"Could Clegg win the World Cup? If ever there was a moment to ask that question, just perhaps … it is now..."
With poll after poll putting Labour in third place, it is surely time for those bunkered in Labour HQ to reach for their secret weapon: the FIFA World Cup.
Although political science lacks many truly iron laws, it is indisputably the case that England has only ever won football’s most cherished prize under a Labour Government. Indeed, the same truth holds for the Rugby World Cup (snatched from under the very noses of the Australians in 2003). With the South African tournament just a few weeks away, Labour may well feel that this is the best shot left in its locker.
Of course, it’s not such a clear vote winner outside England, though a variant could be prepared for use north of the border: the only party ever to have presided over Scotland’s defeat of the World Champions at Wembley with a rather cheeky performance from Jim Baxter. More recently, we might recall that the great Ashes win of 2005 (‘the finest test series of all time’) was preceded by New Labour’s third successful electoral outing.
Of course, it’s not all one-way traffic. Credit for Margaret Thatcher’s win in 1983 is often attributed to her success in the Falkland’s War (a claim the psephologists have long played down) but too little attention is surely given to Botham’s Ashes win of 1981.
And who fails to notice that the decline of England’s test fortunes against the old enemy in the 1990s neatly coincided with the long electoral decline of the Conservative Party?
At the same time, no-one over fifty will fail to recollect that the unbearable humiliation of England by West Germany in Mexico on 14th June 1970 was followed just a few days later by Heath’s surprise win over Wilson.
What are the precedents for the Liberal Democrats? Well, they are not entirely encouraging. Last time we had a Liberal government we were still inventing games for the colonies. Hobbs (Jack rather than Thomas) was opening the batting for England and tennis was being run by a bunch of amateurs. North of the border, little has changed: the Scottish Football League had just been won by Rangers from Celtic (or vice versa). The Liberal Democrat leader is an untested force. Could Clegg win the World Cup? If ever there was a moment to ask that question, just perhaps … it is now.
Professor Chris Pierson