If you are a football fan, or even if you are not a football fan, you probably can’t face reading about the World Cup after England’s humiliation. But let me try anyway.
As England lost to Uruguay on Thursday, a few people on Twitter compared our hapless national team to Labour under Ed Miliband – poor on tactics, the wrong line-up, an uninspiring leader. Yet if the Opposition should be compared to a national football team, I think they are closer to Spain.
When the world and double European champions crashed out of the tournament last week, their veteran midfielder Xabi Alonso said his teammates had failed because they had lost their “hunger” to win. A team in red that won three stunning victories on the trot, now apparently hooked on defeat – that will sound familiar in Westminster.
Alonso’s verdict was this: “The success, the happiness of before is gone, it’s run out and we haven’t been able to keep it going. We’ve made lots of mistakes, we’ve lost a bit of our know-how … We’ve not been able to keep the same levels of ambition and hunger, perhaps the real conviction to go for the championship.”
This analysis is very close to the one in the minds of senior figures in the Labour Party. Like Spain, they used to have a winning formula: for the world champions it was tiki-taka, the smooth passing and effortless style of play; for Labour it was a similarly effortless and smooth Tony Blair.
Spain still has a number of supremely talented players, both veterans and youngsters. So does Labour – on the front and backbenches. But the Spanish tiki-taka has been stifled by aggressive counter-attack. They have tried to update the style, but in Brazil did not seem to know whether to go back to the winning formula, or be more radical and vigorous, like Holland. Vicente del Bosque’s team couldn’t decide, and lost in spectacular fashion. Miliband has the same problem.
One of the commonest criticisms of Miliband and his election team is of their failure to be radical. It is not surprising when the manifesto is being written by Douglas Alexander and Spencer Livermore, two safety-first strategists. So when presented with an à la carte menu of policies in the Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR)’s Condition of Britain report last week, Miliband chose as his headline dish something that seemed radical: cutting benefit for young jobless.
The problem is that, after years of Miliband pitching from the left, it sounded out of key. Where is the over-arching message about what a Labour government would be like? Why did Miliband reject the equally radical yet more positive IPPR proposal to freeze child benefit and use the money on better childcare? It was like Spain trying to beat Holland by copying them. There was no coherence of strategy.
Since the leadership election, Labour MPs and activists have agonised about whether they have the wrong Miliband. But it seems there are not just two Milibands but three: David, and two Eds – one safety-first, one radical. Earlier this month, Marcus Roberts of the Fabian Society identified “Minority Miliband”, who aims for Labour’s core vote, and “Majority Miliband”, who tries to ignite public interest with bold, headline-grabbing policies. The squeeze on the jobless sounded like an attempt to be “Majority Miliband”, but it didn’t sound like a pitch for power. Radicalism can only win elections if it is authentic. To quote Alonso, it lacked conviction and hunger.
How the coalition was born
This week marks the 10th birthday of the coalition. OK, not strictly true, but it is 10 years since the publication of The Orange Book, the series of essays by Nick Clegg, David Laws and others that realigned the Liberal Democrats rightwards and turned them into a party – in its upper ranks at least – that could enter into government with the Conservatives. To mark the anniversary, Laws will deliver a speech on Tuesday at an event hosted by the think tank CentreForum. A decade ago, Laws sent a copy of The Orange Book in the diplomatic bag to his friend Julian Astle, who was working for the then UN high commissioner Paddy Ashdown in Sarajevo. Across the desk from Astle sat Ed Llewellyn, another aide to Ashdown who is now David Cameron’s chief of staff. Astle and Llewellyn pored over the book and knew then it would change the centre ground of British politics.
The nasty MP
There was something particularly nasty about Michael Fabricant’s tweet about wanting to punch my colleague Yasmin Alibhai-Brown “in the throat”. Those who, bizarrely, try to defend the MP by saying he could have tweeted the same about a man miss the undertone of this comment. I can imagine him saying he might punch a male journalist on the nose, but to envisage punching someone in the throat is to want to silence them. As Yasmin said herself, it is as if she, as a woman from an ethnic minority, has no right to speak in a forthright way.
And back to Brazil
I am a fan of Roy Hodgson, but I am beginning to wonder whether the England manager was giving his players the best motivational speech he could muster at half time against Uruguay last week. After the game was lost, but with England hopes still alive at that point, Hodgson said it was unlikely that his team could beat Costa Rica in their final match. Not exactly awe-inspiring. Even though England are now out, it is surely a matter of pride that we win on Tuesday. So I have some better lines for Hodgson’s boys. To Wayne Rooney: I loved it when you did the little aeroplane after your goal on Thursday, you were like the talented unreconstructed teenager you once were – remember him? To Raheem Sterling: you are the most brilliant player we have, beautiful and quick, delicate but deadly on the ball, like Michael Owen at your age – please don’t make the same mistake as him and allow Liverpool to slow you down by beefing you up. To Steven Gerrard: keep going, forget this game, you’re one of the best. Actually, that last one was not from me but from the man who broke all our hearts, Luis Suarez. Maybe Suarez could drop by the Estádio Mineirão dressing room at 5.45pm this Tuesday.