This is intended to be a brief-ish post before I offer thoughts on the UK Labour Party’s leadership battle, which will be the subject of a forthcoming post. The Labour Party is currently plunged in existential angst, as the party debates how and in what sense it should be “pro-business”. It’s a loaded word in political discourse, hence the frequent need for quotation marks. A notable aspect of the UK general election campaign earlier this year concerned then Labour leader Ed Miliband’s attitude to business. Apparently Ed wasn’t “pro-business” as defined by his opponents in the Conservative Party, his enemies in the media, and his critics in the business community. But hardly anybody disputes the importance of wealth creation in order to for prosperity and opportunity to be available to a nation’s citizenry, and it is usually disingenuous to allege that some people do. However, one of the key issues in politics is how best to create that wealth, and how that wealth is distributed among the population.
I’m admittedly very late to the punch with this post, but it’s on a topic that I feel merits a few comments. To begin, my prevailing conviction about the world is that it tends to spin forward. However, reflecting on the life and career of the legendary Omar Sharif, who has recently died, it would appear that in some fields mankind can sometimes regress. The world can often feel like a fragile place today, but the politics of the 1960s had tensions of their own. Sharif hailed from a country, Egypt, whose Arab nationalist leader was despised and demonised by the West. He also converted to Islam in order to marry Faten Hamama, his co-star in numerous Egyptian films from the 1950s. And yet that did not obstruct his great career.
Golf has a reputation these days for being an establishment sport, but whenever the Open Championship is being played at the home of golf, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, I like to remind myself it wasn’t always a pastime celebrated by the authorities. Golf (along with football) was outlawed by the Scottish Acts of Parliament enacted in 1457, with the order that “ye golf be uterly cryt done and not usyt”. The ban was introduced because the widespread popularity of golf and football were detracting from the more militarily useful pursuit of archery. That it was repeated in 1471 and 1491 is taken as an indication that the legislation wasn’t terribly successful. Besides, the game was also popular with the Scottish elite, including King James IV, who himself overturned the ban.
In the game of geopolitics, choosing one ally will often require spurning another. For large, powerful countries with global reach, that tends to involve compromises and trade-offs that can gradually engender deep complexity and even lead to contradictory courses of action being taken. For the United States, handling knotty diplomacy has often proved beyond its ken, whether out of hubris, lack of foresight, ideological straitjacketing, or because it has become embroiled in situations that defy resolution. And of course there are always elements in American politics that prefer to spurn diplomacy in favour of aggression, who would only deign to talk to enemies to discuss their unconditional surrender. The military industrial complex is a real and large presence. But the limits to American power have been amply demonstrated by its failures in the Middle East over the last fifteen years, a point acknowledged by enough cool heads in Washington for the time being. The US will have to act with greater finesse in the coming decades in this region, because it has overseen a calamitous chain of events it can ill afford to see perpetuated. Part of the problem has been the friends they have chosen to keep.
Cycling, it seems, is the sport that won’t die. That isn’t to imply that it is a zombie among sports, a weird pastime reserved for eccentric enthusiasts, the sporting equivalent of a character in a George Romero film. It won’t die because it transcends the familiar human failings that would have killed off lesser pursuits. It’s not Teflon coated, but it is in some nebulous way apparently scandal proof. Otherwise, how could it possibly retain public interest after the myriad scandals that have rocked the sport in recent decades. Their cumulative effect hasn’t even prevented the professional sport increasing its global footprint. Outside its European strongholds, there are top-level events in places as far flung as California, Australia and Oman. Recreationally, cycling is thriving as never before.