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The political impact of England’s World Cup run

Sunday 08/July/2018 - 03:06 PM
Sada El Balad
"The Week" magazine:

The governor of the Bank of England، Mark Carney، has said England winning the World Cup would be an “unalloyed، unadulterated absolute good” for the UK economy، amid signs the unexpected success of the national team is helping drive spending and a feel-good factor which could boost growth.

But while the economic benefits of a run to the final are easier to track، the political impact of World Cup glory is notoriously harder to predict.

Harold Wilson famously called an early general election in the summer of 1970، hoping to tap into a similar national euphoria that had accompanied England's World Cup win four years earlier in 1966. As it was England were dumped out of the tournament by West Germany and four days later Wilson was dumped out of Downing Street by Ted Heath.

Analysing the impact of major international football tournaments on the political landscape of winners since the financial crisis، Stephen Bush in the New Statesman found that “there is no political benefit to be found in hosting the World Cup – but there is a small، fleeting boost to winning one”.

He points to small poll bumps for the ruling Spanish Socialists after Spain's 2008 European Championships، and Angela Merkel in the immediate aftermath of Germany’s 2014 Brazil World Cup win.

So does this mean Theresa May can expected a jump in her approval ratings if England lift the World Cup in Moscow next weekend?

Both Labour and the Conservatives have sought to capitalise on England’s performance، with Jeremy Corbyn calling on the government to instate a public bank holiday if Gareth Southgate’s men were to triumph.

“This is treacherous ground for politicians” says John Rentoul in The Independent. “Jeremy Corbyn is a genuine football fan، but it is considered incongruous that he has an England flag in his office in Westminster” he argues.

The widespread belief، however، is that national sporting success benefits the party in power.

It gives Theresa May a serious headache if England do make it to the final seeing as her government continues to reaffirm its policy of not sending officials to Russia in the wake of the Salisbury poisoning.

But issuing an order that all Whitehall buildings fly the England flag after the Colombia victory “suggests that the prime minister's team understands that this World Cup fever is something they should harness and ride”، says Sky News.

“You could see how it could help Theresa May lift some of the negativity about how hopelessly the British have been outplayed in the Brexit negotiations” says Rentoul، “but what is important for May is less the boost she might gain from England winning، but the negative impact of England losing: it is 1970 that matters، not 1966”.

Edited by Rasha Mohamed

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