Labour MP Kate Hoey attends the State Opening of Parliament on May 27, 2015. Photograph: Getty
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Kate Hoey: Labour has become an “extremely unpatriotic” party

The Eurosceptic MP says her party's ambiguity towards Britain has alienated working class voters. 

It was once Labour that was the Eurosceptic party of British politics - Harold Wilson staged the 1975 referendum in an attempt to heal the divide on his front bench and Labour went on to advocate withdrawal from the EC under Michael Foot in 1983. It wasonly  during Neil Kinnock’s leadership that the party and the trade union movement embraced the EU as a bulwark against Thatcherism.

Eurosceptics have been increasingly rare in Labour ever since; Kate Hoey is one of those who endures. The Vauxhall MP and former sports minister has established a new group, Labour For Britain, to lead the drive for renegotiation and, should that fail, to campaign for withdrawal.

“I don’t like the word ‘Britain’ because that excludes Northern Ireland,” says Hoey, who was born in County Antrim, when I meet her in her parliamentary office. “I like ‘UK’. But if you look at ‘Labour FUK’ it doesn’t exactly do very well, so we have to stick with Britain.”

She excoriates her party for failing to publish a set of renegotiation demands. “All the leadership candidates have said that they want to see reform but I haven’t heard any of them spell out in any way what they think needs to be reformed. They talk about it in a way that shows they haven’t really given it any thought because it’s not been necessary. Because there’s been an agreement that the party is pro-EU, none of them can see any possibility of us leaving, so they don’t need to think about it and I think that’s very lazy politics and needs to be changed.”

What Hoey wants, she tells me, is: “To get back to our parliament the right to make its own laws, the right to have complete control of our economy, to decide everything that relates to our own country ... and of course that is fundamentally opposed to what the original aims of the Common Market were”. She also calls for an end to the free movement of people (“People from the Commonwealth are completely penalised when it comes to getting their families in to visit them and yet somebody can walk in from Romania or Latvia with no history of involvement in this country whatsoever”) and the abolition of the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy. “That’s what the Labour Party should be doing instead of going off into a little corner and saying ‘No, no it’s all wonderful and we might want to tinker around a little bit’. We are letting down millions of our own supporters, many of whom voted Ukip and will continue to do so until this is treated in a serious way.”

Even more strikingly, Hoey blames her party’s “extremely unpatriotic” outlook for its increasing alienation from its traditional working class supporters. “They feel very strongly about their country and we have been extremely unpatriotic as a party to our country. There’s just a feeling that we’re half-hearted about being British, we’re half-hearted about the monarchy, we’re half-hearted about the way we see our country in the world. I’m very proud of being British and I think the United Kingdom is a force for good in the world and we seem to feel all the time that we have to put ourselves down because somehow that might upset people”.

She continues: “We’ve moved away from the basic decency and values that working class people had and the way that I and others were brought up ... All of that seems to be ridiculed now by some of the people in leadership positions and not necessarily because they’ve really believed that but because we’ve been taken over by this kind of London, intellectual, academic-y, liberal-y people who feel that, really, if only we just got rid of all those people out there who ask awkward questions about immigration and ask awkward questions about people living off benefits when they shouldn’t be, that Labour would somehow be wonderful.”

Hoey concedes that she does not expect significant changes from David Cameron’s renegotiation and that “she won’t be satisfied with tinkering”. But while she promises to be involved in the Out campaign, she rejects the calls for her to lead it. “I’m not going to be the leader, I would not want to be the leader of the No campaign. I’m going to be involved and see how things evolve.”

Hoey was proposed to serve as a leader by those Eurosceptics who fear that a Ukip-dominated Out campaign will guarantee defeat. But she defends Nigel Farage’s party against its detractors on left and right. “I don’t have this obsession that Ukip is somehow this absolutely dreadful thing that we must all unite to have a go at. Ukip get nearly four million votes, they come second in all those seats, they’re going to have a part to play in a leave campaign, everybody will have their part to play, everybody’s got different strengths.” She has never been invited to defect to Ukip but praises Farage as “a brilliant communicator when he’s on form”.

On Hoey’s wall are photos of her with former Labour leaders - Foot, Kinnock, John Smith - and one of her at Wimbledon with Margaret Thatcher. As in 2010, Hoey has nominated Andy Burnham for the leadership (though adds that she was prepared to lend her vote to Jeremy Corbyn). “I think he’s matured a lot, he’s learned a lot, I think he’s tougher than he was ... Andy is the one who would have the confidence to break out of the mould in lots of areas”.

However, she acknowledges that, given the electoral arithmetic, Labour will struggle to form a government in 2020. “In fact, a nameless person, when I was sitting besides him last week, said he thought we should have a woman leader and I said, I won’t name the person, ‘Well I can’t see so-and-so being prime minister and he said to me: ‘Oh, don’t be so stupid, Kate. We’re not electing a prime minister, we’re electing a leader of the opposition for 10 years’. And that was a fairly senior person.”

 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Mini Mao

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Love a good box set? Then you should watch the Snooker World Championships

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. 

People are lazy and people are impatient. This has always been so – just ask Moses or his rock – but as illustrated by kindly old Yahweh, in those days they could not simply answer those impulses and stroll on.

Nowadays, that is no longer so. Twitter, YouTube and listicles reflect a desire for complex and involved issues, expansive and nuanced sports – what we might term quality – to be condensed into easily digestible morsels for effort-free enjoyment.

There is, though, one notable exception to this trend: the box set. Pursuing a novelistic, literary sensibility, it credits its audience with the power of sentience and tells riveting stories slowly, unfolding things in whichever manner that it is best for them to unfold.

In the first episode of the first series of The Sopranos, we hear Tony demean his wife Carmela's irritation with him via the phrase “always with the drama”; in the seventh episode of the first series we see his mother do likewise to his father; and in the 21st and final episode of the sixth and final series, his son uses it on Carmela. It is precisely this richness and this care that makes The Sopranos not only the finest TV show ever made, but the finest artefact that contemporary society has to offer. It forces us to think, try and feel.

We have two principal methods of consuming art of this ilk - weekly episode, or week-long binge. The former allows for anticipation and contemplation, worthy pursuits both, but of an entirely different order to the immersion and obsession offered by the latter. Who, when watching the Wire, didn’t find themselves agreeing that trudat, it's time to reup the dishwasher salt, but we’ve run out, ain’t no thing. Losing yourself in another world is rare, likewise excitement at where your mind is going next.

In a sporting context, this can only be achieved via World Championship snooker. Because snooker is a simple, repetitive game, it is absorbing very quickly, its run of play faithfully reflected by the score.

But the Worlds are special. The first round is played over ten frames – as many as the final in the next most prestigious competition – and rather than the usual week, it lasts for 17 magical days, from morning until night. This bestows upon us the opportunity to, figuratively at least, put away our lives and concentrate. Of course, work and family still exist, but only in the context of the snooker and without anything like the same intensity. There is no joy on earth like watching the BBC’s shot of the championship compilation to discover that not only did you see most of them live, but that you have successfully predicted the shortlist.

It is true that people competing at anything provides compelling drama, emotion, pathos and bathos - the Olympics proves this every four years. But there is something uniquely nourishing about longform snooker, which is why it has sustained for decades without significant alteration.

The game relies on a steady arm, which relies on a steady nerve. The result is a slow creeping tension needs time and space to be properly enjoyed and endured. Most frequently, snooker is grouped with darts as a non-athletic sport, instead testing fine motor skills and the ability to calculate angles, velocity and forthcoming shots. However, its tempo and depth is more similar to Test cricket – except snooker trusts so much in its magnificence that it refuses to compromise the values which underpin it.

Alfred Hitchcock once explained that if two people are talking and a bomb explodes without warning, it constitutes surprise; but if two people are talking and all the while a ticking bomb is visible under the table, it constitutes suspense. “In these conditions,” he said, “The same innocuous conversation becomes fascinating because the public is participating in the scene. The audience is longing to warn the characters on the screen: ‘You shouldn't be talking about such trivial matters. There is a bomb beneath you and it is about to explode!’”

Such is snooker. In more or less every break, there will at some point be at least one difficult shot, loss of position or bad contact – and there will always be pressure. Add to that the broken flow of things – time spent waiting for the balls to stop, time spent prowling around the table, time spent sizing up the table, time spent cleaning the white, time spent waiting for a turn – and the ability for things to go wrong is constantly in contemplation.

All the more so in Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. This venue, in its 40th year of hosting the competition, is elemental to its success. Place is crucial to storytelling, and even the word “Crucible” – whether “a ceramic or metal container in which metals or other substances may be melted or subjected to very high temperatures,” “a situation of severe trial”, or Arthur Miller’s searing play – conjures images of destruction, injustice and nakedness. And the actual Crucible is perhaps the most atmospheric arena in sport - intimate, quiet, and home to a legendarily knowledgeable audience, able to calculate when a player has secured a frame simply by listening to commentary through an earpiece and applauding as soon as the information is communicated to them.

To temper the stress, snooker is also something incredibly comforting. This is partly rooted in its scheduling. Working day and late-night sport is illicit and conspiratorial, while its presence in revision season has entire cohorts committing to “just one more quick frame”, and “just one more quick spliff”. But most powerfully of all, world championship snooker triggers memory and nostalgia, a rare example of something that hasn’t changed, as captivating now as it was in childhood.

This wistfulness is complemented by sensory pleasure of the lushest order. The colours of both baize and balls are the brightest, most engaging iterations imaginable, while the click of cue on ball, the clunk of ball on ball and the clack of ball on pocket is deep and musical; omnipresent and predictable, they combine for a soundtrack that one might play to a baby in the womb, instead of whale music or Megadeth.

Repeating rhythms are also set by the commentators, former players of many years standing. As is natural with extended coverage of repetitive-action games, there are numerous phrases that recur:

“We all love these tactical frames, but the players are so good nowadays that one mistake and your opponent’s in, so here he is, looking to win the frame at one visit ... and it’s there, right in the heart of the pocket for frame and match! But where’s the cue ball going! it really is amazing what can happen in the game of snooker, especially when we’re down to this one-table situation.”

But as omniscient narrators, the same men also provide actual insight, alerting us to options and eventualities of which we would otherwise be ignorant. Snooker is a simple game but geometry and physics are complicated, so an expert eye is required to explain them intelligibly; it is done with a winning combination of levity and sincerity.

The only essential way in which snooker is different is the standard of play. The first round of this year’s draw featured eight past winners, only two of whom have made it to the last four, and there were three second-round games that were plausible finals.

And just as literary fiction is as much about character as plot, so too is snooker. Nothing makes you feel you know someone like studying them over years at moments of elation and desolation, pressure and release, punctuated by TV confessions of guilty pleasures, such as foot massages, and bucket list contents, such as naked bungee jumping.

It is probably true that there are not as many “characters” in the game as once there were, but there are just as many characters, all of whom are part of that tradition. And because players play throughout their adult life, able to establish their personalities, in unforgiving close-up, over a number of years, they need not be bombastic to tell compelling stories, growing and undergoing change in the same way as Dorothea Brooke or Paulie Gualtieri.

Of no one is this more evident that Ding Junhui, runner-up last year and current semi-finalist this; though he is only 30, we have been watching him almost half his life. In 2007, he reached the final of the Masters tournament, in which he faced Ronnie O’Sullivan, the most naturally talented player ever to pick up a cue – TMNTPETPUAC for short. The crowd were, to be charitable, being boisterous, and to be honest, being pricks, and at the same time, O’Sullivan was playing monumentally well. So at the mid-session interval, Ding left the arena in tears and O’Sullivan took his arm in consolation; then when Ding beat O’Sullivan in this year’s quarter-final, he rested his head on O’Sullivan’s shoulder and exchanged words of encouragement for words of respect. It was beautiful, it was particular, and it was snooker.

Currently, Ding trails Mark Selby, the “Jester from Leicester” – a lucky escape, considering other rhyming nouns - in their best of 33 encounter. Given a champion poised to move from defending to dominant, the likelihood is that Ding will remain the best player never to win the game’s biggest prize for another year.

Meanwhile, the other semi-final pits Barry Hawkins, a finalist in 2013, against John Higgins, an undisputed great and three-time champion. Higgins looks likely to progress, and though whoever wins through will be an outsider, both are eminently capable of taking the title. Which is to say that, this weekend, Planet Earth has no entertainment more thrilling, challenging and enriching than events at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield.

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