Many weeks ago I wrote a posting here about how (a) England just might win the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, and that (b) this might work to the advantage of the Conservative Party. Well, England did win the Rugby World Cup, so how might this help the Conservatives?
I certainly didn’t have in mind that England’s front rooms will now be echoing with the claim that “now we’ll all vote Conservative then”. No. This is more the sort of thing I had in mind, from Adam Parsons in yesterday’s Scotland on Sunday.
It is easy in such times for the rest of us to fall prey to hyperbole, so let’s tread carefully here. But I think it is true to say this is an achievement of great importance, something that everybody can cherish. Not just because a British team has won the cup, nor that it is at last crossing from the bottom of the world and going to the top. It is something to do with the people who won it, and what they stand for.
England’s squad are a decent bunch of people. The likes of Josh Lewsey, Ben Cohen, Jason Leonard, Iain Balshaw – these are genuinely engaging characters, blokes you’d have a drink with.
In other words, they feel so very different from the image most footballers have come to represent over the past few years. On the one hand, we have people who have become the best in the world by training relentlessly, yet retain the level-headedness to acknowledge their supporters as their emotional crux; on the other, players who increasingly come to represent a streak of overpaid self-importance.
It is naive, I suppose, to hope that rugby could, even for a short time, replace football in the national affections, but I hope this victory will at least reverberate.
British soccer (as opposed to merely the English version) took two further knocks last week, when, in among all the England rugby fervour, both Wales (agonisingly) and Scotland (humiliatingly) failed to qualify for the European soccer championships next year.
This relative rise of rugby in the affections (England) and respect (elsewhere in Britain), and the relative decline in the esteem felt towards football, has, I feel, something of an end-of-era feel to it. It all adds to the sense of that New Labour/Princess Di/Things Can Only Get Better bubble bursting back into nothing whence it came. To put it rudely, that brief moment when the English told themselves (or were told by their newspaper columnists) that they preferred emotional incontinence to the old manly virtues of stoicism, calmness under stress, and grace and dignity whether one is victorious or defeated, to the uncontrolled emotional display of weeping copiously and in public when someone utterly unconnected with you dies, or running about like an escaped mental patient when you’ve scored a goal. How this all maps across to politics is that merely working yourself into a frenzy either of well-intentioned benevolence or of anti-Conservative rage won’t make the Welfare State, or the trains, or the schools, work any better, and that what is needed is a little clear thinking and competent execution. (We here at Samizdata would have a slightly different take on the kind of ‘execution’ that the Welfare State needs, but my point here is how British public opinion might now be changing, rather than about whether public opinion is about to become entirely sensible.)
I’m not sure that I like that Parsons’ reference to mere supporters being an “emotional crux” for our rugby players, but apart from that, this is surely the thrust of what Adams says.
Here’s Jasper Gerrard in the Sunday Times, saying similar things:
The attraction of rugby players is they are not football players: by this I mean they don’t wear Tiffany diamond earrings or drive Yank tanks bigger than a council house. If David Beckham is “metrosexual” (“secure enough to embrace his feminine side”, apparently) rugby players are full-fat, extra large heroes; they are neither secure nor insecure, it would just never occur to them to slip on a sarong.
Nor do they use steroids: muscle bound is how they come out of the packet. Some even make fine role models. Jason Robinson is unlikely to fail a random drugs test: a black Englishman from a broken home, he is also a rugby superstar, a born-again Christian and a gent.
They don’t forget that it doesn’t matter that much. Remember the gracious losing Aussie captain, George Gregan, or Go Jonny Go Wilkinson dropping the goal that won the World Cup? He merely smiled and patted someone else on the back. If a consolation goal dribbles off a footballer’s backside in the LDV Vans Trophy, he rips off his shirt, does six summersaults and hoists a V-sign at rival fans.
Yes. On Saturday it was the Aussies who gave the world a lesson in how to take the acute disappointment of defeat with dignity and generosity, which for me personally translated itself into getting a phone call just after the final whistle blew from Samizdata’s own Aussie Michael Jennings, congratulating me on my victory, and telling me something I’d not then fully grasped, which was what a hell of a good game it was. And trust me, the English won’t have missed this. Those Aussies are fair dinkum blokes, and not just when they’re winning everything.
All of which just adds the sense that the emotional/political centre of gravity of Britain may be shifting back towards its Anglosphere foundations and away from the metropolitan New Labour infatuation with holidays in Tuscany and fine wine instead of good beer, and Old Labour loathing for the middle-class competence and decency personified by people like England’s rugby players.
It won’t turn the next general election all by itself, but it will make a difference, I believe.