Gordon Brown should take heart from the 2009 Ashes
It seems impossible but I suppose some of you must have missed our nation’s most spectacular victory in the summer. The cataclysmic feat of the England Test team winging, fudging and generally failing their way towards the Ashes urn has to rank as one of the most improbable outcomes ever to spring forth from a sporting field.
And, never one to miss a tenuous link if I can help it, I think our performance with bat and ball this summer, one day disasters excluded, effervesces with possible wider political significances.
The 2009 Ashes series quite simply whinnied of ‘Brownite Britain’. The first test in Cardiff was saved only by the dogged determination of that carroty wonder, Paul Collingwood, aided by the forward defensives of Monty Panesar and James Anderson. Forget the set pieces of Pietersen and Flintoff, this test was composed of tough northern grit and a rough, trying-one’s-utmost stolidity.
Test two allowed a brief re-emergence of the wagon wheel of wonders the 2005 Ashes series did so well, before test three saw the skies decant their tears and both sides had to settle for a draw.
The fourth test, however, was something special. Never ones to just peter out with an ignominious pant, the England cricket team have always preferred imploding with a bit of pizzazz. In the batsmen trundled, earnest and eager in their determination to fail like no others. During those 33.5 overs the feat was duly achieved and with only 105 runs on the board Australia kangarooed to victory.
Now to the decider; test five. Things seemed to be skimming along in pretty routine fashion until Australia came into bat. This was the underdog story, the true Brownite, just-you-wait-and-see sort of mentality. In pranced the boyish blondeness of Stuart Broad, a man who Ian Botham had hailed down a brace of curses upon only days before, and cracked through the weary Australia batting line up.
Athers and his cohorts in the Sky commentary box did not quite dare believe it; Mark Nicholls at Channel Five nearly tore every last glistening lock from his much-loved mullet. In slow, steady fashion England put some more runs on the board and then gently overturned the Aussie’s again for a fourth-inning total of 348 before bobbing around slightly shell-shocked as they realized they had in fact regained the Ashes.
Now to the state-of-the-nation link. If you are a fresher new to the hallowed pages of this newspaper and wonder how such verbal effluvia can possibly connect with the cut-and-thrust of political debate, then two things. Firstly, may I impart a brotherly hi-and-how-are-you and wish you many years of angst-free habitation in this chilly underside of the North. And, secondly, allow me to demonstrate some of the logical and intellectual treats that only years of rigorous coffee drinking at a university such as ours can teach you.
You see the 2005 Ashes was pure ‘Blairite Britain’. It was fast, pacy, and pumped full of glamorous lads who were as much at ease talking about their tastes in interior design as they were debating the merits of the unorthodox off-drive. Blair didn’t implode or erupt in the same way as Brown. All political vicissitudes seemed to be masked by that cheetah-wide grin, scotched by his unwavering self-belief and inability to concede defeat.
Tony Blair was the Andrew Flintoff of the political scene. Both shinned up various greasy poles with an impish smile and matey way before departing before the full glare of camera flashes. Historically they both fell short of greatness or even goodness. They had their strengths but various things, Iraq in Blair’s case, or bibulous blokeyness on Flintoff’s part. precluded achieving the absolute top.
Tellingly, the spirit of the age was seen in the celebrations. When England won in 2005 the party was enormous, much like the 1997 election. It harked back to ‘Cool Britannia’, leather-panted Spice Girls and the general bacchanalia of the late nineties and early noughties. OBEs were distributed like Kleenex.
This time round things were more sober. Andrew Strauss, Stuart Broad and Jonathan Trott proved themselves emblems of the tap water, recession Britain. Not ones prone to overflows of conviviality, they are dedicated to their craft, striving to do better. In the post-Ashes fervour of 2005 the England team failed to push on, to live up to expectations, much as Blair did post-1997. This year, however, expectations were low, the previous track record offered little hope but yet somehow England battled through and came out triumphant.
So the concluding essay question is this: was the Ashes victory prophetic? Though the spark and splendour of Flintoff/Blair might still drown out the more purposeful efforts of their successors, could Brown cling on in May 2010 and see himself unexpectedly gaining the keys to a second term? Might Cameron be the Ricky Ponting of British politics, imagining he is assured of victory only to have it prized out of his hands at the last minute?
Unlikely as it seems, I wouldn’t fully count against it.