The Obscurer

Consigned To The Corbyn Of History

Two points:

a: I’m not a fan of Jeremy Corbyn. Never have been.

b: I spend a lot of time on Twitter defending him and retweeting sympathetic stuff from his supporters.

Point a hasn’t caused me any issues – it appears I’m in company – but point b has, at times, meant I’ve been labelled a cultist-fan of the Magic Grandpa by people without the power of original thought. So, if you’re one of those people, or if you are one of the many on Twitter who is nuance-deficient, you may be asking, “how can these two positions be reconciled?”

Well here are two more thoughts. I think that the most important and self-inflicted problems that cost Labour at the last election were

c: Jeremy Corbyn himself being leader, and

d: The civil war waged against him by much of the PLP.

So why does my Twitter timeline lead people to think I’m a Corbyn fan? Perhaps because point c happened once, five years ago, and I grudgingly accepted it, while point d occurred almost continually, with only brief respite, over the next four years. I know which I find the more annoying.

And the thing is, if anything, I think I’ve been too harsh on Corbyn. My main issue, individual policy differences aside, was that I didn’t think he was electable. Well ladies and gentlemen, anyone who can get over 40% of the vote at a General Election, as Corbyn did in 2017, is electable. But have I been too harsh on his detractors? My main issue there is that I agree with the longstanding opinion that divided parties don’t win elections. We all know what happened next. So in fact, no; I may not have been harsh enough.

But here we are, a bright new Labour leader, a party under new management, a poll rating proving that Labour would be 20 points ahead of the Tories under any leader other than Corbyn…oh wait, one of them hasn’t happened. Yet. And a lot of people now angry at Corbynistas for not lining up behind the new leader. I mean, what sort of hypocrite do you have to be to complain about Labour not backing Jeremy Corbyn if you’re not now going to go and back Keir Starmer?

And they have a very good point. It’s just that, as the last few years have shown us, this hypocrisy thing cuts both ways.

Concerning Immigration

There are, no doubt, some genuine concerns around regarding the matter of immigration; but there are undoubtedly some racist reasons for opposing immigration too. When we say “It’s not racist to want controls on immigration” then, whatever else we’re doing, we’re also placating racists by telling them their racism isn’t racist.

Genuine concerns about immigration tend to include such issues as the increased pressures that migrants bring to GP services, school places and the housing stock. We could cut immigration and that, along with a heroic dose of ceteris paribus, should alleviate these issues. But this broad brush approach would also mean we would be indulging the racists in their racism.

Alternatively we could respond to pressures on GPs, schools and housing by, you know, employing more GPs, expanding schools and building houses. This cunningly targeted plan should deal with those genuine concerns, meaning the only ones left are those that are intolerantly racist.

Show me a genuine concern around immigration and I reckon I can show you a solution which does not require tighter immigration controls, and so does not include the collateral damage of placating, indulging or tolerating racists and their racism. Sometimes the obvious needs spelling out; but for all of us opposed to racism, whatever our other concerns, the path we should choose seems pretty clear.

The Spirit Of ‘92

If you’d asked me five years ago who would be the most likely winner of the 2015 election, I’d have said the Conservatives. I always thought that, whatever else happened, by the time of the next election the economy would be recovering in one way or another, and so many people would be faced with a simple narrative; Labour wrecked the economy, the Tories are sorting it, don’t mess it up. And so I waited and waited over the subsequent years for the opinion polls to show the obvious, inevitable swing back to the Tories. Polling day got closer and closer, that swing was going to be late, then later, but it had to happen. And when it didn’t materialise my hopes were raised a little, then a lot. So, when the exit polls showed that I’d been right all along, thanks to my newfound false sense of security my expected result hit me with a hammer blow of shock.

Where did Labour go wrong? Far be it from me, a far from die hard, dyed-in-the-wool Labour voter to explain or understand, but I desperately wanted a Labour victory. I’d gladly have put my cross next to their candidate if they stood a chance in my constituency, and in the event my actual vote for the Liberal Democrats was mainly intended to help them by harming the Tories. I was pretty happy with most of Labour’s policies, but I did have certain misgivings over strategy. Take their response to the criticisms made by Boots boss Stefano Pessina. When he stated that a Miliband government would be a catastrophe, he didn’t actually criticise a single Labour policy; in fact the only party policy he did criticise was the Conservative pledge to hold a referendum on the EU. For me that’s your rebuttal right there, and Labour should have held out the hand of friendship and respectfully explained why they believed he was wrong. Instead it was reported that Labour strategists were delighted at Pessina’s attack, as it gave them the opportunity to show that they were on the side of the poor and squeezed middle and against the rich, tax avoiding fat cats. I find that a jaw-droppingly stupid way to respond, unless you deliberately want to alienate whole swathes of the electorate for little gain. Similarly, while I had no issue with the idea of a mansion tax, a higher top rate of income tax, and the abolition of non-dom status, either individually or collectively, I don’t think doing them all at once is a good look. I don’t think Labour and its policies were anti-business, but they didn’t make a pro-business case either, so leaving themselves wide open to inevitable attack. Much of this criticism of Labour, such as Pessina’s, were totally lacking in specifics, and reminiscent of the criticism Obama has faced in the US where business leaders substitute a wail of “we don’t feel appreciated” for any good reason. Is a fuel price freeze an attack on business? I’d say it’s a boost for every business but six, and a reasonable short term measure for dealing with an energy market everyone feels is dysfunctional and needs systemic reform; but I don’t think that case was ever effectively made.

So I can join in with the criticisms of Labour, why not, this could be just another of those articles picking over the corpse, and I guess it is. But I return to my initial point. Could a Labour party, held responsible for the recession, beat a Conservative party credited with the recovery? I have to think it vanishingly unlikely, and having read a few articles pointing out that no party has ever won an election when trailing in the polls on both leadership and economic competence, I can’t help feeling that Labour were almost certainly doomed even if they had addressed my critique above.

So, what should Labour do now? Fortunately there are many commentators out there who know the answer, and the answer is simple; move the party in the direction they believe in. For left wingers, the party must reconnect with its left wing roots, for Blairites it must occupy the centre ground, for Conservatives it must give up and deal with the fact that the Tories alone are in step with the British people (as exemplified by the massive 0.8% swing in their favour this election, reaching the heady heights of 37% of all votes cast). I doubt there is much to be gained from listening to such snap judgements; the truth, if it is out there, is more likely to come from someone who takes the election as a chance to pause and reflect, to assess and refine, to look objectively into their own soul and be ready to change their mind, rather than see it as an opportunity to justify their assumptions, score a few points, and settle the odd score.

For myself I’m beginning to wonder if this politics lark is all a bit simpler than it is proclaimed. Whatever the individual policies and priorities, perhaps for most people who bother to vote it comes down to the aforementioned simple consensus on leadership and economic confidence. In that light, let’s look again at what Blairites say we should learn; the so called “lessons of Blair” which flow from his uncanny ability to be a Labour leader who can win elections. You could therefore plausibly argue that Labour must do the following.

  1. Let the Conservatives reign for a further 13 years or so, going through a number of recessions as a consequence, and finally losing their record for economic competence. During that time, hope they ditch their strong leader in favour of a hapless oaf. Let the whole country be so thoroughly sick of them that even the Tory press batter them daily with spurious criticisms about sleaze. You’ll almost certainly earn your first election victory.
  2. Don’t mess things up in your first term, retaining your lead of economic competence. Allow the Tories to flounder around and pick another hapless no-hoper as leader just in order to prevent them from choosing a half decent one. You’ll be given another chance, and so win your second election.
  3. Piss yourself laughing as the Tories pick another leader so hapless they have to dust off an aging grandee to replace him just to limit the next set of election losses that even they can see is evitable. By now you can probably even do something truly stupid and massively unpopular like invade another sovereign nation for no good reason. It won’t matter; the opposition are still so useless and you still lead on what matters and the third election is in the bag.

Now, this is obviously very simplistic, and I’m not suggesting Blair shouldn’t get any credit for what he did for Labour, to some extent he made the weather; but I think these truths have to be borne in mind if we are to properly assess all the reasons for Blair’s success. At the very least it puts his victories into context and shows that simply trying to repeat the formula is tricky when some of the fundamentals were out of his hands. Certainly Ed Miliband didn’t have these advantages going into this election, whatever else he may have done wrong. Policy is of course always an issue, but perhaps not as big an issue as other basic electoral tectonics.

If Labour had had to deal with a recession earlier during its 13 years in power, if the Tories had elected a Ken Clarke or a Michael Portillo as their leader, then perhaps Blair’s talent for winning elections would have turned to dust. Similarly you may say that if Labour had turned to the other Miliband in 2010 then it may all have been so very different; but I honestly doubt it. The Conservatives would still have had all the benefits of incumbency in this election, they would still have an apparent record of economic competence to compare with the blame attached to “Labour’s crash”, and they would still have a staggeringly popular leader compared to any likely Labour alternative. For me Cameron’s slip in forgetting which football team he’s supposed to support is absolutely symptomatic of why I can’t stand him; an empty suit so empty-suity that it boggles the mind. But I must admit he does appear superficially impressive; in fact superficial is all he is, full stop. But in contrast Ed Miliband is superficially odd, and perhaps, for a general public not interested in day to day politics, superficial is all that matters. I was amazed at the number of vox-pops I saw during the election where people genuinely had no idea who David Cameron is. Is it too much of a stretch to think that, for many voters, they actually know very little more than that?

I don’t want to sound too cynical here, or be a counsellor of despair, to make it seem that nothing Labour does can make a difference. I have great respect for many people who get involved in politics, motivated by a desire to help people, to fight for their honest held beliefs, whatever they are, to make a difference and do what they feel is right. Keep on keeping on, I’m right behind you. And of course Labour can make things harder for themselves, just as the Tories did during the Blair years. The next leader must look credible, as Ed, bless him, never did. The don’t need to be all things to all people and ditch their beliefs, but they should put forward a positive series of polices in line with their long-held values while also trying to appeal to a broad coalition of views without willingly seeming opposed to any section of society. Easier said than done, I know, but most people will react to the mood music rather than the full manifesto, and any missteps have to be avoided. Beyond that, with the outlook for next five years far more uncertain than it was for the last five, there’s still all to play for and the tiniest thing could be decisive for Labour; but much will also be down to luck, how the economy holds up, and how the Conservatives respond to their own battles, and any prescription for Labour, no matter how “right”, simply may not be enough. It’s not a sophisticated view of politics, and all a bit depressing to the idealist in me who would love it if a centre-left party could stand on a progressive and inclusive platform and sweep all before it whatever; but I’m increasingly beginning to believe that when it comes to actually winning general elections, much is out of any one parties hands, and simply down to time and tide.

Ten Years Gone…

…holding on…

It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

So. Manchester City have sacked many managers over the years, and during my time writing The Obscurer I have, in one way or another, chronicled the comings and goings of those fortunate enough to have held that most fabled of managerial posts. But, such is the strange and dysfunctional nature of this existence-hanging-by-a-thread old blog that I never quite got around to commenting on Roberto Mancini; and despite making copious notes on the subject – and having the best of intentions – I never found the time to write a post on his time at the club.

I was a fan of Mancini’s, and I was going to pen a hardy defence of his tenure. Namely that

  • I felt he was a seriously underrated manager who, due to the money he inevitably had to spend, did not get the credit he deserved for taking a side that had finished in 10th the season before he arrived and managed to turn them into Premiership champions within 2½ years. From listening to some you would think that this achievement was the least that could have been expected; but just take a look at the side which finished 10th last year – West Ham – and imagine saying that even given unlimited cash that they should consider anything less than being champions in 2016 as failure, and you can see how ridiculous such an opinion really is.
  • I was also going to defend City’s performance last year, one largely derided as a timid title defence in the face of the challenge from a mediocre Manchester United team; but United’s accumulation of points last season was anything but mediocre – indeed it was record breaking – up until the Premiership title was secured. And while City were far from stellar last year, they garnered enough points to have seen them as realistic challengers in most seasons; indeed, had we won our final home game (which, sans Mancini, we lost to Norwich) we would have gained more points than United did when winning the title two years previously.
  • And while I’d aknowledge that our performances in Europe were less than impressive, it was interesting that analysis of last season normally started by accepting the caveat that we were placed in a very tough group, and then chose to completely ignore that fact when using our Champions’ League campaign as a stick with which to beat Mancini. For me, when I saw the group we were in I knew for a fact that we weren’t as good as Real Madrid; turned out Real weren’t as good as Borussia Dortmund, and so I can’t see failing to qualify from that group as the disgrace some do.
  • And finally, one of my bugbears was the way he was treated by a media who, for whatever reason, took against him from the moment he had the temerity to take Mark Hughes’ job, an accusation I can’t remember being levelled at any other manager ever (was Hughes criticised for pinching Sven’s job, or Pellegrini for nicking Mancini’s? Not that I can recall). Being Italian certainly played into the hands of any lazy journalist who wanted to label us as being negative whenever we weren’t scoring goals for fun. And while all managers can come out with stupid statements – and I won’t pretend that Mancini was an exception to the rule – the media certainly seemed to take a special delight in taking his words and twisting them (something they continue to do even now). While he is not the only victim of such behaviour he was certainly at a disadvantage with his grasp of English which, while perfectly serviceable, lent itself vulnerable when dealing with journalists bent on mischief-making and wilful misrepresentation.

That’s not the full story, of course, although it’s probably enough to be going along with for now. But, whilst I made my notes on the matter, time passed like a thief in the night, and I never wrote that post (although I remain of the opinion). Yes, I was pissed off when Mancini was sacked, as were many City fans; but we football fans are all fickle, useful idiots to the cause, and having lived through many a managerial departure I was ready to welcome the blameless Pellegrini and a brave new era. And as expected, over time, the anger faded. But less expectedly, when the anger had faded it left behind it…well…nothing. Or next to nothing. For reasons I can’t quite fathom, when the blue mist cleared I discovered I barely cared what happened next in the City story. And while I can’t predict how I will feel come the denouement of this season, I really thought that by this stage I would have shaken off my torpor. And yet here I am; still here.

Why? I don’t know, and this post is in part me trying to figure it all out. After all, Pellegrini seems a lovely chap and we’re playing some cracking football, scoring goals left, right and centre, the squad shorn of the rancour and disharmony attributed to the Mancini era. So why can’t I just relax and enjoy it? Have all those many barren years as a City fan turned me into some sort of masochist, unable now to appreciate the good times, allergic to them? The fact that I can now occasionally be seen watching Stockport County toil in the Skrill North (the what, you say?) perhaps supports that position.

The finest football picture ever

But I wonder if I’ve been on this path for a while, ever since I decided one day that I would relinquish my season ticket. For sure there were a number of reasons for the decision, but dissatisfaction with the money-dominated nature of the Premiership was certainly one of them. Of course, that was in the days when City didn’t have money, but my opinion didn’t change once we’d won the lottery. I never thought it wrong to spend pots within the rules – City’s petrodollars didn’t break football, it was broken when we found it – but I certainly thought the rules should be such that we should try to prevent any domination by a club with cash.

Having ridden myself of the season ticket further events loosened the ties that bind; I spoke here of my despair at the antics of Thaksin Shinawatra, of Garry Cook. But it was not so easy to rid myself of City; and knowing that money is no guarantee of success I was born to follow as we moved up the league and assembled a stunning team; expensively, of course, but also a team which, in its haste, had its fair share of misfits and cast-offs. Loyalty demanded I follow them when they were shit, and now I couldn’t shake them as we moved onwards, grabbing the Premiership title in the most dramatic way possible.

But even then my spirit was flagging. I started last season with Google News as my home page on Chrome, boasting its customised “City News” section, and with a raft of football forums in my bookmarks. Even before Mancini was sacked the whole lot had gone, so tired was I of reading the never-ending bullshit and drivel. Maybe that was another sign that I’d still been tiring of football – or at least Premiership football – for a while.

But perhaps the key to my disenchantment can be found in two statements innocently issued, with the best of intentions, from within the club. First up, in his post-season interview last year, chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak proudly announced that no longer would City be prepared to accept second best, or words to that effect. He meant well, no doubt about that, and I can fully understand where he is coming from; but for me, still reeling from Mancini’s sacking, and brought up on believing that you follow your side through thick and thin, regardless of the result, it was anathema. Let’s just say that if most City fans had that attitude we’d have done one many, many years ago, and Khaldoon current position wouldn’t even exist. What was meant as a rallying call left me shaking my head.

The second statement was made just the other week by club captain Vincent Kompany who, when asked about the chances of City completing the legendary quadruple responded

We can’t promise it will happen now, but eventually it will have to happen…We are the players at the moment who have been chosen to do it. If it’s not us then it will be other players. This club definitely has a target to win every competition possible.

Now, I imagine, when United fans think back to “that night in Barcelona” when they won the treble, their legs go all wobbly and they get a little bit emotional. They think of the drama of those late, late goals at the Camp Nou, and of the remarkable combination of skill, hard work and luck that was required for that historic achievement. Such events are what following football is all about (I myself get quite teary thinking of our play-off final against Gillingham, just a week later). Yet now, here we have a nominally even greater achievement, the quadruple, not being talked of in hushed tones and poetic hues of possibility, but in the blank prose of inevitability. And can you cheer the inevitable? Well you can, I guess; but why bother?

Am I at grave risk here of making too much of an off-the-cuff, perhaps out of context quote? Quite possibly. But I feel this encapsulates my malaise. If I’m right then I think that the sacking of Mancini was more than just the sacking of a manager I liked; it was the severing of the last link with a Manchester City of potential, where failure was a possibility, where we were a work in progress, and where if any club could mess up a gigantic cash injection it was surely my blues. When City were shit, they needed me. As we climbed I enjoyed the ride. At the summit I appreciated the view. But one false move and everything snapped back. Now Manchester City can sack a winner, the person who achieved what I thought impossible, and can just go and get a new top manager, give him £100m for new players and watch him win the quadruple. Or if he doesn’t, the manager after him will. Or the one after him. It’s a project now, rather than a football club, and it doesn’t matter who the manager or players are, because eventually, by brute force and money, it will have to happen, apparently. And this is where you’re meant to applaud.

None of which is to criticise those City fans who have taken Pellegrini to their hearts; I know many of them, and as far as I can tell theirs is the normal way to behave, and it’s me who is being weird. Again, this is I guess just the latest instalment in my growing dissolutionment with football. And perhaps it’s also because I’m getting on and there are only so many hours in the day; is it a coincidence that in the past year, as my interest in City has tailed off, I have started subscribing to The New Yorker and, against the clock, been devouring its long-form journalism on a weekly basis?

Because despite all I have said I am still a City fan, I think; it’s just that perhaps I’m a blue in the same way I’m English. Perhaps it’s all of a part with those other swirling quirks of history and birth, tied up in my being; a element of myself which I cannot avoid, and don’t want to avoid, but which I am no longer bothered about. Yes, perhaps that’s it. I’m English, and a City fan, but don’t look for me at Wembley or The Etihad. Try Edgeley Park. Or even better, my house, with my family, a glass of red, and an article on the perils of a Nantucket fisherman.

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