The glamorous Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, recently lost some of his dreamy glow after a recent altercation in parliament during a contentious vote. This incident occurred during a vote on doctor-assisted suicide legislation on May 18, and this writer has been reflecting since on the ways in which politics mirrors other aspects of life. It is no longer remarkable to invoke Joan Didion’s famous observation that politics is a subset or even lesser branch of show business, certainly when America has allowed itself to sink into dumb fascination with the appalling Donald Trump during this election cycle, to the benefit of no one other than Mr Tangerine Man himself. There is, however, another area of contemporary show business that “Elbowgate” reminded me of, and that is soap opera side of football.
Let us picture the scene in Ottawa. The Prime Minister is eager to convene a vote, and observes members of the opposition New Democrat Party and other parties blocking the aisle. Impeded by this dawdling was Conservative whip Gord Brown, who needed to return to his seat in order for parliament to begin the procedural vote. Blatant timewasting to prevent the vote from taking place, no? Trudeau barged into this group, uttering choice words, and grabbed Brown by the arm in order to drag him through the human barrier. As he did so, he inadvertently elbowed New Democrat Party member Ellen Brosseau. Plainly it was an accident, as the footage demonstrates, but when did that stop anybody from trying to make political capital out of a rival’s embarrassment? Trudeau duly found himself accused of “manhandling” the female legislator who wasn’t actually in his line of vision at the moment of contact.
How to place this event in context, then? It was right that Trudeau should have encountered some criticism losing his temper and barging his way about. But one still can’t help drawing some facile parallels with noteworthy events in football over the years. The stalling tactics deployed by the opposition MPs called to mind the timewasting by a Swansea City ball boy during a League Cup semi-final in 2013. Chelsea’s Eden Hazard was so incensed by Charlie Morgan flopping on a ball that had gone out of play and refusing to give it back that he tried to kick the ball out from under Morgan’s prone body, catching him in the ribs in the process. While Hazard took some heat for his actions, plenty of people felt the kid had it coming.
And while we should never, ever make light of violence against women, one couldn’t help but feel that there just might have been some “simulation” associated with Brosseau’s apparent need to leave the chamber following the clash. Feigning injury is a practice fully embedded in modern football, and there are any number of players one could cite here. However, the most apt comparison could be the infamous occasion when Sheffield Wednesday’s Paolo Di Canio pushed over referee Paul Alcock in 1998. Alcock probably didn’t dive, as Di Canio alleged, but it still looked like he took a fairly gentle tumble to the ground. Di Canio might have deserved to have the book thrown at him, but Alcock’s claims to be feeling aftereffects for weeks subsequent to the shove left one taking a more sceptical and ambiguous view of the incident.
Trudeau’s reputation has taken a bit of a knock following the skirmish, and it seems unlikely that he will be treated to the fawning coverage he had been enjoying since winning at the last general election. But let’s not get fixated on the personality. As Tony Benn used to insist, it was “issues not personalities” that mattered in politics, and Trudeau’s election meant there was one less mean spirited conservative occupying the highest office of state somewhere in the world. Let’s agree he needs to work on his personal style when the going is tough and let him get on with governing. To fixate on episodes like this is to indulge the petty point scoring side of politics, where interpretation is guided by tribal affiliation. Of course, that is the way in which politics and football most resemble each other.