Collymore's twitter rant about "football snobbery" was misplaced

The gulf between critic and fan.

When Stan Collymore says something, people tend to listen. More accurately, perhaps, people have no choice but to listen as the former Liverpool striker and enfant terrible has one of the most distinctive styles of any UK based broadcaster.

To be completely fair, such is the vanilla flavour of much of the content available on the airwaves, it is fair to say that Collymore and his talkSPORT radio presence provides good value.

The 42-year-old spent much of 2012 uprooting previously anonymous students and bringing their deluge of racist abuse to light. In many ways, to his vast credit, his one man war has done much to ensure that the casual fan thinks twice before launching into a flow of offensive bile.

In 2013, Stan has a new war, and with it, a different foe. It is increasingly apparent that Collymore’s biggest bugbear is what he perceives as a deep-rooted snobbery from football bloggers masquerading as writers, directed at a wide variety of pundits.

As a relevant, former pro, Collymore has taken upon himself to defend the honour of those pundits who have taken no small amount of stick from the keyboard warriors and blogging snobs; “Whose major selling point is usually a degree of some sort.”

One could argue that perhaps such qualifications are better for a career in sports journalism than ill-fated spells at Fulham, Bradford and Aston Villa but that is neither here nor there.

Collymore has not always been the most self-aware individual. As recently as 2006 he spoke up the prospect of making a return to top-level football requiring, in his mind, only a month of preparation to get back up to Premier League standard.

Nevertheless, despite his dubious track-record for public proclamations, his strangely formatted Twitlonger post, stumbles across a particular sticking point, despite being largely wrong in his conclusions.

He is right to suggest that Twitter provides football fans an unparalleled stage for delivering misinformed, tribalistic and unpleasant comments to an array of public figures, but, having reignited his career on the platform, Collymore is hard pushed to complain when he encounters a bit of non-offensive hostility from his 375,000 followers.

At times, Collymore’s piece is beyond parody- the broadcaster coming across as punch-drunk from the amount of abuse he has endured via social media, to create a paranoid ‘black is white’ argument.

His fierce defence of the football pundit is a perfect illustration of the breakdown between the average fan and any number of bumbling former pros plying their "trade" on TV sofas each weekend.

Are we as consumers and subscribers wrong to expect some sort of quality control from our panellists? Do we not have the right to be a touch embarrassed when Ray Parlour fails to grapple with Guillem Balague over the merits of the Premier League or when David Pleat fails to pronounce the name of a single Juventus player correctly?

Instead of accepting that former players are given a humongous advantage in terms of getting on in the media, Collymore attacks what he perceives as the self-entitlement of the bloggers and writers, many of whom, least we forget, are writing for nothing and to a tiny audience.

“A degree in journalism gives them the belief that their hard University work and study should somehow put them automatically in the front of the line for a plum job in whichever industry they choose. And in football, the number who think this way is increasing.[sic]”

You have to accept his premise that an erudite and expressive footballer with a strong television presence is going to carry more immediate respect from an audience than a journalist without a football background. But what happens when said player erodes that goodwill with season after season of poorly prepared rubbish?

I would like Stan to enter into one of the oft-referenced internships with a site like Goal.com or Football Fancast- websites designed to provide content from football fans and aspiring journalists- the vast majority of whom will never achieve a by-line in a national paper or even attain work experience in a Sky Sports studio.

I know from personal experience that any sense of entitlement evaporates pretty swiftly at 3am on any given Wednesday when you’ve committed to writing three pieces that day and are due at work in less than five hours. If Stan were to complete one of these schemes, all the time watching Jimmy Bullard struggle to string four words together on Soccer Special, he might realign his argument.

Instead, Collymore latches onto Gary Neville as a prime example of a former player turned brilliant pundit, but for every respected former England full back he provides, I could throw Robbie Savage, Don Goodman and Jimmy ‘this is what we in the game call’ Armfield back at him by way of retort.

Despite his merits, had he not been a footballer, Stan Collymore is highly unlikely to have ‘made it’ as a broadcaster- his colourful past and mercurial talents as a footballer remain his unique selling point. That he is outspoken and confrontational is only something he has been allowed to develop once afforded his own platform- obviously something your garden variety graduate is not afforded.

“Well, I've been interested in broadcasting since childhood” proffers Collymore. Well, to be fair, I’ve been interested in cinema since I was a kid- does that entitle me to play Jason Bourne?

Collymore, and others, need to accept that football and journalism are completely independent from one another and to be proficient at the former does not guarantee success in the latter. The ‘entitled’ bloggers know this already- they’re just waiting for Stan to catch up.

Stan Collymore. Photograph: Getty Images

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Is Switzerland about to introduce a universal basic income?

A referendum on 5 June, triggered by a 100,000-strong petition, will determine whether the country transforms its welfare state with a monthly no-obligations cash handout available to all.

The Office Cantonal de l’Emploi (OCE), Geneva’s unemployment administration, is what you might expect of a modern bureaucracy. Not exactly Kafka-esque, it moves slowly but rationally: take a ticket, wait your turn, learn which paperwork is missing from your dossier, repeat. Located in a big complex of social administration behind the main train station, the office is busy for a region with an unemployment rate between 5 and 6 per cent, well below the European average. The staff, more like social workers than bureaucrats in dress and demeanour, work hard to reinsert people into the job market: officials can be responsible for over 40 dossiers at a time.

Objectively, Switzerland is a good place to be out of work. For a low-tax country the welfare system is robust. On condition of having worked and paid taxes in the state for over 12 months, a newly-unemployed is assured 70-80 per cent of his previous salary for a period up to 2 years: ample income in a country with some of the highest average wages in the world. In practice, the system is a hybrid between the OCE (which tries to get people back to work) and union-allied social insurance bodies (which take care of monthly payments) and is complex but effective. There are welfare trade-offs – easy firing, expensive healthcare – but Switzerland is far from a free market machine without a safety net.

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It seems strange that such a well-oiled system could soon be obsolete. On 5 June, Switzerland will hold a referendum on an initiative to introduce a universal basic income (UBI): a guaranteed, no-strings-attached, monthly payment of 2,500 Swiss francs (£1,784) for each legal resident. Driven by a popular initiative which collected the requisite 100,000 signatures, the UBI would revamp the welfare state by streamlining its core into this single monthly cash transfer. No more obligations to apply for a certain number of positions per month in order to “qualify” for your handout: you could choose to continue working and earning, or you could lead a life of leisure. The existential fear associated with finding, and maintaining, employment would disappear.

Last month, a “robot rally” was held in Zürich to drum up support for the initiative. Hundreds of badly-disguised campaigners paraded through the city advocating a futuristic social contract between man and machine: according to these robots, as they become more advanced, displacing more and more blue and white-collar jobs, the only solution is a UBI allowing for dignified coexistence. Robots must be our friends, not our foes, they claimed. This common refrain of digital disruption is a core tenet of the campaign and echoes a zeitgeist debate in Switzerland around the future of work and technology. The concept of a “Fourth Industrial Revolution”, championed by Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the Geneva-based World Economic Forum, has risen from soundbite to serious topic. Schwab says that current shifts in AI and connected technologies amount to “nothing less than a transformation of humankind”, one which will need solutions guaranteeing some sort of a minimum-income for all.

A record-breakingly large poster in the Pleine de PlainPalais, Geneva. Photo: Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty

But the ego of an epoch tends to historical self-aggrandisement. Hasn’t technological change always been an issue? In the opening scene of the 1986 Only Fools and Horses episode “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie”, Rodney complains about computers and mass unemployment in Thatcherite Britain: “How many people have been put on the dole by a robot what [sic] can build a car?” Digital advances aside, this is hardly the case in Switzerland, where the average unemployment rate is 3.7 per cent. Che Wagner, spokesman of Basic Income Switzerland, the organisation behind the popular initiative, concedes that the country is not suffering from any “emergency problem”. Yet it is precisely the triad of “political stability, economic wealth and a strong liberal culture of self-determination” which makes Switzerland an ideal testing ground for opening the debate. Whereas welfare politics have traditionally aimed to solve problems, this initiative is a more positive affirmation of how best to organise an affluent society of the future. The key goal is more philosophical than economic; he is determined to “decouple the concepts of labour and self-worth”.

In this sense the initiative is a radical departure from both “welfare-politics-as-usual” and neo-liberal proposals for basic incomes. Che and his colleagues make up an independently-funded, wilfully apolitical group which eschews traditional concepts of left and right. There are no Marxist hangovers in the proposal (“we don’t want to take anything from anybody to give it to somebody else”), yet there is also no indication that they support a radical rationalisation of taxation and wealth creation implied by liberal economists like Milton Friedman. The UBI would not negate certain benefits guaranteed under the current welfare system – disability allowances, for example – and is not Randian model of eradicating poverty to let the wealth creators run free. The core raison d’être is an individualistic, humanist empowerment; any socio-economic reorganisation which would be bound to arise is secondary.

This reflects the messy international debate, which has come on the agenda in recent years and attracted inputs from across the spectrum. Both Yanis Varoufakis and Joseph Stiglitz have voiced approval. Slavoj Žižek, the loud Slovene philosopher of the far left, wants a reconceptualisation of UBI to recognise that “in a knowledge-based economy, collective productivity of the ‘general intellect’ is the key source of wealth” – a similar idea to Paul Mason’s vision of a “post-capitalist” socialism for a digital age. Unsurprisingly, the companies and tech evangelists who reap the largest benefits from this data-based economy are also concerned. Some are researching liberating models of “seed money for everybody” which would have the dual-advantage of reducing annoying government bureaucracy and mitigating the possible backlash against future technological gains. In true internet-emancipatory fashion, they also want to liberate people’s latent creativity by replacing the obligation to work by the incentive to innovate.

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It is difficult to argue with the idea that people should work because they want to, not because they have to. But Swiss referendums are not won and lost on philosophical niceties. Direct democracy depends upon an engaged and pragmatic population which deliberates more earthly concerns: is our society ready for this? What would happen to the Swiss economy? Most importantly, how would it work in practice? Unfortunately for the “yes” side, these matters have proven more difficult to communicate.

One opinion poll conducted in January found that just 2 per cent of the population would quit their jobs if the measure came into effect. This is far from any imagined society of freeloading slackers which people seem to fear (ironically, one-third of the same respondents said that they expected that others would leave their jobs). But in a nation where, like elsewhere, the education system is designed to train people for specific professions and the social expectation is that you are what you work, it is difficult to see beyond a vanguard of creative or entrepreneurial youth who might embrace the freedom. Of course, those working part-time positions paid little more than 2,500 Swiss francs would have little incentive to keep working, but elsewhere it may be business as usual. My local kebab vendor told me that he had been working since he was 14, so he would see no reason to stop now.

What the experiment would do to Swiss GDP is also unclear. According to the initiators of the plan, the extra cost to the exchequer to pay a UBI to all those currently under the 2,500 Swiss franc level would be a meagre SFr18 billion (the federal government puts this at SFr25 billion). This shortfall could be met by imposing a small tax on financial transactions, they suggest. Savings could also be made through the rationalisation of the welfare system, and VAT hikes have also been mooted. Under current conditions, then, the scheme would be feasible. But this is without factoring in various known unknowns: possible outsourcing of some industries due to less competitive wages, or a global reduction in GDP due to many workers reducing - if not eliminating - the hours they work. “A step too far in the right direction2, was how economist Tobias Müller put it recently in the daily Le Temps, echoing the consensus of the Swiss political class.

At the practical individual level, finally, how it would affect the pockets of the Swiss middle class is unclear. For those earning more than the minimum amount, the only difference would be that the first SFr2,500 of their salaries would be “re-packaged” as UBI. Being presumably tax-exempt, the measure therefore would mean an incremental gain but ultimately a maintaining of the status quo. An employee in an international organisation complained to me about the lack of clarity communicated both by the campaign and the government on the initiative: the actual vote hinges on three short constitutional amendments to ensure a “dignified” minimum income for the population, but details are scarce. Although she is “of course in favour” of the suggestion, she will thus vote against it. The middle and upper classes of Swiss society simply haven’t been convinced of the need for such radical change, she said. Who benefits?

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Ultimately, at all levels of politics and society, the strength of the proposal is also its weakness. Its vague, normative nature has attracted interest, but the lack of clarity around how it would work concretely and how it would affect the income of the majority of Swiss people has undercut any chance of success. Current indicators suggest it will be roundly rejected. The always out-on-a-limb Greens are the only political party to announce support. A recent opinion poll found that 72 per cent of the population were opposed to the measure.

The amount of air-time and attention it has received will nevertheless be perceived as a success by proponents. The broad nature of the proposal and the sometimes flamboyant campaign (last week they unveiled the largest campaign poster in history in Geneva (see above); the Guinness Book of Records was on hand) highlighted that their major goal was not to meticulously rewrite Swiss legislation but to kickstart the debate on their terms. The first rule of negotiation theory is to bid high. That the direct democracy system here allows for such radical proposals (whether progressive or lamentable, like some previous votes on immigration) is a boon for the international efforts to raise awareness of this future reordering of welfare.

As referendum season continues elsewhere in Europe, there may be a lesson for campaign strategists. Emotive issues are sure to attract commentary and vocal support, but the silent majority is more pragmatic than they are often given credit. It is one thing to aim for Marx’s vision of an economic system allowing us to “hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, and criticise after dinner”: voters want to know how the hunting rights and fish quotas would operate before signing up.