By way of introduction I always find the identification of any favourite things really challenging. However, I’m up for the challenge so here goes. My favourite TV show - I love great TV drama series especially the Saturday night BBC4 offerings. The Bridge, The Killing, Spiral etc. However, they really are not a patch on The Wire which was absolutely the best thing on TV ever! Last year I thoroughly enjoyed Chernobyl. My regular weekly watch includes University Challenge (we all test ourselves don’t we ?) and Newsnight My favourite place to go - Anfield, the home of Liverpool FC. Every time I visit it feels as exciting as the first time. The red set against the vivid green of the pitch, that moment when you ascend the steps and get that first glimpse of the pitch and the smell which is unique and so difficult to describe. It’s magical every time I experience it. No other football stadium compares My favourite city - Whilst Liverpool is very dear to me this would have to be Edinburgh. A great city with its old and new town. Great architecture, great museums and galleries. Cheapest taxis in any city in the UK, within striking distance of the coast, great countryside and it has some smashing hotels and bars. No visit these days would not be complete without a visit to the Oxford Bar My favourite thing to do in my free time - This largely relates to sport. In my youth I played football and cricket to a reasonable standard. Those days are past and so I play golf now with a great bunch of mates at Rutland Water Golf Club. I try to enter as many competitions as possible. It’s a great setting with stunning views across the water. It’s a real test and even if you play badly you are in good company and the walk is good for you. I do walk a lot these days and try to get out for an hour each day. Outside of sport I am very happy spending time with family. We are very close and I get enormous pleasure from my children and grandchildren My favourite athlete/sports personality - Whilst I have supported Liverpool FC all my days and it would easy to say Kenny Dalglish my all time favourite player, in terms of pure sports personality it has to be the genius that was Seve Ballesteros the Spanish golfer who played with his heart on his sleeve, continues to be an inspiration to modern day golfers and watching old footage of his antics on the course is simply magical. This iconic image on the 18th at St Andrews when he won the Open Championship will endure forever. My favourite actor - This one has challenged me the most but in the end, I’m going for Sir Ian McKellen who never lets you down whatever role he takes on. He was born to play “Gandalf” in The Lord of the Rings. The scene on the bridge where he shouts “fly you fools” is a great cinematic moment. His voice is superb, instantly recognised and from what I’ve seen on chat shows seems to be a really nice person My favourite author - Whilst I am reasonably well read and enjoy a range of genres my favourite author is the late Umberto Eco author of The Name of the Rose, Foucault’s Pendulum and my favourite book The Prague Cemetery. Umberto was an Italian novelist, literary critic, philosopher, semiotician, and university professor who worked at several universities across the world although at the time of his death he was professor emeritus at The University of Bologna ……..Never an easy read but really thought provoking with lots of historical references. The recent TV adaptation of The Name of the Rose shown on the BBC was excellent, and I would recommend this book as a way into his work. During the lockdown I have been listening to audiobooks on my daily walk and just listened to Sign of the Four by Arthur Conan Doyle. BBC Sounds is an excellent resource for books and drama My favourite drink - Coffee first thing and tea in the afternoon is my daily routine but when it comes to proper drinks then I love a good Argentinian Malbec, but if pushed it would certainly be Real Ale. We are now blessed with many ales to choose from. More recently I have really been enjoying the wide range of Craft IPAs and other “new world beers”. To sample some of the best locally I recommend a trip to “The Maule Collective” in Northampton or the “Tap and Kitchen” (Nene Valley Brewery) in Oundle. NVB’s “Release the Chimps” is a personal favourite. Whilst many Wetherspoons have a great selection of ales at very affordable prices their owner Tim Martin’s views on Brexit and his response to the lockdown in response to Covid-19 has led me to seriously consider a boycott post lockdown. Finally how could I not mention single malt whisky, especially those from Islay. If I had to choose one it would be have to be Lagavulin. Lagavulin distillery is a malt whisky distillery in the village of Lagavulin on the south of the island of Islay, Scotland My favourite food - Anyone who knows me can tell I love most foods. I have an ample girth as evidence! Very difficult to narrow this down but I do love seafood especially the way the Italians do it. Having lived in Scotland and near the coast we were spoilt with good seafood restaurants. When on holiday abroad fish tends to be my staple diet. Squid, Scallops and Langoustines would be top of the list My favourite place to eat - Again so many on the shortlist, but if I’m honest on a nice summer's day we (the family) love to go for Sunday lunch to Rutland Water Golf club. The food is always special, and the service is exceptional. For a quick lunch we love a pub in Stamford called the “Tobie Norris” where Matthew the landlord (who used to work at RWGC) always provides a warm welcome, good wine, excellent ales based on the season and the food is spot on I like people who - are honest, hardworking and are prepared to put their hand up when they make a mistake. I value those who have a sense of society and are prepared to work for the better of all. I would count myself as a socialist and have always migrated to the left in terms of my politics. I love the following quote from Bill Shankly the legendary manager of Liverpool FC. He stated; “The socialism I believe in isn’t really politics. It is a way of living. It is humanity. I believe the only way to live and to be truly successful is by collective effort, with everyone working for each other, everyone helping each other, and everyone having a share of the rewards at the end of the day. That might be asking a lot, but it’s the way I see football and the way I see life” (cited in Weber 2006, You'll Never Talk Alone, Liverpool: 21) I don’t like it when people - hide behind “window dressing” and therefore lack substance and too easily try to blind us with falsehoods and to use a modern parlance “fake news”. I detest it when people do not take responsibility for their words and actions. In recent times this has been best demonstrated with false slogans on red Buses, bluster about making America great again and social media posts with no regard for the feelings of those under attack. Manners, honesty and kindness are not weaknesses but essential strengths. My favourite book - already addressed above Umberto Eco’s The Prague Cemetery see The Guardian review here to get a sense of the novel My favourite book character - On the basis that would really love to walk in this persons shoes I am going to choose “Rebus” from the novels by Ian Rankin. Who wouldn’t want to live in Edinburgh, work for the police but be a complete maverick, rub shoulders with the underworld and drink in The Oxford Bar. Ok there are some downsides; he supports Hibs but better than supporting Hearts! My favourite film - I’m not a massive film enthusiast, preferring TV and theatre, so this choice is particularly difficult. I did however go to the cinema to watch the Oscar winning Parasite which was excellent and thoroughly deserving of the best picture Oscar. From a bit further back I loved Field of Dreams starring Kevin Costner, where an Iowa corn farmer, hearing voices, interprets them as a command to build a baseball diamond in his fields; he does, and the 1919 Chicago White Sox come. It’s a film that makes me cry every time I watch it mainly as a father son thing. My favourite poem - I really found it difficult to choose between “Easter 1916” by W.B Yeats with it’s famous final lines of; “Now and in time to be, Wherever green is worn, Are changed, changed utterly: A terrible beauty is born.” or “Digging” by Seamus Heaney and I finally chose the latter. Mainly because of the line; “By God, the old man could handle a spade.” My old man certainly could, god rest his soul. I recall him saying to me as a child that he didn’t want me, or my brothers for that matter, making a living with a pick and shovel as he had done all his days. He was the typical Irish navvy, who relocated from Northern Ireland in the 1950s for work and to distance himself and his future family from what was to come. The poem has a particular poignancy for me given my use of the pen in my academic career My favourite artist/band - When younger I migrated from an early love of Tamla Motown and soul music to Heavy rock (Uriah Heep, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple ). However as I have grown older I have sort of turned into my parents. Brought up on classic Country and Western I now adore anything broadly classed as “Americana” or Alt Country. Richmond Fontaine, The National, Ryan Adams. Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that in 2020 I have been trying to expand my listening and so far I have definitely discovered the genius that is Stormzy and Dave. I do think I have a very broad taste in music and never thought I could appreciate “Hip Hop” but some of it is very good. My favourite song - La Cienga Just Smiled by Ryan Adams from his album “Gold” no contest.Lyrics mean a lot to me in songs especially when they paint pictures and stories. Extract from lyrics: And I hold you close in the back of my mind Feels so good but damn it makes me hurt And I'm too scared to know how I feel about you now La Cienega just smiled, "see you around" My favourite art - I Love the Surrealists, especially Salvador Dali and my absolute favourite is the Christ of Saint John of the Cross made in 1951 which is in the collection of the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, Glasgow.
It depicts Jesus Christ on the cross in a darkened sky floating over a body of water complete with a boat and fishermen. Although it is a depiction of the crucifixion, it is devoid of nails, blood, and a crown of thorns, because, according to Dalí, he was convinced by a dream that these features would mar his depiction of Christ. It is genius. I had planned to visit to Kelvingrove art gallery the other week as part of a weekend in Glasgow to watch the famous “hoops” but Covid-19 put paid to that
My favourite person from history - Not necessarily a favourite but If I could go back in time I would want to sit down and have a conversation with this man.
James Connolly was a Scottish-born Irish republican and socialist leader. Connolly was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, to Irish parents. He was a member of the Industrial Workers of the World and founder of the Irish Socialist Republican Party. He was centrally involved in the Dublin lock-out of 1913, as a result of he helped form the Irish Citizen Army that year. He opposed British rule in Ireland and was one of the leaders of the Easter Rising of 1916. He was executed by firing squad following the Rising. My Irish heritage is very important to me in terms of my identity and to be able to explore and understand what made men like Connolly rebels would be fascinating. What is it that makes men like him willing to die for his cause? Steadfast to the end the following quote sums it up; “I said to him, "Will you pray for the men who are about to shoot you" and he said: "I will say a prayer for all brave men who do their duty.". His prayer was "Forgive them for they know not what they do" and then they shot him.” Dr Stephen O’Brien Visiting Professor: Faculty of Health, Education and Society The University of Northampton
Dr Stephen O’Brien is the Dean for the Faculty of Health, Education and Society at the University of Northampton
Over the past few weeks our political lexicon has been further developed. We have all learned a new word. The word in question is prorogation. Hands up who had heard of this term before recent events in parliament? I see very few hands up. What we all now know is that this is the term that defines the discontinuation of a session of a parliament or other legislative assembly without dissolving it. It means parliament’s sitting is suspended and it ends all current legislation under discussion. It is usual for this to happen every autumn. The current prorogation is for five weeks and includes a three-week period that would typically be recess anyway, during which the Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative party conferences are held, but is nevertheless longer than usual. However, there are several highly irregular factors at play here. For prorogation to last more than a month is unprecedented in recent times. For example, since the 1980s prorogation has typically lasted less than a week. So, what is going on and why is this prorogation proving to be so contentious?
The heart of the matter is the issue that has dominated UK politics for the past three years, namely Brexit. Despite a vote to leave the European Union (EU) back in June 2016 we currently remain part of the EU with the deal negotiated under the previous prime minister Theresa May culminating in a withdrawal agreement that was soundly rejected by parliament on several occasions. This has set up tensions between the people and parliament. How do we enact the will of the people and honour the referendum result within a parliamentary democracy where there is no majority for any Leave deal on the table?
The new prime minister Boris Johnson and his cabinet are resolved to break the political impasse by leaving come what may “do or die” by October 31st, 2019. So, with the country rapidly approaching the deadline for leaving the EU, Parliament has been working to pass a law that would prevent the UK crashing out without a deal, regardless of the fact that Boris Johnson has promised to leave on that date. With no deal currently agreed and no law allowing a no deal exit the Government would be obliged to ask the EU for another extension. There are suggestions from some quarters that the Government might ignore any law requiring them to agree an extension with the EU. Given this situation some politicians have been dismayed that parliament will not be sitting while the situation remains unresolved. Hence the view that this prorogation is stifling parliamentary debate on the most crucial political issue in a generation.
The act of prorogation took place in the early hours of Tuesday September 10th with a ceremony involving a message from the Queen being read in the House of Lords and then Black Rod summoning MPs from the Commons. A list of all the bills passed by the parliament was read, followed by a speech on behalf of the Queen announcing what has been achieved by the government before MPs were sent home. Johnson intends for parliament to return on 14 October with a Queen’s speech, which he says will “bring forward an ambitious new legislative programme for MPs’ approval”. He will then almost immediately have to head to Europe for the vital EU council, which is the last chance for him to obtain a new Brexit deal or to ask for an extension of article 50.
The situation has been deemed a constitutional crisis by some and the fact that parliament is not sitting at this critical time is being seen by some as undemocratic, indeed unlawful. Indeed, the act of prorogation has been subject to judicial review for the past couple of weeks. Scottish appeal court judges declared Boris Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament in the run-up to the October Brexit deadline unlawful. The three judges, chaired by Lord Carloway, Scotland’s most senior judge, overturned an earlier ruling that the courts did not have the power to interfere in the prime minister’s political decision to prorogue parliament. The key issue in question being whether the act was in breach of the constitution, as it was designed to stifle parliamentary debate and action on Brexit.
Regardless of the legal arguments which ended up being played out in three dramatic days this week in the Supreme Court the Brexit process and endgame has pointed up a range of tensions at the intersections of our constitution. The old political landscape is being swept away and being replaced by a much more complex set of political indicators. Left versus Right which had been making a comeback after years of centrist neo-liberalism has been replaced by Leave versus Remain which pervades across the old battle lines. Furthermore, other tensions are apparent as set out below.
- People versus Parliament (How to deliver the referendum result in a parliamentary democracy)
- Executive (Government) versus Parliament (especially when the executive has no overall voting majority)
- The Executive versus the Judiciary
- The position of the Judiciary as related to Constitution
- Politics versus The Law
- The roles and power relationships of the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary as related to The Constitution.
What the overall Brexit process has created is a new socio-political landscape in the UK, with distinct differences in each of the four countries. It also illustrates how complex the nature of our constitution is given there is no written version and we depend on precedent and convention. The intersections are thrown into sharp relief by the current “crisis”.
Whilst all of this may be concerning as the old order shifts the really concerning question is whether the Executive will abide by the law. Given the outcomes of Parliament in terms of blocking “no deal” regardless of the Supreme Court Judgement on the legality of the prorogation. So, will we leave EU on October 31st? Utilising classic political phraseology, I’d say there is still all to play for, it’s too close to call and all bets are off.
Dr Stephen O’Brien
Dr Stephen O’Brien is the Dean for the Faculty of Health and Society at the University of Northampton
The country is in the middle of “World Cup Fever”. At the time of writing, England play Sweden in a quarter final match tomorrow that if successful would see them through to a World Cup semi-final for the first time since Italia 90. We all know what happened next; the so called Gazza semi-final ending in tears. There is a large caveat though to this current wave of football fever. I suspect my friends north of the border are not sharing this fever in the way people are in England given the historic rivalry associated with one of the oldest international contests on a football pitch. That set aside, which is difficult when one is married to a Scot, as a dedicated football supporter the World Cup in Russia has, thus far, been a roaring success. It is probably the best tournament that I can remember watching for all sorts of reasons. Established football nations with a pedigree such as Holland and Italy failed to qualify and the so called “lesser” nations have been punching above their football weight in knocking out pre-tournament favourites Germany and Argentina. It is according to the vast majority of media reports a fantastic spectacle. Everyone seems to have forgotten the political disquiet about awarding the tournament to Russia in the first place with on-going concerns about their recent sporting track record and their place generally on the world’s political stage. I suspect even in Ukraine we are all entranced by the festival unfolding before our very eyes on our television screens each day. Football at Russia 2018 is indeed the beautiful game.
Scratch the surface however and things are perhaps not so beautiful. Any quick google search of the terms football and crime will yield a plethora of news stories, documentaries and other media. The major headline is always hooliganism which has dogged football for years. At its height in the UK in the 1970s the establishment response to this was robust with reference to legislative change, new criminal offences and the re-construction of football grounds to be hooligan proof. Hillsborough changed all that. Not immediately because the hooligan narrative was pervasive throughout the initial reporting, police response, subsequent enquiries and reports. A future blog will explore Hillsborough and the fall out in much more detail. For now let’s return to the World Cup. The hooligan narrative was certainly played out in the run up to the tournament with media reports of the dangers posed by staging it in Russia. By and large this has not materialised, but it must be clear that hooliganism and violence are never far away when passions run high but let’s hope it stays away. The other term which crops up in the google search is corruption and FIFA as the lead organisation has over the past years never been too far away from claims and counter claims about corruption linked to financial irregularity, bribing of officials in an attempt to win the right to stage the tournament, tax issues and ticket touting. Indeed the evidence suggests that financial irregularity appears to be rife from the top to the bottom of the football organisational structure. This has affected clubs as diverse as Juventus, Leeds United, Hartlepool and Glasgow Rangers. Football is a global business and the financial rewards are immense. The consequences are far reaching for clubs, organisations and the very game itself. I would argue that negativity around the financial implications of football has driven a wedge between club, country and the ordinary fan. Many have become disillusioned with the game.
However, despite the concerns about Russia 2018 and Qatar 2020 something about the actual tournament, the teams competing and the players themselves has changed in many peoples’ minds over the past three weeks. It looks like the ordinary fan is reconnecting. The England team, young and inexperienced they may be but they are social media savvy and have shown that they are also fans of the game and not aloof from the rest of us who marvel at how they and others play. I have even heard die hard Scottish fans remark that they are finding it hard to dislike the England team. Now that is a turn up for the books. The beautiful game may well be a terrible beauty to quote to W. B. Yeats but let’s revel in the current beauty. If anyone is in doubt about the game’s beauty take a look at Brazil’s fourth goal in the 1970 final against Italy. Scored by Carlos Alberta but crafted like a fine poem by the rest of the team. It is magical and my personal World Cup favourite moment.
So as we venture into the final rounds of this year’s World Cup we can all enjoy this international festival of football and hope that things are genuinely starting to change. Success on the pitch means everything and has such an impact on the country as a whole. By the time you read this that fever I mentioned at the start might have been ratcheted up or indeed may have dissipated. As a confessed Republic of Ireland fan I have to admit I’m quietly enjoying England’s success to date and secretly wish them well.
Dr Stephen O’Brien is the Dean for the Faculty of Health and Society at the University of Northampton
The other week I had the opportunity to visit one of our local prisons with academic colleagues from our Criminology team within the Faculty of Health and Society at the University of Northampton. The prison in question is a category C closed facility and it was my very first visit to such an institution. The context for my visit was to follow up and review the work completed by students, prisoners and staff in the joint delivery of an academic module which forms part of our undergraduate Criminology course. The module entitled “Beyond Justice” explores key philosophical, social and political issues associated with the concept of justice and the journeys that individuals travel within the criminal justice system in the UK. This innovative approach to collaborative education involving the delivery of the module to students of the university and prisoners was long in its gestation. The module itself had been delivered over several weeks in the Autumn term of 2017. What was very apparent from the start of this planned visit was how successful the venture had been; ground-breaking in many respects with clear impact for all involved. Indeed, it has been way more successful than anyone could have imagined when the staff embarked on the planning process. The project is an excellent example of the University’s Changemaker agenda with its emphasis upon mobilising University assets to address real life social challenges.
My particular visit was more than a simple review and celebration of good Changemaker work well done. It was to advance the working relationship with the Prison in the signing of a memorandum of understanding which outlined further work that would be developed on the back of this successful project. This will include; future classes for university/prison students, academic advancement of prison staff, the use of prison staff expertise in the university, research and consultancy. My visit was therefore a fruitful one. In the run up to the visit I had to endure all the usual jokes one would expect. Would they let me in? More importantly would they let me out? Clearly there was an absolute need to be on my best behaviour, keep my nose clean and certainly mind my Ps and Qs especially if I was to be “released”. Despite this ribbing I approached the visit with anticipation and an open mind. To be honest I was unsure what to expect. My only previous conceptual experience of this aspect of the criminal justice system was many years ago when I was working as a mental health nurse in a traditional NHS psychiatric hospital. This was in the early 1980s with its throwback to a period of mental health care based on primarily protecting the public from the mad in society. Whilst there had been some shifts in thinking there was still a strong element of the “custodial” in the treatment and care regimen adopted. Public safety was paramount and many patients had been in the hospital for tens of years with an ensuing sense of incarceration and institutionalisation. These concepts are well described in the seminal work of Barton (1976) who described the consequences of long term incarceration as a form of neurosis; a psychiatric disorder in which a person confined for a long period in a hospital, mental hospital, or prison assumes a dependent role, passively accepts the paternalist approach of those in charge, and develops symptoms and signs associated with restricted horizons, such as increasing passivity and lack of motivation. To be fair mental health services had been transitioning slowly since the 1960s with a move from the custodial to the therapeutic. The associated strategy of rehabilitation and the decant of patients from what was an old asylum to a more community based services were well underway. In many respects the speed of this change was proving problematic with community support struggling to catch up and cope with the numbers moving out of the institutions.
My only other personal experience was when I spent a night in the cells of my local police station following an “incident” in the town centre. This was a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. (I know everyone says that, but in this case it is a genuine explanation). However, this did give me a sense of what being locked up felt like albeit for a few hours one night. When being shown one of the single occupancy cells at the prison those feelings came flooding back. However, the thought of being there for several months or years would have considerably more impact. The accommodation was in fact worse than I had imagined. I reflected on this afterwards in light of what can sometimes be the prevailing narrative that prison is in some way a cushy number. The roof over your head, access to a TV and a warm bed along with three square meals a day is often dressed up as a comfortable daily life. The reality of incarceration is far from this view. A few days later I watched Trevor MacDonald report from Indiana State Prison in the USA as part of ITV’s crime and punishment season. In comparison to that you could argue the UK version is comfortable but I have no doubt either experience would be, for me, an extreme challenge.
There were further echoes of my mental health experiences as I was shown the rehabilitation facilities with opportunities for prisoners to experience real world work as part of their transition back into society. I was impressed with the community engagement and the foresight of some big high street companies to get involved in retraining and education. This aspect of the visit was much better than I imagined and there is evidence that this is working. It is a strict rehabilitation regime where any poor behaviour or departure from the planned activity results in failure and loss of the opportunity. This did make me reflect on our own project and its contribution to prisoner rehabilitation. In education, success and failure are norms and the process engenders much more tolerance of what we see as mistakes along the way. The great thing about this project is the achievement of all in terms of both the learning process and outcome. Those outcomes will be celebrated later this month when we return to the prison for a special celebration event. That will be the moment not only to celebrate success but to look to the future and the further work the University and the Prison can do together. On that occasion as on this I do expect to be released early for good behaviour.
Barton, R., (1976) Institutional Neurosis: 3rd edition, Butterworth-Heinemann, London.