Huddersfield 2 v Brentford 1 – 6 August 2016

It seems almost no time ago at all that I was writing after Brentford’s final game of the 15-16 season about our 5-1 win at Huddersfield. The warm August sunshine seemed little different to that in May. But, there had been big changes in the Huddersfield team which had seen a dozen new players join the squad as well as the optimism of 15,000 season ticket holders attracted by the giveaway price of £179. After the upheaval that Brentford had in the previous close season it was something of a relief that this summer has been so quiet but also a disappointment that there was no big new signing to run the rule over.

The photo above shows much of my view for the first half. I usually like to join in the singing and chanting at football, but I also like to be able to see the game and not have to stand up just to do so. So I must admit to being irritated by my neighbour’s insistence on baiting his fellow Bees and exhorting them to sing to the exclusion of all else.

While we haven’t had any big new signings, the team was very different from that which had destroyed Huddersfield only 3 months previously. Canos and Swift had not been tempted to return – Canos eventually going for too much money for a 19 year old to Norwich and Swift, probably sensibly, deciding that Brentford fans didn’t like him much, going to Reading (and scoring the winning goal in his league debut for them). In defence we had Elder, on loan from Leicester for the season at Left Back, replacing Bidwell who’d been sold to QPR. Egan, from Gillingham, started as Centre Back alongside Dean who was wearing the captain’s armband (which for some reason was controversial among some Bees fans online) and Clarke deputising for the injured Colin at Right Back.

In midfield was a first proper chance to see McLeod, who has suffered 18 months of injury since joining from Glasgow Rangers, alongside Woods, McEachran (who like McLeod has barely played through injury most of last season), Kerschbaumer and Sawyers who had followed Dean Smith from his old club, Walsall. Hogan was the sole striker.

That which I saw of the first half had Brentford playing neatly but Huddersfield showing more intent in pressing and attacking. Encouragingly McLeod looked more robust than I’d expected and McEachran looked willing to make tackles and interceptions. Kerschbaumer was much more mobile than he’d appeared last season and seemed to have developed his all round game and positioning but was not able to find one of the through balls to Hogan which were plentiful at the tail end of last season. Indeed there was one attack where Hogan looked to return the favour by trying to square to Kerschbaumer where he might have been better advised to attempt an angled shot himself, but I think it was encouraging that they seem to like playing together. However, overall, the first half was largely as would be expected from two newly assembled teams trying to get used to playing at full pace at the beginning of the season with neither causing the other huge difficulties and both being a little less sharp than they might hope to become. Clarke looked lively and willing to attack, albeit less secure defensively – more like Odubajo than Colin, but understandably rawer than either. He was my man of the match.

The second half continued in similar vein apart from Huddersfield attacking with greater urgency. As with the game in May, manager Wagner seems to be keen on geeing up the players to focus on attacking early in the second half and just as in that game, it led to a Huddersfield goal. I think Elder and McLeod possibly could have done more to stop the cross going in and perhaps Clarke could have blocked the header on the goal line but after a reasonably solid defensive performance to that point I think it was more a case of decent attacking play than any particularly abject defending.

At that point, Smith made an immediate change in replacing Kerschbaumer and McEachran with Saunders and Yennaris. Others will disagree, as both substituted players have had their share of critics, but I don’t think they’d done badly, the change being more one to move from a careful quick passing game to one which involved more pressing and drive. This paid off only a few minutes later as the urgency of both players resulted in a good cross from McLeod which was met with a strong shot from Yennaris for the equaliser. On balance though, Huddersfield had had far more of the play and chances so this wasn’t time to try and hold out for a point with quarter of an hour to play. But it also wasn’t time to step off Huddersfield’s attackers as we did only 90 seconds later in giving Van La Parra far too much freedom to advance into the penalty area. Bentley, who had done decently well in goal so that we didn’t miss Button (who’d had a good debut for Fulham *spit* the day before in keeping a clean sheet against everyone’s favourite for the title, Newcastle), saved at close range but the rebound fell nicely to be tapped in to make it 2-1. On that showing, Bentley is on a par with Button as a shot stopper and much better at kicking out, but much less confident with the short passes or throws out to the defence which have for the last 3 years been the start of most of our play from Button.

Apart from a couple of set pieces which ultimately came to nothing, Brentford didn’t seriously threaten for a second equaliser and had they got one, it would have been a little harsh on Huddersfield who were the sharper team on the day. The quality of their recruitment could be seen by the fact that Scannell, who has been their best player against us each time I’ve seen them, although he played well when he came on as a late substitute, didn’t stand out as being noticeably better than his team-mates. It was interesting however to see McLeod taking free kicks but there being deliberate plays to create doubt whether it would be him or Saunders – this means that we are potentially less predictable from those situations. There was also a slightly odd clearly worked routine involving crowding the Huddersfield goalkeeper ahead of free kicks before running onside for the kick which didn’t work beyond provoking derision from the home fans.

Sawyers looked to have some skill but also a languid style which I suspect could get the fans on his back if not accompanied by goals and assists and wins for the Bees in the near future. As it was, being charitable I’ll say he showed some promise but hadn’t yet acclimatised to the pace and intensity of the game in the Championship compared to League 1. There’s no dishonour in that – two years ago players like Pritchard looked very raw and lightweight in losing against Bournemouth at the beginning of the season. It is important not to read too much into early season games. They are a good time to get some “free” points for clubs which have completed their summer business and pre-seasons bang on schedule but plenty of clubs will take August to click into shape.

The bigger worry was that so far we look a little pedestrian and similar to last season (the last 9 games aside). Lacking the pace and energy of either the injured Judge or a livewire like Canos means that we won’t look so exciting or be able to conjure goals up with pure inspiration (like Canos’s 21 second opener in May) and there were at least some signs that we’re more defensively organised to allow for more patience. However, even if bringing Saunders (who surely can’t still be considered a big part of the team for the whole season) and Yennaris might count as an effective Plan B, there’s clearly no more direct Plan C. Smith brought Hofmann on late but more in hope than expectation. Even though Hofmann seemed fitter and more mobile than last season, there still weren’t any players to run on past him as he needs or any other sign of how he might fit the shape of the team. If there are any more players to join the club before the end of the transfer window, I hope that they are pacy attacking midfielders/wingers. It doesn’t matter if they are raw and need to be introduced sparingly like Canos, but they need to have the pace to contrast with the rest of the team. Otherwise it might be another long hard season in what looks already to be the toughest Championship of the 3 seasons we have seen first hand.

– This is a picture of the food festival outside Huddersfield station. It looked pretty good and quite a few Bees and Huddersfield fans could be seen enjoying it before and after the match but I bet the organisers breathed a big sigh of relief when the fixtures came out that Huddersfield’s first game wasn’t Leeds at home!

Things Can Only Get Bitter

Those few who regularly read my blogs will know I’m not a Labour supporter. So some will be surprised that I spent my Saturday evening at Momentum’s Leeds rally in support of Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader. However, given the clear mismatch between his incredible ability to motivate massive numbers of people to join Labour and both the 16% poll lead the Conservatives have over Labour and the huge number of Labour MPs who oppose him, I was interested to witness at first hand what is going on. I also wanted to see, without the often complained of bias of the mainstream media lens intermediating, what the man who should be being considered as our next Prime Minister if the Opposition is at all effective, is actually like and what he is proposing.

I want in this blog to be as fair as possible to him and his supporters to try and understand things from their perspective – of course there will be (and were) things about which I’ll differ strongly from them. I can’t guarantee I’ll succeed. A surprise perhaps is that there were a lot of things where I didn’t until it came to the proposed solution or the repeated claim that Corbyn’s Labour were the only ones to care about an issue. I think it is a mistake to believe that. While it makes it easier to paint everyone else as an enemy it makes it harder to persuade them you have a better way because it involves thinking they don’t and can’t care and so don’t need to be persuaded. It irks me to be caricatured as wanting to destroy the NHS and education (etc etc etc) when I and everyone I’ve ever met regardless of political allegiance wants no such thing. I accept I’m not brilliant at it at times but at least I can see that to win you need to win round those who don’t already agree with you rather than to call them evil or idiots who’ve been tricked (by dastardly media moguls or whoever) into supporting evil. This makes it too easy for the content of the message to be, as unfortunately it often was, filled with straw men and non-sequiturs.

One thing which is undeniable is that Jeremy Corbyn is incredibly popular with his supporters. The photos I’ve taken don’t quite do justice to the long queue to get in or the numbers in the meeting hall, although as it wasn’t completely full there was a little bit of stage management in keeping a crowd claimed to be a thousand standing outside to be separately addressed by Corbyn and Richard Burgon (Shadow Justice Secretary and Leeds East MP). Other noticeable things in the crowd were how many people seemed to know each other and its lack of diversity. While two of the six on the platform were from minority ethnic backgrounds you’d have struggled to find more than maybe a couple of dozen including me in the audience of perhaps 2,000 if the organisers’ claims are reliable. In a city the size of Leeds, particularly one with large immigrant communities in areas returning massive Labour majorities it was a surprise. There were many more visibly disabled people than members of visible (or audible, at least on the basis of the people I was around or spoke to) ethnic minorities.

As I wasn’t early enough to get a seat I apologise in advance for not having a note of the half of the panel who were not MPs and so I hadn’t heard of them before. Unfortunately that half was also the half which were women- a point made a couple of times by the speakers as a sign of how Labour promoted women, apparently oblivious to the UK having its second female Tory PM or that Burgon and Corbyn weren’t even in the room while the three women speakers gave their speeches (the first a quiet and shy former sabbatical officer for Leeds Beckett Student Union, the second a councillor from Islington who had been helped to secure asylum as a teenager fleeing DR Congo by Corbyn, the third a councillor from Calderdale who had brought a group of supporters along who intermittently started up football style chants). Much longer, louder and shoutier speeches were given by the men. First, Imran Hussein MP (Bradford East), then Burgon and finally Corbyn himself.

There was a curiously “retro” feel to the main themes and policy areas discussed. Unsurprisingly, the NHS and eulogies to 1945 took up a lot of time, with the main thrust being to give it a lot more money and to remove all private interests from it. There was a reference to stopping exploitation by rapacious drugs companies as well as a plea to have the NHS not reject drugs for being too expensive. Corbyn also talked of the need to invest more in mental health and to remove the stigma it carried, apparently oblivious to the “joke” by Ken Livingston about a Labour MP being mentally ill for his criticism of Corbyn. To rapturous applause, Corbyn characterised what he was fighting against as efforts by the Tories to drive so many people into using private medicine as to leave the NHS as just the provider of last resort for those who could not afford to do so. It isn’t a characterisation which seems grounded in reality to me. Were there really a Tory conspiracy to destroy the NHS it would have been dismantled years ago as we’ve had rather a lot of years of Conservative government since 1945.

Apart from the NHS, the biggest cheers came in parts of speeches covering the Miners’ Strike (plus obligatory booing of the name, Thatcher, out of office 26 years now) and opposition to the Iraq War. There seemed to be a genuine belief that there had been a conspiracy by Blairites to try and ensure that Corbyn was not Labour leader when the Chilcot Report was published and to stop him from issuing an apology on behalf of Labour for the war. It seems to be the basis for a slightly logically shaky thesis that “Jeremy was right about Iraq so must now be right about everything, people just haven’t realised it yet”. That point could equally be used to argue for the LibDems who as a Party voted against the Iraq War but who not many people now would say were right about everything even if prior to the 2010 General Election many said “I agree with Nick”. Other cheers were raised for Tony Benn (his son, Hilary being now an unperson not even mentioned, though I hope consulted by the organisers given that the rally was being held in his constituency) and Dennis Skinner.

Boos were mainly for Thatcher and, slightly curiously, Polly Toynbee. Only derision for Corbyn’s challenger, Owen Smith, and for the 172 Labour MPs who’d voted they had no confidence in Corbyn. Another narrative here across a number of the speakers was of the People vs Politicians. I always find this mildly ironic when delivered by professional politicians but apparently Burgon didn’t have any problem with ridiculing “them” with their £75k salaries while himself being an MP and being also one of them. It made a bit more sense in the image used by the Islington councillor from Congo of the country she came from being like a hand, with the little finger ordinary people, ring finger the community, middle finger professionals, index finger business and politicians being the thumb, furthest away from and different to the fingers. I’m not sure it describes the UK so well, at least not when spoken by politicians.

The other two major policy areas orated on were housing – solution, build lots of council houses – and employment law. Banning Zero Hour Contracts , abolishing fees for employment tribunals (a good idea but unclear why free access to employment tribunals so much more important than say increasing criminal and civil legal aid), abolishing Conservative legislation on Trade Unions and extending employment law protections to the self employed (this one I find bizarre – who are the self-employed going to take action against for being exploited, themselves, their customers?). Curiously Corbyn seemed to think someone had at some point made Sir Philip Green a government Minister.

There were also mentions for nationalisation of railways and using public ownership of the banks to direct their activities. Nationalisation generally seemed to be not just about ownership but about political control. In that context, the cheer an audience member got for shouting “nationalise the media” after Corbyn complained about how the media was biased against Labour and should have a duty not just to report what it said and did but to say what Labour was trying to achieve, was worrying. For me, that is asking to give the next Labour government the power to direct the media to report political intentions and aspirations rather than just what it actually does. Yet somehow I’m sceptical that such a government would support the media having a duty to report the intentions of its opposition.

Relatively little was said on the economy more generally other than to say that we had very high unemployment, which got a cheer despite being somewhat contestable, and that John McDonnell (big cheer) was very different to Osborne and Hammond. The EU was not mentioned at all, the nearest thing being a flyer from the Socialist Equality Party about it having advocated abstention from the EU Referendum (which perhaps is what Corbyn really did by having not campaigned with either Cameron or Labour In). It seemed something of an omission given that the practicalities of Brexit, or of resisting Brexit, are likely to be major activities for the government and opposition for some years and ought, in my opinion at least, to be ones which the major Parties take an active role.

 

The nearest Corbyn could come to trying to pitch to anyone who didn’t loudly self-identify as working class was to say that he’d take action to improve their lives by making it so that they didn’t have to see so many people living on the streets. Stopping homelessness is certainly something everyone would like to achieve but it felt a bit odd that that was all he could think of to appeal outside the room.

It was an interesting evening and I think Corbyn will easily be re-elected as leader by Labour’s members but I saw no inclination among either him or his supporters to broaden that conversation out to persuade those who did not already believe everything they believed. Corbyn’s generally weak performances in Prime Minister’s Questions are symptomatic of this unwillingness or inability to engage with opposing views. The football chants and jeers in the rally were proof enough for me that apparent distaste for the yah-boo nature of Parliament and desire for a kinder, gentler politics is a sham. I think he’ll let down a lot of people who seemed nice and decent. Or at least as nice and decent as people who need their leader to tell them not to send abusive messages to people who disagree with them and who cheer when told they don’t look like they’re the ones lobbing bricks at people. Had I mentioned I thought Hilary Benn was a decent guy I think the auditorium would have turned into a scene from a zombie movie as all the undead point at the fresh living human.

Winning the Peace

A week and a half has gone by since the people of the UK voted by a margin of over a million in a referendum to leave the EU. Even though it seems longer as so much has gone on since; the Prime Minister, David Cameron, resigning, a campaign to replace him having seen the former favourite, Boris Johnson pull out after fellow Leave campaigner, Michael Gove stood citing Boris’ unsuitability, and frankly incomprehensible chaos surrounding Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, losing half of his shadow ministers after he sacked his shadow Foreign Secretary, Hilary Benn and finding that more than three quarters of his MPs voted for a motion of no confidence in his leadership.

Now, the real focus is on who will or should replace Cameron as Prime Minister and how they will effect the changes that should flow from the Referendum result. Cameron resigned because, having campaigned for the UK to Remain in the EU, he did not believe he was the right person to negotiate the terms for the UK’s exit. While I think he could have done so, perhaps by appointing prominent Ministers who had campaigned for exit (such as Gove, fellow leadership contender Andrea Leadsom and Boris) to run the negotiations while he and the rest of his ministerial team continued to deliver the domestic programme of government they were elected for barely a year previously, the decision to hand over in the Autumn to a successor makes sense.

The question is, what should the next PM do and who should it be? Many from the Leave campaign insist that the next PM can only be someone who campaigned to leave the EU. In particular, this is to disqualify the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who was a quiet part of the Remain campaign and who has a commanding enough lead on the first round of MPs’ votes to make it near certain that she will be one of the two MPs put to a vote of the entire Party membership.

However, I think this is based on a misunderstanding of where we actually are today and what the Referendum result means. Many on the Leave side have taken the result literally as one of Leave meaning Leave, with the detail being relatively unimportant. That perhaps explains why there was no single unifying answer to the question posed during the campaign of “what would Leave look like?” (an alternative view on this is that Gove and perhaps even Johnson believed that Cameron would be responsible for what came next so they didn’t need to plan for it – oops). From this perspective, the only thing the UK wants is to be out of the EU so all that is needed is a PM who will pull the trigger on the process by notifying the EU under Article 50 TFEU (though what the process actually entails is somewhat controversial and there’s a respectable school of thought that the longer that passes after 24 June 2016 the less likely it is ever to happen). That would then mean that after no more than 2 years, whether a deal has been struck or no, the UK would no longer be a member of the EU. Job Done.

This approach is based upon seeing the campaign to leave as a war which will not be won until the UK is out of the EU. I believe this is a mistake and one which ironically goes against the accompanying reminder that its adherents have that “the people have spoken” by voting 52% to 48% in favour of leaving. It does so by relegating that decision in the Referendum to being the winning of a battle in the war rather than, as I think makes more sense, to see it as the winning of the war itself. The people have  decided, and the opposing general has conceded defeat.

It is therefore better to consider what comes now as the peace process following the war. For any peace process to be successful it needs to take into account the views of everybody, both victor and vanquished. Otherwise it ends in a Treaty of Versailles situation where there remains a tension which could ultimately lead to arms being borne again (hopefully in the present scenario, only metaphorical ones!).

That is why it is not essential that the next PM be someone who was on the Leave side during the “war” of the Referendum but should instead be whoever, whether on the Leave or Remain side, can secure the best and most lasting solution for the most people. Going too far in the direction of one or other extreme – appeasing just the 52% who voted to Leave or doing what the large minority of 48% who voted to Remain won’t do this.

Thankfully, the reality, as I see it, is that while the Referendum had a clear binary split because there were only two options available, people’s views about what they actually wanted covered a much broader spectrum. There will have been very few people who voted to Remain who thought that the UK’s relationship with the EU or indeed the nature of the EU itself were perfect, whether on the basis of what they are now, the relatively limited package of reforms negotiated by David Cameron ahead of the Referendum or some other measure (such as Corbyn’s “campaign” to remain in a social EU which does not exist and is almost entirely inconsistent with the one which does).

Similarly, while there is a sizable proportion of Leave voters who simply do not care to have anything at all to do with the EU and would like to tear up everything the EU ever touched in the UK, I’m not sure they even form a majority of the 52% who voted to Leave. Instead, significant proportions of them would favour retaining the UK’s position of access to the EU’s single market, whether as members of EFTA, the EEA or some other means. Some of those would not be averse even to retaining the free movement of persons which are currently guaranteed by EU membership, provided that it was something which was chosen by the UK government and capable of being changed in the future were there to be a government elected with that aim.

This spectrum of opinion can be seen running from Cameron (who obtained a degree of renegotiation) through May (who had been among the leading critics of the related but separate impact of the ECHR, albeit that one of the first things to go in her leadership bid was a pledge to exit the ECHR) to Leadsom (who only a few years ago argued that leaving the Single Market would be economically disastrous)  and Gove (who argued during the campaign that the best approach would be to have trade with the EU regulated only by WTO rules). Apologies to Stephen Crabb, the other contender for the leadership, who unfortunately seems to have been forgotten in all this by everyone, including me. Fewer apologies to Liam Fox who I don’t think should be running at all because of the circumstances of his resignation as Defence Secretary (we can’t have someone who didn’t see there was anything wrong with having his mate hanging around the Ministry of Defence without any formal role or security clearance as PM). [Since writing these words about Crabb and Fox and going off to give my son his tea (he’s northern), bath and bedtime story, the first round of MP votes has led to Fox being eliminated, Crabb ending his bid and lending his support to May and Leadsom and Gove remaining to fight over who would come second and compete for the votes of Conservative Members – told you events were flying thick and fast!]

The question is now which of these candidates to replace Cameron can best come up with a solution which balances out the requirements of enough of those who voted either way in the Referendum to be acceptable to the highest proportion of the public. And can they also demonstrate that they have the skill , diplomacy (so anyone appointing Farage to any role is immediately debarred in my view) and persuasiveness to ensure that their solution can be accepted by the EU and implemented by Parliament, whether by maintaining complete discipline among Conservative MPs with a small majority or by seeking a new, larger mandate following a General Election.

My hunch is that Theresa May will win on all of these grounds. Both Leadsom and Gove’s pitches on the EU issue have been at the more extreme/pure end of the spectrum, Leadsom having gained the probably unhelpful endorsement of many connected with UKIP (who won’t have a vote) and Gove taking his typically idealistic/intellectual stance which makes compromise more difficult. Each would therefore find it more difficult to stay true to their stated position while being palatable to enough of those who favoured milder forms of exit or would have preferred not to leave. Gove also has the handicap of being (somewhat unfairly, in my opinion) a totem of unpopularity outside the Tory Party for his largely successful battle against the education policy establishment as Education Secretary as well as having generated a degree of resentment within the Party for his ruthless destruction of Boris Johnson’s bid for the leadership. May on the other hand is clearly tough enough (described today approvingly by Ken Clarke in an off air moment captured by Sky News as “a difficult woman”) to be able to do the job without being obviously too much for either Remain or Leave.

The other consideration that comes in here is that the whole process must be done while continuing with the everyday work of government and working towards being capable of winning the next General Election. There’s no point for any Conservative to choose a quick, painful and unpopular Brexit which would ultimately lead to the worst of all worlds consequence of electoral defeat to an opposition which had suddenly been given a whole load of new powers to reverse what the governments of the past nearly 40 years have done. At the moment the threat of serious electoral challenge seems dim given the civil war seemingly about to take off within Labour, but I’d prefer not to rely on that (and as Cameron put it in PM’s Questions last week, it’s not in the interests of the country even if it is in the interests of the Conservatives – for heaven’s sake, man, go!). What about UKIP? Well, I think that Nigel Farage has by resigning its leadership agreed with me that the war is won and should only be re-entered in the event of “betrayal” by the government. Under new leadership it can decide whether it would like to pivot to make a concerted push to build on its gains of support from disaffected Labour voters in the North and Midlands who’d never consider voting Conservative.

Most people are almost certainly very close to being sick and tired of the whole topic so it would have to be a very clear and egregious betrayal to make it worth restarting hostilities. Reasoned practical delays probably won’t get the blood of activists pumping while the stated government intention is to exit (eg to pass legislation, to formulate a detailed plan for what we’d like post-EU Britain to be like, to focus on any short term economic shocks, to put Brexit on hold if the EU starts a more general Treaty change process, perhaps even to wait for the outcome of next year’s elections in France & Germany to make the negotiating environment more stable over the 2 year process, etc…).