HERE’S something that annoys me about clever dicks like me.
We like it to be known that we are so interested in politics.
We do this to demonstrate how knowledgeable we are, and how much we care about this great country of ours.
But we flatter ourselves, because this isn’t quite right.
If we’re honest, what really fascinates us about politics is the soap opera of it. The drama, the scheming, the secrets and lies.
This is all about the acquisition of power. It’s a blood sport, and we love it.
All very entertaining, but it doesn’t really get us anywhere.
And it’s not, I expect, what you, readers of this newspaper, really care about.
What matters is not the unseemly scramble for power, it’s what they do with that power.
In other words, it’s about actual policy — about, you know, stuff which affects you and yours.
It’s about finding somewhere to rent, or access to social housing.
Or finding the money to pay your mortgage.
And putting food on your family’s table.
And getting your kids educated and yourself looked after in old age, and along the way having access to the healthcare you need?
I doubt you’re much interested in privileged men and women yelling at each other, making wild promises and savage criticisms and pumping out slogan after slogan as they scratch each other’s eyes out in the scramble for power.
I’m quite sure it’s actual honest policies you want to hear about.
I never really understood this until just after the referendum of 2016.
I was despatched to the West Midlands to make a documentary, to talk to lots of people about why they voted for Brexit.
This at a time when the consensus of metropolitan Remainers, especially in the south of England, was that most Brexit voters were a) racist and b) thick.
It took me about half a day talking to people to confirm my suspicion that this wasn’t the case.
Everybody at the time was engaged in politics, in actual policy.
Everyone had a view on how their lives had become difficult and how things could get better.
For sure, I heard some stuff which was naive, plain wrong and, yes, offensive.
But overwhelmingly what I heard was people asking sincere questions about Britain and seeking intelligent answers.
Meanwhile, back in London, the very week I was getting to know all these people, we had the most dramatic of political weeks. Oh, it was thrilling.
Fight for power
At the end of one particularly dramatic day I’d arranged to meet up with many of the people I’d been talking to, in a pub called The Wonder, in Tipton.
Looking forward to discussing that day’s drama in Westminster, I went bundling into the place, excitedly shouting about all the soap opera.
I’ll never forget their reaction.
They just shrugged. These people who I knew were interested in politics could not have been less interested in this kind of politics — the fight for power, the blood sport.
It taught me a massive lesson. It’s actual policy the people are interested in.
And I’m quite sure it’s truer now than ever.
We’re in the brown stuff and, while everybody slating everybody else is rather enjoyable for some of us to watch, most of you know full well none of it is getting us anywhere fast.
A BAT & BALLS UP, BEN
SOMETHING profound happened at the cricket.
England declared before the end of the opening day of the first Ashes Test, with one of the world’s great batsmen, Joe Root, still at the crease.
Extraordinary, given we could have possibly put on another, who knows, 40 precious runs.
But captain Ben Stokes’ logic was that the declaration would give England the opportunity to bowl a handful of tricky overs at Australia, take a couple of their wickets and end the day on top.
No wickets fell that Friday evening and four days later Australia beat England by the narrowest of margins.
The 40 runs England might have got if they’d not declared might well have seen us win.
So it was a mad, bad decision, right?
Well, no, not really.
There’s something really important to grasp here, in life as well as in sport.
Just because a decision didn’t result in the outcome you wanted, that doesn’t mean it was the wrong decision.
This is probably a bad example, but if you’re into gambling and see a horse running that you know should be priced at 4-1, and see it offered at 10-1, you might well put a few quid on it.
If and when that horse doesn’t win, that doesn’t mean you made the wrong decision.
If you decide to take your family camping, and everyone hates it and you have a terrible time, that doesn’t make the decision itself wrong.
You gave it a try.
To take this idea to the extreme, if your marriage comes to an end (possibly because of a terrible camping trip) then that doesn’t necessarily mean it was the wrong decision getting married to that person in the first place.
Having said all that, I really wish the skipper hadn’t done it.
The result at Edgbaston has ruined my summer before it’s even started.
Can’t take my eyes off of you, genius Gina
No football fan who goes to see it will be disappointed.
Neither will any non-football fan. It’s brilliant.
Sports psychologist Pippa Grange is played by Gina McKee, who I can’t take my eyes off, now any more than I could more than a quarter of a century ago when I first came across her in the brilliant TV series Our Friends In The North.
THE Covid inquiry is underway and will last for ever and a day.
Let’s hope we end up learning from our mistakes so we’re better prepared next time.
This is, or should be, the inquiry’s main purpose.
But I wonder if we’ll ever get there. It’s going to be hard to get at the truth when so many key players will be at pains to defend their records, no matter what.
We’re all desperate to know who dropped the ball, made the wrong calls and, by fair means and foul, used the crisis to enrich themselves.
Fingers will be pointed and the blame game played out to the bitter end.
Where will this get us?
In post-apartheid South Africa they had a truth and reconciliation process, encouraging confessions, and offering some amnesties, in a bid to learn lessons, draw a line, and move on.
All in the hope of generating less heat than light.
Perhaps we need something similar here.
OH THE JOY OF QUIET
LET’S brace for a big weekend of, er, no sport.
With the notable exceptions of rugby league, the Women’s Ashes cricket and Royal Ascot, there’s no big events in major sports.
What are we going to do? Where else can you get the kind of joy that only sport can bring?
There are many roads to pleasure, happiness and satisfaction.
A picnic, a walk in the park, or a lazy afternoon in the garden, in a pub garden, or at the beach.
But these are gentle, soothing forms of quiet joy.
None of these, nor watching music, theatre or comedy, or whatever else is your bag, will give you the kind of joy that sport gives.
Nice as they are, none will have you punching the air or screaming your head off.
You’ll not be hugging or kissing strangers. Only sport gets you to that level of joy.
To be fair, there’ll be fist-pumping, shouting and stranger-kissing at Glastonbury, but that’s what happens if you’re out in the open all day and night with access to all manner of substances though not a toilet.
No, only sport will do. How will I get through the weekend without it?
I’ll be honest, I’ll be fine. The reason sport can elevate us to a state of hysterical joy is that it also has potential to cause the opposite effect.
No one ever cursed, cried and looked for a cat to kick because a picnic had been a disappointment.
Or a comedian hadn’t been very funny. Or a band hadn’t played your favourite track.
Oh no, only sport can destroy you. Without that despair there can be none of the crazy joy.
Every match, every contest, is a zero-sum game. One side’s crazy happy is the other’s crazy sad.
This month alone I’ve upset myself watching Rory McIlroy not win the US Open golf.
And listening to the closing moments of The Ashes first Test cricket, I nearly drove the car off the road.
How will I manage without it all this weekend? Very nicely, thanks. I need the break.