King David has spoken, and in keeping with the tradition of his interventions on matters of European inclusion, he saved it for the dying moments of the game.
It is 15 years since Beckham last made such a contribution. In October 2001, in time added at the end of the final qualifier against Greece, he curled a free-kick into the net to secure a place in the following year's World Cup. Whether this foray will prove as decisive, it may never be possible to know for certain.
The value of high-profile endorsements tends to be exaggerated. Charles Bronson supported John McCain in 2008, yet Barack Obama still took the White House. Labour somehow overcame the strident objections of Jim Davidson to win that landslide in 1997.
Beckham is a public figure of a different order, of course, and the respectful attention paid to his clarion cry for Remain highlights his personal development since that free-kick. Ridiculed back then as a falsetto quarterwit, he is revered today as a more reliable geopolitical analyst than the Prime Minister.
Speaking of David Cameron, I am outraged by the suggestion that Beckham had help from Downing Street to compose his words. “We live in a vibrant and connected world where together as a people we are strong,” has an authentic Beckhamesque ring, does it not?
“For our children and their children we should be facing the problems of the world together and not alone. For these reasons, I am voting to remain.” Purest Becks, and no mistake.
In the cause of fairness – or, as the pre-Churchillian Beckham might have put it, to be fair – he isn’t the first ex-England international to share his thoughts.
As Michael Gove counterstruck on Radio 4’s Today programme, Sol Campbell is for Brexit. (Or he was this morning. Recalling Sol’s traitorous defection from Spurs to Arsenal, he may by now have done a Lady Warsi and switched to Remain.)
Uncannily, Boris Johnson made exactly the same point on LBC radio. In a memory lapse doubtless attributable to late campaign mental fatigue, another pro-Leave ex footballer slipped both his and Govey’s minds. The one-time Coventy City goalkeeper David Icke is a keen Brexiteer.
For last-minute undecideds looking for guidance, there are other contrasts among pro- and anti-EU advocates which might resolve the dilemma. Obama vs Donald J Trump is one. Merkel vs Putin is another. For wholly partisan reasons, I won’t mention Sir Philip Green (Remain) vs Irvine Welsh (Leave).
Yet the choice between the gorgeous mestrosexual demigod and that guy in the purple shell suit who thinks giant lizards from outer space run the planet might be even more persuasive.
For all that – and although as a Remainer I welcome this 11th hour declaration – a couple of reservations must be noted. The last time Beckham and Cameron joined forces was for England’s hilarious bid for the 2018 World Cup. In that unforgettably joyous fiasco, the bid was rewarded with precisely two votes.
Whether the British electorate proves as impervious to Beckham’s rhetorical power as Fifa’s legendarily uncorruptable delegates, a constitutional question mark hangs over his involvement. Is it acceptable for royalty – and what are David and Victoria if not alternative joint monarchs – to take an overtly political stance?
Experts on our imaginary constitution might posit that this depends on how blatant the advocacy. When a few days before the Scottish referendum, the official Queen chipped in her twopenn’orth, she did it in code. Admittedly, it was nothing that would have frustrated Alan Turing for long.
When a clearly planted question was put to her outside a church, Her Maj, working in league with Downing Street, replied “Well, I hope people will think very carefully about the future”. Or as my QEII-Ray Winstone translation software renders it, “Oi, slags, if you fiddle with my country I’ll cut ya from ear to ear. Capisce?”
This time, according to a firmly denied and grudgingly semi-retracted report in The Sun, Her Maj privately came out for Brexit at a lunch. Even if she did, that is one thing. For a monarch to state a preference publicly is quite another.
There was a time when King David appreciated this. Interviewed by Esquire just three years ago, he said he had no political views; doesn’t vote because he lives abroad (one day, perhaps, someone will have the wit to invent a postal vote?); and, when pressed, that he’d rather not talk politics at all.
Desperate times, and all that. Casting off the shackles of neutrality at this momentous hour, he has spoken with clarity about the defining issue of the day. Finally, after warnings from the US President, the German Chancellor, the heads of the IMF and World Bank and all the other so-called “experts” whom Michael Gove sensibly told us to ignore, here is a Remain voice with genuine gravitas.
King David’s intervention may be unconstitutional, carefully orchestrated, and cynically retained until the moment of maximum impact. But if he does what he did against Greece and secures our international future, it will be the ultimate exoneration for this wickedly maligned age of celebrity.
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