So, a great result for England on Sunday, no? Another fine victory over our greatest historic tribal foe. Makes one proud to be English, doesn’t it.
Sarcasm? Me? Oh no, sorry, you misunderstand. Were you still thinking about the football, and Germany? Oh well, I’ve already moved on; to cricket, and yet another one-day international victory over the hapless Australians*. But I can understand your confusion. An easy mistake to make.
As for the football, what can I add to the obvious, and that England simply aren’t good enough to justify the hopes that some people place in them? On the game itself, I do think it a tragic irony that the one time a Lampard speculative, edge-of-the-area pop actually gets into the goal, the officials manage to miss it. Fortunately, such was the extent of Germany’s victory that any dwelling on that “goal” as an example of us being robbed has been kept to a minimum. On the other hand, it has reignited the old issue of whether technology should be used to prevent such mistakes again. I seem to be in a minority here in harbouring serious doubts over technology’s use. Perhaps, if you could guarantee that such technology was limited only to judging if a ball has crossed the line, then fine; but can you? Later that evening, when Argentina scored a goal that was clearly offside, technology was mentioned again; when Eire failed to qualify for the World Cup finals thanks to an Henry handball, again the benefits of technology were mooted. Where will it end? Before you know it, perhaps every goal will have to be analysed before it is given: to see if there was perhaps an illegal tug on a defender at some time during the long, labourious build up to it being scored; to wait for the committee to decide if, on balance, the award of the free kick that led to the goal was down to the attacker diving; or perhaps we’ll have to scrutinise each free kick, corner and throw in before it is taken just in case it results in a goal, eventually. And so the game as we know it will be buggered, all to prevent the sort of decision on Sunday which is extremely rare, and which was also so blatant that technology itself shouldn’t even be required for it in the first place. No, I’m really not sure it is a road we should be going down.
But a few words on the England team. I usually get pretty hacked off when pundits say stuff like “he would have scored that in the premiership”, or “why do England players look so poor here, when they look so good in the league?” It’s bollocks, mainly. Hansen and his ilk spend each weekend bemoaning terrible misses and poor defending, as players’ form fluctuates during the course of the season; but come the World Cup, all that is strangely forgotten, and they all seem to expect the players to be as good as they appear on the “Best of…” end of season review DVDs. But, as I said, I usually get hacked off by such nonsense…but when was the last time you saw a premiership back four defend as badly as England did against Germany (Burnley excepted)? With the possible exception of Ashley Cole, did they have a clue about their roles or where they were meant to be playing? It is easy to blame the manager – and if he has lost the confidence of the players then that may be fair enough – but what is any manager meant to do when his centre-backs take it upon themselves to wander about the field aimlessly, and with no regard to positioning or formation?
Capello has also got some stick for his attacking options: why didn’t Joe Cole play a bigger part?; everyone know we should play “Gerrard-in-the-hole!” Enough, already. Was playing Heskey really the reason that Rooney had apparently forgotten how to control a football? I doubt it. There is always some simplistic solution to England’s woes; four years ago it was the failure to select Defoe, before that it used to be the manager’s refusal to play a Waddle, or a Le Tissier. I’m sure that if Capello had listened to the media and played Gerrard where they wanted him they would just have found something else to whine about. Because there’s always something, and there always will be. Because, as I said before, we’re just not good enough.
The British media collectively announced another European victory over Blighty and common sense the other day, this time regarding contentious EU labelling legislation. You’ll remember the old Metric Martyrs story, years ago? The injustice that it was made illegal to buy a pound of bananas? I was pretty shocked at the story myself; shocked that the media expected me to buy bananas by the pound anyway. Does anybody? Don’t they buy them by the bunch, or by number? Isn’t the weight irrelevant to most people, be it in pounds or kilograms? Anyway, the whole story was a pile of crap regardless, since it was and is permissible to buy groceries by the pound, as long as the shopkeeper has a metric scale.
But having told us we should be buying items such as bananas by weight, the media has now changed its mind, at least with regards eggs. New EU regulation, apparently, will mean that items will have to be labelled with their weight. By a massive leap of anti-logic, some people have decided that if a box of eggs has to be labelled by weight, it can’t also be labelled to include the number of items in the packet. “It’s an end to buying eggs by the dozen”, apparently, despite the fact that eggs almost universally come in boxes of six. It takes a special kind of stupid to think that packaging will actually be prevented from mentioning the number of contents on the inside, and no mention whatsoever is made of this in the legislation. But we are talking here about our pathetically tribal, anti-EU British press here, so I guess anything goes. And it is my perhaps debatable allegation of tribalism here which means I can just about squeeze this brief observation into my post on the theme of “tribes”.
Tribalism, of course, is a feature of our party politics, so I’m on safer ground in this third part of my post; but elements of that tribalism still surprise me. I’ve felt close to the Liberal Democrats for many a year now, being something of a student activist and a member for a time. I veered away a bit during the useless Menzies Campbell’s era, and then smug Nick Clegg’s. I stopped understanding what they really stood for – I’m not sure they themselves know – but they still got my vote at the election. Following the formation of the coalition government I was surprised by some Labourite sniping at the Lib Dems, accusing them of betrayal and the like. As an outsider who saw the Labour party as my natural allies, such tribal anti-Lib Dem sentiments took me aback somewhat. It was a reminder of one of the things I so dislike about party politics.
And now? Well, while I still wouldn’t call the Lib Dems traitors, I am getting more distressed at the way their leadership seems to have so gleefully signed up to the Conservative’s agenda; for while I may like to think of myself a something of a pluralist politically, I still, pathetically, simply cannot abide the Tories. Now, I am sure that the Lib Dems will have exerted some sort of positive influence on the recent budget, but not enough for me to be happy. On such crucial issues such as how quickly the budget deficit should be reduced, how it should be reduced, and when to start, the Lib Dems were always more-or-less in step with Labour. Now they have performed a volte-face and say they are backing the Tory’s ideas, based on a post-election worsening of the UK economic position that hasn’t actually happened. When Obama wrote a letter to the G20 leaders saying we should be careful not to instigate cuts too soon, the coalition’s reply was that each government should act depending on its individual circumstances, apparently oblivious to the irony that they keep justifying the actions they are taking in Britain by referring us to what is happening in Greece. But at least the Conservatives can state that they went into the election saying they would start the cuts now, although my fear has always been that they haven’t so much dismissed the idea that cuts now can harm the recovery – a reasonable and arguable position – as failed to understand the economics of the theory in the first place. But the Lib Dems cannot claim such ignorance.
Now, I can see why Liberal Democrat MPs may be backing the Tory policies; they are in government, in the cabinet, and governed by collective responsibility. They may be supporting things they personally have misgivings about but feel they have to go along with, to toe the party line, in the same way the Labour leadership candidates are now fighting over each other to disown some of their former policies that they went along with at the time.
More surprising to me is the attitude of so many Lib Dem bloggers and commenters on sites such as Liberal Conspiracy, where they seem to have so seamlessly adopted some typical Tory rhetoric in an effort to defend the Lib Dems and their coalition policies, the sort of rhetoric they would surely have shunned just a few months previously. But I guess the question is did they actually shun such rhetoric previously? That is to say, perhaps I simply haven’t been paying attention, and that many Lib Dem bloggers have been saying these sorts of things for ages. In which case, perhaps I’ve been part of the wrong tribe, and voted for the wrong party, all along.
One of the coalition’s recent acts was to move to speed up a change in the age at which one can draw the state pension, an action that has been openly welcomed by some Lib Dem commentators. Perhaps that shows the gap between myself and some other Lib Dems; demographic changes may mean that a later retirement age could be considered necessary for the public finances, but how it can be actively welcomed is a mystery to me. In a few short years my expected retirement age of 65 has moved to a likely 70, and I doubt that will be the end of the matter. It’s demoralising, to say the least, to see the date at which you could retire move away from you faster than the years themselves are passing by.
Changing the state retirement age has been described by some as a wake up call for people to get their personal pensions in order. Well I thought I’d done that in signing up to my occupational pension scheme, but as public sector pensions are the next item in the firing line, I don’t know how that will fare. I assume that, at the very least, my contributions will have to rise again, just a couple of years after the last review meant an increase in my contributions. But I don’t mind that, as long as such changes are based on the financing and affordability of the pension scheme itself, and not just an attempt to make public sector workers pay more to redress the unfair way many private sector employers have chosen to abandon decent pension schemes for their workers.
(As an aside – and as a final, transparent attempt to crowbar this last section of the post into my tenuous overarching theme of “tribes” – it’s funny that when I left the private sector I assumed I was just changing jobs; I had no idea at the time that, as far as some are concerned, not least many denizens of blogs and newspaper comment sections, I was also changing tribes. Despite doing a very similar job, and working at least as hard and with the same abilities as I had before, little did I realise that to some private sector workers I was now a lazy, inefficient, incompetent and overpaid public sector worker, all pampered and bloated. Now, fortunately I am lazy, inefficient, incompetent and overpaid, slightly pampered and certainly bloated; but my many hard-working colleagues must be furious at such an unjust guilt-by-association, especially since I had never been the target of such daft generalisations when in the private sector because such contempt does not appear to be reciprocal. Nowhere I think seems to show this tribalism better than the matter of pensions, where too often the financial affordability of public sector pensions plays second fiddle to the argument that it’s not fair that some people have better pensions than others. Perhaps I had been naive in my private sector days, but my move to the public sector revealed to me that tribalism can appear in the most unlikely of places, and when you least expect it.)
But how else should I personally react to this supposed financial wake up call? Voluntarily increase my pension contributions still further? For a while I had been considering taking out some AVCs to supplement my pension, and I guess that is what some would still advise, but now I’m beginning to think: for what? To add to a pension that, with each revised retirement age, I am increasingly unlikely to ever see a payout from? I used to see things through the eyes of my parent’s generation, fed on Saga adverts of suntanned old folk enjoying their long, slow, golden retirement. Now it seem far more reasonable to assume that retirement will never happen and we will have to adjust to that reality and live for the day. Rather than work harder to pay more into a pension I will never see, perhaps I should just take it easy and take life as it comes: with an expectation that I will have to work till I drop, I’m not going to slog my guts out now for no reward later.
If the change in the state pension age was intended to make us all plan more for the future, then I think it will have failed to have had the desired effect on me. When combined with the events of last year – my father, after all, passed away aged just 68 – my response is more a “fuck it…this is my life now, and I think I’ll live for the moment, thanks very much.”