Saturday, 25 April 2015

Why the hell Aston Villa?

The list of things that count as a 'brain fade' is pretty long. Forgetting the dates of battles, wars, victories, births, deaths, exams and appointments are just the beginning. It would be understandable if you forget your mother's noodle recipe or the contents of that brown cardboard box on the top shelf in your shed. You might forget your National Insurance number or ever your car number plate. It's easy to forget the name of films or books, even though you might claim they're a favourite. It's easier still to forget the name of that actor you like who only plays bit parts in films but always does with a certain manly swagger. In that case, you're probably forgetting the name Ed Harris or Scott Glenn. Really, the list of things it's okay to forget is extremely long and varied. But nowhere on it does it include the name of your football team.

I mean nobody, not even the recently lobotomised, forgets the name of their football team. It just doesn't happen. Not even as a verbal slip. You don't suddenly say 'Manchester United' if you mean Liverpool, 'Everton' if you support Leeds. It's not simply a trick of a tired brain. You don't have one thing in mind and accidentally say it, like you might say to somebody, ' pass me the knife' when you meant spoon but you just happened to be holding a knife when you reached for the word. Those things are understandable. Forgetting your football team is about as likely as forgetting your own name. Never is my life have I introduced myself 'Eric' or 'Bruce' or 'Norma'. I'm certain about that. 100% of the time I say that my name is David.

I wouldn't image that David Cameron would ever introduce himself as Eric, Bruce or Norma Cameron  either, which makes it so hard to believe that today told an audience in Croydon that his favourite team is West Ham. For years he's been telling us that it's Aston Villa and how he is the nephew of a former Villa chairman who took him to his first match when he was 13.

The significance of the story is bigger than the details. What I love about this gaff is that it's an apparently trivial mistake which might have big consequences. It's the kind of story that will click with large portions of the electorate. It's hard to judge a man based on economic predictions or the well practised spiel of a campaign speech. It's much easier to judge what you think about a man who suddenly forgets which team he supports. Had this happened in any pub across the land, the victim of the 'brain fade' would be ribbed about it for months, years, perhaps even the rest of his life.

So, why did it happen?

It happened, I think, because of the character of the man. It is a small point but I think it reveals so much about Cameron and his convictions or, more precisely, lack of convictions. I've never seen him as a true conviction politician. Thatcher was deeply ideological. Blair less so but still in a large part driven by convictions. Brown was deeply rooted in his convictions that came through his Presbyterian upbringing. Cameron, I think, is almost completely lacking in deep political thought. To put it in slightly wet terms: politics seems to be a convenient point on his life journey. It was easy for him to go from Eton to Oxford and then into the world of Conservative politics. Leadership came just as easily. David Davies was tipped as the next leader and then Cameron gave a speech behind closed doors which turned everything around. And with typical Cameron luck, he rose to the leadership at a time when the Labour Party had exhausted the ideas of one generation and a world economic collapse compounded their problems, meaning that a change in government was always likely to happen. I can't think of any party leader who went quite so quickly from obscurity to Number 10 via the ballot box.

His current 'brain fade' makes me think of Libya and the fall of Gaddafi. As revolutions go, it was a fairly easy one for a Prime Minister to cope with. It was easier still to head to Benghazi and take some of the credit and make some vague promises and we know how that turned out. We should only be lucky as he made that speech that he didn't praise the people of Syria or Liberia or even West Ham.

The gaff happened because I doubt if Cameron is invested in following Aston Villa with the passion of a true football fan. 'Aston Villa' is just the convenient tag that he can scrawl in that blank box whenever he has to answer the 'Favourite football team' question on his regular Q&As with the readers of Heat magazine.

Yet one question remains. Why the hell did he pick Aston Villa?

I can't get over the feeling that it's just a shrewd political calculation. If I were a politician who was particularly prone to taking the popular angle and always wanting to be seen on the side of the majority, who would I claim to support?

According to a recent Guardian article, the biggest three teams in the UK  are Liverpool (15.21%), Arsenal (15.03%) and Manchester United (14.6%). However, at least two of those teams are great rivals. To support United or Liverpool would stain your character for supporters of the rival team. You might gain respect in the eyes of one 15% but you'd lost it in the eyes of another 15%. Chelsea, Tottenham, and Arsenal all have strong rivalries, as do teams such as Everton, Manchester City, and Leeds.

I suspect that a wily politician would choose a team that's well known but not so successful that it has bred much resentment. Does Aston Villa fit that profile? It has the fifth highest in terms of major honours among English clubs but hasn't won the top division since the 1980-81 season. Is it vanilla enough to be the team that breeds the most apathy in the league? I suspect it might. Choosing Aston Villa means that Cameron is only alienating the supporters of West Brom and Birmingham City in a heavily Labour supporting part of the country. Hostility towards Aston Villa doesn't reach across the country in the same way as you find deep resentments about other major teams. In political terms, it's as neutral a choice as it's possible to find in the top division. The votes he would potentially lose are votes which would probably be Labour in the first place.

Well, that's my theory. I have no way of knowing if it's real or not. I just expect the Tory party's media unit to now go into overdrive to prove that Cameron is a true Aston Villa fan. Expect to see the buttock tattoo before the end of the campaign. In the case of any other politician, I would have written that line thinking it a good joke to end. In Cameron's case, I'm not so sure it's a joke.


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