Alistair Burt is MP for North East Bedfordshire and is a former Foreign Office Minister.
The last full week-end of the domestic football season has seen resolved a fair number of the ‘squeaky bum’ issues which have had fans on the edge of their seats from Wick Academy to Plymouth. The Football League final day, a roller coaster in itself with positions changing until the last minute, saw championships and relegations decided, with the inevitably exciting play-offs for final promotion places still to come. Bury FC, the mighty Shakers, were well safe, with a sufficient final flourish over the last few games to give hope for next season – the sentiment which will be echoed at almost every club at the start of the next season. It’s why we all do it.
But two issues over the past month demonstrate again similarities familiar to the aficionados of football and politics – the problems of succession, and the dilemma of tactical supporting.
The David Moyes story – the immensely public ending to a short period in a top job following a successful leader – cannot but remind us of political analogies. How does any company, political party, or football club retain the magic which has made them top dog? How much of any success is based on individual personality and will, and how much on different factors, some within control and others without?
The accession of Gordon Brown to Prime Minister and Labour’s leadership cruelly exposed a skill set not quite in the right range. The rumour that Moyes ‘lost the dressing room’ – i.e. that senior players stopped wanting to play for him to the teams detriment to hasten his departure – is a not unfamiliar phenomenon in recent Conservative Party leadership crises either. And them there is the hardest question of all: does the dominance and success of one individual lead inevitably to the failure of those that follow, as succession planning may be hampered by a subconscious desire for a legacy not to be endangered by still greater achievement? Or is that all total rubbish to explain away the harsh reality of winning and losing?
But the dilemma of tactical supporting is frighteningly real. If your own team cannot win the title, who would you want to see at the top? For Manchester United fans, for whom the natural law has somehow shuddered to a halt, this is a time of huge pain. Liverpool or Manchester City is almost as cruel a choice as a Cup Final between Leeds and Arsenal. I seem to be slightly unusual – as one who would gladly see the Premiership title permanently at Old Trafford – to want to see Stevie Gerrard rewarded for his passion and one club commitment to Liverpool rather than for the title cross Manchester to the upstarts.
The analogy of course is this: when your candidate cannot win an election, who do you vote for? Do you stick hopelessly to a wasted vote? Do you hold your nose and vote elsewhere to defeat the worst enemy? Or do you feel a sense of well-being, and vote on this occasion for reasons which never usually persuade you – that you like the candidate’s dog, partner, or dress sense and that in the privacy of the polling booth you can finally give vent to your frustrations to smash the system and vote for Anarchy in the UK?
In a Haringey Council election many years ago, my wife and I were to vote in Tottenham. Our candidate was nowhere, but the Liberal had a chance of beating Labour. We resolved to vote that way. As we emerged from the polling station we looked at each other, and burst out laughing. We had both voted Tory. We just couldn’t do it.
Good luck, Stevie G.