England will be “playing for pride” against Costa Rica on Tuesday. So will David Cameron in Brussels on Thursday and Friday. He seems to accept that he has lost his struggle to prevent Jean-Claude Juncker, the former prime minister of Luxembourg, from taking over as president of the European Commission. As with our team in Belo Horizonte, however, the Prime Minister seems determined to salvage some self-respect from the wreckage of high hopes.
We are reluctant to admit it because, as John Rentoul notes on page 35, Mr Cameron seems to have misjudged Angela Merkel rather badly, but there is something admirable about his stand in defeat. Mr Cameron is quite right that the idea that Mr Juncker has any democratic legitimacy is absurd, and he is quite right to say so.
Mr Juncker may have been chosen as the candidate of the European People’s Party at a congress in Dublin, but most voters have no idea who he is and what he stands for, and the EPP in any case has no representation in the European Parliament from the UK. Mr Cameron is right, too, to call for a vote of government leaders at the European Council this week. The European Union’s convention of doing these things “by consensus” has long been a cover for unaccountable back-room dealing, and contradicts the claim of Mr Juncker to democracy. Let us have the leaders say in public what reforms they think the EU needs and who would be the best Commission president to drive them through.
Similarly, we admire Nick Clegg’s determination to argue for what he believes in the face of frankly disastrous unpopularity. His challenge to Nigel Farage to debate the case for EU membership did not seem to do the Liberal Democrats much good in the European Parliament elections (they lost all but one of their seats), but he made an argument that deserved to be heard.
There may be no connection, but it is worth noting that British public opinion has swung in favour of our continued membership of the EU. And, because this newspaper respects many of the values for which the Liberal Democrats stand, we hope that they will fight for those values at next year’s election with the same pride that we hope England will fight on Tuesday.
The Independent on Sunday does not, however, have much time for Grantland Rice’s gooey poem about American football, “the One Great Scorer … writes – not that you won or lost – but how you played the Game”. Winning does matter. But Rice was right that how you play the game matters too.
What is striking about these examples of dignity and even defiance in defeat is that they involve our complex national identity: English, Scottish, Welsh, or Northern Irish, British and European.
And that is before we get to the national politics of Andy Murray’s defence of his Wimbledon title, which he starts at 1pm tomorrow. Murray recently said that he “didn’t like it” when Alex Salmond waved the Scottish flag in the stands when he won at Wimbledon last year.
So we should perhaps be grateful that Mr Salmond has refrained from making use of Murray’s title defence coinciding with the 700th anniversary of the Scots victory over the English at Bannockburn.
In the contests ahead, including the Scottish referendum in September, let us hope that everyone conducts themselves with dignity in defeat and modesty in victory, and that our differences are resolved with candour and openness.
Murray at Wimbledon; England against Costa Rica; and in the debates about how our nations are governed: let us play for pride.Reuse content