Magazine article The Spectator

After Blair's Big Tent, Brown Plans a Big Football Stadium of Popular Causes

Magazine article The Spectator

After Blair's Big Tent, Brown Plans a Big Football Stadium of Popular Causes

Article excerpt

The 2018 World Cup is, by every measure, a long way off. Fifa intends to take three years to decide on which continent the tournament should be hosted, and only then start thinking about a specific country. Even the Football Association (which would submit a bid for England) has not yet come to a decision. But one fan is agitating already. Gordon Brown has commissioned a Treasury feasibility study and is already talking up Britain's chances. The football world may not be ready, but the British political calendar cannot wait.

There is something about a campaign for a sporting tournament which allows a politician to speak on a special frequency to sports fans: the ref 's whistle rather than the dog whistle, so to speak. And the message Mr Brown wants to broadcast is: 'I am like you. Well -- perhaps not exactly, but more so than David Cameron and his friends.' Football may be an international language, but it is not one Etonians tend to speak well. Such considerations are at the forefront of Mr Brown's mind as he prepares for his own general election tournament in 2009, and a match which may yet go to penalties.

The Chancellor knows that the Conservatives are already attacking him personally for being a political obsessive or, as one shadow Cabinet member recently put it to me, 'Dr Spock without the human bits.' There is worse to come. 'We will get very personal, ' warns another senior Cameron lieutenant. 'Brown sanctioned vicious attacks on William Hague in the 2001 election. So we will certainly play hardball.' Mr Brown stands ready, bat in hand.

A veil has been drawn over the embarrassing attempts to show his human side. He has ditched the suggestion that he listens to the Arctic Monkeys on his iPod. He would rather forget the time he mentioned Hotel Rwanda to a Radio 1 interviewer who asked him what film he'd take her to see on a date. The strategy now is to bring out the Real Gordon: a heavyweight politician with real likes, loves and passions. Football is genuinely one of them, and roasting Conservatives is another.

The disclosure that David Cameron was punished for smoking marijuana at Eton has had little immediate political impact. The more significant event was the widespread republication of a picture of Mr Cameron with members of the Bullingdon Club at Oxford.

There he stood, resplendent in the £1,200 tailcoats worn by members of the club for their heavy drinking escapades. It is the very image of the Brideshead-style privilege and decadence which Mr Brown has despised all his adult life: public school, Oxford, England.

So far, Mr Brown has been dissuaded from playing the class card, especially while the Labour party is led by an Old Fettesian.

He has been warned by the Blairites that inverted snobbery will no longer wash with the British public. But we can expect his instincts to get the better of him once they are gone. He will present himself as a quiet, football-supporting man dedicated to improving Britain.

Yet this (and the accompanying denigration of Mr Cameron) is only a small part of a grander strategy. His wider ambition is to link Labour inextricably with a series of popular themes. The success of the Republicans in America has not flowed from the popularity of George W. Bush, but from the party's ability to forge a great alliance with faith groups, the gun lobby and organisations opposed to gay marriage. …

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