Tuesday, 6 June 2017
Golf is not the oddest of games, but it inspires passion and derision like few other activities. From the relentless golf bore in the club bar who almost, nearly, mighta claimed a course record except for the double bogey on the seventeenth, to the quiet unassuming up and coming youngster, diligently bringing down his score, round by round. On the professional circuits the stakes are high and there is nowhere to hide; the vicar might get away with kicking his ball from the rough into the fairway when nobody is looking but the pro is followed by the cameras everywhere he goes.
Another game that scores high on the passion and derision stakes is, of course, politics and never more so than when a major prize is up for grabs. Like golf it rewards the steady hands, those who can stick to their technique and keep on chipping away at every hole. And like golf, politics does not deal kindly with the ingénues, brashly sporting their tartan plus-fours and pink tam o’shanters, hoping that the bling will divert attention from the divots. Prior preparation is a must; which is why even those golfers at the top of the game turn up hours before the match and practice their swing.
Both games are won and lost in the head as well as the hand. On Sunday Theresa May as Prime Minister, had no option but to make a speech decrying the terrorist attacks of Saturday night. She did so; she took one measured stroke, straight down the fairway and then respectfully retired from the scene as others sought to catch up. Jeremy Corbyn, seeing an opportunity, took a wild swing; he accused her of making political capital out of the situation, sliced his ball and then spent the rest of the day wildly flailing away in the rough, tweeting another twenty times on the same theme.
Calm heads, preparation, deep breaths and considered responses. Last night Diane Abbott, surely the least capable politician of recent years, but nonetheless still somehow clinging on to her job, came out from the woods to answer her critics and save the day for Labour. On Sky News she approached the ball, sitting high on a tee at an easy par three; trash the government record on national security, demonstrate how her steady hands would bring the Labour team back into contention, tap in for a par.
She took a practice swing and her club flew out of her hands, nearly taking out a bystander; on Monday, with the election on Thursday, unforced, in her opening statement, she declared that there were two days until the vote. With an apparent reference to the ‘village people’ instead of the British people she missed her first shot at the ball. Dermot Murnaghan then unfairly asked her about the recent Harris report on London’s safety and security. Diane flailed again at the ball, still sitting steadfastly on its tee and missed by a mile. Yes, she’d read it, of course she’d read it but mysteriously couldn’t remember a single thing about it.
As in golf, elections are generally won by those who have the most experience, have practised long and hard and are at the top of their game – as Gary Player said, the more I practise, the luckier I get – but even the best players go into decline. Diane Abbott may think of herself as Labour’s Tiger Woods in his prime. But in reality she has always been much more like Tiger Woods is today. It’s time to leave the field. So, with Labour in trouble and Jeremy Corbyn rolling up his trousers to paddle in the burn and take his tenth stroke at the eighteenth, all Theresa May needs is a straight and steady chip down the middle and two putts to win.