Kaboul rerun-run

Spurs are so excellent to watch at the moment - it won't last, it never does - that I did two unusual things. First, I bought some repro shirts and sent them to a friend in Denver, Colorado, as a Christmas present, for him and his two sons to wear when watching Tot-ing-ham on the telly. Which they do all the time.

I hate the repro shirt market, what a rip-off, and refused to buy them from the club shop, so went to Camden Lock, knowing there's a stall there at the end of Inverness Street that sells footer stuff. The shirts turned out to be official, priced £40. The stallholder said Spurs' lawyers and Camden Council would take away his licence if he sold the non-legit stuff. I had to trail round the dodgier shops to get bootleg shirts, this season's, with the silly Autonomy logo (whoever they are) - cost only £14 each. Today on my computer I got a photo of my friends taken on Christmas morning, all smiley kids in their Spurs shirts, looking well pleased.

The other thing I did was watch a recording of a whole game I'd missed over the holiday period, Spurs-Newcastle United. And this was despite knowing the score (2-0) and knowing what happened (that Younès Kaboul got sent off).

I have strict, if complicated rules for watching Match of the Day, which I record and view the next morning. Stay up after ten at night? You're confusing me with someone normal. I ban everyone from mentioning results, switch off the radio should they dare give the scores, until I've seen them. So it was a first for me, watching a whole game whose outcome I knew.

Yet people watch Shakespeare, over and over, knowing the stupid plot, the banal lines, the unfunny jokes, and they go to the same old operas and ballets, knowing every aria, every move. They must be potty, so I have always thought.

Spurs, at present, are an art form, a classic act, so why not sit back and enjoy them without the agony of not knowing what is going to happen ? For decades, that has so ruined my pleasure at White Hart Lane - fearing the worst when things are going well, convinced they'll muck it up. I always come away with a headache, whatever the result, whereas going to Arsenal is a pleasant and placid experience because I don't care whether they win or lose.

Knowing Kaboul was going to be sent off proved an interesting experiment - I saw it coming, sensed his aggravation building up, was aware that the Spurs team was growing furious with Cheick Tioté for roughing up Luka Modric, the little elf. So when Kaboul headbutted Tioté, it all made sense. Watching it live, I might have thought it was sudden and unexpected.

The lead-up to both goals - by Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale - was fascinating. I was on the edge of my seat as the moves began, at the far end of the pitch, when nothing much seemed about to happen, knowing an explosion was coming. Which the commentators didn't know. Listening to them getting it all wrong, saying Bale hadn't been in the game, would Lennon ever cross the ball properly, God, that was the best fun of all . .

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 10 January 2011 issue of the New Statesman, Here comes the squeeze

Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
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Conservative disunity is not all good news for Labour

The Tory leadership election could squeeze Labour out of the conversation, just like Blair and Brown did to the Tories.

The first test of opposition politics is relevance. Other key yardsticks - political plausibility, economic credibility, setting the agenda and developing a governing vision - all matter greatly. But making yourself a central part of the relentless cycle of daily politics, the terms of which are generally set by the governing party, is the first hurdle. It matters not whether you sign up to new politics or old: be relevant or wither. 

The issue of relevance is becoming a pressing issue for Labour. Take George Osborne’s favoured issue of the so-called national living wage.  Leave to one side the rights, wrongs and nuances of the policy and just consider the basic political dynamic it creates.  Osborne has, quite deliberately, set up a rolling five year argument over a steadily rising wage floor. On one side, is the Chancellor arguing that his policy is the right thing for Britain’s ranks of low paid workers. Pitted against him are ranks of chief executives of low-paying big business. With each impending hike they will holler at Osborne to go no further and the media will happily amplify the row. In response the Chancellor will quietly smile.

Sure, on occasions this will be uncomfortable stance for Mr Osborne (and if the economy takes a downward turn then his pledge will become incredible; there are always big risks with bold strokes).  Yet the dominant argument between the Conservatives and big business leaves Labour largely voiceless on an issue which for generations it has viewed as its own.

We may well see a similar dynamic in relation to the new national infrastructure commission – another idea that Osborne has plundered form Labour’s 2015 manifesto. It’s far too early to say what will come of its work looking at proposals for major new transport and energy projects (though those asserting it will just be a talking shop would do well not to under-estimate Andrew Adonis, its first Chair). But there is one thing we can already be confident about: the waves of argument it will generate between Osborne’s activist commissioners and various voices of conservatism. Every big infrastructure proposal will have noisy opponents, many residing on the right of British politics. On the issue of the future of the nation’s infrastructure – another touchstone theme for Labour – the opposition may struggle to get heard amid the din.

Or take the different and, for the government, highly exposing issue of cuts to tax credits. Here the emerging shape of the debate is between Osborne on one side and the Sun, Boris Johnson, various independent minded Conservative voices and economic think-tanks on the other. Labour will, of course, repeatedly and passionately condemn these cuts. But so have plenty of others and, for now at least, they are more colourful or credible (or both).  

The risk for the opposition is that a new rhythm of politics is established. Where the ideological undercurrent of the government steers it too far right, other voices not least those within the Conservative family - moderates and free-spirits emboldened by Labour’s current weakness; those with an eye on the forthcoming Tory leadership contest – get reported.  Where Osborne consciously decides to tack to the centre, the resulting rows will be between him and the generally Conservative supporting interests he upsets. Meanwhile, Labour is left struggling for air.

None of which is to say there are no paths back to relevance. There are all sorts of charges against the current government that, on the right issues, could be deployed - incompetence, complacency, inequity – by an effective opposition.  Nor is the elixir of relevance for a new opposition hard to divine: a distinct but plausible critique, forensic and timely research, and a credible and clear voice to deliver the message. But as yet we haven’t heard much of it.

Even in the best of times being in opposition is an enervating existence. Those out of power rarely get to set the terms of trade, even if they often like to tell themselves they can. Under Ed Miliband Labour had to strain – sometimes taking big risks - to establish its relevance in a novel era defined by the shifting dynamics of coalition politics. This time around Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour is up against a Chancellor willing to take risks and pick big fights: often with traditional Tory foes such as welfare claimants; but sometimes with people on his own side.  It’s also a new and challenging context. And one which Labour urgently needs to come to terms with.   

Gavin Kelly is chief executive of the Resolution Foundation