I’m going to miss Hull. I’ve been living in this city, on and off, for the past year. It’s a good socialist town and one that does not wear its tolerant past lightly. The legacy of William Wilberforce makes a difference. From the start of August I’ll be living in London full time. More than ever, England’s capital feels as though it is the capitalist system incarnate.
Hull, in contrast, is the sort of place where you can see someone wearing a Slavoj Žižek t-shirt and it doesn’t look like too much of a pose. This evening I was sat next to someone who bore his slogan: ‘In football we win if we obey the rules. In politics we win if we have the audacity to change the rules’.
This is a resonant phrase to see in England this week. On Wednesday, Tony Blair warned members of the Labour party against voting for the left wing candidate Jeremy Corbyn in the forthcoming leadership elections. Doing so, he offered the dubious advice: ‘when people say, “my heart says I should be with that politics”, well get a transplant’. Blair was telling his party members not to have bleeding hearts. They should forget about safeguarding the National Health Service, the universities, the arts, union rights. Instead, they should adopt the dominant neo-liberal agenda, even if it feels utterly wrong. He was instructing them that following your conscience will not gain you power. If you want to win, you are better off mimicking the Tories. It pains me to think that Blair is more in tune with our times than Žižek is. In politics, unless there is a crisis, the winners are those who can best ride the hegemonic crest of the wave.
Žižek is wrong about football as well. Or, at least, he needs to think more carefully about how rules work in this game. In football playing by the rules can involve breaking them. This is why there are two separate codes of conduct: the rules of the game, and the spirit of the game. It is a sport that has professional fouls and tactical transgressions. As with so many things, this can be best illustrated by the Uruguayan player, Louis Suàrez. He is surely one of the most brilliant players currently playing the game. Suàrez knows that rule breaking can reap benefits. His biting escapades are not the best example of this. Instead, think of his performance in the quarter final of the 2010 World Cup. Uruguay faced Ghana. Deep into extra time the two teams were drawing one all. The Ghanaian striker Dominic Adiyiah headed the ball towards the net with a shot that was unstoppable by any legal means. Suàrez used his hands. He broke the rules to save the ball, but he did not forfeit the game: his team were not disqualified. There were instead two lesser punishments for his misdemeanour. Suàrez was sent off and Ghana were awarded with a penalty. Asamoah Gyan failed to convert it, however. Consequently, Suàrez’s ‘cheating’ was worthwhile. Uruguay made it through to the next round.
What can we take from all of this? Firstly, winning in politics is achieved, not by breaking the rules, but instead by hiding them. Neo-liberalism is triumphant because it is made to look like common sense. It disguises its ideological agenda. Blair's intervention this week was a rare example of the system exposing its ugly head. The rules of football, in contrast, are transparent. Disobeying them does not have the same consequences as testing positive for anabolic steroids in a 100 metres sprint. It can, instead, reap benefits.
This is supposed to be a blog about popular music, but I’m not sure what pop can learn from either politics or football when it comes to obeying, breaking or changing the rules. What I do know, however, is that popular music would now be best served by a Suàrez-type figure. Please spare us from a Tony Blair.