Is supporting a political party the same as supporting a football team?

Mon 4th April 09.54.

Sadiq Khan just said on the Victoria Derbyshire show on the BBC that he would work with the Tories in promoting business in London because “the future of the country is far more important than political party tribalism.”

This interests me because it illustrates the underlying idea amongst many Blairites that there really isn’t much ideological difference between the political parties anymore and that supporting the Labour Party is like supporting a football team, with the leader as the manager and the cabinet as the players.

In this analogy the Labour Party members are just like football ‘fans’; they are loyal, committed and passionate but are ‘followers’ of the club and should obviously have no say in picking the team or the tactics – which has to be left to the ‘professionals’.

I was born and bred in Coventry and my family and my wife’s family support Coventry City. This means I HAVE to support Coventry City Football Club. I have no choice, this is just the way it is. Through thick and thin, from Premiership to Division Two, I AM a Coventry City supporter. That’s it. End of.

I don’t have to go matches or buy a scarf or whatever, I don’t have to be involved in the club on a day to day basis, or be a ‘fan activist,’ BUT if asked which team I support, I HAVE to say Coventry City, because I was born in the city and my family support The Sky Blues. In May 1987 to be a Cov City fan was actually fantastic because the team won the FA Cup! For the rest of the time it’s been pretty miserable to be honest. But that’s not the point. I can’t stop supporting Coventry City because they are not doing well because that would craven, disloyal and pathetic.

But supporting a political party is NOT the same as supporting a football team. People support political parties because the party they join reflects their own political perspective. I don’t support the Labour Party because my parents and mates do. I support the Labour Party because I hold a particular set of democratic socialist political ideas and the Labour Party is the party closest to representing those views – or more accurately under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn it has the potential to do so.

But to the ‘careerist’, professional politicians who have controlled the Labour Party since the late Eighties, the Labour Party is like a  football club run as a commercial, corporate corporation. Thus to them the ‘professional’ politicians must be free to run the Party in the best interests of the Party. For a football club that means winning trophies; for the Labour Party it means winning elections. Under this model if the Labour Party is financially sustainable and wins elections then the ‘fans’, (i.e. the members of the Party) should be happy. The members are merely ‘supporters’ of the Party and should be glad to engage with the ‘celebrity’ leaders of the Party at election time, when these volunteer ‘foot soldiers’ are unfortunately needed to knock on doors and man the phone lines.

To be fair this attitude isn’t limited to the Labour Party. The Conservative leadership are equally contemptuous of the Party members regarding them as, “mad, swivel-eyed loons.” And the LibDems perhaps only exist to provide political careers for people who don’t believe in anything.

In 2005 I met the son of a friend of a friend who was in the sixth form and had decided that he wanted a ‘career in politics’. I asked him which party he supported and he replied that ‘he didn’t know yet’, and that he was considering all three main parties, Tory, Labour and LibDem. I met him a year later and he had ‘chosen’ the LibDems because they offered ‘a quicker career progression’. He had weighed the possibility of gaining office in either Labour or Conservative but was not connected to the Public School/Oxbridge network so chose the LibDems because they provided easier access into the ‘career’. Upon leaving University in 2009 he became an unpaid intern in the office of a LibDem MP and his political ‘career was launched… temporarily, the poor kids fucked now of course!

But that’s not the point of the story. The point is this young man had no ideological position whatsoever, what attracted him to ‘politics’ was a ‘career which would be exciting, close to the centre and allow him to earn a good-living while mixing with ‘the great and the good’. And I don’t think this is at all unusual. If he had been at Public School and gone to Oxbridge he may well have joined Labour OR the Conservatives, simply depending on who his mates were.

It appears to me that many of the Blairites are like my friends son, they don’t have a strong ideological or political position and are pursuing a corporate, political career and regard the ‘party members’ much as professional footballers regard the fans. To these ‘careerists’ party members who actually believe they should have a determining say in the tactics, policies and personnel of the ‘team,’ will obviously appear to be “mad, swivel-eyed loons” – especially if they perceive these ‘fans’ ideas to risk losing elections – because for the professional careerists winning elections is the ONLY function of the ‘team’.

I on the other hand believe a political party only has meaning if it stands for something and fighting for what it stands for is ultimately more important than winning elections. If a socialist party cannot win elections by putting forward socialist policies then it will lose but what else can it do? Put forward fascist policies in order to get elected? If it did it would cease to be a socialist party and all the socialists would leave and the fascists would join. If the party is just like a football team that wouldn’t matter because the party would still win.

If Cov City move from a 4:4:3 to a 5:3:2 set up we can all talk about it and disagree but it isn’t a moral issue and I wouldn’t stop supporting the team because of it. But if Labour move from say a party aligning itself with workers to a party aligning itself with business and the City Of London, then this is a fundamental change more akin to Coventry City physically moving to Sunderland, in which caee it would no longer be Coventry City and my required allegiance would be broken.

A political party is and has to be, about political ideas. A political party represents a specific political perspective into the ‘market place’ of democracy. Without shared political ideas at it’s core a political party becomes nothing but a vacuous, populist, career vehicle for the ambition of some of the most arrogant, privileged and vain-glorious men and women in our society and is not worthy of anyone’s support.


About I Am Not A Number

I Am Not A Number is written by Chris Jury. For 30 years Chris Jury was a TV actor, director and writer best known for playing Eric Catchpole in over 60 episodes of the BBC’s antique classic, Lovejoy, and for directing over 50 episodes of Eastenders. In 2008 he was appointed as the Senior Lecturer in Recorded Media in the School Of Music & Performing Arts at Bath Spa University. He currently presents, Agitpop, a pop & politics radio discussion programme on North Cotswold Community Radio He is currently the Communications Officer for UCU at Bath Spa University and a UCU SW Regional Rep at SWTUC.
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2 Responses to Is supporting a political party the same as supporting a football team?

  1. Ed says:

    Totally agree, I am from southeast London Labour supporting families dating back at least 100 years I have strong historical and emotional reasons to vote Labour come what may but this sense of duty has been sorely tested since 1997 certainly and probably from the election of Kinnock as party leader, the leadership expected to reap the results of that loyalty while denouncing the reasons for it and acting contrary to it and so I become a ‘dinosaur’ within the movement up till last year of course when all the dinosaurs came out of the woodwork and voted for Jeremy.

    It has been a sadness for me to watch Sadiq’s campaign, a man I should be able to support comprehensively and see the old middle of the road blairite nonsense being repeated as if the last Leadership election and its outstanding result had never been.

    I am still debating within myself how I will vote on the day having failed to be able to engage any worth while debate with the Sadiq election team beyond the usual facile statements from 12 year old researchers.

    • Absolutely! And that cynical reliance on ‘loyalty’ “while denouncing the reasons for it and acting contrary to it” really was elitist arrogance run wild. I think we have to support Khan though because if he fails it will be portrayed as Corbyn’s failure, of course if he succeeds it will be ‘in spite’ of Corbyn, but his failure would be more damaging to Corbyn.

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