Friday, 2 July 2010

The Beautiful Game. And football.

So: football then. World Cup and all that. Zzzzzzz.

Mrs Angry has been forced to watch it, of course. There is no escape in the Angry household, no excuses, no exemptions. And in the course of staring vaguely in the direction of the tv screen, I've found my mind wandering quite a lot. The offside rule, for example: yes, I do understand it now, thanks to a twenty minute lecture, with diagrams, by Mr Angry, *(news update - this boast is no longer valid, it seems, after a serious misunderstanding in the Spain v Germany match) but like most women, I suspect, I fail to see why you need it anyway. (If you think you can explain this, in a short paragraph, please feel free: if not, then ha, I rest my case.)

If I have to watch sport, frankly, my own preference is - as for many women - and for all the wrong reasons - rugby, of course, especially if Ireland is playing. Because they play to win, they play with passion and they play with national pride. Think you can see where I am going with this.

I came across an interesting interview the other day in Vicki Morris' blog, vickim57, in which she quotes John Barnes' recent comments in the Standard on the unlikely parallels between socialism and good football. Or perhaps they are not as unlikely as you might imagine.

During the World Cup coverage, to take my mind off the actual football, I've also been thinking a lot about South Africa, and how radically it has changed in such a short time, politically, socially, and in so many other ways.

Seems to me the failure of England's team in this World Cup is an interesting symptom of a malaise in our national psyche, one which has infected our political life too. And the fact that this tournament is being held in the nascent Rainbow nation of South Africa only serves to underscore the loss of innocence and idealism in our own political and sporting lives.

When I was at college, our particular group of students partly consisted of a set of international post graduates. One of them was 'Mo', a South African of Indian descent. He was a political activist who had arrived on the course after escaping SA, and a government intent on silencing him for daring to question the brutal rule of apartheid then in place. Mo had already been imprisoned without trial for taking part in a student protest, released after many months and then warned he was about to be arrested again. He fled overnight, with no belongings other than a suitcase of ill fitting clothes pulled out of a friend's shop on the run in the last night in his own country. By various furtive means, he escaped the clutches of the South African police and eventually was allowed entry to the UK, on a UN scholarship

When he arrived on our course, Mo was a suspicious, almost paranoid young man. He had come from a country where everything he did, from the area where he lived, the school he went to, the part of a bus he was allowed to sit in, the cafe he was allowed to eat in, the toilets he could use, and so much more, was defined and limited by the colour of his skin. He had never mixed with white kids, couldn't believe that it was irrelevant to us who he was or where he came from, and initially was deeply suspicious of anyone who was friendly to him. At first, he was convinced that one of us was a SA secret police informant, and tried to catch whoever it was by asking each one of us in turn to illegally channel ANC money through our bank accounts. If, like me, you said no, worried what your parents would say, that was ok: it proved you were not out to entrap him. He began to relax, and spent the rest of his time evangelising, trying to raise our spoilt middle class political consciences, forcing books and pamphlets on us about apartheid, Steve Biko, infant mortality in the townships,and dragging us off to see plays about Soweto. And he was right to do it. It did change our minds and outlooks. The Tory government of the time was doing sod all to challenge the evil of apartheid. Equally shamefully, many of our famous sportsmen and musicians, the sort who now fawn over Nelson Mandela -were happy to travel to SA and accept blood money whilst sustaining the status quo, and while the majority of the oppressed population lived in abject poverty in shanty towns, with no vote, no decent health care, no right to a decent life. Mo said one day there would be a revolution, and the enslaved people of South Africa would take control of their lives, and he was going to make sure it happened. We didn't really believe him.

Well, he was right, and he did, and he still is. In fact 'Mo' is now a minister in the South African government, and a big cheese in the ANC and the SA communist party. There is still a huge amount of work to do in SA to rebuild a fairer society from the wreckage and exploitation of the apartheid years, and the politicians who are driving this forward are- like Mo - motivated by idealism, and commitment to their country and the people they represent. And watching the coverage from SA, you cannot help feel the spirit of a new society, one that still believes it can build a new Jerusalem, a new nation. How very different to the jaded, cynical and corrupt political systems in Europe and Britain.

In our country, idealism and a sense of service to the community has all but vanished from our parliament and our local government authorities. After the downfall of Thatcher, and the rise of Tony Blair, we have seen our political parties morph into one homogenous blob, peopled by career politicians with only self interest at heart.

Years ago now, a cousin of mine announced to my father that he was leaving the Diplomatic service and thinking of a career in politics. He was asked what party he intended to stand for. He shrugged: doesn't really matter, he said. My father was incandescent with rage. Despite being a die hard Tory, he did not care which party his nephew stood for, but to have no allegiance at all, no political conviction, was in his view an absolute scandal. But typical of the contemporary politician, I would say. And therein lies the fault.

We no longer have politicians like Mo entering politics as a vocation, because they want to serve the greater community, fuelled by idealism. Our politicians want only to serve their own self interests. They want a career,with expenses, allowances and priviliges, not a chance to help their fellow men and women. To be elected, it is necessary to please as many people as possible, so extreme political positions are avoided. And the Coalition government we have been landed with is the natural conclusion of this trend. How I miss the days when Tories were gentlemen, who looked on politics as a duty - noblesse oblige and all that - and Labour MPs were sturdy socialists, fighting to drag the working classes out of the mire of poverty and social injustice.

The rot set in with that grocer's daughter from Grantham, of course. If there is anything worse than a jumped up, working class Tory, I have yet to come across it. Call me a snob, but I like my political enemies to be shameless landed aristocrats with good table manners, the Harold Macmillan type of Tory, not the coarse, aggressive Tebbit model. Old Tories have a sense of duty and responsibilty to the less advantaged: new Tories don't give a shit about anyone but themselves. If they managed to pull themselves out of the gutter, they don't understand why everyone else cannot do the same. The old values of tradition and honour are of no interest to them: all that matters now is material gain, and profit. For the sake of party image, they retain a few of the old school Tories like Cameron and Osborne, now in partnership with that nice Tory-lite Mr Clegg: all public schoolboys and class traitors. Aristos pretending to be middle class in order to be electable. Yeurgh.

And then, shamefully, on the other hand, we have Labour MPs with priviliged backgrounds: former multi millionaire ministers with butlers, houses in Notting Hill, holidays on Russian oligarchs' yachts, all of them wealthy and totally estranged from the roots of the Labour Party, the working class, the disadvantaged, the poor. Socialism is a forbidden word, shamelessly excluded by New Labour like an embarrassing granny at a society wedding.

In local politics things are no different. Whereas in the past people stood for election to serve their own local communtities out of duty and a sense of civic pride, now it functions only as a preschool for wannabee politicians, and a safe haven for raving nutters.

Our own home grown bunch of raving Tory nutters here in Broken Barnet didn't even want to do the right thing and fly the England flag during the World Cup. They had to be shamed into it. Strange really, when you consider that every criticism that is made about our national team and its cynical, spoilt, overpaid celebrity players is the natural progression of the sort of Tory values that our local administration so admires: blatant materialism, wildly inflated salaries without any performance related assessment, and a total lack of accountability for failures and misjudgements. Just as our Tory led council can lose £27 million in a dodgy investment without fear of sanction, our national football team can embarrass us in the World Cup without much to worry about other than a few tabloid headlines barely glanced at as they jet off on their well deserved holidays.

At least the French had the right idea with their useless team: sending a minister to lecture them in the changing room, then summoning Thierry Henri to explain himself to M. Sarkozy. It couldn't happen here, malheureusement, because of course accountability has totally vanished from British politics, British sport and almost everywhere. Our finest players are more interested in their brainless WAGS, and their teammates' brainless WAGS, than winning a game for their country. It's a long way from Gazza's tears to Rooney's sulks, isn't it?

Just as the England players after their last disastrous game failed to admit that they had been spectacularly awful, no one in the political world feels obliged to put their own performance under scrutiny and no one any longer has the decency to resign from a political post on a point of principle, because careers are more important than principle. The Coalition government will stagger on, whatever the misgivings of ordianry Libdem party members, because a third of all their MPs have cushy ministerial posts in the government, and they won't want to surrender those arrangements, will they?

During the World Cup coverage, some of the most interesting background features have focussed on some of the little boys - and girls - who live in the poorest areas in South Africa, and have nothing, in a material sense, but love football with a passion, and were so excited by the whole tournament coming to their country. Their enthusiasm and openness was really touching. They are genuinely priviliged in a real sense too: they live in a country that is moving forwards, and where people really believe that a better future is coming, and that they can work for that future to be a reality. They have nothing that we think we want, but compared to some of us, and the decadent society we choose to live in, they have everything they need, and more.


Don't Call Me Dave said...

Cameron an old school Tory? Don’t make me laugh Mrs A! He is as much a Tory as Tony Blair is a Socialist. The Conservative Party under Cameron are like the SDP, except without the ‘D’.

I think it is fundamentally dishonest the way Labour moved to the right under Blair simply to appease middle class Tories, and the Conservatives have now shifted to the left under Cameron to appease traditional middle class Labour voters. There is nowhere for real Socialists and real Conservatives to go.

Surely it is more honourable to have principles and no power than power and no principles?

Mrs Angry said...

DCMD: when I said 'old school' I meant on terms of background,ie literally Eton + highly priviliged, rather than referring to principles. Posh Boy has no more use of principles than Blair did, and I absolutely agree with your comments.

Mrs Angry said...

... er and I have to retract my somewhat premature boast that I understood the offside rule, which became apparent during the Germany v Spain game, so now it's back to square one ...