Monday, April 19, 2010

What football isn't.

Election season – oh joy! Would anybody like to buy an analogy? It’s a bit tenuous, not going to last that long, but should see you safely over the next 800 words. So far, choosing an MP has been likened to one’s favourite pudding , something to do with monkeys , choosing a pet , and now – “It is, in part, like supporting one football team over another” .

Well, no. No it isn’t.

Party allegiance can be deep-seated, tribal, an inherited trait, but all of that is ‘partly’; it’s not permanent. Thatcher proved that in the 1980s, targeting the working-class-made-good, and Blair / Brown prove it now, as large numbers of ‘traditional’ Labour voters finally face up to the reality that no, they really can’t rationalise voting for them again, not this time, it was bad enough last time, but you could just about get your head round it, but no, not this time. And then sighing heavily.

You don’t ditch your football team for a run of bad results, or because you disagree with the leadership (unless, of course, you are the owner of a football club, but that’s slightly different - like being a major party donor, or an MP, using the team for your own weaselly ends rather than for the love of the game). See MUST – they hate the Glazers but love the team, they’re not going anywhere. They’re wearing green and yellow, and trying to raise a billion quid with a jumble sale, but that’s about the limit of it. See also the MK Dons / Wimbledon AFC fiasco, where both sets of fans, arguably, demonstrate that you will follow ‘your team’ through thick and thin (and along the M1), although this is made slightly more difficult when that team seems to have gone through some sort of cell division process.

And we’re not talking the shifting allegiances of a rootless ten-year-old here , but the hard-wired from childhood, no chance of changing, team allegiance. As one friend of mine observes “I didn’t choose to be a Spurs supporter – who in their right mind would choose to be a Spurs supporter? No, I inherited being a Spurs supporter”. That doesn’t change. It can’t.

Listening to the fall-out of the first leadership debate, I was treated to Radio 4 featuring lengthy vox-pops where people cheerfully declared that they’d always voted Labour / Tory but would now be voting for Clegg (and for Clegg, not for the LibDems – simultaneously a big step forward for him in personal terms, and a demonstration that many people really don’t understand how the voting system works). And one bloke self-aware enough to realise that ‘fessing up to having voted BNP in the past required a certain apologetic tone of voice when talking to the BBC.

Whatever the tribal allegiances involved in supporting a political party, thinking these are exactly the same, immutable, like 'supporting one football team over another', is just plain wrong.

And, for the record, it’s not ‘a religion’ either – either supporting one team over another, or choosing a political party. OK, some people cast around for spiritual succour in a variety of places, or get ‘born again’, either as a raving evangelical or as New Labour (should that ‘either’ really be there? hmmmm...), but again, when this is hardwired from childhood, not choice, but inheritance, it doesn’t change. One might be a ‘lapsed Catholic’, but that particular denominational loyalty seems very difficult to jettison completely. And yes, it’s easier to move ‘one seat over’, whether from Methodism to Church of England, or CofE to Catholic, or from left (ha!) to centre, or centre to right, rather than going to whole hog and leap-frogging straight from the SWP to the BNP. But it’s not the same...

Analogies, you see are like...rubbish. No, really – they are rubbish. They’re fun, sometimes, they often have a grain of truth, sometimes they seem to work rather well – but they are never exact. They are not, in the greater scheme of things, helpful – they distract from the situation. Like those anecdotes rolled out by the three tenors at their less than successful recent gig, where Domingo and Pavarotti separately seemed in tune with Carreras at times, but he thought they sounded too much alike (and I was listening on the radio, so it took a while to work out how to tell the difference between Cameron and Clegg) – anecdotes are supposed to appeal to the voters by making the political personal, rendering a policy concept as something ‘real’ that can more easily be understood. But they can never be exact. They can lead to confusion, and to distraction – how many people are now chuckling about Cameron implying that the black taxi driver he met was press-ganged into the Napoleonic-War-era Royal Navy as a pre-teen midshipman, rather than about what he was trying to say about immigration?

Analogies, like anecdotes, are easy. Tempting. But distracting. The 'like' becomes more and more meaningless and we are tempted to believe that politics is not like these things, but is these things. Like saying that "at the microcosmic level we find that subatomic particles are both particles and waves" instead of saying that no, they're not, but they may behave like both particles and waves in different sets of circumstances. But not exactly. Not exactly like saying that.

Politics isn’t pudding or pets or religion or football. Politics is politics. This is the problem...