Friday, 13 August 2010

Premier League Predictions

I've decided not to commit to any prediction-type things this year, but still felt I should put forward some predictions for the fun of it.

My dream team
First up, I had a go at the Telegraph Fantasy League just to see who I could come up with, and, spending the full £50m budget and plumping for a 3-5-2 formation, my team is:

-----------------------------------------Cech (C)---------------------------------------
-------------K. Toure (MC)----------Nelsen (Bl)------------Jagielka (E)-----------
--Malouda (C)-Malbranque (Su)--Arteta (E)---Cahill (E)--A. Johnson (MC)-
----------------------------Anelka (C)-----------Tevez (MC)-------------------------

Bl - Blackburn
C - Chelsea
E - Everton
MC - Manchester City
Su - Sunderland

Premier League 2010-11 final positions
I've also made some predictions for the final Premier League table:

1 Chelsea
2 Manchester United
3 Manchester City
4 Arsenal
5 Liverpool
6 Tottenham
7 Everton
8 Aston Villa
9 Sunderland
10 Blackburn
11 Birmingham
12 Fulham
13 Bolton
14 West Ham
15 Stoke
16 Wolves
17 Newcastle
18 West Brom
19 Wigan
20 Blackpool

Premier League 2011-12 - A Heads-Up
Finally, I thought I'd make some predictions for the following season.

Essentially I think this'll be the closest season in a long, long time, with anyone of about 6 teams in with a shout at the title and two or three others not far behind.

Chelsea will still be the most obvious team to win it, but with Drogba another year older and Cech and Terry potentially starting to falter, their success will depend on how their younger players progress over the next couple of years. Manchester United will be playing their first season without Giggs, Scholes and Neville, and - whilst they're not exactly the fastest and most agile of players at this age - their nous, commitment, and ability to turn games (perhaps with the exception of Neville) will be sorely missed. Manchester City will have had a year to get all their new players settled in and Mancini will have had his first full season in England under his belt, meaning they will be primed for an assault on the title. Arsenal too will have their best chance yet, as whilst people are always tipping them to finally regain their form of the mid-2000s, they will have a squad of coherence, experience and refinement to match the raw talent and hunger that has been evident yet unharnessed so far.

Liverpool, having had a season out of the Champions League and Roy Hodgson having had some time to make his mark, assuming they hold on to Gerrard, Torres and Reina, that they have Mascherano or someone else as an anchor in midfield, and Carragher is still playing well, they should be in with an outside chance. Tottenham, without the distraction of Champions League football, will be able to focus their attention on climbing the table, and with Harry Redknapp now firmly established and many of the players hitting their peak, they too will be dark horses to gatecrash the top two of United and Chelsea. Their challenge may well depend on whether they can find a settled and injury-free centre back pairing.

Beyond that, Everton are establishing themselves, but a second appearance in the top four still looks beyond them, whilst Villa look to be in a bit of turmoil currently and how they deal with that will have a big impact on their medium-term progress. As for Blackburn, Birmingham, Sunderland and Fulham, who seem to be the next set of teams, it is hard to see them pushing much further beyond where they are now, barring big investment, which isn't beyond belief, particularly if investors cotton on to the league's potential openness which will make it an opportune time to try and break further up the table.

Nearer the bottom, if Newcastle stay up it'd be good to see them pushing into the top half and getting back somewhere closer to the championship-challenging side of 15 years ago, whilst West Ham also have potential to get back to their former highs. Bolton meanwhile are looking a bit more like what they were a few years ago, having firmly established themselves as a Premier League team in spite of guru Sam Allardyce's departure. It may also be that, if Leeds can make back-to-back promotions, then yet another fallen giant could seek to re-establish themselves in the top league in the world. Sadly I think it could be a fair few years before we see the glamour boys of Hillsborough doing so.

Monday, 10 May 2010

Likely cabinet?

So I was close with Labour's seats but over-estimated the Lib Dems a bit (but didn't we all?) and the Tories did a bit better. Interesting to see an Green MP get in - could be some interesting discussions in the house as a result of that.

It looks as though the Lib Dems are going to side with the Conservatives, which in terms of traditional politics would make the most sense, with the Tories having the bigger mandate. However the possibility of a coalition between Labour, the Lib Dems, the SDLP, SNP and Plaid Cymru is very appealing in terms of it being cross-party, which is something I really like. However, I think the electorate, not to mention the Tories, would be pretty annoyed about this and the Tories would do everything to stop it working, which kind of defeats the object of it. I still deeply just want them to all work together, so in a way the most obvious scenario seems a bit lame, but I guess perhaps it could be a dress rehearsal for when PR comes in and the parties have to work together a lot more. Working with one other party is probably difficult enough for the time being.

If it is going to be a Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition then this could be the cabinet:

Prime Minister: David Cameron (Con)
Chancellor of the Exchequer: Kenneth Clarke (Con)
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: George Osboune (Con)
Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills: Vince Cable (LD)
Home Secretary: Nick Clegg (LD)
Foreign Secretary: William Hague (Con)
Secretary of State for Women and Equality: Theresa May (Con)
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions: Iain Duncan Smith (Con)
Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs: Nick Herbert (Con)
Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families: David Laws (LD)
Secretary of State for International Development: Ed Davey (LD)
Secretary of State for Defence: Liam Fox (Con)
Secretary of State for Health: David Willets (Con)
Secretary of State for Justice: Dominic Grieve (Con)
Secretary of State for Transport: Lord Adonis (Neutral?)
Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport: Theresa Villiers (Con)
Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government: Chris Huhne (LD)
Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change: Michael Gove (Con)

That's actually a pretty good cabinet, with a lot of talented people in it (I would say more so that currently, even without the help of the Lib Dems).

p.s. This assumes the departments don't change, which they could do if they're trying to save money. CMS could be merged with something else, innovation and skills back with DCSF (not a sofa shop despite the name....) to form education, and whilst merging Energy and Climate change back with DEFRA would make sense it probably won't happen for fear of upsetting people with the message it sends out.

Friday, 7 May 2010

Explaining why I'm so bad at getting on with things...

Interesting article on the BBC website about why we spend so much time searching the internet, checking our emails and, I guess you can add, looking up election results.

"At distraction's heart aren't silicon chips, but an unwillingness to confront very human issues: pain, boredom, anxiety." Pretty deep, but probably pretty correct too.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

My take on the General Election

So soon we will know what the outcome is of the election, which given how much time I'm wasted being absorbed in the build-up is probably a good thing! I've decided not to stay up, as an early night and an early(ish) morning seems more realistic. But anyway, I thought I'd give my thoughts as I haven't blogged in a while.

Personality and Fear vs Character and Hope
These former two themes seem to me have been central to the campaigns of, at the very least, the Labour and Conservative parties (as well as the BNP obviously) much to my distress. On the one hand we have Labour saying that if you vote for the Conservatives then there'll be cuts, the recovery will collapse, and we'll go back to the 'dark days of the 1980s'. On the other the hand the Conservatives seem to want to convince us that Labour intentions are to increase unemployment, destroy the health service and turn our children into ill-educated delinquents. Both are pretty preposterous, whilst the idea that a hung Parliament will lead to Armageddon is to be honest extremely patronising (and hardly surprising given that the Conservatives want to be in overall control). Having said that, if no party has a working majority come this time tomorrow I probably will burn my neighbour's house down and eat my own hand.

I don't for a minute think the Liberal Democrats are amazingly better, but at least they've talked of something different, of being distinct and trying something new. It hasn't exactly been Obama-style, but at least they have some policies that look slightly daring, such as raising the personal allowance, questioning Trident, and other politically bold things such as scrapping the Child Trust Fund.

Having said that I'm not too sure about going further into Europe. In fact I'm quite keen to withdraw from the EU. This isn't for the UK's sake necessarily though, as my main reason is that half the EU budget goes on the Common Agricultural Policy, the main purpose of which seems to be screwing over Africa to the benefit of southern-European farmers. My issue isn't that we shouldn't care about Europeans, but that we should care for the rest of the world just as much.

Why can't the children just get along?
My main gripe though is just how little politicians seem to get along, at least the high-profile ones. David Cameron has a sound-bite that says in society currently we treat the adults as children and the children as adults. Well I think the politicians behave like children and until they can grow up and sort their differences out, we shouldn't let anyone have a majority (kind of the political equivalent of putting them on the naughty step...)

I think it's obvious that the main reason MPs go into politicians is because of a passion to change society for the better (at least in their eyes), however they just don't seem to be able to do it in cooperation. Gone are the days of the unions vs big business, with things a lot more 'central' on the political spectrum. This is a positive thing as, at the very least, there is pressure on the ruling party to do well otherwise the other party may well be voted in - in contrast, in the past if you didn't like the unions then if the Conservatives were doing badly you might not think voting 'red' would make things any better).

But much further this, I think it means that there is more common ground, where politicians can look across party divisions to see how the nation can be helped, particularly in the current economic and social climate. A practical point is that, whoever gets in, they're going to have to cut spending, and, from a party-political view, would you rather take the decision as a coalition, or be labelled for a generation as the party that put taxes up and spending down and then the economy didn't recover anyway (maybe...)? Let's have a cabinet with a mixture of the three parties (in addition to the Scotland minister coming from a Scottish party and the same for Wales and Northern Ireland), and if we really need a Prime Minister (which I am highly dubious about), let the three have it for six months each on a rotating basis! In simple terms we need politicians who put the people before their party.

My prediction
So... here's what I reckon seats-wise. Bit of a stab in the dark as I don't think the swing will be uniform at all, but I reckon that a lot of first-time voters will go Lib Dem, and that in any place where they are marginal they will seriously challenge. The Conservatives will be close to a majority but not quite, as they haven't managed to capitalise on Labour's failings as general dissatisfaction, as I don't think a lot of people have confidence in where the Conservatives want to take things. Labour will lose a lot of seats, but I think people still see them as more caring than the Conservatives, and also see Gordon Brown and other cabinet ministers as more heavyweight than their counterparts, which people will bear in mind when envisaging who they wish to govern. So here goes:

Liberal Democrats....85

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Are Christians Being Persecuted in the UK?

The short answer is probably no. Having watched a programme on Sunday night asking that question, it seemed pretty clear that it's not the case. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has wisely suggested, we need to keep a sense of proportion. Much worse things happen to Christians elsewhere around the world. But much more than this, you can only really consider something persecution if you are prevented from doing something because of something you are or choose to do without good reason. Not being allowed to wear a cross at work doesn't constitute persecution because you don't have to take the job, nor is essential to wear a cross. If they were saying you could never wear a cross, even in your own home, or if they were saying you couldn't have ginger hair at work, then that would be more like persecution.

More realistically, you could say that Christianity is being marginalised. Things that were once the norm no longer are. Beliefs, values and practices are changing, and no longer are things that are, to some, deemed 'Christian' held to by the majority of the land. However, a lot of the people bemoaning this fact don't even follow Christ as their king, and so are more concerned with preserving their own culture than about anything else.

The important question is how do Christians respond as things start to change and these values and practices are no longer considered the norm? On the one hand you can become defensive, inward-looking, and ultimately very selfish, seeing the Christian's role as 'defending the faith', hoping that we don't become infected by the rest of society. On the other hand you can seek to be like Jesus, grounded in your identity in Christ, outward-focused, caring for others, focused not on outward practices but on the underlying worldview of people and their need to know and follow God.

OK, so 'Christianity', or at least its cultural fa├žade, is retreating from mainstream society, but do we feel sorry for ourselves and look inwards, or do we look upwards and outwards, trusting in God, and seeking to know Him more and to make Him known to those around us?

Monday, 22 March 2010

There's no time like Kairos time

Today I completed a 'missions' course called Kairos which I have been taking part in some weekends over the last month or so. There are two words in Greek for 'time'. 'Chronos' refers to a length of time, whereas 'Kairos' refers to a period in time when something special happens. In this course the sense is that now is the time for seeing the world know and follow God.

I was on the course mainly because Transform had signed me up, and so I wasn't in the same place as other people in terms of wanting to explore heading abroad, but it has nevertheless been extremely thought-provoking and given me much to mull over. We spent the first half going through the Biblical 'macrotheme' of being blessed to be a blessing, encapsulated in the promises made to Abraham, and then later to Isaac and to Jacob. The notion here is that God chose a people to be blessed by Him, but with the intention that they should be a beacon to the rest of the world to demonstrate the goodness of God and the need to follow Him. This has really helped me to get a better understanding of the role of Israel, and of a lot of the more difficult passages in the Old Testament, whereby God did all He could to keep them from idolatry and mixing with other races that followed false gods. How could they bless others if they were not following God and were not able to demonstrate to others a good way of living?

The Great Commission given by the Christ to His disciples further demonstrates God's heart that all people groups (nations) of the world should come to know Him, and the images given in the Bible's concluding book, Revelation, are ones where every tribe and tongue worships God. Jesus even said that He would not come again until every nation had been told of the Good News of the Kingdom of God.

As I said, this stuff really clicked and has helped me to see the Bible through eyes that make it come alive and make so much more sense. But much more than this, it's given me a wake-up call to the much bigger perspective God has of life and its meaning. How often have I prayed concerned to the point of worry about whether I should do this or that, make choice A or B, go here or there? My prayers have become so inward focused. Now I've asked these questions with good intentions, wanting to do what is best in God's eyes, what He desires, and yet as I see tribes from remote parts of the world (see below) reacting with joy at the simple message of sins forgiven through following God, I can't help but think God might just be saying "stop worrying about the little things and just focus on me and the bigger picture".

So often I worry about things, or just thoughtlessly get on with things because I want to do them, and when I do pray its just about myself and what I need to do. I need to seek God so much more, to pray without ceasing, seeking his will, and praying for others, whether friends, family, those in my community, or unreached peoples all around the world.

So now is the time, the Kairos, for the Church to see the bigger the picture; to thank God for his amazing blessings, and to seek to be a blessing to the rest of the world, taking the Good News of the Kingdom of God to all people everywhere. And it must start with me.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Thought for lent

At the start of lent here is something interesting I picked up last year from a friend who blogs.