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As thick as mince

06/05/2017


In the basement of a central London bookshop the London Festival of Football Writing took place a couple of weeks ago and I bussed it across town one evening and joined an audience of about fifty nodding sagely and slurping on six quid craft beers whilst listening to a discussion on football, community and, erm, working class culture. Manchester’s staged a similar literary football event for a few years now but this was the first one in the capital. Where Manchester leads, London follows.

Much of the discussion centred on the historian Anthony Clavane’s recent book “A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse” in which he argues that as Thatcherism ripped the heart out of the industrial north and economic power has migrated south over the last thirty odd years so footballing and sporting power has shifted with it leaving Yorkshire and the rest of the north feeding off scraps. I won’t bore you with the details of what was, on the whole, a thoroughly bleak discussion except to say that it quickly lapsed into that familiar territory of portraying working class folk as principally the victims of events beyond our control. The “things are shite and they always will be” view of the world. We need to suck it up.

When the mood brightened a little and someone in the audience suggested that supporter ownership of football clubs is a means of reclaiming football for the working class one of the participants in the discussion, football journalist Rory Smith, was quick to note how things at FC United, once the poster boys and girls of the supporter ownership movement, had all gone “a bit political” recently. A reference, no doubt, to the off-pitch troubles that have affected the club since it moved into its own ground two years ago. To be fair, he probably reasoned that there’s unlikely to be anyone in a London bookshop that has the foggiest what’s been going on at FC in recent months but nevertheless it was the type of glib, dismissive comment that typifies the view of many journalists and media commentators towards those members of the working class who actually get off their arses and try and change things (football or wider society) for the better. What, the FC United supporters actually wanted to run their own football club? A membership card and a flag with some Stone Roses lyrics on it wasn’t enough for them? They wanted real power?

Of course, as we own our own football club we were able to prevent a discredited leader and his freeloading mates from driving the club into oblivion. It’s one of the beauties of true supporter ownership. Membership is more than a laminated card. Twelve months ago we were able to elect a new board that has done much to turn the club’s fortunes round. We’re not out of the woods yet by any means but things are looking up and it feels once again like “our” football club, a collective effort. It’s an intriguing and ultimately uplifting story that ought to be worth telling by any journalist prepared to do a bit of digging. David Conn anyone?

But as is often the case when working class people change things for the better rather than submissively accepting their fate it tends to be sneered at by those who prefer the image of the plucky underdog, gamely trying to change things but ultimately doomed to failure rather than those striving to change the world around them and actually succeeding against the odds. The current general election campaign is full of this condescension.

Look at the abuse hurled at Diane Abbott simply for getting some numbers wrong in a radio interview. The subtext: how dare this opinionated black woman want to hold office in a future government. Think of how difficult it must have been for Diane Abbott to get where she is, the amount of racist and sexist shit that she’s had to put up with down the years. And compare that to Mrs Strong & Stable who, by comparison has had pretty much everything, including the Tory party leadership, handed to her on a plate. Look too at the coverage of others in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow team. Take Angela Rayner, for instance, a Manchester MP and the youngest ever shadow education secretary. What could someone who left school as a pregnant teenager with no qualifications after being raised on a council estate by a mother who couldn’t even read or write possibly know about education? Someone replying to one of her recent tweets described her “as thick as mince”.

Or what does Salfordian Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, who grew up with an alcoholic dad know about the health service? Probably not much given that he went to school in the Bury without the St Edmund’s bit at the end. Or what about John McDonnell who left school at seventeen and proceeded to have a series of dead end jobs before finally studying for his A Levels at night school. Future Chancellor of the Exchequer? What would someone who’s had to struggle for a living possibly know about managing the nation’s finances?

I’ve been genuinely excited by Labour’s general election campaign but, at the same time, as that Tory lead in the polls narrows I’m trying to resist the temptation to go full on 1992 “we’re gonna win the league” about it all. That’d be daft because you just know that by 10.01pm on Thursday night we could very well all be sad faced emoji again. But whatever happens on Thursday there’s no doubt that it has been a remarkable campaign by Labour and wonderful to see Jeremy Corbyn grow into it. Far from being the weak link that many thought (and hoped) he seems to be relishing the opportunity to make the case, unfiltered by the Tory supporting media, for the most progressive election manifesto for more than thirty years. Win or lose, the debate has shifted to the left and after years of having neoliberal economics rammed down our throats and being told that there is no alternative to rampant capitalism at last we have politicians making the case for a society rooted in fairness and social justice and above all one that offers people hope. Things are looking up again and for that we owe a lot to Corbyn.

But for me this Labour campaign has been much more than a one man show. Whilst the Blairite plotters and slimeball careerists have slithered into the background desperate to preserve their precious careers and remain untarnished by any association with a left wing loser like Corbyn it’s given others a chance to emerge, blinking, into the spotlight. And how well this supposed B team has performed; it’s been wonderful to see the likes of Angela Rayner, Jon Ashworth and Rebecca Long-Bailey (to name but a few) step up to the plate. People who know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet and who have had to graft to get where they are. What a refreshing change to see politicians from working class backgrounds making the case for putting people rather than profit at the heart of government policy. Wouldn’t it be great too if those journalists who prattle on about money trees and view the fully costed spending commitments in Labour’s manifesto as marking a return to the seventies did so objectively rather than as part of the 5% of people who would pay more tax under a Labour government. Where are the genuine working class voices in our mainstream media?

Listen to Angela Rayner talking about the Labour plans for a national education service free at the point of access and tell me that you’re not welling up with pride at what this country can achieve when it puts its mind to it. The media, seemingly more interested in nuclear bombs and Hamas and the IRA, have laughably framed Labour’s plans for education as a cynical attempt to buy the youth vote by abolishing student loans and replacing them with grants. But that’s as wide of the target as a John Terry penalty; there’s so much more to these plans than simply university education, in fact they almost deserve a television debate of their own. When Rayner talks passionately about pre-school education and adult education you know she’s speaking from the heart and from personal experience. Compared to the focus grouped policies beloved of the career politicians scared to death to upset the curtain twitchers of Hemel Hempstead and Harpenden it’s a breath of fresh air and light years away from the present government’s slashing of school budgets – something that offers hope to millions of children and adults for whom getting a decent education can be tough.

The Theresa May mantra of “strong and stable” leadership repeated like a stuck record throughout this utterly joyless Tory election campaign is a direct appeal to the “not for the likes of us” tendency that would prefer working class people to leave the big decisions in life to their supposed better qualified social superiors. Carry on gawping at that fifty six inch idiot lantern in your living room and keep on getting pissed and talking shite about football and reality television and leave the important stuff to us hey. Well balls to that. We might struggle to match the towering intellect of the likes of Theresa and Boris and Amber but, hey, when we put our collective minds to it we’re capable of truly wonderful, life enhancing achievements as well. The NHS is one. The safety net of the welfare state is another. And the national education service could be a wonderful addition too. And a football club wholly owned and run by its supporters that, despite troubles of its own, reaches out to some of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable people in its community plays its part too. FCUM. The Labour Party. There’s life left in us yet you know.

Vote Labour.

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From → London, Politics, Sport

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