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How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona’s footballing


2:33 pm - December 27th 2011

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contribution by Sean McHale

Watching El Clasico a few weekends ago, I quickly become infuriated by the actions of Victor Valdes. I’ve never liked Real Madrid, and within 30 seconds of the opening of the match, Victor Valdes had hit a wayward past straight to a Real Madrid attacker which resulted in Barca going a goal down.

Minutes later, I urged him to kick it long in the presence of another on-rusher, instead, he passed it ten yards, playing a one-two removing his side from what had looked a difficult situation. In the second half there was the odd dangerous ball played by Valdes, but 95% of the time his passes reached their required destination.

After the game I lamented Valdes for his mistake and criticised Barcelona for being too ideological at times, the one flaw, as I saw it, in their near-flawless philosophy. Yet, what I had failed to realise was that it was these moments of high-risk, as epitomised by Valdes, which characterises the very core of their philosophy.

If they stepped-back from this approach it would be to the detriment of their game as a whole. They would not be as successful as they are, as they have been. It is this persistence and courage which has marked them out as the truly great team that they are.

Sadly, Ed Miliband’s reign has shown very little of this courage, of this persistence to stick to one track. At times of criticism he has not stuck to his guns, to the managerial approach of Pep Guardiola, but instead fumbled around in the Blairite dark for a quick-fix, grasped for a comfort blanket of policies which have previously reaped success.

But, this is an incorrect analysis of the tactics which led to the rise and success of New Labour. In their most heady days, New Labour was radical, a revolutionary movement within the confines of the Labour Party, they tore up the old, stuck dogmatically to a new plan despite calls for compromise and a slowing of the pace by those reluctant to change.

Yes, Miliband eventually relied upon the trade unions in his election campaign to defeat his brother, but many independents saw that the younger Miliband represented something different; a break from what had brought Labour to its electoral knees.

He wasn’t afraid to distance himself from New Labour’s failed policies; the disastrous view they took on civil liberties which led to a breakdown in trust with the public, the Iraq War, and the lack of internal democracy within the party itself.

As time passed, and Miliband failed to quickly make a mark upon the country and the media, he strayed from his initial philosophy. He got lost. He sought to ‘lump it into the stands’ as many in Victor Valdes position would have done. He removed the elections for the Shadow Cabinet, he made a series of repeated disastrous interviews, including the notorious one with ITV in which he repeated the same nauseating statement five times.

He sought to condemn New Labour’s immigration policy, perhaps not wrong in principle, but it did not represent what should have been his philosophy. Yes, it was a break from New Labour, but not in the enlightened sense which he should have sought to represent, in the same way he had with the phone hacking scandal.

During that time he looked like a leader, he was making an impact with the public as it looked as though he had something to say, something new to insert into the humdrum world of domestic politics. His stance on immigration just looked cynical. Disjointed. Opportunistic.

Miliband shouldn’t be afraid to be guided by his instincts, by the initial reason he became involved in politics. Like Victor Valdes, he shouldn’t be cowed by those voices who urge him to ‘hit it long’, or ‘play it safe’, sometimes it is braver to choose not to do something, than to make a hurried decision that brings momentary respite, but which departs with all that you have done before. Miliband should choose his course, pick out what he stands for, and stick with it, just as Victor Valdes did.


Sean McHale is a civil libertarian & lapsed Liberal Democrat.

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Reader comments


“He sought to condemn New Labour’s immigration policy, perhaps not wrong in principle, but it did not represent what should have been his philosophy.”

How do you know what his philosophy on immigration is or should be?

2. Charles Wheeler

“In their most heady days, New Labour was radical, a revolutionary movement within the confines of the Labour Party, they tore up the old, stuck dogmatically to a new plan despite calls for compromise and a slowing of the pace by those reluctant to change.”

1997: 13.5m votes
2001: 10.7m votes
2005: 9.5m votes
2010: 8.6m votes

Not a roaring success though, given it wiped out Labour’s heartland support – which simply doesn’t vote anymore. There might be a lesson there with the Tories managing fewer votes than Michael Foot’s Labour Party – not a ringing endorsement of neoliberalism.

@Chloe

Sorry, here is his stance on immigration. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/8788109/Labour-got-it-wrong-on-immigration-says-Ed-Miliband.html

My point was that his more liberal-left leaning stance during the election campaign soon caved to the one illustrated in the Telegraph.

4. the a&e charge nurse

“he made a series of repeated disastrous interviews, including the notorious one with ITV in which he repeated the same nauseating statement five times” – yes, proof if proof were needed, that there is a world of difference between what politicians say and what politicians think
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlTggc0uBA8

“Miliband shouldn’t be afraid to be guided by his instincts, by the initial reason he became involved in politics” – well, to continue with the Barca analogy, the catalonian giants have a well defined philosophy, a philosophy that becomes self evident on the basis of 15 minutes of watching them play, and one that is instilled at the very first level of entry into the organisation (youth team onwards).

Am I wrong to suggest that the public would still be hard pressed to say what it is EM actually stands for, other than not being like Broon or Tony?

@Charles

I agree. But as your detailing of the thoughts illustrates New Labour was initially right electorally for its time. Miliband recognised its decline during his election campaign but hasn’t stuck to that track in his leadership.

@Charles.

I agree. My point was that (as your figures detail) New Labour was right electorally for its time. Miliband noted the decline during his election campaign but hasn’t stuck to that track since.

Hi Sean as a current lib dem member to a lapsed one I hope you will reconsider your status. In any event my issue with your article is that you assume that like Barcelona, Ed Miliband has some form of underlying quality that will reap dividends as long as he remains true to his principles. My impression however is that he lacks principles and deep ideological convictions and is the epitome of the bland politician. I’m not excited about his stance on Iraq because I have few doubts that were he in cabinet at the time he would have voted in favour, ditto on civil liberties issues. At the end if the day I strongly disagree with say Tony Benn but he had substance and credibility, something I feel EM doesn’t

@7

“Hi Sean as a current lib dem member to a lapsed one I hope you will reconsider your status. In any event my issue with your article is that you assume that like Barcelona, Ed Miliband has some form of underlying quality that will reap dividends as long as he remains true to his principles. My impression however is that he lacks principles and deep ideological convictions and is the epitome of the bland politician.”

That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time… LibDem having the effrontery to accuse someone else of lacking principle; you need to adjust your irony filter buddy!

@ orangebooker

As a current Lib Demmer make the point that Ed Milliband would not have stuck to his principles on occassions.

Takes one to know one.

Given Nick Cleggs utter betrayal of his parties policies on virtually all of their 2010 manifesto and the hypocritical support by Alexander and Cable for Camerons right wing Tory Governments dismantling of health, education and Welfare, I asssume that Milliband would be welcome in your party.

or would that just be the tough decisions in the public interest excuse again?

@Sean

But did Ed say during his leadership campaign that he supported New Labour’s policy on immigration (though I wouldn’t really say there was a clear policy that held up from 1997 to 2010, more a general stance)? Maybe what he said in the Telegraph is his actual opinion?

And I think we all know that politicians don’t stick to all their principles once their in government, Lib Dem, Labour, or Conservative…

@Chloe I think during his election campaign he put forward a more progressive approach to immigration, one which put people before big business.

@orangebooker Ed is bland but he did have a platform during his campaign, one he hasn’t stuck to since.

Yes! That’s exactly it. No compromise with the electorate, and if they don’t like what Labour’s offering, the electorate will be dissolved and another elected in its place. I sincerely hope Miliband listens to this wonderful advice.

@ Sean

There’s actually a lot to disagree with in your article:

You write that: “In their most heady days, New Labour was radical, a revolutionary movement within the confines of the Labour Party, they tore up the old, stuck dogmatically to a new plan despite calls for compromise and a slowing of the pace by those reluctant to change.”

Really? I think there was very little about New Labour that was radical, and still less progressive (more’s the pity!). The huge majority it enjoyed in 1997 thanks to our ridiculous electoral system meant Blair and his cronies could do more or less what they wanted….. which is exactly what they proceeded to do of course. They didn’t need to take any notice of the non New Labour parts of their party because they were an irrelevance, and were bought off by the promise (and reality) of electoral success.

Of course what this revolutionary stance amounted to was transforming Labour into a pale imitation of the Tory party, even to the extent of outflanking the Tories from the right on certain issues. The whole vile project, much like it’s Thatcherite predecessor, succeeded largely because it had such feeble opposition both internally and externally.

Ed Milliband is a disappointment, but in truth few of us expected much else. “Newer” Labour has not distanced itself to any great degree from Blair and/or Brown. It has certainly failed to encapsulate any coherent political programme which could be seen as either progressive or radical. All the signs are that what he stands for isn’t THAT different from what the Coalition is dishing up.

Given the implosion of the LibDems since the GE, many on the centre left like myself (and you perhaps?) are really left with nowhere to go politically at present….. voting Green perhaps as a protest vote? I certainly won’t be voting Labour from what I’ve seen since the GE, and am even less likely now to vote LibDem. Given that the LD’s have managed to kick electoral reform into the long grass for a generation, where does the leave us exactly…? Hoping that Labour can be re-invented from within? I’ve seen precious little signs that will happen, or that they have any leadership worthy of the name.

The analogy here is crazy. Ok Barcelona are the football club de jour- but lets say it was twenty years ago when Arsenal were winning the league by playing incredibly defensively- would you be advocating Milliband adopt a defensive posture? The two worlds are just too far apart.

As others have pointed out the analysis of the present situation is not much better. A worship of the new for its own sake- there are many good reasons for encouraging Milliband to be left or right wing, that its new is not one of them. The author reminds me of the way that Blair used to use the word modern- not as a descriptor for when something came about- but as a term which had a normative significance.

One thing that ED and Labour could learn from football is that whatever you do there will be people in the crowd who hate you.

Celtic vs Rangers tonight (if it is still on) but no matter what any of the players do no one is swapping scarves and changing sides at the end of it. Poor old Hooper could score a great hat trick, Jelivic can do the same, but at no point will Rangers or Celtic fans convert across.

The best either can do is appeal to their own fans and hope that suffices. If they are lucky, they may win a few neutrals over, however fleetingly, but, you either buy into the old firm or you don’t. There is no point in Kirk Broadfoot (Rangers full back) attempting to score for Celtic tonight because he will anger his own side, make an arse himself and even though Celtic fans will accept the goal and cheer when he does it, he will only win further contempt from them.

The few players who have won grudging ‘respect’ from the other side of the great divide, did so by playing their own game and causing most damage.

Ask any Rangers supporter the Celtic player they ‘admire’ or ‘respect’ or even ‘hate’ when it comes to it is not the bland, never done anything guy who stuck around for a season or two, but guys like Larson who done most damage to their own team. Same at Parkhead, ask any Celtic supporter the same question and the answer is going to be (depending on the age) guys like McCoist, Laudrop or Hately, guys that scored important goals against their team.

So, here is the pre match team talk to Ed Milliband and the rest of the team.

‘Keep it tight at the back there, not too many slip ups or own goals. Look at hurting your oppenents and get your tackles in early. Don’t let them run with the ball or they will take the piss out of you. Look at where they are going in get your defenders there ASAP. Oh, and remember to keep our crowd on our side and their side quiet.’

In political terms? Simple. We don’t need to win every supporter to our side, just the ones with that support us and if we can convince some open minded people along the way, even better. There are a lot of empty seats behind our goal, but we do not expect us to take our rivals supporters, we need to know why the local boys have stopped turning up.

Labour should be playing to their strengths; Unemployment is growing and people are losing jobs and not finding new ones. Labour need to push that onto the Tories and the Tories backers, big business. People are expecting wage freezes, but instead of turning on the unemployed, why not highlight the fact that CEOS in those companies are making record bonuses? Look at the dodgy keeper and how difficult he finds the high ball, why not lob a few at him? Cameron is a bit weak at being seen to be on the side of big business and the toffs who run them, so why not get a few early shots in and see how he reacts?

A nine one one looks good on paper, but when you are losing against a crap team, all you can do is come out and play the game you are capable of.

It is too early to judge Ed Milliband as a leader. At this stage he has neither the party structure that he wants or the policies in place. That’s fine. Let’s give him space and time to build. If we are still having this argument two years down the line, then there’s a problem.

@Galen10

I totally agree. New Labour wasn’t a progressive or revolutionary force, my point was just that they were a radicalising force within the Labour Party, removing the old Benn guard and that philosophy from within the party.

@Henry

Obviously the two spheres are far apart, but my point was that Miliband’s leadership would have been better served by sticking to the platform he advocated in his leadership election campaign.

I wasn’t advocating it as it was ‘new’. My point was that since he has strayed from the policy positions that had made him popular within Labour, people are unsure what he stands for. Whilst this continues people will continue to see him as bland and vacuous. Having said this, ‘new’ was what won him the Labour leadership election, so it wouldn’t have been a bad thing to stick with. It would have been a good overall theme for his leadership.

@17

How long does he need?! It’s been quite a while since the GE, and since his election as leader…. and yet we still don’t really know where he and/or the party really stand do we? It certainly appears to many that reports of the death of New Labour were (sadly) premature.

If Labour are to have any hope of attracting disaffected left of centre voters back, they need to demonstrate that they have changed, and that their apologies for the crass failures of Blair and Brown are sincere, will not be repeated, and will be replaced by something more progressive and radical. They have thus far failed on all counts, so absent some change in direction and/or leadership many of the seats behind your goal will remain empty.

The results of this may well be another hung parliament, since neither the Tories or Labour appear able to add significantly to their share of the vote, and the LD’s are likely to be stuck around 10% having comprehensively alienated a large section of their left of centre support. Not sure where that really leaves us politically… facing more of the same I reckon, which is hardly something one can look forward to!

The difference between football and politics is I can just turn off the football and the result will have sod-all impact on my life.

As it is my destiny is largely dictated by a bunch of preaning, over-paid egoists playing a ridiculous game with arbitrary rules I have no interest in.

It is interesting comparing Barca and the labour party.
Both have leftist histories.
Both have sold out.
Both have adversiries that are unlikeable.

But does the Labour party have a Messi, do they believe in the collective, do they have a quality manager, do they close down the opposition in all areas of the pitch and never panic and more importantly do they have a winning mentality.
I doubt it.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona's footballing http://t.co/ozTftGV1

  2. Patron Press - #P2

    #UK : How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona ’s footballing http://t.co/LsxeBzY4

  3. Pitamurti Nur Hayu

    #UK : How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona ’s footballing http://t.co/LsxeBzY4

  4. Sean McHale

    How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona's footballing http://t.co/ozTftGV1

  5. Sean McHale

    My article for @libcon How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona's footballing philosophy http://t.co/4fPWrtbI

  6. @Parlez_me_nTory

    How Ed Miliband could learn from Barcelona’s footballing http://t.co/h9rDvdDI

  7. Dan

    hate to link libcon but my god look at this http://t.co/dC5KIagC

  8. J

    hate to link libcon but my god look at this http://t.co/dC5KIagC

  9. Voodoo polling, Clegg’s ratings recover amongst Liberal Democrats, and Miliband the managerialist: round up of political blogs for 24 – 30 December | British Politics and Policy at LSE

    […] flat-lined under Ed Miliband (while Sean McHale at Liberal Conspiracy thinks he could learn from Barcelona’s footballing). Chris Dillow at Stumbling and Mumbling has an interesting critique of Ed Miliband’s […]





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