Monday, 28 June 2010

The English Disease

Despite the fact I owe several people a reply (yes, I mean you Boffy), I can't help but be distracted by the lefty blogosphere's attempt to shoehorn the cautionary tale of the Great South African Football disaster into any available political narrative they'd care to spin.

Exhibit A is provided by Cde Mason from Newsnight:
"Maybe in this World Cup we've seen the first real triumph of the economics of modern football over skill and organisation: the triumph of a club-first, nation-last mentality and individualism over teamwork.....

England's outstanding badness in World Cup 2010 must be a symptom of something bigger: the fact that we've got the most expensive, highest leveraged club system - and that none of our players play outside it - must have contributed to the weakening of commitment to the national colours, the evisceration of upcoming talent, the creation of an unmanageable team of frightened individuals...

Like failed bankers they will pay no penalty for failure other than public opprobrium and, as everybody in high finance knows, you can live with that as long as you own a Lamborghini.

Basically, we've just seen the Lehman Brothers of football and it was not pretty."
Exhibit B is provided by the ever prolific Chris Dillow:
"I blame Taylor. Not Graham Taylor, but Frederick Winslow Taylor.

He invented scientific management. The effect of this was to break down traditional craft work - where manual and physical labour combined - and give us workplaces in which management did the thinking and labourers did the grunt work. This created an iron curtain between intelligence and physical labour not just in the workplace, but in our culture.

The problem is, though, that football needs both brains and physical work.
It’s no accident that the European nation in which craft traditions declined most sharply is also the team that is weakest in those areas where intelligence is most needed.

I mean this is in two senses. First, we are tactically inflexible; Fabio Capello has been criticised for sticking rigidly with 4-4-2, but could this be because he didn’t trust his players to change things?

Secondly, we are under-supplied in positions where intelligence is needed: ... the players capable of changing the tempo of the match; and the ones who can find space and pick out a pass - England has no-one who even vaguely resembles Cesc Fabregas or Mesut Ozil."
So Paul's saying the problem is that English football is a bit too like how the City operates - and that's bad for the country, even if it's good for the big clubs/city firms - and Chris is saying, no, it goes deeper than that: it's the very idea of 'modern' management which is at the root of the problem. But I can't get the faint image of men with hammers defining the problem as a nail out of my mind when I read these thoughts. Because, after all, England has had several people at least as good as Fabregas or Ozil over the years - most especially this pocket genius . It really ain't skill that's the problem - and Capello is clearly a proven manager.

Exhibit C, however, from Jamie K gets closer to the nub of it I think:

"The whole In-ger-lund setup, with all its orchestrated hysteria and commercial hoo-haa is a kind of consolation prize from the EPL to the FA after it seized control over the game: OK, we’ll lend you some of our assets, go whoop up the punters with a load of flag wagging and make a bundle for a few weeks.

..... The EPL is a globalised institution and its major players live within its boundaries. True, they spend more of their actual time in the tax boundary known as the UK, but I bet the life of your average England player has a lot of the same weird affectlessness of life in a gated compound for foreigners in Shanghai, only with added celebrity status to cope with and profit from. ....

So the World Cup is an occasion that brings about a particularly sharp collision between globalisation and national sentiment, both financially driven. ... I think it ... has significant downstream consequences (such as: how do you make a team from an assemblage of players who work in various supporting roles in multinational teams, often with players better than they are). At any rate, it’s a weird atmosphere in which to try and play football."

But this is still not quite right - because, with the exception of the Germans perhaps, this is a condition which affects all modern footballers and all national teams. I think the problem is not with the globalisation per se, but with the particular national sentiment it is in tension with. England is a nation without a state, but one used to assuming that the trappings of a former grand imperial state - Britain - naturally fit it. Hence the chorus of 'Rule Britannia' from the crowd, not 'Jerusalem'. But those old imperial clothes don't fit Britain any more, much less England. So we get this weird and utterly self destructive hysterical neurosis at every big sporting tournament England qualifies for and it affects not just the media and the fans but the team as well.

So my recipe for an England victory at the next World Cup? Let Alex Salmond win his referendum on independence. Cut England down to size in reality, and perhaps the psychic expectation that they deserve to rule the world will die away.

Oh: and pray for a new Paul Scholes to emerge. He scores goals y'know.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Osborne, Disciple of '60s Childcare Guru

Young Gideon Osborne was on the Today programme this morning, doing a fair imitation of a politico with the wind in his sails. Others will deconstruct his appalling budget better than I, but I was struck by his sheer chutzpah on one matter: having announced yesterday that all non protected public service departments are facing a 25% cut when the figures are sorted out in the autumn, he backtracked a little and seemed to say that if larger 'savings' can be found in the benefits budget then cuts to services need not be quite so severe.

Now where have I heard this sort of thing before? Oh yes: Dr Spock, the childcare guru of choice for your average concerned parent in the 1960s and 1970s, so quite possibly someone Gideon's own mater and pater encouraged their nanny to read.

You may recall the good Doctor's advice on how to encourage a toddler to eat properly - give them a closed option in the form of a choice: "Are you going to eat your greens up before or after you eat the meat?"& it worked, as a whole generation of people who are now grandparents will testify.

Well, mainly it worked. There is also the case of my friend Andy. A couple of weeks into this new Spock inspired regime 3 yr old Andrew was eating his greens - but then he turned round and asked, "Dad - are you going to buy me an ice cream before you take me to the park or after you take me to the park?" .

Which does seem to me to be precisely the place for opposition to this lot to start from.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Free School: A Three Card Trick to Promote Privatisation

Clarification from the Dept of Education:

Free Schools will have the same legal requirements as academies. Free Schools are normally brand-new schools set up by charities, universities, business, community or faith groups, teachers and groups of parents where there is parental demand. Academies are usually a change to an existing maintained school.

Legally the structure is the same, and they are expected to meet the same requirements as other academies. Free Schools will also benefit from the same freedoms and flexibilities as academies....

OK, so I get that: they're the same thing except 'free schools' are new and Academies are the option available to existing state schools. but, ah-ha, wait, there's more:
Can an existing independent school become a Free School?

Yes. Independent schools can apply to become a Free School and become state-funded independent schools. These schools will need to meet the entry criteria – including an agreement that their admissions policy is in line with the Admissions Code, demonstrate they have a good record of success as an education provider and financial viability. Independent schools applying to become Free Schools will not be able to retain any existing academic selection admission arrangements.

OK, I get that as well: it's a way of channeling tax payers money into the private sector. But you might object that few independent schools would take this option as they wouldn't be allowed to charge top-up fees. Well, not necessarily. The cornerstone of the policy is quite simple:
How will applicants be expected to demonstrate that they are suitable education providers?
... Proposers will not have to be groups who already provide education services; they can be new providers but we will expect them to be able to demonstrate a capability to deliver their plans. This might mean partnering new providers with a third-party group with education experience or having plans in place to subcontract parts of the running and management of the school to other suitable organisations. ( my emphasis)
Hey-ho: here's the rub. Basically parents don't get to set up schools, they get to choose 'third party groups with educational experience' to do so on their behalf. But not councils - who might otherwise be thought to be precisely the most obvious 'third party groups' with such experience. No, the point is to debar them and promote other providers. Which can only mean either the private sector - sometimes thinly disguised as 'charitable trusts' a la Eton, Harrow and so on - or ultimately Church backed front organisations.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Labour Leadership Latest

I finally catch up with the exciting news that our Oxford PPE mafia are to be challenged by two horny handed scions of the soil: Burham and Abbot, both of whom struggled up through the despised academic backwater of Cambridge. Now there's diversity in action for you.

Oh well, it probably doesn't matter as John Lanchester nailed the result back on May 6th:

As is well known, it was decided a long time ago that the new leader will be a Miliband. It is less well known that in addition to the two Milibands we know about and show no signs of warming to, the party has several other Milibands in reserve. Fenton Miliband is one. He worked for Goldman Sachs, made a lot of money then had a moment of moral revelation and went off to work for the World Bank, then founded a non-profit to study the work of other non-profits in the developing world. His strengths are compassion and maths but focus groups dislike his beard. Another strong choice is Sholto Miliband. He has a beautiful singing voice and was given his own think-tank as a christening present. His special area is Scandinavian health care, and he is so popular in Norway that they named a fjord after him. Foreigners and working-class people have been shown to be reassured by him in statistically measurable ways.

There are plenty more Milibands where they came from. They are made in a lab. It took a while to perfect the process and some of the early prototypes were hideous, unelectable mutants. Most of them were melted down and used for parts, but one escaped and by the time he had been caught he had already found a job working for Gordon Brown and was building a power base in the party, so it was too late. The prototype was called ‘Ed Balls’ but in private the Milibands refer to him as ‘Igor’.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Getting a Handle on the Gulf Disaster

Via I discover the rather wonderful 'If it Was My Home' website. Simple idea really: just move the slick to be centred on your home - with the size and shape changed according to real time data at least once every day.

Update 10th June: blimey, it's reached Bristol, Bournemouth and Milton Keynes now, with Cardiff and Calais pretty certain to go under by the end of the week I'd say.