Pictures: ‘You’re not welcome here’ say Barnstaple Trump protesters

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Around 100 people gathered in Barnstaple Square tonight to protest against the Donald Trump’s visit to Britain, “standing shoulder to shoulder to say go away Trump, you’re not welcome here.”

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Contrary to the Headlines, Athletics Is Clean and Rio Will Be Incredible

See this published – HUFFINGTON POST

With the Rio Olympics fast approaching, track and field athletics is once again embroiled in scandal, controversy, and disgust. Or in the media it is. On Friday night I was lucky enough to bear witness to the electricity meter at the London Olympic Stadium explode with the buzz of the Anniversary Games. It was just fantastic for the world to focus solely on the talent.

I’m 17 years old, and have been a dedicated club athlete for nearly a decade now. I know what it’s like for the 99.9% of athletes, all of whom compete clean. On those bitter winter nights when the wind is gusting and the nation’s hand is putting on the kettle, we’re out battling the elements, building strength and endurance.

It was heart-warming and actually quite emotional to be at the centre of such excitement, inspiration and acclaim at the Anniversary Games. The noise level was insane, light and colour brighter than one could describe. There was endless love and admiration for the world’s greatest athletes; personal bests, world leads, British records and even two world records, were set left right and centre. The tunnel of noise for Laura Muir, Jessica Ennis-Hill and Mo Farah was astounding. And what those watching on television didn’t see was the abundance of grassroots talent on show in the 4x100m relays for London athletes aged 12-20 earlier in the evening. What a night it was.

As one can only expect, those not involved in athletics often rely solely on trusted International media organisations for news about the sport. However, too often the only headlines written are those of disgust: alleged Russian state-sponsored doping, corruption embedded within the sport’s governing body the IAAF, alleged doping by Kenyan doctors working with certain British athletes and multiple-time drug cheats themselves, namely Justin Gatlin, being allowed to compete guilt-free on the global stage.

And what a great shame this is. The dopers form less than 0.1% of the sport, they don’t represent us – the real athletics community – and the authorities are constantly trying to eliminate them, as we saw with the decision by the International Olympic Committee to ban Russian track and field athletes from Rio. Yet, it’s of such media interest, whereas the countless achievements in recent times of the young, bright current British athletics team are shunned from the headlines.

The ultimate goal of every athlete is to reach the Olympics or Paralympics. At London 2012, the spotlight was firmly on the athletics, and what an oozing summer of joy and gratitude it was as a result. For this, that year was special. Just look to the scandals of Olympics and Paralympics past and present, even today the fears surrounding Rio 2016 – the event is all politicised by the media.

Yes, London 2012 had its security fears, but hysteria surrounding Rio has been taken to another level by news hacks. Exploited workers, incomplete stadiums, police injustice, rising crime, the threat of hostile social inequality spilling out from the favelas, a perilous government, an economy drowning in recession, a soft target for fundamentalist terrorism. It’s the real world, yes. But hey, never mind the talented, immensely dedicated athletes who have worked tirelessly for years to reach this point, let’s just focus on the rumbling politics.

Although, resting all blame on the media would simply be unfair. The starry eyes of the International Olympic Committee have a tendency to permit the games to take place in countries with political situations bound to distract from the talent. Maybe the IOC looks to FIFA for inspiration, which has ludicrously entrusted Russia, a haven of corruption and lies, and Qatar, a den of instability and exploitation, with the next two World Cups.

And this is what made the Anniversary Games so special for me – they were a true and much-needed celebration of British and worldwide athletics, in its own light. Those thirsty readers and watchers across the globe could , for once, appreciate track and field without distraction, perhaps awakening them to the true reality of the sport.

Athletes young and old nationwide are training right now, as you read. They are gritting their teeth reaching personal goals and breaking boundaries, whatever they may be, pursuing a sport that they love. Not only those club-affiliated, but running groups and casuals alike. They love running, jumping and throwing, we love it, and have every reason to do so.

At 9am every Saturday morning, runners from every walk of life, age regardless, ability regardless, turn up in parks across Britain to do a ‘Parkrun’. The free initiative sees thousands running a 5k, pushed all the way with friendly and confidence-boosting support from volunteers and the local community. Rain or shine, windy or still, warm or chill, they love it anyway, even if it may not feel like it in the last kilometre.

This is what athletics is about; this is our community. It’s not cheats, it’s not corruption, it’s not politics – it’s doesn’t even have to be about hurtling down a 100m straight in less than 10 seconds. It’s about you, your passion, commitment and enjoyment, and every one of us makes the sport that today more than ever inspires generations. If our media and the IOC could get their act together, we could inspire yet more, and as real athletes know all too well, anything is possible. Rio is special, the London 2017 World Championships are special, and we will make them amazing, as they deserve to be.

No, don’t listen to your elders

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Contrary to what Nigel Farage says, last Thursday was a tragic day for our country, but more importantly for us – its young generation.

It didn’t take much for majority of Britain’s older generation to fall for the blustering rhetoric of the Leave campaign – 61% of those aged over 65 voted leave.

But then compare this to the slim 25% of those aged 18-24 who voted for a Brexit, a shocking statistic that has massive implications.

The hashtag ‘NotInOurName’ has been a popular trend on Twitter since the result was revealed, highlighting how distraught, outraged and cheated the majority of young people in Britain feel.

The Vote Leave campaign dismissed the numerous social, economic and environmental warnings as ‘scaremongering’. All they wanted to hear was ‘immigration’,’ ‘£350m a week’ and perhaps the most overused, deceptive and vacuous mantra in history: ‘Vote Leave, take back control’. Now these warnings have become the reality, and some who voted leave are even wanting to reverse their votes!

Then there’s someone like myself. I’m 17, six months short of 18 and I, like many others, had a prominent voice in the Stronger In campaign and cared intently about this momentous political decision. Yet, when it came to polling day I was powerless. Is it really fair that our futures have been decided by those three times our age?

This is a travesty. The young generation warned you, we tried to get our voices heard, but you ignored us. Though hindsight is a wonderful thing, now we have to live with your mistake. We can only cling on to the hope that we will rejoin the EU some time in the future.

 

A Labour Party in pieces

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We all knew that there would be a political fall out in the event of a Brexit, but we never expected it to be this sudden and extreme. The Labour Party is crumbling before our eyes, disintegrating into chaos, and its very own leader is at the epicentre of it all.

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Jo Cox, the “wonderful woman”

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It’s easy to get carried away with the events of recent weeks, but today we were reminded of the harsh reality of the democracy that we live in. Jo Cox was only 41, elected last year as Labour MP for the North Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen. She was a wife, mother of two children and had the world at her feet. As we’ve seen today, her light burned too bright for some to handle, but some lights cannot be extinguished.

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Sports Direct: A catalogue of failures?

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We’ve all been there. We’ve dragged our feet under the giant red, white and blue sign, collapsed through the doors and entered the maze of unfolded clothes and crammed in ‘99% OFF’ offers that is, in a nutshell, Sports Direct.

Its boss Mike Ashley eventually mustered up the courage to appear before the Commons Business Select Committee, having initially called it a ‘joke’. He was there to “defend Sports Direct’s good name”, in his own words, against a catalogue of serious allegations at its Shirebrook warehouse.

Ashley was under the spotlight, in the firing seat and he really was stripped bare. The defiant Mike Ashley that we have all come to know was present in the first 10 minutes of the session, but gradually over the next 80 minutes, this farce disappeared and we saw a sensitive, nervous, rather fearful side to him.

“WE SAW A SENSITIVE, NERVOUS, FEARFUL SIDE TO MIKE ASHLEY”

And he certainly had a right to be nervous. In November 2015, the Guardian sent two undercover reporters into the firm’s Derbyshire warehouse and found that workers:

  • Had 15 minutes of pay deducted for clocking in just one minute late for a shift, even if they arrived on site promptly.
  • Had to undergo compulsory rigorous security checks at the end of their shifts, after they had clocked out. These could become ‘bottlenecks’ and therefore take around 15 minutes, equalling 1 hour 15 minutes unpaid work every week.
  • Therefore received an effective rate of about £6.50 an hour as opposed to the minimum wage at the time of £6.70.
  • Had to conform to a six-month time-span ‘six strikes and you’re out’ policy, although these strikes could be issued for reasons such as “excessive/long toilet breaks” or a “period of reported sickness” – this allegedly led to a worker giving birth in a toilet at the site.
  • Were banned from wearing 802 individual clothing brands at work.

 

 

An earlier BBC investigation also found that ambulances had been called out to the warehouse 76 times in two years, where 36 of the cases were classified as “life-threatening”. Yet, when questioned about this by MPs, Ashley said that ambulances were being called out for trivial reasons.

The conditions that workers at the Shirebrook warehouse have undergone are undoubtedly awful, and described by the trade union Unite as “Dickensian”, but they are just a consequence of a much wider problem within Sports Direct.

The firm has exploded in growth, flowing with the tide of the modern globalised world, but its own management has failed to keep up. As Ashley conceded, the firm is “just too big” and had “probably” outgrown its ability to run itself. Indeed, he admitted “it’s like going out one day and you’ve got a tiny little inflatable, and you’re in control. And the next, you wake up one morning and you’re on an oil tanker”.

“SPORTS DIRECT IS JUST TOO BIG” – FOUNDER

Yet, Ashley admitting defeat has been a long time coming. Sports Direct may be bathing in billions, but its managerial structure is simply no longer functional: the shop floor staff have lost sight of the customers, their managers have lost sight of the staff, and the boss has lost sight of the firm in its entirety.

A member of staff at a Sports Direct retail store assured me that the leadership is “fairly adequate” and that “the warehouses are completely different” to the shops, but this isn’t the image that the man at the top of the chain describes.

When asked about the system of improvement being implemented at the firm, Ashley spoke of a review “that will never end”, a review that is currently being conducted by him. He invited independent investigators to assess the company from an impartial standpoint. Yet the fact that he didn’t do this in the first place suggests that there is something, or a number of things, that he wants to hide.

The system of feedback within the firm also appears to be shambolic. As Ashley put it: “Do we have procedures such as secret shoppers in place? Absolutely, yes. Do I see the results of those? No, not necessarily”.

So who does address the feedback from the review? “It’s filtered back to their head and then their head and then their head,” explained Ashley. This is a system at crisis point.

It is shocking how the management of what has grown into a global company can lose track of itself like this. It’s as if the superficial image of Sports Direct has grown with the ever-increasing pace of the world, but the real mechanics of the business are rusting in a dark room that was locked some decade ago.

Sports Direct is a catalogue of failures, and it comes down to the mindset of one particular individual. Mike Ashley, albeit incredibly respectable for his fundamental business acumen, lives in plausible denial, hungry for profit, seemingly uninterested in the way in which that profit machine operates. This, the absence of efficient structure and consequent moral tragedy of the warehouse and retail elements of the business, is the result.

Words by Ewan Somerville

The Voice FM interview – youth political engagement

On Wednesday, 1 June, David Vaughan (co-founder of new political engagement project http://polify.co.uk) and I were interviewed on Paul Hopper’s breakfast show on local radio The Voice FM. We discussed the project as a whole, the upcoming EU debate that David is chairing in Braunton and I brought my perspective on young people and politics to the airwaves.