Five of the Best

The top five comment pieces from today's papers

The Times's David Aaronovitch says that the political class now refuses to put the positive case for immigration:

It is utterly false to say that we haven't talked about immigration. Many of our newspapers do very little but talk about it. They don't "debate" it because their operating assumption, like Mr Field's, is that it is bad; it overwhelms us; floods us; swamps us; it swarms in Sangatte, until it is closed, then infests "the Jungle".

No other point of view is put, just as Mr Straw failed to put it on Thursday, as he dangled between denial and defence.

The Independent's Steve Richards argues that George Osborne was wrong to claim that capping bank bonuses would make more loans available:

There is no evidence to suggest that if banks had a bit more spare cash in the form of shares they would make more loans available. Most banks are not strapped for cash at the moment, but are still reluctant to lend. It is one of the new perversities in banking. There is no correlation between the amount of cash available and their willingness to lend.

The Financial Times's Gideon Rachman says that, as there is no democratic mandate for the post, the EU is not ready for a high-profile president:

Blair would be presented as a real "president of Europe" -- able to speak on equal terms with Barack Obama of the US or Hu Jintao of China.

But if Mr Blair turned up in Beijing claiming to be president of Europe, the only thing that he would have in common with Hu Jintao is that they would both lack a democratic mandate. Ordinary Europeans would be justified in asking by what right the unelected Mr Blair speaks for them. The former prime minister remains a deeply controversial figure in much of Europe because of his support for the Iraq war.

In the New York Times, Roger Cohen discusses his meeting with David Miliband and says that Britain's resolve in Afghanistan appears to be greater than that of the US:

These were the convictions behind Brown's decision earlier this month to send 500 more British troops to Afghanistan, bringing the contingent to 9,500 -- a decision the prime minister expected to be "consistent with what the Americans will decide."

The reinforcement was about one quarter of what British generals had requested. In the US case, Gen Stanley McChrystal has asked for about 40,000 more troops. Doing the math on a "consistent" basis suggests a substantial American reinforcement short of McChrystal's request will eventually be announced by the White House.

The Guardian's leader defends baboons from the rifle of A A Gill:

A few million years ago baboons and human beings were more closely related than now. At some point the species diverged, with one line evolving into hominids and, ultimately, restaurant critics. The other line has remained in Africa, living in simple but rather admirable societies where intelligence and advanced social skills are highly valued. Respect to the baboon.

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Getty
Show Hide image

Rarely has it mattered so little if Manchester United won; rarely has it been so special they did

Team's Europa League victory offers chance for sorely needed celebration of a city's spirit.

Carlo Ancelotti, the Bayern Munich manager, memorably once said that football is “the most important of the least important things”, but he was only partly right. While it is absolutely the case that a bunch of people chasing around a field is insignificant, a bunch of people chasing around a field is not really what football is about.

At a football match can you set aside the strictures that govern real life and freely scream, shout and cuddle strangers. Football tracks life with such unfailing omnipresence, garnishing the mundane with regular doses of drama and suspense; football is amazing, and even when it isn’t there’s always the possibility that it’s about to be.

Football bestows primal paroxysms of intense, transcendent ecstasy, shared both with people who mean everything and people who mean nothing. Football carves out time for people it's important to see and delivers people it becomes important to see. Football is a structure with folklore, mythology, language and symbols; being part of football is being part of something big, special, and eternal. Football is the best thing in the world when things go well, and still the best thing in the world when they don’t. There is nothing remotely like it. Nothing.

Football is about community and identity, friends and family; football is about expression and abandon, laughter and song; football is about love and pride. Football is about all the beauty in the world.

And the world is a beautiful place, even though it doesn’t always seem that way – now especially. But in the horror of terror we’ve seen amazing kindness, uplifting unity and awesome dignity which is the absolute point of everything.

In Stockholm last night, 50,000 or so people gathered for a football match, trying to find a way of celebrating all of these things. Around town before the game the atmosphere was not as boisterous as usual, but in the ground the old conviction gradually returned. The PA played Bob Marley’s Three Little Birds, an Ajax staple with lyrics not entirely appropriate: there is plenty about which to worry, and for some every little thing is never going to be alright.

But somehow the sentiment felt right and the Mancunian contingent joined in with gusto, following it up with “We’ll never die,” – a song of defiance born from the ashes of the Munich air disaster and generally aired at the end of games, often when defeat is imminent. Last night it was needed from the outset, though this time its final line – “we’ll keep the red flag flying high, coz Man United will never die" – was not about a football team but a city, a spirit, and a way of life. 

Over the course of the night, every burst of song and even the minute's silence chorused with that theme: “Manchester, Manchester, Manchester”; “Manchester la la la”; “Oh Manchester is wonderful”. Sparse and simple words, layered and complex meanings.

The match itself was a curious affair. Rarely has it mattered so little whether or not United won; rarely has it been so special that they did. Manchester United do not represent or appeal to everyone in Manchester but they epitomise a similar brilliance to Manchester, brilliance which they take to the world. Brilliance like youthfulness, toughness, swagger and zest; brilliance which has been to the fore these last three days, despite it all.

Last night they drew upon their most prosaic aspects, outfighting and outrunning a willing but callow opponent to win the only trophy to have eluded them. They did not make things better, but they did bring happiness and positivity at a time when happiness and positivity needed to be brought; football is not “the most important of the least important things,” it is the least important of the most important things.

0800 7318496