Gareth Southgate. England manager. Thinking man. Newsnight viewer. Loving father and husband with a keen sense of civic duty. In short: exactly the sort of person who exercises his right to vote as often as is humanly possible. A proud member of the 22.5 per cent of registered electors in North Yorkshire who bothered to turn out for 2016’s police and crime commissioner elections.
We can all agree that Southgate votes early and often. But once he’s inside the ballot box, which box does he cross? I tweeted my gut feeling earlier: Tony Blair in 1997, 2001, and 2005, Nick Clegg in 2010, and David Cameron in 2015. Most people who responded agreed with that snap judgement. It’s clear that Southgate is seen as a recognisable archetype – a middle-class swing voter with a bit of a moral conscience.
But that left the question of how he would have voted in 2017. I bottled offering an answer but after some cajoling came round to the uncomfortable conclusion that he might have voted for Theresa May. Also neglected was 1992, the first general election Southgate, who was born in 1970, could legally vote in.
Having spent far too long thinking about it, I think I’ve found the answers. What follows isn’t scientific. Nor, obviously, does it draw on anything resembling insider knowledge – other than the likelihood that the England boss is a Remainer and two decades of watching Southgate exist from afar.
I’ve also mostly considered the question on a national, rather than constituency level – in part because of his peripatetic existence as a player and the difficulties in working out where exactly he lives.
But I think the answers, and the ease with which I and others have come to them, do speak to the place Southgate occupies in the national consciousness and what he represents philosophically. Gareth, if you’re reading this, feel free to email me the truth.
Southgate is cutting his teeth at Crystal Palace, where he was introduced to fellow future England star Ian Wright as having “more O Levels than you can count.” Contemporaries have remarked he struck them as more of an accountant or businessman than tough-tackling defensive enforcer. My decision is based primarily on that perception of Southgate, and the fact that he grew up between Watford and Crawley with a manager at IBM, the computer company, for a dad. Solidly middle-class stock.
Watford was safely Tory from 1979 to 1997, with a healthy SDP presence. Crawley, then represented by Nick Soames, was a deeper shade of blue.
For that reason, I’m torn between John Major and Paddy Ashdown. It’s no secret Southgate is a student of leadership theory and it’s tempting to plump for the Lib Dems as a result, given Ashdown’s record in the Royal Marines and Special Boat Service. But I think John Major’s tenacious election campaign – conducted on soapboxes in the street – would have swung Gareth, given that it reflects the quiet dignity he himself has in abundance. Conservative.
It could have been all songs in the street. It was nearly complete. It was nearly so sweet. Nearly a year on from his devastating penalty miss in the semi-finals of Euro ’96, Southgate, now at Aston Villa, heads to the polls again. This time, he picks a direction that does lead to songs in the street. Thanks in no small part to Southgate’s vote, Tony Blair wins a landslide. It’s hard to see him picking anyone else. Labour.
Play it again, Tone. Southgate is on the cusp of leaving Villa for Middlesbrough. The country is in a good place, as is his career. Blair is elected by a landslide again and Gareth has no cause to change his mind. Labour.
Slightly trickier. After eight years, the cracks in Blair’s government – and his electoral coalition – are starting to show. Iraq has eroded his support base and boosted Charles Kennedy’s Liberal Democrats.
One thing we can immediately rule out, though, is Southgate voting for Michael Howard’s Conservatives – it’s hard to imagine him having any truck with their dog-whistle election campaign, or being compelled by one the Eurosceptic “bastards” who derailed Major’s premiership.
And let’s not forget his insult of choice for Sven Goran Eriksson after the Swede gave a lacklustre team talk at half time during England’s 2002 World Cup quarter final defeat. “We were expecting Winston Churchill and instead we got Iain Duncan-Smith.”
Southgate, in his penultimate season as Middlesbrough captain, toys with voting Lib Dem. But just like his favoured 3-3-2-2 formation thirteen years later, decides to prioritise dependable quantities who maintain a system that he knows works, rather than support a maverick on a whim. Charles Kennedy is the Jonjo Shelvey of noughties politics. Blair has earned Southgate’s vote for the third time. Labour did a lot to regenerate the northeast. And he did invite him to Downing Street, after all.
Southgate is recovering from having been sacked as manager of Boro in late 2009. The credit crunch has curdled into a recession. It’s time for a change, and Southgate – who has shown a refreshing willingness to do things differently during his time as England manager – is swept up by Cleggmania. It’s the Lib Dems this time.
Now manager of England under-21s, Southgate has made no secret of his occasional exasperation with the blue side of the coalition, as the below tweet shows. Nonetheless, he goes for safety first – Cameron and his long-term economic plan get the nod. He abhors chaos and disorganisation. The spectre of a minority Miliband government is too high a risk, and as a paid-up member of the English establishment doesn’t want to encourage the SNP. Seduced by the empty promise of decisive leadership in the national interest, he votes Conservative for the first time in 23 years, as do most men his age.
Despite the radical promise of May’s speech on the steps of Downing Street, Southgate, a remainer, cannot bring himself to vote Tory. Now managing his country’s senior side, he is keenly aware of his status as a de facto ambassador for Britain, and agent of its soft power. He cannot in good conscience back the party of Boris Johnson and David Davis as a result.
Here his constituency – Skipton and Ripon, in North Yorkshire – clinches it. The Lib Dems aren’t running and the unseemly row over Tim Farron’s views on gay sex discouraged Southgate from lending them his vote anyway.
As a top rate taxpayer, Corbyn doesn’t do it for Southgate. He quite likes Caroline Lucas when she’s on Newsnight but not enough to back the Greens.
Fortunately, there is one party that fits one of his defining personal philosophies just right. The answer was right there all along, in his Twitter bio: “Played, managed, coached. Lived in South, Midlands + North. Currently awaiting Yorkshire citizenship. Often found at the side of a pitch or netball court.”
Triathlon Gold and Bronze for People’s Republic of Yorkshire. Lived here over 10 yrs now so waiting for citizenship to come through…
— Gareth Southgate (@GarethSouthgate) August 7, 2012
He is the 2.6 per cent. The Yorkshire Party gets his vote this time.
It remains to be seen whether a bad experience as England manager could encourage his separatist instincts further.