Gary Neville’s politics are quite a confusing mishmash of ideas. A sort of wishy-washy egalitarian capitalism, whereby he gets to keep the largest possible amount of his own money but combined with a seemingly genuine and heartfelt belief that things should be better for everyone.
It’s not hard to spot the hypocrisy or confusion in comments like those he made in May. “I’m not a socialist, I’m a capitalist. I believe in entrepreneurialism. I believe in companies making profit. I believe in lower taxes.”
It’s positively Thatcherite. And yet there was the kicker: “And I also believe that distribution of profit should be spread amongst us.” And on Twitter five months on: “The Conservatives are a cancer on the UK.”
Neville is a member of the Labour Party and voted for Jeremy Corbyn’s iteration of the party in 2019.
But like many in football, he finds himself torn between his origins and where he’s ended up. He still wants things to be better for ‘ordinary’ people, but just not if it has to be at the direct expense of ‘successful’ people like him.
It’s easily mocked, and the right-wing press will happily do so. There are two avenues of right-wing attack for anyone who espouses the vaguest left-wing notion. The first applies to most people: jealousy. You’re just jealous of the wealthy. It’s the Politics of Envy. Doesn’t work with your Nevilles or your Linekers, though, who are notably successful in multiple ways including the narrowly specific right-wing way of Having A Lot Of Money.
So they must be labelled hypocrites: ‘Oh, you have left-wing ideas and yet you yourself have lots of money? I am very intelligent.’
It’s deflection and question-dodging, of course, because that is all the right have in the face of the obvious failure of their ideology. So it’s really f*cking annoying that Neville has made it so very, very easy for them.
Because he is a hypocrite. Not so much because of the cakeism of his apparent desire for US-level taxes and European-level public services – an unsquarable circle that would nevertheless probably be met with the instant approval of a clear majority in the country at large.
No, it’s his taking of the Qatari coin that so disappoints. He’s not the first or only and won’t be the last, of course, but he is the most disappointing.
Because although his message lacked clarity and consistency it didn’t mean it wasn’t important and it didn’t mean he wasn’t right about a lot of things that most people in his position don’t talk about.
Now those made uncomfortable by what he had to say can use the undeniable hypocrisy of his Qatar stance to heighten the validity of their similar claims about the rest of his politics. He’s made it much easier to argue that everything he says that isn’t about Trent Alexander-Arnold’s defensive flaws can just be ignored.
He’s also given Have I Got News For You – an increasingly embarrassing relic that should have been humanely destroyed at least a decade ago and absolutely shouldn’t have survived those toe-curlingly awkward Zoom-call lockdown episodes where the paucity of the clever jokes was laid bare by the delayed reaction of everyone else on the panel – a renewed sense of purpose. It’s a lesser crime, but still an annoying one.
HIGNFY is itself, of course, in absolutely no position to crow about anyone else’s cakeism or hypocrisy having consistently and ludicrously denied playing any part in Boris Johnson’s long rise to power, ultimately eating and having its cake in the most staggering style with a whole show dedicated to revelling in his admittedly hilarious downfall.
But while HIGNFY hasn’t been good for years, Ian Hislop still is and very much retains his razor-sharp Private Eye editor’s ability to spot, isolate and ruthlessly eviscerate an absurd or conflicted or bought viewpoint and the show is now only remotely watchable now when he zeroes in on a target and five minutes pass without Paul Merton saying something whimsically surreal.
Hislop saw guest host Neville coming a mile off and ripped him to shreds. Neville’s visible horror was clear, and Hislop, despite (or more likely in fact because of) a proudly-worn lack of interest in football, won the battle effortlessly.
Neville’s assertion that “my view has always been that you highlight the abuses in these countries, or you don’t say anything and stay back home” is so obviously flawed it shouldn’t need someone from outside football to spot the third option as Hislop did: “Or you stay at home and highlight the abuses. You don’t have to take the Qataris’ money.”
It’s just so undeniably right. Neville has let himself down by signing on with beIN, and his weak attempt at self-justification is so transparently flimsy as to embarrass both himself and us all. We know Neville isn’t stupid, so we know there is no way he believes he will be able to ‘highlight the abuses’ while debating who should fill the problematic right centre-back spot in England’s back three should Kyle Walker fail to recover in time on the state broadcaster.
“I just think Kane needs to stay further forward, that’s where England will get the best out of him in games like this, oh and by the way, the laws on homosexuality in this place are barbaric and have no place in the modern world.” Not happening, is it?
Neville isn’t right about everything, but he is right about a lot and provides an important and passionate and high-profile voice. Taking the quick Qatari buck makes it far easier for the disingenuous and corrupt to silence that voice.
He can take the Qatari money, but he has to accept it undermines his stated position on this World Cup. More than that, he has to be smart enough to know that it has presented the easiest of open goals for those who would urge him and others like him who dare to express awkward real-world opinions to ‘stick to football’.
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