Unlike the White Queen to Alice, I won’t be asking you to believe six impossible things before breakfast or indeed any other meal, but I will ask that you forgive my tenuous analogy. In hindsight, it would have been more appropriate if it were the Red Queen who imparted this nonsensical advice, as the two subjects of this contrast and comparison are closely associated with that hue.
I have an invested interest in, and have been closely following the fortunes of, two public figures and, in spite of there being few obvious connections between them, I decided to kill two birds with one badly considered article. They are Labour leader Ed Miliband and Liverpool FC manager Kenny Dalglish. Their red credentials are under no doubt – the former the younger son of a prominent Marxist theoretician, the latter an Anfield legend both on and off the pitch – but neither came into their jobs through a direct route and both have come under fire from sections of their supporters.
The former Energy and Climate Change Secretary ascended to his current position by the roundabout route of being the least offensive to his party members. His elder brother David, heir apparent, polled more first-choice votes, but due to the complicated AV form of polling Ed won through by being more people’s second choice. Not the most confidence inspiring way to become leader.
‘King’ Kenny took the reigns in a temporary capacity after the sacking of predecessor, new England manager Roy Hodgson, who had been a spectacular failure in charge, and hadn’t endeared himself to the Kop faithful. Dalgleish rode in on a tide of popular support, with his name being called out from the terraces.
For the first eighteen months in the position, if Ed Miliband’s record as leader of the opposition were expressed as a series of score lines, read from the old-school videprinter on a Saturday teatime BBC, they’d be a dirge of tedious no-score draws. Politically, he’s thus far squandered every gilt-edged chance he has been served up – and has been accused of bandwagon jumping when he did catch on – and missed more open goals than a blind, drunk, one-legged heifer (or, Andy Carroll, as his friends know him.)
Initially, his sporting counterpart in this shaky analysis, fared a little better. Dalglish stabilised the team, inspired confidence and invested in new and exciting talent. Results improved and the team crawled up the Premier League table.
But recently their fortunes have polarised somewhat. Where Liverpool and their popular figurehead had endured a run of poor form, the Labour leader has began to soar.
Up until the past few weeks, I got the impression when Ed Miliband was handed these golden opportunities to shine he wasn’t entirely sure what to do with them, like the ape at the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, picking up a bone and bashing the corpse until the light bulb above its head flickered into life. But, of late, the government has begun to resemble that corpse. Barely a day goes by without some new grief, some reason for embarrassment, so he isn’t short of material to thrash them with. There has been the débâcle that was the government’s handling of a potential fuel tanker drivers’ strike that caused chaos at the pumps; the resignation of party treasurer Peter Cruddas in the wake of the cash-for-access scandal; a budget that they could not even justify to their back benchers and included the memorable granny-tax, pasty-tax and caravan tax; the Leveson inquiry uncovering evidence of collusion between Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt and News Corp in the takeover bid for BSkyB; and the devastating news that the UK economy experienced a so-called ‘double-dip’ recession, in spite of their claim to being the party with the correct formula to heal the country’s debt problem. An omnishambles, as Miliband catchingly described it. Not even Liverpool’s £35m Geordie statue, Carroll, could fail to hit a bullseye.
With each new mishap, Miliband has taken to the dispatch box at Prime Minister’s questions and has aggressively and effectively taken the Premier to task over them. David Cameron’s only defence, as it usually is, has been attack, rather than answering his opposite number’s questions. The mantra he repeats, regardless of the subject, is that the previous government got the country into these difficulties, and his government is taking difficult decisions to solve them. But how long will that wash?
The party’s defeat at the Bradford West bi-election was the only tarnish to this otherwise excellent purple patch. Labour lost the seat to one policy, professional agitator George Galloway, who was expelled from the party in 2003 and has oft come back to haunt them, like some embittered, shit-flinging, Scottish poltergeist.
Liverpool’s form has also caused them to part company with employees. Director of football Damien Comolli, along with some backroom staff, were given the bullet when results took a negative turn. Frenchman Comolli was the architect behind all of the club’s overpriced and under performing acquisitions, and, as in politics, when dismissals begin the minor functionaries act as a firewall around the person in the hotseat. Although the men on the pitch must take their share of responsibility, Dalglish’s tactical failings must shoulder much blame. He spent a decade away from management, years in which the game has changed radically.
The man is so adored the dilemma for the owners is, by appointing him they have given the supporters exactly what they wanted, now how do you get rid of him? To fire him would be like walking into a nursery with a basket of puppies then, in front of the delighted children, taking out a shotgun and blasting the dogs in the face with both barrels.
But in spite of his good run, I can’t invest much faith in Ed Miliband. It’s only weak opposition making him look good. His father was a socialist poster boy, but so what? My dad used to work for Heinz, but that doesn’t make me a go-to man for baked beans. All my instincts and reason are against his long-term prospects. He is a competent junior minister, but can you see him as Prime Minister? Some have commented he has the look of a Nick Park creation – I’m sure not helped by being viewed as a puppet of the unions – and a personality as dull and lumpen as one of those plasticine figures. It’s sad that personality should matter so much in a politician, but in this day and age of 24 hour multi-platform media it’s a must. A lack of a likeable personality was the downfall of dour, boring accountant Gordon Brown, who, fifty years ago, may have made a fair PM, but under constant, intense scrutiny he lacked the necessary nous. David Cameron, in spite of any opinions you may have about his politics, is very media savvy, although some are finding the smug, posh boy persona becoming very wearing.
Likewise, I can’t see Dalglish staying in his position either. It has become apparent he isn’t the man to restore Liverpool to the lofty successes of the 1980s. For a man who, to the club’s fans, could do no wrong, his reputation has been tarnished a little and perhaps the best result for all parties would be for him to fall on his sword.
If you’ve stuck with me this far, you’ll be relieved to know the connections between the two men do tie together a little neater than this article has so far given the impression. Both face stern tests of their leadership this week that could make or break their careers.
On Thursday 3rd May 2012, up and down the country, those not too apathetic will vote in local council elections. Parties in government usually suffer badly in mid-term elections, and with this government experiencing what can only be described as a crisis anything less than a Labour whitewash will be seen as a failure and an indictment of Miliband’s leadership.
On Saturday, the men in red shorts will face the toughest test of Dalglish’s reign so far when they face a enlivened Chelsea in the FA Cup final. They have already won a trophy this year – the League Cup – but this will be a make-or-break moment.
Good form in politics, like football, is fickle and fleeting. You can be riding high one week and plummeting the next. Unlike in football, this form is not so easily chartable, with no league tables to express results. The closest indicators would be polls conducted by the likes of YouGov and Ipsos MORI, but these are to be used only as a general guide. People are more willing to make a decision with no consequences, but when it comes to an election they tend to vote truer to type, so polls do not necessarily accurately represent an election result. But most polls are currently agreed that Labour are well ahead, with trust in the government ebbing away. Liverpool’s eighth position in the league tells a different story. They have fallen well short of the expectations of the owners and the fans.
The fear is that should both individuals succeed this week, it will buy them time in positions they have already outstayed their welcome.
PM David Cameron this week, at a speech in Oxford commemorating the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, made the world shaking announcement that the UK was a Christian country. This astounding peroration was made in support of his claim that a return to the country’s Christian values would stop its “moral collapse.” If this were true, then bears are Catholic and the Pope shits in the woods.
Religious Ursidae and defecating pontiffs aside, this would be the kind of meat Christopher Hitchens would relish sinking his sharp teeth into, but in his place lesser moral philosophers will have to chew on it the best they can.
My two main issues with this statement are that I do not believe the UK is as much a Christian country as the Prime Minister makes out, and, even if it were, we do not get our morals from the Bible and should hold any individual who does in deep suspicion. There are lengthier dissertations on just this subject, such as The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and End of Faith by Sam Harris, but I’ll make a brief summary of the main points as I see them.
According the the 2001 Census, 72% of the UK population describe themselves a Christian, and 16% as having ‘no religion.’ This doesn’t give an accurate sketch of the actual religious beliefs of the country. There is an increasingly secular movement within the population, which isn’t reflected by these figures. Technically, I am a Catholic, and I’m quite sure when my father filled out the form ten years ago he would have marked me down as such. However, when old enough to decide for myself what I did and didn’t believe in, I decided I most definitely did not believe in a personal god and confidently describe myself as an atheist. ‘Atheist’ was not an option on the census a decade ago, nor was agnostic, nor secular. Yet these combined describe a large slice of the opinions of the population. We’ve all filled out forms and know that if your preferred choice is not represented you pick the closest option. The majority of people of voting age and above – i.e. those legally eligible to take part in a census – will have been at least born into if not actually brought up in one or other version of the Christian faith and so would pick that. But given the current falling church attendance figures they could not in all fairness be described as practising their religion.
According to a 2008 survey by the Office of National Statistics, only 38% of the population professed a belief in a personal god, and 45.8% considered themselves to have ‘no religion.’ Take into account that that 38% includes other faiths with large representations in the UK – Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Sikhism etc. – which it can generally be said are less secular than British Christians and combined account for at least 6% of the population in the 2001 census. In the 2010 British attitudes survey, only 43% described themselves as Christian, with just over 50% choosing the option ‘no religion.’ That’s half the population last year. This shows a distinct trend of increasing secularism. If democracy is meant to represent the majority of opinions, then the majority of opinions are that the UK is not currently a Christian country.
On the second point, that we do or should get our moral values from the Bible and the Christian religion, I would like to make David Cameron – a man confessedly a non-practising Christian – aware of some of the more morally reprehensible qualities in the Bible. According to the King James Bible it is morally acceptable to do the following: Commit genocide against non-Christians; give up your daughter and/or wife (it doesn’t matter, as, according to the Bible all women are the property of their parent or spouse) for gang rape; slay any individual caught worshipping another deity; and to persecute and execute homosexuals. Anyone who suggests the world would be a better place if we followed the values prescribed by the Bible has, I suspect, not read it.
But things are better now, a religious apologist might argue. No one pays much attention to the Old Testament any more. Are they better? The current Pope – apologies if it seems I am picking on Catholics, but I was brought up one so they receive the majority of my ire – is a man who is known to have shielded paedophile priests, and instigated the lie that condoms spread HIV/AIDS and has refused Vatican financial aid to African nations that hand out free contraceptives. Hardly a worthy example of ethical behaviour.
The most strongly religious countries at the beginning of the 21st century are undoubtedly the so-called Islamic-fundamentalist nations, such as Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. Recent legal judgements in these countries have included the handing out of death sentences – to be carried out by methods ranging from stoning to having a tractor push a wall over and crush the convicted – for such ‘crimes’ as homosexuality, blasphemy and for being the victim – yes, the victim – of rape. As good an example of why religion should be kept out of politics and the law as any.
The United States – a country more strongly Christian than probably any other – has a per capita prison population of 743 per 100,000 (0.743%) – the highest in the world. The United Kingdom, for all its ‘moral collapse’ comes in at 89th of the 216 on the ICPS (International Centre for Prison Studies) list with 155 per 100,000 (0.155%) – about a fifth as high.
To be frank, if these facts and figures are an indication of the benefits of a Christian nation, I’ll take moral collapse any day.
“I agree with Nick.”
Gordon Brown/David Cameron, 2010
I’d hate to be Nick Clegg right now. If I’m honest, I’d hate be Nick Clegg at all. There’s something sly and disingenuous about the man: a straight faced dishonesty; an expression of a man who left his spine in his other jacket; and an air of toadying, obedient, public-school faggotry*. Since the Liberal Democrat leader joined in a coalition government with the ideological enemies of the party, he has become a man despised by both left and right, and especially by those, like me, who voted for him in good faith. In short, Nick Clegg is a streak of piss as wide and yellow as his tie, which we all know he is only wearing because his blue one is in the wash.
But lo, the turncoat turned his coat again and stood up for something he believed in. When David Cameron used his veto on the new EU treaty and potentially sold British businesses down the Swanee – or, in this case, the Rhine – Nick Clegg stood up and spoke out against the Prime Minister’s decision. He was like a man who found his balls down the back of the sofa, eighteen months after losing them.
Unfortunately, when David Cameron stood up in Parliament and defended his questionable actions to MPs on both sides of the house, Nick Clegg – his deputy – was not present. It was like there was something wrong with the House of Commons lighting, and the Prime Minister’s shadow was missing. After going public on his disagreement with his boss, Nick Clegg’s absence was suspicious and questionable. With calls from the benches of ‘where’s Clegg,’ the given reason was that he ‘would have been a distraction.’ If anything, staying away has drawn more attention to him. Whether he was playing truant or was asked to stay away, Nick Clegg’s actions are not those of a leader.
Despite choreographed radio and television appearances, the two parties that make policy are clearly divided on this issue more than any other that has raised its head since they entered into their uncomfortable accord. The cracks have already begun to show, but yesterday might be a sign that soon the coalition may be as shredded and tattered as Nick Clegg’s reputation.
*For American readers, in British slang a ‘fag’ does not mean a homosexual. The more common meaning is as a term for a cigarette, as in I’m bumming for a fag (I’m desperate for a cigarette.) In this case, it is a more obscure term endemic to English public schools, and means a kind of willing slave – usually a young school boy who does the bidding of an older boy (who are themselves often bumming for a fag.)