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Labour needs more of the winning mentality

Posted on 9 November 2009 | 10:11am

Out to another Labour fundraiser last night, this one for my local constituency, Holborn and St Pancras. And not for the first time I found myself extolling the virtues of sport as an inspiration for politics.

Eg – ‘show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser’ (John McEnroe). I also drew attention to Alex Ferguson’s aftermatch interview in the wake of yesterday’s defeat at Chelsea.

The interviewer suggested to the Manchester United manager that despite losing (to a goal scored from a free kick that should never have been given) he could take satisfaction from the fact that his team played so well. Fergie’s look said it all. ‘What planet are you on, man?’ His words were a little more polite, but they made the same point – er, we lost, so no, it was not one of our best performances.

I also made the point that in sport, if you go out onto the pitch wondering how you are going to handle defeat, or whether you will get dropped from the team in the event of that defeat, then you’ve lost already.

So definitely lessons for politics there. Too many Labour people are talking and behaving as though the game is over, when whatever the polls and the media say, it is not.

Because everywhere you go, you get the same message – that whatever problems people may have with Labour, they are not rushing to embrace the Tories.

I gave my usual recipe for a political campaign – defend the record, attack your opponents and win the arguments on the forward policy agenda. On all three, Labour are stronger than the Tories, provided the party from top to bottom gets out on the pitch and plays like they think they can win.

Manchester United are now five points behind Chelsea in the Premier League. But does anyone think for one second that Fergie or his players woke up this morning thinking that the title is lost? No, they didn’t. And nor should Labour think the election is lost, because doubts about the Tories are growing, just at the time they ought to be thinking about sealing the deal.

  • jenifer


    Of course all is not lost for Labour. Your lunatic friend has just decided to tear up the agreement for sorting out the MPs expenses fiasco. The Home Secretary has just noticed that rather too many people have entered the UK under Labour’s watch. Just a coincidence that BNP have just appeared on Question Time I suppose.
    Education, Education Education was the mantra when Labour took power. What is this we hear about the number of pupils getting GCSEs in Maths and English? Did someone say 10% in some areas? If we added Science and a language to the mix, how many would get those five good GCSEs?

  • Richard

    I suppose one major difference would be that William Hill are currently offering 10/3 on Manchester United winning the Premiership whereas they will give you 14/1 on Labour having a majority following a General Election.

    Another would be that Manchester United would not be afraid of getting rid of a player if he was not performing and damaging the team’s chances.

  • Malcolm Harris

    Fergie is backing Willie Bain in the Glasgow by-election. Big piece in the Record the other day. And a bad poll for the SNP today. Felt for him yesterday, like you say a great tackle by Fletcher and never a free kick, but he knows sometimes you can play well and not win. Agree the party needs more fight, but like you I still think the Tories can be beaten

  • Harry Lander

    Fergie-Mcenroe dream ticket. I’d vote for that

  • Steve Kingman

    I’m assuming on the same basis you have not given up on Burnley making Europe next year? Enjoyed your pisstake of Man City on the footballfanhouse blog.

  • Peter Farley

    You might as well add Tiger Woods to the list of petulant, arrogant and bad losers that Ferguson and McEnroe also represent. They are probably all good role models for a Labour party that already shows complete disdain and contempt towards both its electorate and the public at large. All of them are so infatuated by their own sense of self-superiority that they progressively become more and more remote from their roots. None of them have an ability to smile and demonstrate how fortunate all of them are to be in their position in the first place. A dose of humility and magnanimity would go a long way…. They are bad losers and bad winners as well. Give me a Nicklaus, Wilkinson or Button any day as role models in sporting success and moral authority, the combination of which none of your examples – particular Brown – can even come close to emulating.

  • olli issakainen

    Owen Coyle has said that Burnley FC won´t give up their Premier League status without a fight. So why should Labour give the keys to Downing Street to DC without a fight?

  • Trickie Dickie

    For any team to hope to take on a rival of equal or near ability the team must field its best players and they must all be up for the fight. Sadly I get the impression that the front bench for Labour are too busy looking for an after politics career. I feel Harriet Harman is just about the worst team player I have ever seen…off message and never once given a good solid speech on Labour policy, too PC and too women centric. The rest are almost invisible prefering to let their captain take all the hits (mostly below the belt). Where have the big hitters gone…..Milliband brothers seem to be more focused with positioning for party leadership in the next cycle. The conference this year was poor and lacked any fight.
    Party activists are leaving in their droves not because they are scared of the fight or fear Conservative policies, but because they feel they are being led by Donkeys. The Lions are off to find a new hunting ground some never to return I fear. GB has many strong talents and is a real power on the world stage…..however he is not the goalkeeper, right back, center half, striker and Physio all the the same time…. time for the rest of the team to start pulling in the collar.

  • Theo Blackwell

    Thanks for coming along last night Alastair.

    I was going to observe that one of the reasons behind Obama’s win was the ‘momentum factor’, he looked like he was going to win while the other guy didn’t. This thought was perpetuated via his advisers in the media (whilst warning against complacency) in a similar way to what Cameron’s people are doing now. This surely means that our guy is seen through a particular prism most of the time (i.e. where mistakes are amplified and successes diminished).

    I think first off the ‘Tories think they have it in the bag so much they aren’t even bothering to articulate policy on the important issues’ message needs to be set out loud and clear…

  • Salmondnet

    Ahh. So after their inevitable and richly deserved defeat Labour will be bad losers. Hence the scorched earth policies. No surprises then.

  • Em

    What are you on about Campbell?

    I, for one, am not losing sleep over this knowing GB wrestled an alligator. He has wrestled and alligator, he’s tusled with a whale, handcuffed lightning and threw thunder in jail. Last week, Gord murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalised a brick, he’s so mean he makes medicine sick.

    Us and the Tories, we’re gonna get on because we don’t get along. We don’t like David. He talks too much.

    Let’s face it: we’re fast, we’re young, we’re pretty and can’t possibly be beaten.

  • Marion

    Who the hell stands for election for the pat on the back and lollipop for taking part? …the people who complain the UK is becoming a nanny state, perhaps.

    Just heard GB being criticised on SkyNews for sending a handwritten letter of condolence. What a lovely thing for the guy who is (rather busy) running the country to find time to do.

  • Wyrdtimes

    It’s heart warming to see you making yet another post on this subject. Labour may have their heads in the sand on many issues but on this subject Labour MPs know they’re headed for humiliating defeat.

    Good. It’s a shame that the Tories will gain power but even that is better than another day of treacherous, incompetent Labour.

  • Andy

    Couldn’t agree more.

  • Simon

    To stick with the sporting analogy, it’s all about the team captain.

  • Charlie

    @AC “I gave my usual recipe for a political campaign – defend the record, attack your opponents and win the arguments on the forward policy agenda. On all three, Labour are stronger than the Tories”

    @Sir AF’s look:” ‘What planet are you on, man?’

  • Kiri

    Good point, well made. I’m sure at some stage Fergie has said something along the lines of winning being a habit? Maybe I’m thinking of someone else, but it starts with a positive mental attitude. Labour needs to shout about its successes.

  • Alan Quinn

    Cameron would take any team out of european competition and sign a load of Polish and Latvian right wingers.

  • Trevor Malcolm Portsmouth Hampshire

    Steady on, there, Em: your comment below, at 17:53, may be a good time to chill out by the Lake abit. Fresh air in those lungs, and only a mere five minute walk for you to Lake Ontario, perfect

    First, here in England, it’s MR Campbell, geddit? Sign of respect, see? Gosh, you really do sound like quite a harsh, harsh, task-mistress, hell-bent on getting results, regardless. You sound just the ticket, the tonic we all need, here. When are you visiting the UK, did you say?

    Even those like me, who invariably agree with the sentiments you express ” … on blog … ” must relish in wonder at your command of the written word. At times, spell-binding

    Makes me feel much, much better, just reading what you write. Damned spirited, I’d say, your stuff

    For example, below you mention, “we’re fast, we’re young”, (what, still? At our age?! By gum, thank you, ma’am. We don’t normally receive compliments that fulsome at OUR age)

    AND – get this, lads – ” … we’re pretty … ” Uh, we ARE? Are they not able to publish the mugshots, er sorry, FaceBook Profile photographs alongside comments in Cananda, then?

    England cannot thank you enough, Em. Your flowing prose is almost as motivating as Mr Campbell’s

    The pair of you, would’ve been an absolute whizz at Dunkirk and done us all proud, thank you both, sincerely

    Trevor Malcolm



  • Xavier Attwell

    Reading your book at the moment brilliant read if only you could return to government and give brown a helping hand in his terrible media communication skills. I used a similar argument to yours when debating with fellow student about the next election most students I talk to at university agree with Labour values but say the won’t vote for them. I then ask them why and the recurrent answer is Brown needs a rest and the Labour party have been too long in power. I then reply look at Alex Ferguson or Arsene Wenger they have been managers at their clubs for a long period, should they be sacked simply because they have been there for a long time?
    Ps: I think this blog you’ve written should be sent to all cabinet ministers.

  • Old Slaughter

    Yes Alastair, but Labour are not in the equivalent position of being a mere five points behind with only a third of the season underway.

    Labour are facing relegation with no games in hand.

    Whilst you use sport for inspiration, did the concept of ‘the spirit of the game’ ever cross your mind? You know that old-fashioned idea that by observing the rules and SPIRIT of the contest the best results for the audience are found. You seem to have taken the notions of diving, arguing with the ref and breaking transfer protocols and used them as inspiration for your political escapades. Like football you have lowered the image and the value of the undertaking. The benefits of a fair competition have been lost but you got your winners medal.

    I wonder if being part of the most unsuccessful and yet most heavily governed Lions tour in modern times was a good sporting inspiration for you.