Wednesday, July 24, 2013

London Calling?

The big news last weekend for fans of Irish football (not to be confused with American or Canadian or even Australian football or, for that matter, soccer) was that on Sunday Monaghan beat Donegal for the Ulster provincial championship.

Less surprisingly, on the same day Mayo clinched the Connacht championship by defeating London. London? Yes, that London. The capital of Great Britain.

So how did London wind up in the playoffs for an Irish province that encompasses the western portion of the Emerald Isle? I haven’t a clue. It’s all too complicated for me. Everything about Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) sports confuses me. For example, when you look at the final score of a match, you need a calculator to figure out who won. Case in point: Mayo vanquished London by a score of 5-11 to 0-10. Good luck working out the point spread there. (For the record, the numbers before the hyphens denote goals, which are each worth three points, so Mayo had an effective 16-point margin over the team referred to by sports writers here as the Exiles.)

In actual fact, it is not strange that there is a GAA football club in London. There are GAA clubs wherever there are significant numbers of Irish lads physically capable of kicking or tossing a ball, which is to say, all over the world. When my brother-in-law lived in California, he played for a GAA club called St. Joseph’s, after its home city of San Jose.

I’m not going to pretend to be a sports fan, but there was one aspect of the Mayo-London match that intrigued me. Once it became clear that Mayo’s championship opponent would not be Galway or Roscommon or some other county that is actually geographically located in Connacht but, rather, London, a kind of groundswell began agitating to get the mayor of London to attend the match in Mayo’s largest town, Castlebar. There was an online campaign, and Castlebar’s mayor set to work organizing a formal invitation to him via GAA bigwigs. #GetBorisToCastlebar began tending on Twitter. In the end, though, the London mayor issued a statement of support for the London GAA team but said that he would be unable to attend the match.

Why would Mayo football fans care whether the mayor of London traveled for a match in Castlebar? As with so many things, I have no clue. As far as I know, the London mayor doesn’t have any particular personal Irish connection. But he does seem to be popular in Britain. Still, it’s not really common for an English politician to be popular in Ireland—especially one who is a member of the Conservative Party.

But Johnson is not your typical Tory. Last month there was an interesting article about him and how his politics resonate with the generation currently coming of age in Britain in The Economist. The headline was “Politics and the young: Generation Boris.”

For me, the most interesting thing about the article was how it illustrated how totally useless political labels have become. As profiled by the long-running British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, the young British generation is extremely liberal, but not exactly in the contemporary sense of the word. Instead, the young seem to have instinctively embraced the original meaning of liberalism. In other words, they have “tolerance for social and cultural difference” and “are more relaxed than others about drugs, sex, alcohol, euthanasia and non-traditional family structures.”

But the article continues, “Young Britons are classical liberals [my emphasis]: as well as prizing social freedom, they believe in low taxes, limited welfare and personal responsibility. In America they would be called libertarians.” A pollster named Ben Page is quoted as saying, “Every successive generation is less collectivist than the last.”

The writer concludes by describing how he spoke to young people of varying backgrounds, regions and levels of political engagement and asked if there were any politicians that appealed to them. “The reaction was strikingly uniform,” he writes, “silence, then contemplation, then a one-word answer—‘Boris’—before a flood of agreement: ‘Oh yeah, I’d vote for Boris Johnson.’ The chaotic, colourful mayor of London, a rare politician who transcends his Tory identity by melding social and economic liberalism, appears to have Britain’s libertarian youth in the bag. The 2020 election beckons.”

Forecasting how any group of 18 and 19-year-olds will vote seven years hence—no matter how many surveys and interviews have been conducted—is a dicey business. And Boris’s (people tend to want to refer to him by his first name) popularity seems to have as much to do with his personality as his politics. I won’t be running down to Paddy Power to lay down any money on the 2020 UK elections just yet.

What is much more interesting to me is the idea that there may be a generation coming up that actually gets back to the original spirit of liberalism, which was always about restricting government power and upholding personal liberty. How did we get to the point where a “liberal” is understood to be someone who wants high taxes and more government involvement in your life?

No comments:

Post a Comment