If I were Tory leader and other matters

Goldsmith, the Greens, Miss World, Water Wars plus if one was given the opportunity to rule...

What do you think of Miss World? Is it a bit of a joke? A relic from the sexist past? Or something that enforces a negative stereotype of women? With contestants due to don their bikinis in China this weekend we asked Bea Campbell and Ruth Lea to debate Miss World. Have a read and then why not add your thoughts?

This week we've also had an article on British citizenship. Lord Goldsmith has been asked by Gordon Brown to conduct a review of the issue which will report next March. Writing exclusively for newstatesman.com the ex-attorney general argued diversity needs to combine with a shared sense of belonging.

The Green Party's Caroline Lucas meanwhile hailed a UN report and issued a warning that when it comes to climate change we've got just 10 years.

Professor Liz Kelly revealed some horrific truths about the postcode lottery women face when they seek support in the wake of rape or domestic violence.

Have a look at her article to find the link to the Map of the Gaps.

And Fred Pearce, in association with the World Development Movement (WDM), provided us with a fascinating article on the danger posed to humanity by Water Wars.

Incidentally, look out next week as we work with the WDM to bring you coverage of the Bali conference.

And don't forget Martin Bright's blog for regular updates about the Labour donor crisis

Now turning to other matters...

The other day my wife woke and told me she'd dreamt I'd just been elected Tory leader and, I can't lie, it got me thinking...

Like my predecessors, I would take election as a given - the Conservatives are, after all, the natural party of government and it is a right, not a privilege, to serve.

I'd re-open all the mines just to shut them down again, destroying whole communities then abandoning them to their fate. There's nothing like a little adversity to bring out the spirit of the Blitz.

The nation could indulge in an expensive but unnecessary round of arms buying bolstering our existing reputation as a great country: Falklands + Gibraltar = an empire, as I always say.

Incentives would be put back into some workplaces - I'm particularly thinking of the Square Mile - including the legalisation of tax evasion for those earning more than £120,000 a year - they work hard, so why should the state steal from them?

I'd ban Ken Livingstone, again.

When things begin to pear-shaped with the economy, as they surely will, I'd embark on a round of tax cuts the country can ill afford.

Obviously interest rates would be ratchetted up to 15% in a bid to tackle the aforementioned the effects of my reckless tax cuts and to punish people who have bought property with a mortgage rather than inherited it. Here there would be the additional benefit of rewarding savers or 'legatees'.

Introduce systemic unemployment of no less than 3 million helping to drive down the wages of the wider workforce. All the evidence I'm prepared to listen to suggests poverty pay drives up productivity.

Privatise social services, abolish the NHS, increase illiteracy and ban Scottish and Welsh MPs from voting. At all.

Bring back hanging.

Now there's a programme all Tories can really get behind. You wouldn't catch me hugging a husky, cycling in front of a large Lexus 4x4 or walking unsteadily on the moral high ground. Oh no.

Ben Davies trained as a journalist after taking most of the 1990s off. Prior to joining the New Statesman he spent five years working as a politics reporter for the BBC News website. He lives in North London.
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Want your team to succeed? Try taking a step back

From the boardroom to the sports ground, managers need to step back for creativity to thrive.

Everyone is in favour of creativity, usually at the expense of creative people. The concept is in perpetual boom. Give us creative midfielders, creative leadership, creative solutions, creative energy. It’s with the “how” that the problems start – with extra meetings and meddling, over-analysis and prescriptiveness, whiteboards and flow charts. Professional systems rarely support the creativity that they allegedly seek. The creativity industry system is at odds with its stated goals.

The novel was an early casualty. Nothing makes me close a book more quickly and finally than the creeping realisation that the author is following a narrative map purchased on an American creative writing course. Life is too short for competent novels. The creativity industry pulls up the worst while dragging down the best.

Something similar happens inside professional sport, even though creativity is so obviously linked to performance and profit. Yet sport, especially English sport, has suffered from excessive managerialism. Perhaps guilt about English sport’s amateur legacy gave “professionalism” free rein, however pedestrian its form.

Here is sport’s problem with creativity: professional systems crave control, but creativity relies on escaping control. If an attacking player doesn’t know what he is going to do next, what chance does the defender have?

So when truly unexpected moments do happen, they take on a special lustre. This month, Olivier Giroud scored an unforgettable goal for Arsenal. Bearing down on the goal, he was already launched in mid-air when he realised that the cross was well behind him. With his body far ahead of his feet, Giroud clipped the ball to the top corner of the net with the outside of his left ankle – a so-called scorpion kick.

It was, in retrospect, the only option available to him. Football, for a moment, touched the arts – not only beautiful, but also complete. Nothing could have been added or taken away.

I once tried to compare the perfect cricket shot to Robert Frost’s celebrated description of writing a poem: “It begins in delight, it inclines to the impulse, it assumes direction with the first line laid down, it runs a course of lucky events, and ends in a clarification . . . Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting.”

A great goal, however, fits that poetic model better than a cricket shot. Cricket shots come in many aesthetic grades, but they are all intended as shots. A goal, on the other hand, is more than just a very good pass, only better. There is an act of transformation within the event.

Frost’s acknowledgment of luck (distinct here from fluke) neatly defuses the accusation. Saying that a great goal involved luck does not to diminish it. Many unearned factors must interact with the skill.

“But did he mean it?” some people have wondered about Giroud’s goal. That isn’t the point, either. There wasn’t time. Giroud had solved the problem – to make contact with the ball, however possible, directing it towards the goal – before he was fully conscious of it. That doesn’t make it an accident. The expertise of a striker, like that of a writer, is opportunistic. He puts himself in positions where his skills can become productive. It is a honed ability to be instinctive. “If I’d thought about it, I never would have done it,” as Bob Dylan sings on “Up to Me”, an out-take from Blood on the Tracks.

Pseudo-intellectual? Quite the reverse. There is nothing pretentious about recognising and protecting creativity in sport. Over-literal decoding is the greater threat: instinctive performance needs to be saved from team meetings, not from intellectuals.

Having described a creative goal as unplanned – indeed, impossible to plan – what can coaches do to help? They can get out of the way, that’s a good start. It is no coincidence that the teams of Arsène Wenger, who is sometimes criticised for being insufficiently prescriptive, score more than their fair share of wonder goals.

The opposite arrangement is bleak. A friend of mine, a fly-half in professional rugby union, retired from the game when his coaches told him exactly which decisions to make in the first six phases of every attacking move. In effect, they banned him from playing creatively; they wanted rugby by numbers.

Not everything can be rehearsed. One useful book for coaches scarcely mentions sport – Inside Conducting, by the conductor Christopher Seaman. “I’ve never had much sympathy for conductors who ‘program’ an orchestra at rehearsal,” Seaman writes, “and then just run the program during the performance. There is much more
to it than that.”

Dan Vettori, the rising star among cricket’s Twenty20 coaches, is rare for having the bravery to echo Seaman’s theory. He believes that cricketers are more likely to play well when they feel slightly underprepared. It’s a risk and a fine balance – but worth it.

As I explored here last month in the context of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, there is a danger of slotting players into false stereotypes and classifications. Giroud, for example, is slow. Slow yet athletic. That’s an unusual combination and partly explains why he is underrated.

We often think of pace as the central and definitive aspect of athleticism. But speed is just one component of total athletic ability (leave to one side footballing skill). Giroud has an outstanding vertical jump, power and great balance. Because he is big and slow, those athletic gifts are harder to spot.

Management systems overestimate both labels and top-down tactics. A braver policy, pragmatic as well as aesthetic, is to be less controlling: allow opportunity to collide with skill, directed by an open, expert and uncluttered mind. l

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 12 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's revenge