By Tim Charlesworth
Congratulations to the leader of a red army who has managed to stay in his job for a surprisingly long time. I speak, of course, of loyal Gooner, Jeremy Corbyn, who has been re-elected as leader of the Labour Party.
Despite having been a Conservative candidate in the 2001 General Election, your correspondent must confess to having a little soft spot for Red Jez. Quite apart from his impeccable taste in football teams, I can’t help admiring his abstinence from Britain’s National Anthem. The tune itself is fine, but the words are a nasty combination of jingoism and imperialism that sit more comfortably in the Nineteenth Century than the Twenty-First.
I am a republican atheist to whom the request that “god save the queen” is perplexing nonsense (save her from what? – the lavish lifestyle, the many stylish homes complete with servants and lackeys?, the risk of being buried under a pile of her own cash?). Are we saving her from the abolition of the monarchy? – if yes, I would rather that the imaginary deity spared its efforts for something worthwhile – perhaps he/she/it could save some cancer sufferers, or orphans or something?
Lest you fear that this article is not strictly about Arsenal, I promise you that there is a point to my rantings. Its about leadership and changes thereof. Red Jez is the classic example of the ‘new broom’. Labour Party members tolerated the ‘New Labour’ approach to politics as long as it won them elections, but they never really loved Blair, Brown and Mandelson and their New Labour project. When success deserted them, they sort of gave it one more go with Miliband (albeit the wrong brother), but when that didn’t work they gave in to their instincts, went totally native and chose Red Jez, a man after their own hearts.
Only time will tell how much damage will be done by this flirtation with archaic socialism. Perhaps the Labour Party will abandon its current path and return to success? Perhaps it will simply annihilate itself?
However it all works out, Red Jez’s re-election is surely an act of attempted suicide. Britain is simply not interested in re-adopting a form of rancid socialism that it rejected as outdated and failing in the 1980s. If you doubt my word on this subject, try Polly Toynbee, Guardian columnist and lifelong Labour supporter: “What hope for a party that threatens to be irrelevant for years to come? The best of Labour is in power, in the cities as leaders and mayors, competent and imaginative in struggling with monstrous cuts – from London’s Sadiq Khan to Nick Forbes in Newcastle. Otherwise it’s a matter of waiting until enough party members come to terms with grim electoral reality and decide to compromise with the voters. Does that really need a devastating election defeat?” (The Guardian, 27th September 2016)
In the interests of political balance, I should recognise that it is possible that the British people will have a sudden Damascene conversion to the true path of socialism, as many Corbynistas expect, in which case Britain’s new thought police are likely to line me up against the wall and shoot me for writing this. If so, I will die with my (proverbial) pen in my hand.
As a Conservative, I struggle to be sympathetic when I see the Labour Party in difficulty. But when the Labour Party fails, our democratic system fails with it, and a one-party state is no good for anyone, including the Conservative Party. Just look at what the Labour Party did last time the Conservative Party became unelectable: Tony Blair stood shoulder to shoulder with George Bush and took us to war in Iraq, riding roughshod over democratic opinion in Britain. The Labour Party is still trying to recover from the aftershocks of this period – a lack of an effective opposition really isn’t good for anyone!
It is rarely commented on, but Arsene Wenger’s beliefs and style are no more consistent with Arsenal’s heritage than Tony Blair’s beliefs are to the Labour movement. Many older Arsenal fans were brought up on deep-lying solid defensive teams who squeezed the life out of the opposition and hoped to nick a goal or two. This was a tradition that George Graham understood very well, and indeed was Arsenal’s heritage for most of the post-war period until the arrival of Arsene Wenger. Even the glorious teams of the 1930s were criticised for being excessively defensive. Arsene changed all that, and the fanbase acquiesced, largely because Arsene brought success, and who complains in the face of a victorious team? But the truth is that Arsene’s style of play is contrary to the Arsenal tradition. Whisper it, but the man who has delivered football most consistent with Arsenal’s heritage in recent years is Jose Mourinho with his well marshalled, disciplined but unadventurous teams.
Although Wenger’s adventurous style is not often directly criticised, attacks on his team and his management often focus on his failure to provide the right centre backs or defensive midfielders, or the high positions taken up by those players on the pitch (our ability to concede goals from attacking positions over the last decade has been enough to try the patience of a saint!). As Wenger’s golden period recedes into the distant past, the critical voices from within the Arsenal fans are becoming ever louder.
The Labour Party may lack the discipline and intelligence to look after its own future, but I desperately hope that we, at Arsenal are not going to fall into the same trap. Arsenal’s Board are naturally conservative and supportive of Arsene Wenger. They will not get rid of him on a whim, and neither would you expect them to after 20 years. However, no club can keep its manager in the face of outright hostility from the fans. Some fans are already hostile, others favour a change. The quiet majority still just about supports Wenger and his position remains tenable.
In recent years it feels that we have come close to a position where the Board would be forced to act. The defeat to Aston Villa on the opening day three years ago was one such occasion; there has been widespread speculation that defeat in the 2014 Cup Final (in which we were 2-0 down) would have spelt the end for Arsene; Stoke Station in January 2015 was another; and the behaviour of the away fans at Leicester in the second game of this season almost felt like another. Wenger’s contract comes to an end at the conclusion of this season, and it feels like there is more doubt than ever that he will continue. If we win the league, I suspect all will be well, but what if we are second, third or worse?
Beware the example of the Labour Party. Jeremy Corbyn is in the midst of proving just how disastrous an uncontrolled change of leadership can be. I know that there are people out there who wish to see the back of Arsene Wenger with all their heart. They may have gone a bit quiet in the face of our current winning run, but rest assured they will pipe up again at the first sign of a setback. Please be careful what you wish for fellow Gooners.
If you liked this article, you might enjoy Tim’s book “It’s Happened Again”, which is now available on Amazon (print and Kindle versions). Read a sample chapter at www.itshappenedagain.com