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Is it crass to compare the protests in London, Cairo and Wisconsin?

The difference between Tahrir Square and Parliament Square is one of scale, but not of substance.

I'm standing in Euston Road with 150 anti-cuts protesters, who have occupied the thoroughfare after being wrestled out of Camden Council's budget meeting by a solid wall of police. "London, Cairo, Wisconsin!" yell the demonstrators. "We will fight, we will win!"

As two rows of cops contain the demonstration, an elderly lady in a woolly hat hands me a pamphlet about a local unemployed workers' caucus and invites me to pet her Yorkshire terrier. It's not exactly Tahrir Square -- but is the comparison with the Middle East uprisings really so crass?

For anyone who's seen pictures of heads split open by sniper bullets in Tripoli, claiming a common cause can't help but feel insensitive. The brave people of Libya, Bahrain, Egypt and Tunisia, after all, are fighting the sort of police states that skip the CS spray and stop-and-search forms and go straight to the torture and British-made machine guns.

Suddenly, it seems rather a luxury to be fighting a right-wing government that merely wishes to impose brutal cuts for which it has no mandate. Clegg and Cameron may be stabbing us in the back, but they're not yet shooting us in the head.

The desperate workers and welfare claimants occupying their local councils, however, refuse to be told that their fight is of no importance simply because more violent standoffs are taking place overseas.

"What we're fighting here is very, very different from what they're fighting in the Middle East," says Jess, a 20-year-old activist. "But that doesn't mean we shouldn't fight."

Telling British protesters to stop whingeing because the fight for self-determination is more perilous in the Middle East is a little like telling people not to build soup kitchens in Britain because there are starving children in Africa.

There is nothing exotic, however, about inequality. It was youth unemployment, graduate unrest and soaring food prices that catalysed the toppling of dictators in Egypt and Tunisia; meanwhile, in Britain, where Muammar Gaddafi was a "close personal friend" of successive PMs, youth unemployment is almost as high as in Egypt. The demographic driving the resistance, moreover, is growing in every major world city: unemployed graduates with no future and the tools to build networks.

The difference between Tahrir Square and Parliament Square is one of scale, but not of substance. Across the world, ordinary people are being denied a voice, shut out of work and education, having their dignity trashed. While armchair liberals express sympathy with protesters in the Middle East, workers and students in Britain have begun to express something far more powerful: solidarity.

Solidarity, the watchword of this movement, hashtagged and chanted across the world, is not about pretending that there's no difference between a flashmob in London and a riot in Tripoli.

Solidarity is the shared conviction that while the disposessed lead vastly different lives across the world, those lives may yet lead them to the same place of greater freedom. It's not just a word; it's a weapon.

Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

Photo: Getty
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Michael Carrick is the “Geordie Pirlo” that England misunderstood

The Manchester United legend’s retirement announcement should leave Three Lions fans wondering what if?

That it came in the months leading up to a World Cup arguably added an exclamation point to the announcement of Michael Carrick’s impending retirement. The Manchester United midfielder, who is expected to take up a coaching role with the club afterwards, will hang up his boots at the end of the season. And United boss Jose Mourinho’s keenness to keep Carrick at Old Trafford in some capacity only serves to emphasise how highly he rates the 36-year-old.

But Carrick’s curtain call in May will be caveated by one striking anomaly on an otherwise imperious CV: his international career. Although at club level Carrick has excelled – winning every top tier honour a player based in England possibly can – he looks set to retire with just 34 caps for his country, and just one of those was earned at a major tournament.

This, in part, is down to the quality of competition he has faced. Indeed, much of the conversation around England’s midfield in the early to mid-noughties centred on finding a system that could accommodate both box-to-box dynamos Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard.

As time went on, however, focus shifted towards trequartistas, advanced playmakers and those with more mobile, harrying playing styles. And the likes of Jack Wilshere, Ross Barkley, Jordan Henderson and Dele Alli were brought into the frame more frequently than Carrick, whose deep-lying capabilities were not utilised to their full potential. That nearly 65 per cent of Carrick’s England caps have come in friendlies shows how undervalued he was. 

In fairness, Carrick does not embody similar characteristics to many of his England midfield contemporaries, including a laudable lack of ego. He is not blessed with lung-busting pace, nor is he enough of a ball-winner to shield a back four solo. Yet his passing and distribution satisfy world-class criteria, with a range only matched, as far as England internationals go, by his former United team-mate Paul Scholes, who was also misused when playing for his country.

Rather, the player Carrick resembles most isn’t English at all; it’s Andrea Pirlo, minus the free-kicks. When comparisons between the mild-mannered Geordie and Italian football’s coolest customer first emerged, they were dismissed in some quarters as hyperbole. Yet watching Carrick confirm his retirement plans this week, perfectly bearded and reflecting on a trophy-laden 12-year spell at one of world football’s grandest institutions, the parallels have become harder to deny.

Michael Carrick at a press event ahead of Manchester United's Champions League game this week. Photo: Getty.

Where other players would have been shown the door much sooner, both Pirlo and Carrick’s efficient style of play – built on patience, possession and precision – gifted them twilights as impressive as many others’ peaks. That at 36, Carrick is still playing for a team in the top two of the top division in English football, rather than in lower-league or moneyed foreign obscurity, speaks volumes. At the same age, Pirlo started for Juventus in the Champions League final of 2015.

It is ill health, not a decline in ability, which is finally bringing Carrick’s career to a close. After saying he “felt strange” during the second-half of United’s 4-1 win over Burton Albion earlier this season, he had a cardiac ablation procedure to treat an irregular heart rhythm. He has since been limited to just three more appearances this term, of which United won two. 

And just how key to United’s success Carrick has been since his £18m signing from Tottenham in 2006 cannot be overstated. He was United’s sole signing that summer, yielding only modest excitement, and there were some Red Devils fans displeased with then manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to assign Carrick the number 16 jersey previously worn by departed captain Roy Keane. Less than a year later, though, United won their first league title in four years. The following season, United won the league and Champions League double, with Carrick playing 49 times across all competitions.

Failing to regularly deploy Carrick in his favoured role – one that is nominally defensive in its position at the base of midfield, but also creative in providing through-balls to the players ahead – must be considered one of the most criminal oversights of successive England managers’ tenures. Unfortunately, Carrick’s heart condition means that current boss Gareth Southgate is unlikely to be able to make amends this summer.

By pressing space, rather than players, Carrick compensates for his lack of speed by marking passing channels and intercepting. He is forever watching the game around him and his unwillingness to commit passes prematurely and lose possession is as valuable an asset as when he does spot an opening.

Ultimately, while Carrick can have few regrets about his illustrious career, England fans and management alike can have plenty. Via West Ham, Spurs and United, the Wallsend-born émigré has earned his billing as one of the most gifted midfielders of his generation, but he’d never let on.

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.