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Taking a broader perspective…

Singing when England are winning?

By Darrell Goodliffe.

Football’s World Cup is in full swing and the left has to go through its traditional hand-wringing. Of course, England are not doing much winning recently so singing for a win has been largely off the cards. However, the World Cup poses a unique kind of dilemma for the left; internationalist in its core beliefs it is faced with a competition that encourages a strong attachment to your respective tribe. An obvious answer to this is that there is no ‘party line; some leftists will revel in England’s success and some will not and that’s the end of the story.

However, it arguably cuts to the chase of other important debates on the left around issues like liberal interventionism and our attitude to Europe so it is worth thinking about in greater depth.  Left wing politics encourages a strong and positive view of collective identity be that the traditional one with class or with a group that is particularly disadvantaged for whatever reason in society. Although they claimed to have moved beyond this; the reaction to the ‘war on terror’, for example, defined the likes of Tony Blair as thinking ultimately along collectivist lines. Together we, ‘The West’, the ‘forces of civilisation’ were stronger against the common enemy; not the capitalist class but the ‘evil Islamists’; the superficial collectivist appeal to this concept no doubt was enough to ensure Blair the support he needed to railroad through support for measures that sat uneasy with a lot of Labour Party members.

So, surely we should celebrate the World Cup which ultimately unites people of in a collective effort to will their team to victory? Well, things are a little more complex than that; any positive unity requires a negative to unite against, an ‘other’ that negates the positivity of the collective while at the same time securing and cementing it.  We are all well aware of the prejudice, xenophobia and sheer nastiness that nationalism in its purest form creates; dividing the weak and the powerless against each other in an embittered contest for scraps.  For every decent England fan there is who purely loves the game and wants to celebrate their heartfelt identity there is probably at least one immigrant-hating skin-head who wants to demonstrate the biggest mistake the world ever made was rudely demanding, against the Empire, the right to determine its own fate on and off the football field.

This is therefore one of those annoying questions where there is no absolutely right or wrong answer. It’s wrong to turn our nose up at the England merriment but also wrong to get lost in the mad-as-a-hatter national pride that sees a lot of the media especially lose its collective sense of proportion in a rush to prove itself definitively the most English. Personally, it was this kind of coverage of which poisoned the reporting of the Obama/BP dispute and which made it appealing to look for a good reason not to support England this time around; especially during the USA match.  However, I think this one should be thrown open to discussion. So, are you singing for England to win?

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