You wouldn’t think it is possible but the UK Labour Party is now in an even bigger mess than it was on May 8th – the day after their shock election defeat and the resignation of Ed Miliband. The leadership election is now a total shambles with one MP saying it should be postponed – even though the result is not due to be known until September 12th and ballot papers have not even been sent out yet. How did Labour get into this state?
First lesson is never nominate a “joke” candidate. When veteran left winger Jeremy Corbyn announced his intention to run he was treated as a joke. After all apart from anything else he surely wouldn’t get the 35 MP nominations (out of 232) needed to be able to stand. But some Labour MPs (in order to “have a debate”) nominated him with no intention of voting for him – since after all he was a “joke” candidate with no chance of winning against “serious” candidates Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. But – for all the fact that Corbyn like Michael Foot in the 1980s would be totally unelectable – at least you know what you’re getting with him. No one seems to know what the other three stand for. And so like the episode of “The Simpsons” where a radio station offers an elephant as a joke prize thinking no one will want it – and then Bart Simpson comes along and wants the elephant (which the station doesn’t have) Corbyn mania is seeping the Labour Party with one poll putting him ahead. The Labour establishment – including some MPs who nominated him! – are now in full “stop Corbyn” mode and are even claiming the party is being infiltrated by militants and communists who are joining the party in order to vote for Corbyn.
This may or may not be true. But if it is Labour has only itself to blame. So desperate are they for new members anybody can join Labour for just £3 – and if they do they get a vote in the leadership election (it is Labour members who vote for the leader). The Conservative supporting Daily Telegraph has encouraged its readers to join Labour so they can vote for Corbyn who they think is unelectable. It has become such a farce that at the weekend Labour MP John Mann actually called for the contest to be delayed in order to vet new members. What Labour should have done of course is insist that only people who were members on May 8th – the day Miliband resigned and the election was triggered – were eligible to vote.
And that is Labour’s other problem. The election has gone on for far too long. It started on May 8th. It is not until August 12th that the deadline for new members comes, not until August 14th that ballot papers are sent out and not until September 12th that the result will be announced. Four months! This has left Labour totally rudderless in the Commons under a caretaker leader Harriet Harman who both she and the MPs know will be out in September. This means she has no authority. While the decision to abstain on welfare reform was wrong – you are either for something or against it – she didn’t have the authority to control her MPs – 48 of whom rebelled against her line. One suspects a leader who wasn’t a caretaker would be more able to control their backbenchers. Also as this means Labour are more concerned with their leadership election it means the Conservative Government is getting a far easier ride in Parliament than its small majority of 11 suggests it should.
In contrast the Liberal Democrats – also in shell shock after the election and whose leader Nick Clegg resigned on the same day as Miliband – have already held their leadership election and have a new leader in post. Namely Tim Farron who was elected on July 16th. Nearly two months before Labour will have theirs elected! In fact for a party who had their MP tally reduced from 57 to 8 in May the Lib Dems are in quite good health. Party membership has gone up and their ghastly poll ratings have improved from 8% to 10%. Not much it is true but baby steps…. The Lib Dems amazingly are in a healthier state than Labour.
I don’t think Corbyn will be Labour’s next leader. The election is held on the “alternative vote” method which means if the top candidate gets less than 50% the second preferences of the bottom candidate are taken into account. So even if Corbyn is top on first preferences I can’t see many of the other three candidates supporters giving their second preference to him. And Labour surely can’t make the mistake that they did with Michael Foot in 1980 or the Conservatives did with William Hague in 1997.In the UK elections are won from the centre ground. A party that deserts the centre gets hammered. A lesson that both Foot’s Labour Party (1983) and Hague’s Conservative Party (2001) learned the hard way.
The problem is a party’s members are generally more extreme – or certainly have stronger beliefs – than the rest of the country’s more apathetic electorate (that is why they join a party in the first place) So what they want is not necessarily what a party needs to get elected. The Conservative membership after 2001 swung even further to the right with Iain Duncan Smith. That choice was a disaster but very luckily the party’s MPs overthrew him in 2003. If he had led the party in a general election I reckon they would have suffered such a devastating defeat they would not have recovered even now.
And that is what Labour members must realise. If they elect Corbyn the country will not vote for it and I suspect Labour MPs – the majority of whom will not have voted for him – will either defect to another party or – like what happened to Duncan Smith – bring him down. Before the May election the talk was of a defeated Conservative Party splitting with the right wing defecting to the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). It would be ironic indeed if the party to split would be Labour. But Labour members must decide. Do we want to be in power or just be an impotent protest group? Should be an easy answer…
You would think the Americans would be happy after their magnificent win in the recent Women’s World Cup but instead they have been moaning at FIFA again (almost an American hobby these days). This time they are moaning at the prize money that the team won. The US women were awarded $2 million for the World Cup victory. The internet quickly recalled that Germany’s men won $35 million for their World cup win in Brazil last year and that the US men’s team (who lost in the last 16) earned $8 million for their efforts.
Cue the uproar in the US with cries of “sexism” filling the air. Even US politicians got involved with representatives Jackie Spier and Linda Sanchez – and 33 others – tabling a motion in the House of Representatives calling for equal pay for women and another politician – Carolyn Maloney – writing to FIFA asking them to end their pay policy which she called “discriminatory”. While at first glance this seems a good campaign the fact is it is full of xenophobia and hypocrisy.
For example the inequality is nothing new. in fact the winners of the Women’s World Cup won no prize money at all until 2007 – and far less in 2007 and 2011 as well. The difference of course is that the US did not win the last two World Cup before this year’s – Germany and Japan did – but who cares about unequal pay when it is foreigners who are the victims eh? The Americans also use the argument the Women’s World Cup Final won higher ratings than the men’s in the US than the men’s – conveniently ignoring the fact that in the rest of the world the men’s Final was far more popular. Americans have to learn that FIFA represents the whole world not just them.
Plus shouldn’t the US put its own house in order first? Gender inequality exists in the US domestic football Leagues. The minimum wage in the women’s pro League – the Women’s National Soccer League (NWSL) – is $6842 a year (the Federal poverty line is $11770).In contrast the minimum salary for the male equivalent – Major league Soccer (MLS) is $60000. Not much sign of equal pay there .
Of course the establishment sports in the US are far worse. Women only play grid iron football professionally in their underwear and they play softball not baseball – despite the efforts of a few pioneers like Justine Siegal. Basketball is the only one of the big three establishment sports in the US with a women’s pro League – the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA) and it won’t be a shock to learn that the minimum salary in the WNBA is $37950 compared to $ 507336 in the male equivalent – the National Basketball Association (NBA). Shouldn’t the Americans practice what they preach?
Ironically female footballers and basketball players from the US can make more money in the rest of the world they dislike so much. Diana Taurasi – one of the WNBA’s best – earns $1.5 million a year playing basketball professionally in Russia in the WNBA off season. This compares with the maximum WNBA salary of $107000. In a hilarious twist her Russian club has paid her more than her WNBA salary not to play in the WNBA at all in 2015. Where is the outcry of sexism here?
And in football too the same thing. In 2013 US star Megan Rapione spent a season in France’s Division 1 Feminine playing for Lyon – the club most of France’s magnificent women’s team play for. She earned $14000 a month – again far more than she could playing in the WNSL.(in 2013 the maximum salary in WNSL was said to be $30000 a year). Again it is funny how these sexist foreigners are able to pay women far more than the US does!
This is relevant because the US has to put its own house in order before lecturing the rest of the world. Tennis is the perfect example. US female tennis players from Billie Jean King to Venus Williams put pressure on Wimbledon and the French Open to pay women equally. But the Americans were able to do so from a position of moral strength since the US Open had introduced equal pay for women in 1973 – long before Wimbledon (2007) and the French Open (2006).Had the US Open not done so they would have been in a weaker position with regards to Wimbledon and the French Open.
And that is the moral for Americans lecturing the rest of the world about sexism in football. Get rid of it in your own backyard first. There is equal pay legislation in America. Why not insist – as with Title IX – that sport pays women equally? Women’s football is more popular in the US than France so it is nonsense that Rapione could earn more money in France than in the US. Women’s basketball is more popular in the US than Russia so it is nonsense that Taurasi earns more money in Russia than in the US. Until the US takes the lead in the fight for equal pay in sport by introducing it in their domestic Leagues they should not be surprised that when they campaign for equal pay for female footballers it will be a case of – to quote the title of an LP from the mighty UK indie group the Smiths – that “The World Won’t Listen”.
The 2015 Ashes begins tomorrow. In the wrong venue and at the wrong time. Apart from that it is perfectly timed! The cricket event between England and Australia is usually held every four years in each country (2001,2005,2009,2013 in England, 2002-3,2006-7,2010-11 in Australia for example). But to prepare England for their pathetic World Cup campaign the last Australian Ashes took place in 2013-14 instead of last winter (which meant there were back to back Ashes series a disaster for England). It also meant that the next English series was brought forward to this year instead of 2017. To my mind after 2013 the next Ashes should have been in 2015-16 – this winter – and the next English one should have stuck to 2017.
This is relevant because I’ve never known an Ashes series to get less publicity. The unexpected success of the Women’s Football World Cup has not helped but three Ashes series in two years is one too many. It might have worked in the 1970s where they were three in two and a bit years (1974-5,1975* and 1977) but the Ashes was far less hyped in the press back then and there was less sporting competition (no women’s football World Cup in the 1970s for example). This series could be “a series too far”.
Of course if England played well one suspects the country will get interested again. Problem here is that the First Test is in Cardiff which is not even in England has no tradition and the ground only exists as a Test quality venue because it was paid for by money from the devolved Welsh Government (thanks Tony Blair for the constitutional hooliganism!) As England have only ever played two Tests there for all practical purposes England have very generously given up home advantage for the First Test. Would Australia ever play the first Test of an Ashes series in say Darwin? Er no..
That said how will the series go? Again England are the victims of their own incompetence. The England team is rebuilding after the trauma of the Ashes whitewash of 2013-14 and the awful World Cup this past winter. They have a new coach in Australian Trevor Bayliss. Australia did the same before the 2013 Ashes when they sacked Mickey Arthur and appointed Darren Lehmann. It didn’t improve Australia at once – in the second Test of 2013 it was probably the worst Aussie team I’ve ever seen – but as there was a home Ashes for Australia later that year Lehmann could use the 2013 Ashes to improve his team. By the end of a 3-0 defeat they had improved and with the help of 95 mph demon bowler Mitchell Johnson and English complacency the 5-0 whitewash of 2013-14 occurred. But as the next Ashes series is not until 2017-18 in Australia England cannot use this series to improve – as they could have done if another country was here and the Ashes was not until this winter. They must hit the ground running now.
And if they are to do so the captain Alistair Cook must get runs. He has only had one good series against Australia – in 2010-11 when he averaged 127.66. In four other series against Australia he has not averaged more than 27.20. Since the strength of Australia is their fast bowlers- Mitchells Johnson and Starc, Josh Hazelwood and Peter Siddle – and Cook is England’s senior opener he must see off the fast bowlers with the new ball and get hundreds. Especially as his opening partner Adam Lyth and no 3 Gary Ballance have played one Ashes test between them (a sign of how much England have been rebuilding as this as mentioned above is the third Ashes series in two years). Also if Cook gets runs it sets up England’s counter attackers at numbers 5,6 and 7 – Joe Root, Ben Stokes and Joss Buttler – to hammer tiring fast bowlers. I’ll go as far to say if Cook does not get runs England struggle to compete in this series never mind win it.
Cook is important in another way too. His captaincy is far too safety first and conservative and it must change. For example England must target Australia’s off spinner Nathan Lyon. Captain Michael Clarke will aim to use Lyon in long spells to give his fast bowlers a rest. If he gets hammered he has to bring the fast bowlers back on they do more work and they get tired. In a series that sees five Tests between July 8th and August 24th tired fast bowlers could very well be a factor. Cook’s county Essex hammered Lyon in a warm up match and England must do the same. He also must attack when England are fielding especially when aggressive Australian opener David Warner is batting. Warner can take a game away from you very quickly and in my opinion the only way to contain him is to get him out and stop him batting. At some stage in the series he will run riot and England must stay calm don’t panic and don’t fall back on defence.
Sadly I think Cook is incapable of doing this. We will know tomorrow. If Moeen Ali is still in England’s team and Adil Rashid is not we will know fear has won. Why is Moeen in the team? It is not for his batting or else he would be higher than no 8 in the order. It is not for his bowling or else Cook would bowl him more. Rashid is a risk but he takes wickets and Australia struggled against leg spin on their recent tour of the Caribbean. You need to take 20 wickets to win a Test. Australia will target whatever spinner England play. Both could well get hammered but Rashid could get wickets. Besides England have Joe Root who can bowl off spin but no leg spinner. And leg spin could baffle Australia’s lower order – who made too many runs in 2013 and 2013-14 and must be dismissed quickly for England to compete.
Is there hope for England ? Yes. Australia have not won here since 2001 and no member of this current team has won a series in England. Plus Australia struggle away from their own fast bouncy pitches as defeats in India in 2013 and the UAE in 2014 (against Pakistan) show. Pitches in England are not fast and bouncy and the fast bowlers (none of whom apart from Siddle have a good record in England) could be neutralised. If they are and England target Lyon there is a chance. Plus go after the weak link. Wicket keeper Bard Haddin was a key player for Australia in 2013-14 but has barely made a run since and is past his best. Since the wicket keeper is a key player in a team if England can get Haddin struggling it could rub off on the whole Australian team.
That said I fear this series has come too early in England’s rebuilding phase. They are not as good as in 2013 while Australia are better. If I was to predict the result I would say either 2-1 for Australia or a 2-2 draw (there has not been a drawn Ashes series since 1972 so you could say it is overdue) which would mean Australia as holders would keep the Ashes. Which would mean England would pay the ultimate price for their administrator’s incompetence.
*And the 1975 Ashes was not meant to take place. It was arranged as a replacement for a South African tour which was cancelled due to that country’s apartheid policies.