincides with the official Vote Leave campaign focusing more strongly on immigration.” – Evening Standard

Opinion polls consistently show that immigration is one of the key Referendum issues, but one that is closely aligned with geography, age and gender. The majority of men and people over 65 would vote to Leave and the majority of women and people under 35 would vote to Remain. It’s often the areas with the least impact of immigration that would vote most against it. Those, such as London, with the greatest cultural diversity, are more likely to vote Remain. Integration and acceptance take time but then do bring community benefits and positivity.

It’s about perception, integration, insecurity and fear. A Guardian piece included the words of Chantelle, a young mother from Leigh, near Manchester, who despite 96.% of local residents being British thought that “80%, maybe 90%” of locals were immigrant foreigners!

Controls on Immigration or Contributions from Immigration?

At the last UK election, most major political parties except the Green Party were calling for controls on immigration despite its long term benefits.

“Immigration to the UK since 2000 has been of substantial net fiscal benefit, with immigrants contributing more than they have received in benefits and transfers. This is true for immigrants from Central and Eastern Europe as well as the rest of the EU.” – The Economic Journal

A CEBR report on world economic ranking data said of the UK’s growth and dynamism:

“The United Kingdom is forecast to be the best performing economy in Western Europe … likely to overtake Germany and Japan during the 2030s … becoming the world’s 4th largest economy for a short time … The UK’s strength (though mainly in London) is its cultural diversity and its strong position in software and IT applications. Its weakness is its bad export position and unbalanced economy … It also runs the risk of breakup, with Scotland and possibly Northern Ireland seceding and will have a referendum on its continuing membership of the EU in 2016 which might prove at best disruptive and at worst lead to a more insular and less diverse culture which in turn would generate slower growth.” – CEBR

Surely, then, the UK – currently the world’s fifth largest economy, should accept a substantial share of supporting the world’s refugees rather than turning a blind eye and walking on by as the selfish ‘neighbours’ in the Parable of the Good Samaritan.

The country taking by far the largest number of migrants is Germany, down to Angela Merkel’s so-called “open door policy”. Germany is currently the fourth largest powerhouse economy in the world, aided rather than restrained by its immigration policy:

“Germany’s influx of Syrian immigrants is expected to keep the country ahead of the UK for a few further years as skill shortages are alleviated, wage growth restrained and profits boosted.” – City A.M.

EU Migrants a drain on Benefits?

EU benefits claimants are the smallest group receiving either working age benefits or tax credits, according to economic and statistical data. Some 92.5% of benefit claimants are British, 5% are non-EU immigrants, and just 2.5% are EU migrants. Whilst those from outside the EU are more likely to be on benefits than EU migrants, we have a degree of control over non-EU immigrants, albeit an international responsibility to refugees and asylum seekers. Even the Daily Telegraph which is essentially pro-Brexit said this:

“…whatever the arguments for and against reducing the number of EU migrants receiving British benefits, delivering such a reduction wouldn’t make a significant difference to the overall welfare bill…and seeing as the take-up of benefits among migrants is so small, it’s also worth asking how big of a draw Britain’s welfare system really is.”

Migration Breaking Point?

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

UKIP’s ‘breaking point’ immigration poster calling for a Leave vote and taking back of border controls has been compared to 1930s Nazi propaganda by George Osborne and even criticised by other Brexiters, not to mention being reported to the Police for inciting racial hatred. Nigel Farage has defended the poster even saying he is the victim of hate!

Even Michael Gove “shuddered” after seeing the UKIP migrants poster based upon a photo taken of migrants crossing the Croatia-Slovenia border in October 2015, apparently of refugees arriving from Syria – a route now all but shut. Boris Johnson, who heads the official Vote Leave campaign also distanced himself from the poster and announced he was in favour of an “illegal immigrants” amnesty for those that had been here 12 years.

Far from immigration being the ‘breaking point’ for the UK, we are cruising it compared to many other austerity-hit nations, growing off the back of net contributions to the treasury from migrants of the past and present. Migrants are far more likely to start businesses than British nationals, nearly half as likely to be on benefits, pay more in taxes than they take out, and more likely to take the jobs others don’t want to do that keep the economy growing – over three-quarters are in employment, more than their British counterparts. They are not “taking our jobs” just more willing to do them.

Olympic Games, Spirit & Ideal Reborn in Athens 1896, 120 years ago today

First Modern Olympic Games, Greece 1896

Olympiad 1896 First Modern Olympics, Athens report cover
Olympiad 1896 First Modern Olympics, Athens report cover

On April 6, 120 years ago, the Olympic Games, its spirit, and modern ideals, were reborn in Athens, Greece. They were not the first attempt, nor born overnight, and came some 1600 years after the last ancient Greek games which had run for nearly 1200 years every 4th year or olympiad. In 394 AD the Roman Christian emperor Theodosius banned all pagan festivals including the Olympics, despite New Testament metaphors drawing inspiration from athletics. It took a Frenchman, inspired by the traditions of several English towns and cities, in combination with the philanthropy of two Greek brothers – who rebuilt an all-marble sports facility on the site of an ancient Athenian stadium, to restore the Olympic Games that we know today.

History of pre-Modern Olympics Games

Several attempts to bring back the Olympic Games were made during the nineteenth century and earlier. Some were local and just used the Olympic name. These included the Cotswold Olimpick Games, near Chipping Campden in England, first organised by Robert Dover between 1612 and 1642.

220 years ago, revolutionary France launched L’Olympiade de la République, between 1796 and 1798 in front of 300,000 spectators in Paris. These games included a chariot race and were dedicated to la paix et à la fécondité – “peace and fertility”. The 1798 Games introduced metric distances and measurements for the first time.

Google Doodle 120th anniversary of first modern olympic games
Google Doodle for the 120th anniversary of first modern olympic games

In 1850 Dr William Penny Brookes founded an Olympic event at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, which, in 1859, became known as the Wenlock Olympian Games. Still continuing to this day, its aim was:

“to promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Wenlock, and especially of the working classes, by the encouragement of outdoor recreation and by the award of a prize…”

Not to be left out, Liverpool held an annual Grand Olympic Festival between 1862 and 1867, including events in Llandudno 1965-1966. They were founded by John Hulley and Charles Melly, and were open to all local and international ‘gentlemen amateurs’, although the first truly national Olympic Games were held at Crystal Palace Park Cricket Ground and on the River Thames at Teddington, 31 July 1866. In 1869, Hulley also organised Britain’s first velocipede and bicycle races, at which the UK now excels.

Leicester, in 1866, also held a Grand Olympic Festival, on the site of the current University of Leicester, Fielding Johnson Building, but which was formerly the Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum.

The forerunner to the British Olympic Association was the Liverpool-founded National Olympian Association, in 1865, which went on to inspire the International Olympic Charter. The OC outlines the “fundamental principles of Olympism” and rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Olympic Games, Athens

Spiridon Louis entering the Athens Olympic stadium at the end of the 1896 marathon
Spiridon Louis entering the Athens Olympic stadium at the end of the 1896 marathon

The 1820s and 30s had seen interest in a revival of the Olympic Games gathering momentum. In 1856 the sponsorship of Evangelos and Konstantinos Zappas was accepted by the Greek king to fund the restoration of the Panathenaiko Stadio, or “Panathenaic Stadium“, in Athens. This was not, in fact, the original ancient Games location, since the older panhellenic Games were held at Olympia, but instead, part of the Athenian Games tradition.  1859, 1870 and 1875, then saw the first modern Greek Olympics held.

In 1890, Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired to found the International Olympic Committee after visiting the Wenlock Olympian Games. This led to the first international Games, of 1896, also at Athens. The top prize was actually a Silver Medal, rather than Gold.

1896 Olympic marathon
1896 Olympic marathon

There were just 9 sports and 43 events over 10 days, but, significantly, the marathon, actually run from Marathon, was won by Greek athlete Spyridon “Spyro” Louis in front of 100,000 spectators.

Women’s Olympic Games

Although Athens, was not dissimilar to the Games of Liverpool and Wenlock, it was still unlike our truly modern Games, in that women were excluded from their late-nineteenth century revivals.

De Coubertin was opposed to women competing, although in 1900 they were allowed to enter tennis and gold, and London in 1908 added the Figure Skating event for women, gradually women became involved. This was not fast enough for another French national, and rower, Alice Milliat, who founded the independent Women’s Olympics in Paris in 1922, continuing through to 1934, owing to the refusal of the IOC to allow women to enter track and field events. The IOC forced a name change in 1928 to the Women’s World Games, in exchange for grudgingly admitting more events for women at the Olympics.

Even in ancient Olympics, although separate, there were some female Games, such as those of Hera at Olympia which included a separate racing competition for women. Spartan women used to take part in sports and exercises, semi-clothed – with one breast exposed, like Amazon archers, leading to a “remarkable conjunction of homosexuality, feminism, and athletics” at Sparta. Plutarch suggests that younger Spartan girls and boys would compete and exercise in the nude alongside each other.

Ancient Olympic Traditions

Most of the ancient Olympics were competed in, naked – and only by Greek-speaking freemen. For a while, women were able to enter chariot horse teams, but not enter themselves. Furthermore, they could not spectate if they were married women. Stories tell of one chariot team owner being caught crossdressing as a man to enter the trainers area and watch her team which led to even trainers having to be in the nude. Even the word ‘gymnasium’, comes from the Greek gymnos, “naked”.

“The modern Olympic ideal is completely alien to the spirit of the Greek original, which despised women, slaves and foreigners and celebrated sectarian religion, nudity, pain and winning at any cost.” – Christopher Howse, Daily Telegraph, Athens 2004

Early-on, loincloths were outlawed among the competitors and the only thing allowed was a kunodesme, “putting the dog on the lead”, penis-strap, to stop it getting in the way. Many events involved the athletes covering themselves in olive oil – the mind boggles at the wrestling events!

“The attempt to link modern athletes and ancient athletes inevitably runs up against major cultural differences…we must never lose sight of the popular savagery of the pankration. Even in more conventional events, antiquity showed a tolerance, or perhaps a taste, that is utterly alien to the modern world.” – New Republic, 2004

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016

The ancient Games included sacrifices to the gods, the effective wearing of knuckle-dusters in the boxing, and opportunities for music and the arts alongside the body-worship and savagery. The next Games in Rio, this summer, may omit the sacrifices and savagery, and the nudity, but will still put athletic bodies centre-stage. The modern Olympic ideal of the taking part being more important than the winning, is long gone. Instead, we have doping and bribery scandals, not to mention long-running issues over the place of intersex athletes and how to include and ‘define’ them, given that the Games now includes women in most of its events rather than the original’s men-only events. The IOC can’t make up its mind on the definition of male and female athletes (like Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand), leaving many intersex athletes out in the cold, censured, or even facing compulsory surgeries to conform to standardised sex ideals.

The mission of Olympic Spirit is to:

“build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges. Olympic Spirit seeks to instill and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”

 

 

Norfolk People’s Assembly Anti Austerity Protest Rally, 30 May, Norwich UK

NPA Anti-Austerity Protest Rally

Julie Bremner protesting Get The Tories Out at Norwich NPA Rally
Julie Bremner with Socialist Worker protesting Get The Tories Out – Strike, Protest, Occupy at Norwich NPA Rally

Saturday 30 May at midday saw several hundred people “depressed and angry about the election results” gather at the Norwich Haymarket who wanted “a more equal, fairer, kinder system…” standing together to find “a better way”. The growing local Norfolk People’s Assembly saw hundreds of local activists heed the call for a National day of Action from the UK People’s Assembly as a pre-cursor to a larger anti-government rally on 20 June in London. Some 475 joined the Facebook event and around 200-250 showed up at the Norwich Haymarket, nestled between McDonald’s, Top Shop, Next, Starbucks, and Primark. The statue of a pensive  Sir Thomas Browne – the medic and author of “Vulgar Errors”, looked down upon the modern crowd, probably wondering why we hadn’t yet solved 17th century problems of inequality and poverty, more than 3 centuries later.

Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015
Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Demo, Norwich Haymarket 30 May 2015

Different interest groups but a common message

Banners for Saving Mental Health Services in Norfolk and Suffolk (currently in special measures), the Norfolk People’s Assembly and DPAC Norfolk (Disabled People Against Cuts) were unfurled along with dozens of printed and home made anti-austerity signs held aloft by arms weary after 5 years of Coalition cuts and now faced with another 5 years of threatened welfare budget reductions under the recently elected Conservative Party.

Stop the war against the poor
Stop the war against the poor

Diverse people representing numerous special interest bodies such as Save the NHS or the Hewett School, students, unemployed, disabled groups, political parties, affiliations and none, all called in unison for an end to the cuts and austerity.

A lone young female heckler raised a sober voice saying that “you people on benefits already get too much”. Perhaps, influenced by the hardline Right wing and Ukip rhetoric in the East of England during the recent election campaign.

Passionate Political Speeches

If the personal is political then that rang true of speakers from across the board, less because it was about them, more because of the passion with which they spoke for and on behalf of others but from the depths of personal experience of austerity and cuts to their sectors or own lives.

Green Party spokesperson at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket
Political speeches at Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti Austerity Rally, Norwich Haymarket

Speakers from the rally organisers, included Jan McLachlan, representatives of the Green Party, and Mark Harrison of the disability charity Equal Lives who drew attention to the ongoing access issues at the Duke Street work capability assessments centre.

Recently elected local Labour MP for Norwich South – Clive Lewis, suggested that even illegal direct action may be necessary to oppose immoral laws and Government inaction. Lewis spoke in an impassioned way that would probably shame the current batch of Labour leadership hopefuls and their copycat “aspirations of hard working families” soundbites.

Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action
Clive Lewis Labour MP for Norwich South speaks passionately about opposition and direct action

Media & Press Coverage

Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally
Norwich Evening News covers NPA Anti Austerity Rally

Norwich Evening News reported very briefly on the rally but unfortunately made the demonstration sound like it was organised by Clive Lewis, which was not the case. Great publicity for the Labour MP, whose support and speech were appreciated, however poor journalism and social media tweeting by the EDP‘s Evening News arm, neglecting to mention many speakers and making it sound like the excellent Norfolk People’s Assembly organisers joined Mr Lewis, rather than the other way around. Political fairness also dictates that other parties such as the Norwich Green Party were also represented there. After contacting Archant I was assured that they would pass on “corrections you’ve pointed out to the reporter who wrote the story who will amend as appropriate”. Four days later, finally, an amendment to the online news story: “The rally, organised by the Norfolk People’s Assembly, was attended by Unison members, and pupils and parents from the Hewett School.” But still no response to the original and even more inaccurate tweet:

If Monday is a slow news day, then posting about Saturday’s event, also on the EDP site, has led to 44+ comments, the most commented on article today (58 now).

More photographic coverage on Demotix.

Earnest about Education too

Education was well represented by Ian Anderson a spokesperson for the We’re backing Hewett campaign, UEA staff, and Postgraduate Education officer UEA Students Union Liam McCafferty.

Liam, depressingly depicted a dystopian future where people would not be able to afford higher education.

Nick O'Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally
Nick O’Brien speaking at the Norfolk Peoples Assembly Anti-Austerity Rally

Local deputy head teacher, NUT Campaigns Coordinator, Norwich Pride Chair and social activist, Nick O’Brien mentioned the reportedly over 27,000 children in Norfolk now living in poverty, at increased risk of poor health and educational achievement, whilst more than half a dozen children of protesting parents were happy, beyond most young kids’ attention spans, to hold up placards drawing attention to the plight of people of all ages and abilities under the current cuts.

NPA Press Release

Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say "No Cuts"
Family solidarity as kids affected by austerity say “No Cuts”

Norwich Radical writer and NPA Press Secretary, Jack Brindelli, issued this statement for the press:

We at the People’s Assembly are steadfastly opposed to the Tories vicious plans for Britain, and the implications they will have for the people of Norfolk. On David Cameron’s watch as Prime Minister, the country has become bitterly divided along the lines of wealth inequality. His government’s cuts have shamefully targeted society’s most vulnerable – from the disabled, to the unemployed, to the unborn.

Whilst the Conservatives have been selling off the NHS through the backdoor, Britain’s infant mortality rate has risen to become the highest in Western Europe. Since 2010, the Black Triangle campaign estimates more than 80 suicides have been directly linked to cuts to social security – as those who need help most have been driven to desperate decisions by the Tories’ savage austerity measures. Over the duration of the last Parliament, the government have also butchered our legal rights by cutting legal aid – and are currently poised to axe the Human Rights Act, which currently protects ordinary citizens of all races from torture and persecution.

Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for "No Cuts"
Young emboldened activist stands defiantly for “No Cuts”

They have dismantled the comprehensive education system with their failed Free Schools and Academies scheme, turning schools like Hewett into profit-driven production lines, and they have tripled tuition fees – essentially ending the chances of a generation to learn beyond a GCSE level.

Kids who can't vote yet say "Get the Tories Out"
Kids who can’t vote yet say “Get the Tories Out”

We have a clear choice for the next 5 years then. If we want to live in a world without an NHS, without universal education, without opportunity, without hope, then we need only sit back and wait for 2020’s election to at best deliver us cuts from a different party. If however, we are intent on not only protecting the ideas of freedom, opportunity and the right to live with dignity, but also determined to literally save hundreds of lives, and to provide our children with a future worth living, then we must stand together now. Over the coming months, across the country from Glasgow to Newcastle, to Liverpool to London, the People’s Assembly plans to take action to stop David Cameron’s gang of market-extremists in their tracks, and build a better alternative. For us, the fightback starts here, in Norwich.

More photos of the Norfolk People’s Assembly Norwich rally here.

UK Uncut Anti-Austerity Rally in London

Human Rights Act protest
Human Rights Act protest

London saw two rallies on Saturday, one against the proposed replacement of the Human Rights Act by an expected to be watered down British Bill of Rights, and another called for by UK Uncut which saw 4,700 join the Facebook event. Less than that, as is usual with online events, turned up, but the hundreds that did protested peacefully and painted in situ a large 20m banner: “12bn more cuts. £120bn tax dodged – Austerity is a lie“, which they subsequently hung over the side of the bridge opposite Parliament. Although paint bombs were let off and direct action was called for, no arrests were made. Beth Cunningham told reporters:

“Direct action is what works. It sends a loud and clear message that people aren’t happy. And it’s part of acknowledging that our current political resources aren’t enough. People don’t have enough resources in the current political system to make their voices heard and that’s why we resort to direct action.”