Cricket and politics

In the comments to my last post about cricket, Scavella mentioned the role of cricket as a ‘vehicle of subversion of empire’. It was always inevitable that cricket would have a political dimension.

For those who aren’t fans, the list of nations that play cricket at the top level is: England, the West Indies*, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Australia, New Zealand, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. There’s obviously some scope for friction there. For a start, there’s the various kinds of post-colonial baggage in the relationships between England and everyone else. There are local rivalries, whether fairly friendly (Australia and New Zealand) or deadly serious (India and Pakistan). There’s a division between the white cricket nations and the rest, and the awkwardness of South Africa as an ex-white cricket nation trying to produce a more representative team via a quota system. There’s also a psychological division between the Anglophone countries and the Asian countries. The increasing political tension surrounding Islam adds a potential edge to games involving Pakistan and Bangladesh – as indicated by the latest controversy.

What really gives these issues life, perhaps, is the intimacy of the sport. With only ten test-playing nations (only seven before the 1980s), the same teams face each other over and over again. In football, England’s ‘rivalry’ with Argentina consists of about seven matches in 50 years. In the same period, we’ve played 116 tests against Australia, 89 against the West Indies, 60 against India and so on. No match is ever an anonymous one-off against a team you know nothing about. That’s also part of the appeal for the fan; every series brings a long sporting history with it. It can also bring a lot of political issues into the spotlight.

As an example, the liveliest issue over the past few years has been the status of Zimbabwe. Because cricket has historically been a predominately white game in southern Africa, Mugabe’s land reform policies are rather close to home for a lot of people within cricket, and there has been political pressure for England to stop playing Zimbabwe in protest, with the controversy further stirred up by Zimbabwean players protesting against political interference in the sport.

There are always people in these situations who try to insist that politics should be kept out of sport. That’s an understandable aim, not just because part of the pleasure of sport is its inherent unimportance, but because it’s a bit unfair on the sportsmen to burden their actions with such importance. But inevitably politics has a way of getting into everything, whether you want it to or not. Politicians will always try to hijack sporting events if they can see an advantage in it, and sometimes the political overtones are just inevitable anyway.

Just writing all this while listening to the cricket is faintly depressing. I like to think of cricket as being a simple pleasure for long, lazy summer’s days. Ho-hum. Still, England just took another wicket, so that’s good.

*obviously the West Indies isn’t actually a country, but they play as a single cricket team.

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shook foil

I know why the phrase ‘like shining from shook foil’ is in my head — because I was putting some foil over a dish of coronation chicken. More peculiar is the other thing that’s been going around my head this morning:

“Bush and Saddam sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G”.

I think it’s unlikely that either of the Presidents Bush have ever snogged Saddam Hussein, and even if they have, a tree would be an unorthodox venue. But I suppose you never know.


One of the minor joys of the brave new electronic age is the ease of buying the UK papers abroad. Not because I desperately want to keep up with the British news – I mean, really, whatever the fuck David Cameron has just said about the NHS can wait a couple of weeks, by which time everyone will have forgotten about it anyway – but because it’s nice to be able to sit in a cafe somewhere with a caffe solo and read the paper. I suspect that’s the key truth for anyone wanting to run a newspaper; no one is buying it to learn what’s happening in the world. We have TV, radio and internet for that. What we want is something that will keep us occupied, entertained, and very gently stimulated for about three-quarters of an hour. In the long run, incredible ground-breaking scoops that shake governments are less important to your circulation figures than a good crossword and some mildly amusing columnists.

None of which offers much incentive for journalists to do the useful job of keeping politicians on their toes.

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England vs. India

I must admit, after the humiliation in Pakistan, I was starting to lose faith, but England’s performance to tie the series in India without Vaughan, Trescothick, Simon Jones or Ashley Giles, and for the last game without Harmison and Cook as well, was seriously impressive.

BTW, isn’t Marcus Trescothick just the perfect name for the hero of a bodice-ripper? Even better than the current Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Skills, whose name is Lord Adonis. I kid you not. Perhaps Lord Adonis could be the scheming, predatory English aristocrat, and Marcus Trescothick could be the swarthy, taciturn Cornishman who rescues the heroine from his clutches.

“Oh my darling, I know I’m vulnerable to well-pitched-up deliveries outside off stump, but can’t you see I love you?”

It’s a whole different world.

This article about atheists in Texas (via Pharyngula) is just mind-bogglingly odd to me. I grew up in secular, middle-class London where the default position was a casual agnosticism, so the image of atheists as a secretive minority, afraid to give their name in a newspaper interview, seems surreal. The flipside of that is the presentation of atheists as fiercely rationalist and potentially campaigning ideologues, who go to atheist meetings. What do you do at an atheist meeting? All sit in a room together not believing? It doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. Just like Christians, most of the non-believers I know are that way because they were brought up like that. I’m wary of attempts to make atheism into either an alternate belief system or a political cause. I mean, I don’t believe in unicorns either, but I’m not about to go to any meetings about it.

Of course, I can see that if I lived in America, it might seem more important, both because of the overwhelmingly religious culture and because the constitutional separation of church and state makes it into a political issue. There’s an irony in the fact that in the UK, which has a constitutional intertwining of church and state, we tend to be suspicious of overt religiosity in our politicians, while American politics practically demands it.

I remember a few years ago reading an article in the Economist which argued, in the context of abortion, that the US Constitution actually tended to inflame political debates, because the insistence on absolute and inalienable rights makes both sides inflexible and removes the chance of compromise. Specifically, it means that, whereas in Europe, the focus of the debate tends to move quite rapidly onto specifics which can be farmed off onto technical committees – the maximum age of a fetus that can be aborted, whether a woman has to see a doctor before getting an abortion – in the States, there’s always this central totemic Supreme Court decision that hangs over the whole subject, and the possibility of the decision being overturned. Once the sides have branded themselves in the rhetoric of absolute rights – the ‘right to life’ and the ‘right to choose’ – it becomes all-or-nothing. Similarly with obscenity and hate-speech laws vs. free speech, or the right to bear arms.

I don’t know whether the separation of church and state has played an important part in shaping American religious culture; the French, who have the same constitutional separation, seem to be pretty Godless. It certainly politicises the debate on teaching evolution in schools and prevents the obvious compromise of teaching Genesis in religious education classes and Darwin in biology, though. And although I completely agree that natural selection is the only origin theory children should be taught in biology, the debate shouldn’t be about constitutionality. It should be about teaching the overwhelming scientific consensus.

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Ken suspended

Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, has been suspended from the job for four weeks because ‘The Adjudication Panel for England’ decided that he has brought the job into disrepute by making insensitive remarks to a Jewish reporter. The exact rights and wrongs of the original remark can be argued over, but as a Londoner, I’m outraged that some unelected panel I’ve never heard of can suspend my mayor like a naughty schoolboy over something which isn’t illegal, wasn’t for personal gain, isn’t directly to do with his job, and basically isn’t any of their fucking business. If we want to get rid of Ken, we can use our votes. That’s what democracy is about. Isn’t it?

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No Smoking

MPs have just voted by a large majority for a total ban on smoking in all enclosed public places, probably coming into effect in 2007. It was expected beforehand that there would be some exemptions – pubs and/or private clubs – but in the event the more draconian version was passed.

As a non-smoker, this can only improve my life, but I’m still slightly startled that it’s happened. A few years ago, it would have been a wacky extremist idea, surely? It’s surprisingly hard to think back. I was even more surprised by a survey they quoted on Newsnight that 48% of the public would support making smoking completely illegal. 24% of people smoke, so presumably that 48% is 2/3 of all non-smokers. Even more (the high 60%s) would support a ban on smoking when pregnant or a ban on smoking in a house with a child.

Only a few years ago cannabis legalisation seemed to be around the corner; I guess that’s now less likely, although allowing it in private homes on the same terms as tobacco would have a certain logic.

Anyway, no more shampooing other people’s smoke out of my hair the morning after going to the pub – that’s got to be a Good Thing.

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Drugs, hypocrisy and baby milk

Most of the people I’ve known over the years who were keen to boycott products from Nestlé (evil baby milk) or South Africa (apartheid, at the time) or Nike (sweatshops) took drugs.

I don’t think it’s any better to give money to organised crime than to give it to Nike. Which is one reason I don’t take drugs.

familiar language in the news

A report in the Times today about the riots in France said this:

Magid Tabouri, 29, leader of a group of youth workers at Bondy, next to Aulnay, said he was suprised that the eruption had taken so long. “It has been simmering with all the exclusion, mistreatment and social misery and collapsed education,” he said. “These families have been forced to the margins and are being kept there. It’s a gangrene that has grown for years. We will soon be seeing urban guerrilla war.”

M Tabouri reserved his harshest words for M Sarkozy and his campaign against the “scum” of the estates. He also deplored the failure of left-wing governments to confront the rejection of the immigrant generations. He suggested a small start: the police should be barred from using the informal and disrespectful tu that they routinely apply to young residents of the estates.

That reminded me of a story from Australia a few months ago (the Guardian). A senior civil servant made a rule that security staff at the parliament in Canberra should address visitors as ‘sir’ rather than ‘mate’. Naturally, there was a national outcry, protesting that this struck at the very heart of Australian identity. If a bloke’s not free to address another bloke as ‘mate’, why did all those men die at Gallipolli? And so on. Former PM Bob Hawke came out with this gloriously punchy soundbite: “In a sense we’re living in an age where the concept of mateship has been damaged to a fairly large extent by a lot of the approaches of this government.”

Obviously the situations aren’t comparable in all sorts of ways, not least that the power relationship between a gendarme and a young man in the banlieues is rather different than that between a security person and an MP. But I still have some sympathy with that Aussie civil servant, and for basically the same reason that I have sympathy with M Taboury. Someone who is asking you to let them search your bag, empty your pockets and walk through a metal detector is impinging on your privacy and being a nuisance. That’s a good reason why they should make a special effort to be respectful when they do it. They can still be friendly and chatty; “G’Day, Sir” strikes me as a perfectly reasonable compromise. The fact that they’re just ordinary blokes doing their job seems to be beside the point; their job is intrusive and I think a little bit of extra politeness serves as an acknowledgement of the fact.

But, on the other hand, I’m not Australian. When in Rome, horses for courses.

The French tu/vous thing is interesting, but I’m not going to comment because I can’t speak the language.

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David Cameron (and Davis)

I ended up watching most of the Tory leadership candidate TV debate. The tag of David Cameron as ‘heir to Blair’ is almost spookily accurate. Not only does he have the same dewy eyes and the same tendency to talk in vacuous abstractions, he has the same slightly stiff body language. David Davis seemed more natural, talked far more in facts and policies and less in generalities, and seemed like a competent, intelligent bloke.

But Cameron also shares with Blair the slightly mysterious magnetism which attracts the camera, draws the attention of the audience, and almost makes you lose track of what he’s actually saying in favour of the way he’s saying it. It is the voice, or the body language, or the face? I’d be interested to know whether it works in person or if it’s just a telegenic thing. Either way, he has a bit of the star quality which the Tories have been badly lacking for some time. He’s not quite in the Clinton/Mandela/Beckham league of charisma, but he could be what the Conservatives need.

None of which says anything about his competence to run the country, of course.

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oh to be a Tory, now October’s here

It must have been pretty dismal being a Conservative party activist over the past 12 years (apparently 1993 was the last time they had an approval rating of over about 30%). But what fun it must be to be at the party conference this week! Lots of opportunity to gossip, a feeling that for a moment the news spotlight is on you, that you have the opportunity to make a difference. It would almost be worth having to listen to Francis Maude and Theresa May telling you that you’re crap and outmoded.

Surely they need to pick a leader relatively untainted by the gloom of the past decade. Ken Clarke was the right choice in 1997, but it’s too late for him now. Ditto Rifkind. David Davis looks suspiciously like IDS Mk2 (in fact, wasn’t he nearly IDS Mk1?). So that leaves Fox and Cameron. Liam Fox has chosen to distinguish himself by dropping hints about leaving the EU, so he’s already made himself sound like just another rabidly inward-looking Tory. I haven’t really seen much of David Cameron yet, although he’s been getting some flattering buzz in the media over the past week. If nothing else – he’s new. They really need someone new.

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Charlie sticks his oar in again

The Queen’s greatest virtue is that that I have no idea what her political views are. On that basis, Prince Charles could be the one to kill off the monarchy. Sometimes I agree with his opinions, more often I don’t – but I don’t want to know them. The monarchy is tolerable as long as it’s powerless, but Charlie-boy needs to understand that his anachronistic existence comes with conditions. If he wants to become a political activist, he can abdicate any time he wants to; otherwise he should keep his fucking mouth shut.

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the decadent West

And I’m not talking about Sam.

Since the London bombings (and their sequel, which like so many sequels, failed to live up to the promise of the original) the press has, naturally enough, turned to the question ‘why did those nice British boys try to kill me?’ Or, to phrase it in a more objective sounding way, ‘why do young British Muslims feel so disaffected from British society?’

One answer given is that they see Britain (or The West) as decadent and immoral. Many journalists have been saying the same thing for years, rousing their readers to a state of righteous indignation with tales of the happy-slapping, binge-drinking, orgy-having, undisciplined, hoody-wearing Youth Of Today. I’ve thought the same thing myself – usually first thing in the morning, when reading the Style section of the Sunday Times. When faced with the shallow, trend-driven world of designer track-suits, Jude Law’s nanny,

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‘Islamic’ terrorists?

One of the arguments that has surfaced repeatedly since the London bombings is over the term ‘Islamic terrorists’ – some people pointing out that we never referred to the IRA as ‘Catholic terrorists’, others riposting that the IRA never claimed to be acting in the name of the Catholic faith, unlike Al-Qaeda.

This argument is that the IRA are politically motivated where Al-Qaeda are religiously motivated. But I wonder if that’s a helpful distinction. David Trimble was on the radio the other day talking about Northern Ireland and he talked about people who were brought up thinking of themselves as Irish despite living in the United Kingdom. In other words, it’s a clash of national identities. Intuitively, it’s hard to believe that terrorism would be driven just by theology without something of that tribal motivation.

Perhaps jihadi terrorism is best looked at in this way – the terrorists are driven not by religious belief, in a simple way, but because they identify themselves with an Islamic nation – the Umma. You can see how young Islamic men in Leeds who feel alienated from their own country would be drawn by the idea; that they were a member of a great Islamic nation, that not only stretched continuously from Istanbul to Djakarta, but was with them wherever they were. And being a young man in England who can’t go to the pub must be pretty alienating in itself. Perhaps we should be referring to the terrorists as Islamic Nationalists. And indeed the same idea famously had an appeal to many young black men in the US – hence the Nation of Islam.

That concept, of a religious nationhood, is rather unfamiliar to us now. Particularly in the UK, which is very secular. But of course, we do have a word that is the equivalent of Umma – Christendom. There’s nothing in the core message of Christianity that requires places to be held sacred, or that requires the sacred places of Christianity to be run by Christians, but thousands of young men from all over Christendom went and died to try and recapture the Holy Lands.

Which brings us onto a mild irony of language. Bush got into some trouble soon after 9-11 by calling his War on Terror a ‘crusade’. I assume he didn’t mean to refer to the medieval Crusades, but many Muslims took offence anyway. But just as ‘Christendom’ is an equivalent for Umma, the most natural English translation of jihad is ‘Crusade’.*

I don’t know. Trying to turn Islamic terrorism into a type of identity politics is probably no more enlightening than calling it ‘religious’ or ‘political’. And there’s no reason why it has to be just one – they can all feed into each other.

*Yes, I do know that the word ‘crusade’ derives from the Latin for ‘cross’. But the point holds, I think.
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the election campaign

I think the general trend of the polls – a gradual improvement for Labour and the Lib-Dems at the expense of the Tories – has been interesting.

I suspect it’s that people are reacting to a month of seeing both Blair and Howard on TV all the time. There’s just no contest. I know a lot of pundits are saying that Blair is a liability this time, but he still comes across as more sincere, more likeable, and above all more competent than Michael Howard. And the Tory ‘do you trust Blair?’ strategy has backfired, because people have looked at both of them and thought “actually, we may not trust him as much as we used to, but we certainly trust him more than you“.

Blair is just so much more mediatic (as Florentino P

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dreadful tories

The Tories are being unbelievably crap.

In the days Before Blair, I probably would have been a natural soft Tory, if I was old enough to vote. I voted for the first time in 1997. I probably would have voted Labour whoever the leader was, because the Conservative party had completely self-destructed at that point, but Blair taking Labour to the right certainly made it easier.

But if you’d told me then that by 2005, the Tories would still be in such a state that I wouldn’t even consider voting for them, I’m not sure I would have believed you. Picking Hague was daft*, and picking IDS was so suicidal that even Michael Howard, one of the most unpopular politicians of the past 20 years, looked like an improvement. But Howard has looked incredibly awkward and artificial during the campaign. He might almost have done better to be the old nasty Howard rather than trying to present himself as soft and fluffy – at least that way he had some presence.

And the policies! What kind of party, choosing only five priorities for a campaign, includes school discipline and cleaner hospitals? Yes those things are important, but they’re not exactly a visionary manifesto for a new national government. And then there’s the paranoid yammering about immigration, which just serves to alienate people like me, and reinforce the party’s extremist image. And the final two issues – more police and lower taxes – aren’t exactly staggeringly insightful either. The whole package just shouts out nasty-minded paranoia, band-wagon jumping, and knee-jerk bar-room politics. And if I wanted that I could vote for Veritas. Or Respect.

Of course it’s normal for the Tories to be to the right of the Labour party. But a mainstream politic party has to have a foothold in the centre, for people like me. Democracy is no fun if the choice offered isn’t a genuine one.


*I actually think William Hague has a good chance of being PM some time a few years hence and doing a good job of it, but it was a stupid decision at the time.

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