“They no savvy shame” as the cook used to say in Nigeria. And he wasn’t working for Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak. In 2005 at Gleneagles the G8’s European members led by Tony Blair decided to sign up to the UN development aid target of 0.7% of Gross National Income (GNI). David Cameron later turned this pledge into a commitment in UK law. Johnson presides at the G7 June meeting this year with a reduced UK aid target of 0.5% of GNI. These cuts are particularly damaging in the midst of a pandemic. And here, having spent 35 years of my life working in international aid, I declare a personal interest.
Three figures give some idea of the magnitude of the global COVID problem. Sierra Leone where I worked with Muslim and Christian leaders in a national malaria education programme that reached five million – with pregnant women and under-fives most at risk – has vaccinated eight out of every thousand people. In oil-rich Nigeria with a population of around 200 million the figure is nine per thousand. In Malawi, which incidentally had the largest Department for International Development (DfiD) office I’ve come across in Africa, it’s 17.5 per thousand. These figures almost guarantee new and more dangerous mutations. And they won’t stay in Africa.
Despite the government’s expressed preference to ‘cut once, cut deep’ there have been two very deep cuts in our former £14 billion aid budget. According to the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (that reports to the All-Party International Development Committee) last year there was an actual cut of £2.94 billion based on - an overestimate of - the amount GNI had fallen. There followed this year a further cut of £4 billion, apparently at the insistence of the Treasury. The very poorest countries are hit hardest by these sudden unprepared for cuts.
Andrew Rawnsley in last Sunday’s The Observer, quotes a former Cabinet member describing the reduction in funding as nothing to do with economics and ‘utterly cynical’. “It’s because they think aid cuts go down well in the red wall seats”, he said. There may be some truth in that claim but, hamstrung by vast Trident costs and by ring-fenced departmental budgets, there was also fear that not being able to increase the Defence budget would alienate Conservative voters. And on the Tory back-benches there is a strong ‘charity begins at home…and ends there’ faction, long hostile to DfID, who applauded its absorption into the Foreign Office.
Insufficient time and thought has been given to which beneficiaries, countries and categories of programmes would face reductions, and their consequences. From March to December 2020, £1.39 billion of British aid was spent on anti-COVID measures around the world. You might have thought that in the midst of a pandemic funding for the rest of the health sector in the poorest countries would be carefully protected. But the cuts hastily introduced this year damage programmes against malaria, polio and HIV and, most importantly, will affect public health systems which prevent and control disease, including COVID.
The Victorians were smart enough to work out that parsimony and indifference to the health of the poor was a bad idea. Cholera and other infectious diseases they realised jumped class barriers and borders. This simple observation applied globally does not seem to have fully penetrated the Johnson government’s policy though, characteristically, Gordon Brown has made it crystal clear.
Providing COVID equipment, PPE’s, oxygen, ICUs and so on will make only a marginal difference if the recipients in a local health system are badly organised, corruptly managed or even barely functioning. And here is the Achilles heel of government-to-government funding providing good copy for the right-wing press and clearing the consciences of voters who support cuts in aid. If the government clinic is not properly funded, the nurses and doctors poorly trained or doing two jobs, and the clinic has no drugs or equipment that works, it is to little avail. Corruption and poor governance kills. Sensitive interventions in the management of ministries can and do make a difference and must continue.
In an ideal world, the comparative advantage of governmental aid interventions generally is scale. Immunisation for example must reach whole populations as we all know from our recent experience of Covid. There are, of course, large NGOs such as OXFAM which can manage significant humanitarian programmes by providing clean water and similarly Save the Children for education. The British government has pathways to those in need via such relevant NGOs that bypass corrupt governments.
Our government is also more covertly dipping into development aid spending for services provided by other Departments of State. While COVAX spending is appropriately taken from the aid budget spending on peacekeeping should come out of the defence budget and for climate change out of Business and Energy - not out of development aid. And all such assistance in our interconnected world should be considered as a security measure if the term is to have much meaning. FCO/DfID needs to learn from the COVID pandemic and focus on funding for health and education. This year’s cut of £4 billion should be reversed immediately.
Health and education are not only pivotal for a country’s future they are unifying concerns shared by every parent irrespective of faith, ethnicity or nationality. Non-Governmental organisations (NGOs), local and international, do wonderful work. In Sierra Leone I have watched a Pentecostal pastor and an Imam together teaching parents about bed nets, mosquitoes and standing water, then going back to their communities to bring health education into their sermons. And there are no more influential health visitors than respected elder village women chatting to mothers at bath-time, bringing health messages for the under-fives into the conversation. I have watched illiterate women being trained to recognise symptoms of a score of major diseases in Mali so they can send those who need to go to the nearest clinic for treatment. These are the sort of small-scale things NGOs do well and they can often be scaled up in support of health Ministries where the potential for national action lies.
As our Government Ministers sit round the Cabinet table or claim improbably to camera that cuts to health programmes are temporary, I wish they could be transported to the places where the cuts fall to meet grass roots workers and explain why our rich country can’t help them. The £4 billion cut this year is about 1% of what Mr. Sunak has been spending on dealing with the multiple impacts of COVID in UK. Andrew Mitchell, former Secretary of State for International Development, knows what a shameful, short-sighted and damaging step the Chancellor and the Prime Minister are taking. MPs who think like Mitchell should stand up and, like him, be counted.
See TheArticle 27/05/2021
RELIGION & VIOLENCE
The latest killings of Palestinian and Israeli civilians in the asymmetric war between Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel raises questions about the connection between religion and violence. Hamas emerged from the 1987 intifada as a religiously motivated break-away from Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation. Israel is the Jewish State. How much of what is happening is driven by religious conviction and how much by national self-assertion?
Our own civil war in Northern Ireland was often spoken of as conflict between Catholics and Protestants though most people perceived the competing nationalisms. The Irish Catholic bishops unwavering condemnation of violence limited the IRA’s capacity to use Catholicism in its cause. While CEO of a Catholic development agency, I received a letter from a Maze prisoner requesting books on liberation theology. I sent a small booklet about “The Crucified Peoples”, theological reflections on the people’s suffering in war. On the Unionist side the Rev. Ian Paisley’s violent rhetoric did nothing to interdict Protestant paramilitaries.
If people were asked which of the Abrahamic faiths they associated with violence many would say Islam. According to the Pew Foundation in 2017, 63% of White Evangelicals and 41% of Catholics in the USA thought Islam encouraged violence more than other faiths. ISIS and Al-Qaida’s perverse glorification of violence in the name of Allah and their Islamic claims obviously contribute to these views. Yet the only people who might gain from the killing of non-combatants both in Gaza and the few in Israel are nationalists: Netanyahu, struggling for his political life, the political leaders of Hamas, and their backers, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
Are such public perceptions correct? Is there a thread linking 9/11 and 611, a year after the Prophet began receiving the revelations which are the content of the Qur’ān, and the beginning of his and his followers’ persecution in Mecca? Brian B. Lawrence in The Oxford Handbook of Religion & Violence (2013) traces Muhammad’s attempts to avoid war and suppress idolatry and social violence - including the practice of female infanticide (Qur’ān 17.31). “He resisted the use of force: neither he nor his followers engaged in war until he was forced to flee his home and become a refugee in Medina in 622”.* There, the nascent Muslim community fought for survival though, whenever possible, attempts were made to make peace with rivals rather than eliminate them.
For many today jihad has become synonymous with suicide bombings and beheadings. But Lawrence, like many other scholars, portrays Jihad as originally having a personal meaning of spiritual struggle, alongside a communal meaning, as a quest for a higher religious good. The idea that the sweeping expansion across the Middle East and North Africa after the Prophet’s death was a jihad, and the Caliphs who settled in centres such as Damascus and Baghdad made laws exclusively on the basis of Qur’ān, does not hold water. Warfare was described by Muslim writers of the time in terms of conquest and raids, neither holy nor primarily aimed at conversion. Ironically the term jihad began to be used by Saladin in a mimetic military reaction to the fall of Jerusalem to the Crusaders in 1099. After the Mughal invasions of the 13th century warfare clearly returned to being a State/Caliphate concern while the Caliph himself became the sole legitimate owner and arbiter of the means of coercion. It was in the nineteenth century that Muslim leaders returned to using the term jihad to sanctify violent resistance, this time against colonialism and European culture. In short Muslims, through the centuries, in a variety of contexts, like Christians, have not been averse to finding religious legitimation for conquest and warfare.
Both Christian and Islamic writers developed a body of ethical thinking about the conditions under which war, or jihad, could be declared – the emphasis was on legitimate authority for mobilising forces and on defence. There was also an attempt to define rules governing warfare and what ought to be conduct towards combatants and non-combatants. A partly shared just war theory is reflected in protocols about targeting today. On the Muslim side, Shari’a has an extensive treatment of these issues. War like slavery was taken as a given.
Pogroms against Jews and repeated Crusades were the product of a particular interpretation of divine revelation. A collective and inherited responsibility for the death of Christ was attributed to Jews for the first sixteen centuries of European Christianity. All this does not make Christianity an essentially violent religion. But it does show the gulf between the different understandings of Christian faith spanning the centuries.
But as former Supreme Court Judge, Jonathan Sumption, said in a 2012 BBC Fore Thought programme, we should not see the past in terms of the present. This “marginalises historical events by treating them as monstrous aberrations from the path of truth chosen by our own generation”.** As a result we fail to learn from the ‘vicarious experience of the past’ the insights that good history grants.
What lessons should we learn then? First, the obvious, that we are invariably predisposed to legitimate our own violence and condemn that of our opponents, enemies and victims. Second, we need to have a clear picture of the social and political circumstances in which a small minority successfully promotes violence as an integral or necessary part of their faith. Third, we need to support and draw on the religious resources of each faith community to work for mediation, reconciliation, social justice and human dignity.
There is a fourth: we should not provoke violence. Likud leader, and future Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 after peace talks had failed resulted in the second, intensely violent, intifada. Muslims see this contested area as a noble sanctuary, a symbol of their religious identity. The Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque are amongst the holiest buildings in Islamic belief. A sure way to tip a faith community, pushed to its limits and already in conflict, into violence are actions seen as desecrating or threatening their holy places and holy days. Pace Lord Sumption, this is almost as true today as it was in 1099. And it is hard to believe Netanyahu was not just as aware of this as Sharon.
* Ali Altaf Mian presenting Lawrence’s thinking in The Bruce B. Lawrence Reader Duke University Press 2021
**Published in a series of articles as ‘On Apologising for History’ in Law in a Time of Crisis Profile books 2021
See TheArticle 20/05/2021
KEIR STARMER & THE VISION THING
If Sir Keir Starmer ever feels ‘the hand of history on his shoulder’ it will most likely be a hand holding him back. Bad enough being in opposition with scant access to mass media, far worse when the best you can do is deliver your speeches to a COVID-free empty room. He still has to deal with a mutinous crew for whom doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result remains the measure of socialist purity.
It’s always said that charisma is vital for today’s leaders if they are to connect with voters. Being ‘charismatic’ means enjoying a mutually invigorating relationship with your audience. They respond to you, feel that you are speaking for them. A mysterious process of reciprocal reinforcement takes place. Tony Blair enjoyed more than his fair share of it, and it helped him win three elections in a row. There were serious efforts to tackle child poverty. Public services were improved. Voters believed he and New Labour wanted what they wanted, besides good public services, a good job, a nice house, a car. Their aspirations were the Labour Party’s and he would help them succeed.
Boris Johnson, with a pocket full of captivating slogans – levelling up, taking back control - has it too. And he too evidently chimes with voters. His transgressive remarks signal he would not look down on them or accuse them of racism or bigotry. Keir Starmer commands the socially distanced Chamber of the House of Commons as he once commanded the court room, but struggles under present circumstances to form that vital relationship with the general public. He has yet to be rewarded with a ‘People’s Princess’ moment and to connect emotionally.
Then there is the vision thing and communicating it. There are two problems here. First, Jeremy Corbyn definitely had a vision but it was not the vision the voting public or many in his Party shared. Second, Oppositions' big ideas, tend to be taken over and fed into government rhetoric or simply derided. Yet, these problems are also opportunities.
One opportunity came out of the shenanigans involving Angela Rayner: a Shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work. If the best the Conservative Party can manage in the Queen’s speech is a reheated version of their own failed skills training paid for by loans the financially insecure are unlikely to take out, then the political terrain is not as fully occupied as it might seem. Upskilling is, of course, important. Government pays lip-service to creating ‘quality jobs’. But there is much rhetoric rather than action. And fear that quality jobs are a distraction from quantity of jobs. They aren’t.
Rayner will now ‘shadow’ a number of ministers across government departments and will have the opportunity to promote a policy of ‘Good Work for all’. She faces an open goal. Skills and Apprentices are located in the Ministry of Education under the blunder-prone Gavin Williamson. The Secretary of State for Work & Pensions, Therese Coffey, is on record as proposing pensioners should pay national insurance. And right-wing Etonian Kwasi Kwateng leading Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy presents a tempting target.
The experience of COVID has changed public thinking about the value of different forms of work. This is to Ms. Rayner’s advantage. The public is now more aware of the profound injustice of the social and economic value of jobs bearing no relationship to pay and rewards. NHS workers, social carers, bus drivers appeared in a new light as ‘essential workers’, some outstandingly courageous.
Work today is more precarious and pressurized than thirty years ago. Even pre-COVID some 30% of jobs were insecure. The development of the gig economy has suffered minor setbacks but persists. Many of the millions in self-employment end up with an income below the minimum wage. Elsewhere, particularly in NGOs and better paid jobs, the expectation of unpaid overtime goes unchallenged. To be in work is not to get out of poverty as government ministers repeat and as those resorting to food banks illustrate. The economy suffers. Low investment, poor people management, poor pay and low productivity go together.
Angela Rayner has a strong body of innovative thinking and research to call on. At a recent on-line St. Mary’s University conference on workers’ rights, celebrating the 130th anniversary of the first papal encyclical on the world of work, the economist Will Hutton described the growth of private equity company and the Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACS). Alongside the ephemeral working relationships of the gig economy such new ephemeral forms of ownership and financing have been springing up. The real owner of a SPAC is deliberately obscured like that of a Panama-flagged ship. Employees literally have no idea who they are working for. Transparency is needed for more than countering tax avoidance. But there are also companies acknowledging serious social responsibility which are willing to broaden their purpose beyond profit. But they are still few. Labour could promise to support the growth of such initiatives by promising changes in company law.
Angela Rayner has available , for example, The Good Work Plan produced by the respected policy strategist, Matthew Taylor, formerly head of No. 10’s Policy Unit, and commissioned by the Department of Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. The plan was published by the May Government in December 2018, but it has gathered dust under Boris Johnson. Work should offer fairness, respect, team work, voice, representation on boards, work-life balance, opportunity to develop and use skills to the full and consideration for mental health. In short, wellbeing , sense of purpose, an overall movement from worker as Fordist automaton to a creative autonomy within the workplace with control over work- life balance. Turning purposeful ‘Good Work’ into a public policy objective, as an integral part of reducing unemployment, has been bruited for years but still not implemented.
Put this all together and radical reform of the world of work should be par excellence Labour’s vision thing. The Labour Party needs to be the Party identified with the Future of Work. In the fast advancing world of AI and with the push of new technologies to combat Climate Change, creating ‘Good Work’ requires radical change and innovation in economic thinking across a wide front. Going to the country with a clear strategic vision for the future of work would be swimming with the tide of public concerns, would mean working with Labour’s traditional union backers and would appeal to both youth, women, low income workers, and ethnic minorities. Focusing on work avoids the false binary choice between bringing home traditional Labour voters or the Party for the middle-class, for graduates, youth and the big cities.
Far from demotion, the leader of the Opposition has given Angela Rayner the opportunity to be at the cutting edge of Labour’s renewal and fight-back as a visionary Party of the future. She should seize it with both hands.
See TheArticle 13/05/2021
Dear Thérese Coffey,
As you will remember, it takes 15% of the Parliamentary Conservative Party to write to the backbench 1922 Committee for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister to be called. Only 55 Conservative MPs would be enough. You might say that the future of this country for the next three years rests on 55 people.
You will think this is a strange time to raise such a possibility after the Conservative Party did so well in the 6 May elections. And it might seem misguided for a dyed-in-the-wool Labour supporter to even discuss it with you, a Cabinet member. Again you would be right. For Mr. Rishi Sunak would be a more formidable rival for Sir Keir Starmer than the current incumbent, and Mrs. Sunak would not need a loan from a Tory donor to buy her wallpaper.
But in crisis times like these we all realise that Liam Byrne’s jokey note after the 2010 elections ‘I’m afraid there’s no money’ is now actually true. Britain is economically damaged today reminiscent of our indebtdness on “VE” day 1945 – which fell this year on Saturday 8 May. Even the most curmudgeonly of cosmopolitans has patriotic thoughts. I would like to suggest, and such thoughts are perhaps shared by some Conservative MPs even if pushed to the back of their minds, that it is not in the national interest for Mr. Boris Johnson to go on much longer. He has been, and is, damaging this country’s standing in the world. If the aim is for a ‘Global Britain’ of good repute then cutting Aid budgets and breaking international agreements we have just signed is no way to achieve it.
Even the most thick-skinned of your Cabinet colleagues must be increasingly embarrassed by Wednesday PMQs watching Sir Keir Starmer’s disbelieving, controlled and dignified countenance while he systematically demolishes a ranting Prime Minister. The Speaker would do well to point out that Parliamentary Questions were intended to be answered. Last Wednesday Mr. Johnson had a tantrum, shouting, red-in-the-face and poking his finger at the Leader of the Opposition across the dispatch box. Yes, a tantrum. Like a baggily dressed tousled toddler who has been reprimanded. You’ll perhaps say the public don’t watch or seem to care. And you may be right. Maybe the toddler look and behaviour bring out the public’s maternal/paternal instincts. When Johnson’s indecision last year was condemned for resulting in multiple unnecessary COVID deaths ‘he’s doing his best’ was a common public response. The sort of defence an adult might make of a young child.
There is also something childish about Johnson’s repeated lying. I remember seeing a weasel crossing the road as I was driving a car full of grandchildren in your own Suffolk constituency, a long black streak, tail continuous with body. ‘Did you see the weasel?’ Some had. ‘Aren’t they amazing, so fast and vicious’ ‘Yes, and he had a chicken in his mouth’ came back a voice from the back seat. It didn’t matter that it was untrue. The vicious weasel ought to have caught a poor chicken - so it had. For this little boy the border between truth and childish imagination was still fluid. The story was much better with a chicken and the toddler who made the claim got admiring looks. Mr. Johnson has a toddler’s imagination for a better story together with the more calculated kind of adult lying.
The Prime Minister’s lies prompted both Peter Oborne’s meticulously researched The Assault on Truth and Peter Stefanovic’s on-line fact-checking video seen by over 15 million viewers. The lies are not unnoticed occasional mistakes. Lying, rule-breaking and a lack of interest in factual accuracy and truth on this scale have debilitating consequences. The most notable is that trust evaporates. You don’t believe what the man is saying even when he’s telling the truth. Breaking international law and treaties means that Britain as a State becomes doubly disliked and distrusted at any negotiating table. It also means in tribal politics that colleagues have to stay on message and talk nonsense, ‘a farrago of nonsense’ as Johnson likes to say, to distract from what is happening. Sometimes his distance for the actualité simply means he can’t be bothered to learn his brief - as the Foreign Office and Nazanin Zaghari-Radcliffe discovered to their cost while Mr. Johnson was Foreign Secretary.
For some the Prime Minister’s repeated lying is a national joke. But laughing about it simply plays into his self-confected image as the jolly-joker. So does the use of the first name, or Bojo, both creating a national brand, conferring a sort of fake intimacy. Mr. Johnson inhabits a social class accustomed to getting away with things, his sense of privilege honed at Eton. Most of us are as warmly intimate with this class as is the chicken with the weasel.
It is for Johnson’s own good, not only the national interest, that he should go. The falsity and hypocrisy, their sheer daily burden, must leave a terrible emptiness. He can’t do the job competently. He doesn’t even look as if he likes the job. He is heading for deep trouble as the costs of the pandemic and BREXIT become more visible. If he were to resign after Hartlepool in the bag, his big victory, he would be leaving on a relative high. With his libertarian tendencies and shortage of cash he would be much happier at liberty making a fortune performing on the lecture circuits with perhaps a touch of lobbying.
Britain is a divided, damaged country but President Biden in the USA is showing that healing is possible. Patriotism is a term often abused. But I imagine all your fellow 363 Conservative MPs would wish to be seen and considered as patriots. The patriotic thing to do would be to return Boris Johnson to the back benches and install a Prime Minister who could restore Britain’s standing and influence in the world and set about the task of healing the country’s divisions. Or must Party always come before Country?
See TheArticle 08/05/2021
POLITICS & FOOTBALL
The Super-League fiasco with its pleasing echo of David defeating Goliath bears thinking about. Fans spoke eloquently about the values that would be trampled if the club owners got their way. But why don’t we find the same values referred to in vox pop about next week’s elections?
TV and Radio’s vox pop, long-stemmed microphone shoved under the nose of citizens going about their lawful occasions, is mostly depressing and irritating. A cheap substitute for the experts and their analysis? Media folk virtue signalling by listening to the public? “How do you feel about 20% of the young people in your town being unemployed? Ask a silly question and you’ll get a silly answer as my mother-in-law used to say. Yet ‘how do you feel about the Super-League’ uncorked passionate responses, thoughtful, lengthy, essentially moral and political – with a small ‘p’.
The responders’ reactions were not of shock or surprise at the venal nature of Premier League football. Since at least the 1980s when investigative journalist, Geoff Seed’s World in Action documentary on Manchester United had shown how, in anticipation of the forthcoming massive commercialisation of club football, Manchester United’s owners were dubiously buying up shares like they bought up boy footballers. The greed-led failings of UEFA and FIFA are also well known. But to the indignant fans the Super-League was a step too far. And it helped that the step was being taken by multi-millionaire owners, who happened not to be British.
Geoff Seed, third of five generations of Manchester City fans, reflecting on the public outcry, shared his own memories of what football had meant to working class communities. Supporting your local club had cemented relationships between the generations in families. Shared experiences and memories built community. In the 1930s his Great Aunt was given lifts to away-matches by first team players. Difficult to imagine today. In the late 1950s Burnley’s chairman Bob Lord – known by some as the ‘Khrushchev of Burnley’ - who epitomised the mill-owner mentality of football chairmen tried to peg players’ salaries to £20 a week. Football as a sport had changed almost beyond recognition but the old values were being demonstrated by fans outside glittering stadiums home to the six British clubs who proposed to join the Super-League.
Community, though, was not the only value asserted by protesting crowds. There was the threat to the relationship between the minnows and sharks of football. The Super-League spelt an end to redistribution of wealth from TV rights and merchandising, from the world of players on £200,000 a week to the struggling little clubs. And a sharp reduction to support for the promotion of football amongst young amateur footballers. Making a different point, fans complained that sealing off the elite teams within a new League would kill football’s drama. There would be no more giant killers like Leicester City. Where would be the rewards for courage, skill and dedication? Where the punishment for their absence? What would happen to the merit in football’s meritocracy?
The contrast between the top football club owners and fans was stark. Local versus international, ‘somewhere’ people versus ‘nowhere’ people, the football born in traditional working class culture – now a part of national identity - against that of international elites, sharing versus greedy exclusion. It was as if the dilemmas at the heart of British politics had been prised open, the choices laid bare. Yet the angry interlocutors who understood and defended their values within competitive sport did not seem to relate such values to wider society and to the possibility that such values might be voted for and inform government.
The recent protests were not the first time aroused fans had taken decisive action against greedy owners. The reaction to Malcolm Glazer’s take-over of Manchester United in 2005, landing the club with responsibility for loans he had taken out to buy it, resulted in the formation by the ‘Red Rebels’ and of the break-away FC United of Manchester. The new club was fan-led and fan owned.
For some overt politics you need to go north of the border to Celtic’s ‘Green Brigade’. The club’s origins in the 1880s were charitable, helping the underdog, the newly arrived Irish immigrants. Palestinian flags appeared during a 2016 match against the Israeli champions Hapoel Be’er Shiva in protest at Israeli government human rights violations, incurring a UEFA fine for illicit use of banners. Fans reacted by crowd-funding two Palestinian relief organisations, matching the fine. Then there was the reaction to the Lazio ‘Ultras’ and the Lazio-Celtic match of 24 October 2019. Fascist salutes and rival mocking of Mussolini in Glasgow streets and on the terraces brought back 1930s-style confrontations. Wider politics has always passed through the Celtic turnstiles.
The Super-League fiasco does seem to show that popular culture in Britain is not politically inert, not a kind of ethical desert of indifference and inaction. The current national campaign boycotting social media carrying racist comment on matches shows the wider influence of Black Lives Matter - and clubs and players seeking some moral credibility. We may want to keep politics with a big ‘P’ out of sport – though boycotting South African teams during apartheid did undermine the assurance of white supremacy - but sport is too important a part of national life for it not to be a channel for the expression of values. The question is: why aren’t the values we’ve seen popping up about the Super-League in vox pop also surfacing as people disclose their voting intentions for the elections this May? And, as our democracy is eroded, why are these values not transferred to electoral engagement, judgement and action?
One answer might be that throughout all the different forms of media sport is reported in great detail, factually and analytically. Fans can verify coverage and reporting itself benefits from the willingness of fans to digest and share complex information which can be fitted into explanatory frameworks that have real meaning. On the other hand access to politicians for political journalists is limited. On the job, they are met with ‘gaslighting’, obfuscation, and refusal to answer questions. Facts are in short supply; instead there is the latest spin, lies, scandal and cover-up. In the face of instances of downright biased reporting the public begin to doubt their own perceptions, memories and understanding of events. Many are reduced to simple propositions. “Voting makes no difference”. “Politicians? They’re all the same”. But are footballers, coaches, managers, referees and owners all the same? The crowds of rejoicing fans last week indicated that the public doesn’t seem to think so. And they’d vote out the owners if they had the chance.
See TheArticle 28/04/2021