Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Prudence is a progressive cause

News24 is currently dribbling on about Gordon Brown's last budget as chancellor, so I've switched over to the cricket, since the ways budgets are reported are as boring as they are banal. Strikes me on first reading as an incongruous mix of regressive and progressive with - as is Brown's wont - his main priorities being to chuck a few juicy bones to the high earners in the city.

Many epithets have clung to Brown over the years, a bafflling number of them undeserved (such as the idea that he is significantly to the left of Blair), but "prudence" is another. The cheerleader for the high-mortgage madness that is PFI, the provider of a blank cheque for war, the man who's presided over a high-personal-debt economy still gets hailed as "prudent".

And the left should be attacking him, and prevailing rightwing economic orthodoxy in general, on the issue of prudence far more than it does. We're as well placed as ever to call in turbo-capitalism's failure to manage finances sustainably. It's time to turn the well-worn accusation of the right that socialism can't balance the books on itself.

Funnily enough it's football - one of the most short-termist, money-grasping, ineptly run industries around - that's taught me this. Having been involved in, and written about, supporter activism and the politics of the game, one of the most recurring themes is just how unsustainable is the model of management that's run riot in our national sport over the past 15 years. Money swills around at the top, the competition becomes farcically unequal, prices skyrocket, and clubs plummet into debt. For the small clubs, this means frequent flirtations with bankruptcy as their own running costs, dragged up from the top, exceed income; for the top clubs it increasingly means murky embraces with third-party investors, private equity (as at Manchester United and Liverpool), and the alienating process, for fans, of seeing the distance between themselves and their clubs grow more and more remote. And others have spent themselves senseless in chasing a fraudulent dream (such as Leeds United) It doesn't work.

The game, beneath its shiny veneer, is warped, decadent and quasi-corrupt. Its unregulated, unaccountable turbo-capitalism is incapable of balancing the books. And increasingly the arguments of supporters groups and other progressive campaigns rest around this fact. We're the ones arguing for prudence, for democratic community control of clubs, for published accounts to be open to full scrutiny, for a different more sustainable model. And out in the real world, we should be doing this too - over privatisation, PFI, the costly and wasteful use of private consultants in the public sector, haranguing the Brownites and Blairites for their waste of OUR money. If this sounds like the sort of language monopolised by rent-a-rant columnists to slag off the "PC brigade" or whatever, then it's time to drown it out by pointing out that the real wasters, the real piss-takers, the real profligates aren't those who argue for decent wages for public sector and other low-paid workers but the people much higher up. Prudence is a progressive cause.

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