If the BBC – so addicted to over-reporting American news – and Sky bulletins were to be believed over the weekend the single most important news story in the world was the massacre of those cinemagoers in Colorado. Forget events in Syria. Don’t even begin to wonder about what was happening in Germany or China or Africa or Latin America. No, the world’s most newsworthy “story” was the murder of those 12 unfortunates by this latest small-town American psycho. Spree killings have become so routine in the United States, where all good citizens have a constitutional right “to bear arms” and where guns and ammunition can be bought with the ease of fireworks, that they really ought to be ignored by the mainstream British media, because another one will happen soon enough, and then another, and still nothing will be done.
Suburbs of psycho thrillers
American entertainment culture is, on the whole, enthralled by violence, ludicrous hi-tech narratives of catastrophe and the stylised effect. J G Ballard, who understood the disturbed psychopathologies of contemporary culture more acutely perhaps than any other British writer of recent times, once said this to me over a drink at his house in Shepperton in the summer of 1998: “I think that’s where the future is going – a suburban calm coexisting with terrific volatility, as when the local shopping centre is suddenly destroyed by a maniac with a mailorder Kalashnikov.” He would not have been in the least surprised by the Batman killer who emerged from America’s darkest fantasies and began firing bullets as if he were the star of his own video game.
Is Vince Cable on manoeuvres? Unlikely. But his Financial Times interview of 21 July, in which he reasserted his credentials as a social democrat and refused to rule out his interest in becoming leader of the Liberal Democrats (“I wouldn’t exclude it”), was a clear message to his beleaguered party. To decode: Cable is going nowhere and the excitable Tim Farron is not the only serious contender for the leadership as and when Nick Clegg hears that midnight knock of doom on the door, as he surely will before the next general election.
Olympic village life
I thought of Ballard again on Tuesday evening when I was guest at an enjoyable Team GB welcome reception inside the security zone of the Olympic complex at Stratford in east London. I’m not an anti-Olympist, nor can I get too agitated, as the libertarian right has been, about the way the IOC and its corporate fellow travellers have colonised our capital city, curtailed our liberties and bludgeoned all opposition. This is how these supranational organisations work. This is globalisation. I’ve seen it happen before at football World Cups and during the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007, a dismal event during which the ICC, because of its absurd rules and draconian regulations, conspired to strangle local interest in the tournament.
London 2012 should be different. For a start, this global jamboree is taking place in a country that is as enthusiastic about sport as any in the world and in arguably the most multi-ethnic city on earth. It should provide a glorious two-week distraction from deeper troubles. But there will be a fiscal hangover come the autumn and imagination is required if the Olympic Park isn’t to become a Ballardian dystopia of empty stadiums, abandoned swimming pools and desolate shopping malls as happened in Athens after the 2004 Olympics.
Zeroes to heroes
After England performed with such inferior technique at Euro 2012 in June the view hardened that there was something inherently flawed about the English, as if we were physiologically incapable of playing a more refined possession game, an Anglo-Saxon version of tika-taka. Yet there’s no reason why English footballers shouldn’t be the equal in technique and accomplishment of any other national team. What’s absent from the English game is a will to perfection, an efficient master plan and a firstrate coaching infrastructure. If you doubt me I refer you to the way that British track and road cycling has been remade under the fastidious guidance of Dave Brailsford, British Cycling’s shaven-headed performance director and general manager of Team Sky. His uncompromising pursuit of excellence reached its apotheosis in the astounding triumphs of Bradley Wiggins and Team Sky in the Tour de France, which ended on 22 July with the Manx flier Mark Cavendish winning the final sprint in Paris for the fourth time. Clive Woodward, England’s World Cup-winning former rugby coach, once said that achieving success in sport is not about the grand gesture but about doing “100 small things 1 per cent better”. Something similar would apply to Brailsford. In a country so hostile to cyclists we endeavour to kill as many as possible on our roads, his achievement is to have transformed what was until quite recently a minority, even eccentric, pursuit into something approaching a national obsession.
No country for bold men
I was told a nice story about Brailsford by someone who worked with him on a book project. Over lunch he once asked Alex Ferguson the secret to managerial success at Manchester United and elsewhere. The reply was direct: “Get rid of all the c***s.”
Jason Cowley is editor of the New Statesman