How can Conservatives be appalled by greed of European Super League, but think it's good in economics? – Joyce McMillan

In the often grim landscape of 21st century current affairs, this week’s great Super League row offered some welcome comic relief; at least for those of us who are not passionate fans, and were therefore able to take the Super League threat relatively lightly.

The main source of comedy, of course, arose from the Prime Minister’s pronouncements on the subject, which showed a resistance to the normal operations of human greed and market advantage not seen in Tory ranks since the early 1960s.

Devastation of entire communities and their way of life, as with the collapse of British heavy industry in the 1980s? Absolutely no problem. Tweaking a labour market so that millions have to live with the pain of chronic economic security and low pay? Sorry chaps, just the way the cookie crumbles. Climate breakdown? Worrying, but ask us later.

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Football though – ah well, that was clearly another matter, as politicians, commentators and even Prince William sounded off against greedy cartels, and about how the Super League represented an assault on the founding values of the world’s greatest game.

Everyone was acutely aware of how such a move could affect the entire ecosystem of football, destroying the seeds of future achievement; and within days, the project had been binned, to loud cheers from fans across Europe.

It’s possible, of course, to speculate about the reasons behind this particular festival of double standards; it clearly had a gendered aspect, since football fandom still remains a predominantly male affair.

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In the end, though, the story seems to boil down to this: that since football is “just a game”, we can act collectively to protect the values and structures that may just give it some kind of viable, enjoyable future; but when it comes to the real world – well then, the iron values of greed, growth and economic development must be allowed to have their way, no matter how horrifying the human consequences.

Thousands of Chelsea fans took to the streets outside the club in London to protest against the short-lived Super League plan (Picture: Adrian Dennis/Getty Images)

Forty-six years on from the coming of Margaret Thatcher as Conservative leader, in other words, we still stand helpless in the grip of a flawed and often downright wrong-headed ideology which claims that human beings are driven primarily by individual self-interest, and that if the greed and self-interest of each is allowed free rein, it will eventually be to the benefit of all.

It was untrue then, it is untrue now; yet its continuing dominance leaves us in the hands of a ruling alliance of wealth and privilege that operates on exactly the same principles, and with exactly the same lack of care for the long-term future, as those who proposed the Super League.

And this, in the end, is where the double standards shown in relation to the Super League affair collide with the issue of sleaze, which has been sharing this week’s headlines.

Many commentators and political journalists are agog to know why sleaze scandals that might once have brought down governments now have no impact; their most common explanation involves the pandemic, and people’s wish to put their trust in authority in a time of crisis.

Yet the principal reason surely lies in the fact that, in terms of moral probity, expectations of the Johnson government are already so low, by definition.

Those who voted Conservative in 2019 cannot have done so because they wanted a leadership that was truthful, or wedded to high standards of integrity; they did so because they were willing to buy the big lie that Brexit was a good idea, and because, after 40 years of relentless propaganda about the value of greed and the uselessness and impracticality of virtue, they felt more at ease with a Prime Minister who continually lives down to those low ethical expectations, and with a government that will not challenge him.

So what is to be done? Well, political theory has never been a big player in British politics, at any overt level. Yet there is some evidence that the public’s tolerance not only of political policies based on the privileging of selfishness and greed, but also, increasingly, of sociopathic levels of personal selfishness and greed among many of those wielding power across society, is reaching dangerous levels, in rendering us powerless to deal with real social evils, including profound economic and social inequality, and the threat of climate collapse.

Some people propose quick remedies, of course; and it is certainly the case that if Scotland became independent, and could convene around a reasonably progressive programme for its first years of independence, then there would be a chance of something like a fresh start north of the Border.

Yet it seems to me that even that fresh start will be precarious, if it is not founded on a much more robust ideological base than mere distaste for Johnson and his associates. Elements of that new ideology are visible everywhere in our society, of course – in kitchen table conversations, in the discourse of green groups and their campaigns, in the internal conversations of every opposition party, and in dozens of books published every month about the values and attitudes that might help make human survival possible, in this crisis century.

What we still lack, though – certainly at UK level, and to some extent in Scotland too – is a mainstream electoral option that unapologetically articulates a categorically different view of humanity from that of the neoliberals who have controlled our world for so long.

And we need that new vision not only because those old ideas are wrong, reductive and depressing in themselves; but because, as the fate of some of our Nordic neighbours shows, a more generous and well-integrated view of humanity produces far better and more sustainable policy, and helps to build the resilience and self-confidence we will need, in the hard times to come.

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