We have to protect the broadcasters from themselves

Don’t say it, don’t even think it.

After five sets of high-octane tennis spread over three hours on Centre Court, the last thing Andy Murray needed as he floated off the grass into Wednesday evening, was an audience with the BBC’s ever-present roving reporter Gary Richardson.

“Alex Ferguson was in the Royal Box today watching” Richardson breathed nervously. “He has been known to go into the dressing room after matches and give his players a bit of hairdryer treatment...”

Murray looked at Richardson a little mournfully. No doubt the US Open champion would have taken an hour of agony in one of his famed ice baths rather than face this mandatory two minutes with the BBC’s favourite courtside interviewer.  He knew what was coming.

“I don’t know it all” the Scotsman replied to Richardson’s suggestion that he might receive a spot of criticism from his coach Ivan Lendl. “But I don’t see why I should get told off for that, I fought as hard as I could.”

Richardson knew he was playing a stinker. This was his own Wimbledon quarter-final and he was blundering through it with a mix of stuttering double-faults and painfully off-target questions.

The impression from Richardson, indeed the impression from the whole of the BBC team across all platforms, was that there was just no way that Murray could lose over five sets to Fernando Verdasco. To suggest otherwise was illogical. After all, it’s his year, right?

I have a real thing about jinxing anything. In sport, in particular, the British broadcast media have a real penchant for it.

And, a generation of English footballers aside, few sportsmen can understand the nonsensical over-confidence better than Andy Murray.

Every year the tension, hype and confidence grows, every year the disappointment is grander.

Andrew Castle channelled the spirit of 1980s Cliff Richard music videos and gave it his own First4lawyers twist as he took to the BBC’s daily ‘Pundits Pick’ on Tuesday night to roundly put the mockers on Murray.  

It is difficult to understand how educated media professionals, scarred by decades of bad experience, can get so smug about British tennis’ few rays of optimism. But year after year, they get smugly ahead of themselves before, inevitably, being forced to eat humble pie three hours down the line.

Bet365 were offering a generous 7/1 on the Verdasco before the first ball was struck and, had I not lost my pin, I would have happily wasted £10 on jinxing the annoyingly handsome 29-year-old- returning Castle’s curse with a ham-handed lob.

But in the same way Murray seemed unable to offer but scant resistance to the Spaniard’s power in the opening two sets, the deluge of comments kept coming.

“The match turning” the BBC’s live text assured us as Murray broke at the start of the second set.

“Some things never change. But this match seems to be” said the Guardian’s own game by game commentary at the same point.

There was nowhere else to turn. I could not bring myself to listen to the Radio 5’s live commentary in case, as was the situation on Monday, they broke off from a crucial point of the match to talk about Pat Cash’s potential appearance on the senior tour later this year.

I haven’t been so annoyed since I had to explain to a then paramour that the Argentinean coverage of Chelsea’s 2010 Champions League exit at the hands of Inter Milan did not mean that Didier Drogba would be playing in goal.

So, Twitter’s warm embrace it was. Even in the midst of a British tennis storm, the limited shelter from the hype was preferable.

There is something strangely relaxing about watching a match through the eyes Twitter. There are no gut-wrenching nerves every time a sliced backhand comes within a foot of the net, nor panic as a mistimed lob lands just on the baseline.

Points and games are just numbers to be won and lost. Non-tennis fans rehash clichéd thoughts about Andy Murray’s nationality. The Times’ Neil Harman writes “Jeu decisif” every five minutes. Actual score updates are few and far between.

By the time I was on the train home, however, things had taken a turn for the worse. The former Chelsea footballer Jody Morris had taken to cockney rhyming slang (“This Verdasco puts soooo much Dusty Bin on his forehand!!!”) and Murray’s former coach Brad Gilbert- still highly respected after his work with Andre Agassi in the 90s- had taken his penchant giving players incomprehensible nicknames to new levels; (“Are you kidding me Muzzard in big trouble vs a very hot Tabasco”).

When Murray finally broke for 6-5 in the decider, the sense of relief was awesome. Unfortunately, the crowing sense of confidence was not far behind.

Destiny, fate, logic. The sporting media will not take yesterday’s near-miss as a warning. The reality is that should Murray find a way into Sunday’s final, the prospect of beating Novak Djokovic over five sets to end of one of British sport’s biggest hoodoos would be like winning a Grand Slam in itself.

The chances are that you might just have to remind them of that fact. I’m off to lay a grand on Jerzy Janowicz to win the whole thing.

Andy Murray beats Fernando Verdasco on Day 9 of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on July 3, 2013 in London, England. (Photo by Karwai Tang/WireImage)

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No, the battle in Momentum isn't about young against old

Jon Lansman and his allies' narrative doesn't add up, argues Rida Vaquas.

If you examined the recent coverage around Momentum, you’d be forgiven for thinking that it was headed towards an acrimonious split, judging by the vitriol, paranoia and lurid accusations that have appeared online in the last couple days. You’d also be forgiven for thinking that this divide was between a Trotskyist old guard who can’t countenance new ways of working, and hip youngsters who are filled with idealism and better at memes. You might then be incredibly bemused as to how the Trotskyists Momentum was keen to deny existed over the summer have suddenly come to the brink of launching a ‘takeover bid’.

However these accounts, whatever intentions or frustrations that they are driven by, largely misrepresent the dispute within Momentum and what transpired at the now infamous National Committee meeting last Saturday.

In the first instance, ‘young people’ are by no means universally on the side of e-democracy as embodied by the MxV online platform, nor did all young people at the National Committee vote for Jon Lansman’s proposal which would make this platform the essential method of deciding Momentum policy.

Being on National Committee as the representative from Red Labour, I spoke in favour of a conference with delegates from local groups, believing this is the best way to ensure local groups are at the forefront of what we do as an organisation.

I was nineteen years old then. Unfortunately speaking and voting in favour of a delegates based conference has morphed me into a Trotskyist sectarian from the 1970s, aging me by over thirty years.

Moreover I was by no means the only young person in favour of this, Josie Runswick (LGBT+ representative) and the Scottish delegates Martyn Cook and Lauren Gilmour are all under thirty and all voted for a delegates based national conference. I say this to highlight that the caricature of an intergenerational war between the old and the new is precisely that: a caricature bearing little relation to a much more nuanced reality.

Furthermore, I believe that many people who voted for a delegates-based conference would be rather astounded to find themselves described as Trotskyists. I do not deny that there are Trotskyists on National Committee, nor do I deny that Trotskyists supported a delegates-based conference – that is an open position of theirs. What I do object is a characterisation of the 32 delegates who voted for a delegates-based conference as Trotskyists, or at best, gullible fools who’ve been taken in.  Many regional delegates were mandated by the people to whom they are accountable to support a national conference based on this democratic model, following broad and free political discussion within their regions. As thrilling as it might be to fantasise about a sinister plot driven by the shadow emperors of the hard Left against all that it is sensible and moderate in Momentum, the truth is rather more mundane. Jon Lansman and his supporters failed to convince people in local groups of the merits of his e-democracy proposal, and as a result lost the vote.

I do not think that Momentum is doomed to fail on account of the particular details of our internal structures, providing that there is democracy, accountability and grassroots participation embedded into it. I do not think Momentum is doomed to fail the moment Jon Lansman, however much respect I have for him, loses a vote. I do not even think Momentum is doomed to fail if Trotskyists are involved, or even win sometimes, if they make their case openly and convince others of their ideas in the structures available.

The existential threat that Momentum faces is none of these things, it is the propagation of a toxic and polarised political culture based on cliques and personal loyalties as opposed to genuine political discussion on how we can transform labour movement and transform society. It is a political culture in which those opposed to you in the organisation are treated as alien invaders hell-bent on destroying it, even when we’ve worked together to build it up, and we worked together before the Corbyn moment even happened. It is a political culture where members drag others through the mud, using the rhetoric of the Right that’s been used to attack all of us, on social and national media and lend their tacit support to witch hunts that saw thousands of Labour members and supporters barred from voting in the summer. It is ultimately a political culture in which our trust in each other and capacity to work together on is irreparably eroded.

We have a tremendous task facing us: to fight for a socialist alternative in a global context where far right populism is rapidly accruing victories; to fight for the Labour Party to win governmental power; to fight for a world in which working class people have the power to collectively change their lives and change the societies we live in. In short: there is an urgent need to get our act together. This will not be accomplished by sniping about ‘saboteurs’ but by debating the kind of politics we want clearly and openly, and then coming together to campaign from a grassroots level upwards.

Rida Vaquas is Red Labour Representative on Momentum National Committee.