29 April 2021
Low Hanging Fruit
The serpent’s offering.
By John Watson
Whahey! Low hanging fruit! The world and his wife (or her husband) stand shoulder to shoulder in their condemnation of the ill-fated European Super League and lo, who do we see in the first rank but Prime Minister Boris Johnson, a fistful of legislative indemnities in his hand, and with him the besieged President Macron of France, a country none of whose clubs proposed to join the new league in the first place?
Offering politicians any opportunity for strutting and self-aggrandizement is a bit like offering sweets to children. They will stick their fat faces in the bag and gorge, once a sideways glance or two has reassured them that they are not exposing themselves to risk. And here they were not. Any launch of indemnities would have come late in the process and the risk of a blunder sat firmly with UEFA and other footballing authorities into whose province the matter truly fell. Still, their interventions feel odd. One can understand Prince William expressing a view. He is, after all, President of the Football Association. But Boris? Is it really appropriate that a man in his position should turn from issues like the nation’s response to covid, the reopening of trade with Europe, the first deployment of our new aircraft carrier, the problems of funding social care, to start talking about a new football league? Surely if that is indeed a matter for government, we should have heard from the Business Secretary talking about monopolies or the Culture Secretary talking about the role of soccer in our national life, not from the PM.
Worse still, it was all too quick. There was the Prime Ministers of the UK talking about suspending and changing contractual rights, effectively infringing the rule of law, not because long and careful consideration had persuaded his cabinet that this was a necessary response to a national crisis but in order to allow himself to pose as a latter-day Danton and bathe in the approbation of the mob. Yuck!
But apart from the general repugnance it engenders, the pace of the intervention says something about the functioning of the body politic. Every one of us knows from personal experience that it is the quick impulsive decision that comes back to bite. How often have we realised too late that it would have been better if we had thought a little longer before signing that hire purchase agreement, booking that holiday or buying that lockdown puppy. But we didn’t, did we? The children were looking at us with pleading eyes or it seemed to be the right thing to do at the time. Anyway, the decision was made on the hoof and will be repented later. Next time we will try to be more disciplined but deep down we are conscious that the challenge might be too much.
Perhaps it is no surprise that politicians, who after all are often human, make the same error. They are continually pressed for a reaction to events and it is no surprise if that reaction is often ill considered and aimed at quick approbation. David Cameron’s unfortunate remark in 2010 to the effect that lobbying tainted politics no doubt helped his political ratings at the time but being vacuous as well as opportunist (for why that remark was tosh see Conflicts of Interest in issue 276) came back to bite him in the butt later. Comments by a number of successive governments on immigration, policing, the environment and just about everything else are often just as bad.
The trouble is that whereas, in the world of the media, trite positions to please the public usually have little lasting effect, in politics the casually adopted stance can end up driving policy; so mouths should be kept shut until implications have been thought through and evidence has been analysed. It is to the Government’s credit, therefore, that it has simply ignored the appeals by some scientists to react to the success of the vaccine by relaxing the lockdown earlier than previously planned. Yes, many a glass would have been raised in approbation. Possibly the polls would have moved up a notch too. But suppose the change ushered in the dreaded third wave? Better keep it steady and follow the plan; better to leave the low hanging fruit on the tree than to accept it as a tribute to the serpent of short term popularity.