Tuesday 26 May 2009

This is no time to blame the fans

I watched grown men crying at Villa Park on the Sunday evening news, and was surprised to find that I knew exactly how they felt.

This is partly because I have begun to take a mild interest in Newcastle United for the first time in my life, after recently waiving my principles to accept a kind invitation to St James’ Park. Luckily for me I witnessed the thrilling victory against Middlesbrough, and it would take a much stonier heart than mine not to share some of the passion of that amazing crowd.

I have also come to know a thing or two about humiliation and inadequate leadership during 55 years as an often disappointed but still dedicated fan of the United Kingdom.

A typing error in a Google search recently transported me back to 1959, and the Hansard record of a House of Commons debate about the constitution of Malta. It made compelling reading, in a way that Parliamentary speeches no longer do. Politicians of real stature and genuine principles (the terminally ill Nye Bevan was the leading voice of the Labour opposition) were arguing about the policy of what they still called, with a straight face, “the imperial Government”. Both sides clearly shared the conviction that what they said and did actually mattered.

Fifty years on, we have in their place a collection of pygmies who seem chiefly interested in enhancing their personal comfort, and whose debates are ignored because they have so little power to affect anything at all. This is chiefly down to Britain’s transformation from world power into mere province, with most important decisions taken for us in Brussels.

Most of us failed to spot it at the time, but our entry to the then Common Market in 1973 really was, exactly as Hugh Gaitskell had predicted, “the end of Britain as an independent European state … the end of a thousand years of history.”

The good thing about being a Toon supporter at this sorry juncture is knowing that your team can and surely will rise again to the Premiership. The bad thing is that you have little power to influence when and how it will happen; Mike Ashley may have a pretty lousy hand, but he definitely holds the cards.

Thinking nationally, it is hard to resist the conclusion that our relegation from the top flight is permanent; but our many good qualities surely mean that we deserve much better than our present status as a near bankrupt international laughing stock.

Again, the problem is how to effect the necessary change. Virtually the whole of our political team urgently needs replacing, but emphatically not by turning the Commons into a sort of Big Brother house full of past-their-use-by TV presenters and other minor celebrities. What we need are more independently minded, usefully experienced and ideally largely self-financing men and women of principle with a sense of public duty. The sort of people who used to sit in the House of Lords until it was “modernised” by that nice Mr Blair.

Boycotting the elections to the so-called European Parliament next week will do precisely nothing to shame those looking to board a far richer and even less useful gravy train than the one to Westminster. Vote for the people who look least likely to mug us, and give us back some real say in our own affairs.

If the result is a surge in support for the lunatic fringe, grown men may weep about another tragic own goal, and curse the electorate for their stupidity. But in politics as in football, you cannot blame the fans. The real responsibility will lie with the mainstream parties who colluded for so long to conceal the true nature of the European project, and now urgently need to realign their personnel and policies with the wishes of the people.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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