I was listening to LBC this morning when I heard cult broadcaster James O’Brien go on another Brexit rant. He’s like a broken record. I don’t blame him, as political passions are obviously running very high at the moment, but at least it got me thinking.
The first thing I thought was “oh shit, I bet I sound just like this bloke when I go on about The Hundred”. Sometimes it’s hard to be objective when you’re so fired up about stuff. The blood boils, one’s heart rate increases, and suddenly you’re calling someone you’ve never met a corrupt bastard.
My second thought was “I don’t necessarily agree with this bloke but at least he’s making an attempt to analyse Brexit and explain why it’s happening”. In other words, he was trying to put his finger on exactly what caused this political crisis rather than just having a moan.
I find James O’Brien fascinating because he’s a really intelligent and highly articulate guy. His mind operates in a quirky way and I love how his polemics are basically just a stream of consciousness that lays his marmite personality bare. I have no doubt that he’s 100% genuine. He’s always interesting to listen to whether you like him or not.
However, I believe his credibility is somewhat undermined by his extremely simplistic interpretation of Brexit. I don’t listen to him every day, so I apologise if I’ve got the wrong impression, but he frequently argues that Leave is nothing more than a billionaires conspiracy. He paints a picture of Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees Mogg scheming behind doors in darkened rooms, deliberately telling porkies to advance their own wealth, and then high-fiving each other when the naive public falls for their malevolent ‘con’.
What’s more, angry James seems to argue that the architects of this con know damn well it’s a con but they simply don’t care – presumably because they’re the spawn of Beelzebub, are bereft of moral fibre, have no conscience, eat babies, and lack the ability to emphasise with anyone other than their hedge funds.
If you’re angry about Brexit this narrative is highly seductive. But in reality it’s a simplistic and immature playground conspiracy theory. Even if one subscribes to the view that political Brexiteers are motivated by greed, it’s ludicrous to ignore all other factors such as a person’s ideology, Weltanschauung (or worldview), sense of national pride, or their political ambitions and tribal loyalties. According to James O’Brien we can forget all that. His explains everything in terms of “they’re just conmen running a con”.
I dislike this perspective because it’s lazy. There’s no room for politicians simply being wrong, or simply cocking things up, or even politicians simply being like everyone else in believing what they want to believe. Instead everything is reduced to personal attacks on the integrity of those you disagree with. Whatever your political leanings I think we can all agree that such an approach is hardly constructive.
And then it struck me.
Maybe my own blog (which has been extremely critical of the ECB at times) occasionally comes across like James O’Brien having a tantrum about Brexit. Some of the comments I’ve seen on social media certainly do. They give the impression that the county championship is being marginalised and the The Hundred is being introduced simply because the ECB are a bunch of evil bastards. I think we can all do better than this.
A few years ago I did a PhD on critiques of US imperialism and turned my thesis into a book. I’ll quickly try to condense one hundred thousand words into three short paragraphs. And I promise there’s a point to this (!)
Until about 1960 the vast majority of American scholars argued that the United States was a philanthropic nation that only got involved in foreign matters to spread peace and democracy around the world. The Cold War was therefore portrayed as a valiant and selfless attempt to curb the evil and expansionist Soviet Union. This interpretation was obviously a little rose tinted.
Everything changed, however, during the Vietnam War. Suddenly intellectuals on the Left began to portray US interests overseas (which the US occasionally intervened to protect and enhance) as a new breed of imperialism. Orthodox observer recoiled in horror and many of these revisionists were treated like pariahs and investigated by Joseph McCarthy’s acolytes. In time, however, some of their arguments became accepted and a rather happier post-revisionism emerged.
The study of US foreign policy evolved so much during this period. Scholars began to consider a whole host of factors: economic, political, ideological, and psychological. It was part of a much needed renaissance in American thought. These revisionist critiques added so much – but with a few notable exceptions. Some naive (mostly student) dissidents argued the American policy was solely driven by a conspiracy conceived by the heads of major corporations. They ignored everything else and attributed complex conflicts to a handful of arch capitalists high-fiving each other across boardroom tables as a million Vietnamese perished.
Consequently, because I don’t want those of us who oppose the direction of travel in English cricket to fall into the same trap as the angry American kids, I’d like to start a grown up debate on what really motivates Graves, Harrison, and Co. It’s simply not good enough to call them money grabbing *****. Simplistic arguments convince precisely nobody and the insults turn moderate observers off.
So let’s be entirely honest. And let’s try to actually make some progress and move discourse forward. Do I like Colin Graves and Tom Harrison? I really can’t say. I don’t like what they’re doing to the game or their plans for the future, but I don’t know them personally so I really have no idea what motivates them. Maybe they’re well-intentioned but wrong? Maybe they’re well-intentioned and will be proved correct? It’s unlikely but it’s possible.
What I don’t want to see in this thread is a simplistic narrative that portrays the ECB as malevolent snake-oil salesmen deliberately ruining cricket for their own ends (or for pure fun). Harrison in particular has been involved in the professional game as a player and administrator for a quarter of a century. I can’t believe someone who has given his life to cricket deliberately wants to destroy it.
So why are the ECB making the decisions they are? Maybe it’s ego and the desperate desire to be seen as innovators? Or perhaps they now realise, belatedly, that their predecessors made a mistake by selling out to Sky all those years ago and removing live cricket from free to air TV. Maybe they really think no terrestrial channel is interested in broadcasting live cricket anymore because the game’s profile has fallen so low since 2005; therefore The Hundred is a well-intentioned way to attract television bosses once more and reverse some of the damage? They might even acknowledge privately that first class cricket will be damaged but consider this a price worth paying.
Maybe, just maybe, they admit to each other what humongous mistakes have been made, and that they’re sad about the fact that English cricket is now thoroughly dependent on Sky’s dosh? After all, they’ve got too many county mouths to feed and nowhere else to mind a meal ticket.
Another theory that does the rounds is that Graves and Harrison wouldn’t mind if The Hundred creates super counties and eventually kills off a few of the smaller clubs. If this happened then the pressure of sustaining eighteen first class counties would be eased. Maybe, just maybe, they wouldn’t be doing this through malice but because they’ve come to a painful realisation that a slimmed down domestic structure might actually be better for English cricket in the longterm? I obviously don’t agree with this view (or much of the above) but I’d feel better if I at least understood what their thinking was.
I won’t mention names but I once received an email from someone who had friends in high places (including former government ministers) and who claimed he knew the ECB bigwigs personally. He said my cricket writing was a grotesque and completely inaccurate portrait of people he guaranteed had English cricket’s best interests at heart. My response was that I had never questioned their integrity, I just thought they were plain wrong about everything. I’ve had similar exchanges with top brass employees at Sky who simply couldn’t understand why “I hated” them so much. Again I put them straight by saying that I loved Sky’s coverage but feared their monopoly was damaging.
What struck me is that all these people (from what I could tell) were absolutely convinced that they were in the right. They cared about cricket; they believed they were doing the best things for the game. I just couldn’t understand their perspective and vice versa.
This is why it’s such a shame that the public have seen so little of the market research the ECB keeps telling us about. We’ve heard that young people have changed; we’ve heard that the world has changed; we’ve heard that cricket needs to evolve or die. I really wish this evidence would be published so we can start a grown up debate about the findings. Because the ECB’s research is being kept under lock and key, all kinds of rumours and counter-claims fill the vacuum.
The purpose of today’s debate, therefore, is to try and be objective and show a little empathy for those we disagree with. Let’s put ourselves in Graves’s shoes and Harrison’s Julius Marlows. What are the ECB really thinking behind closed doors? Why are they really introducing the Hundred? What’s their mindset? Why do they think they’re right and we’re all wrong?
If we can understand where they’re coming from, then perhaps we can point out the holes in their logic, try to convince them they’re wrong, and perhaps save the domestic game from impending disaster.
I agree it’s a long shot, but nobody ever won an argument (or won hearts and minds for that matter) by simply dismissing their opponents as charlatans and conmen.