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14.09.15

Anger is an energy in politics and football

Anger is an energy, John Lydon told us. I hope so after Saturday. IKEA is blood pressure raising, especially when your visit coincides with Jeremy Corbyn winning big. Liverpool’s tame defeat at Old Trafford later in the day did not reduce the steam bellowing from my ears.

Labour have elected a leader that even his supporters do not see as prime minister, which runs contrary to the basic function of opposition. We have, therefore, abdicated the status of an aspirant party of government, rendering us pretty pointless.

Ed Miliband sometimes ran the party as if it were a pressure group. Corbyn completes that journey. Labour should always believe in itself enough to be more than that.

Liverpool players should always believe in themselves enough to play on the front foot. To aggressively dominate with and without the ball. Give the opponents the run around when in possession. Press high and hard when not. Particularly against a team as poor as the current Manchester United.

David Cameron and Louis Van Gaal, the United manager, are paper tigers. Yes, Cameron recently won a general election and holds formidable advantages. Yes, Van Gaal’s team has had many millions spent on it and trips to Old Trafford are invariably challenging.

But both Cameron and Van Gaal preside over unhappy camps. Cameron is in constant conflict with his backbenches over Europe. Van Gaal imposes training methods on unwilling players who often reward him with stifled performances. The weaknesses of Cameron and Van Gaal would be exploited by a Labour and a Liverpool with the confidence that should come as standard.

As Europe should be pulling together to tackle its biggest refugee crisis since World War II, we have a prime minister pulling it apart with narrowly self-interested demands. Instead of setting out why this is wrong and how we’d do things differently, Corbyn equivocated over Europe, even absorbing the erroneous criticisms of the EU that Putin has made on the Ukrainian calamity.

As United moved the ball ponderously, Liverpool continued to play cautiously. Rather than deploying tactics and style bold enough to require United to try to adapt themselves to a contest on Liverpool’s terms, Liverpool meekly conceded the ball and territory to a United team that had much less idea what to do with either than previous vintages.

David Cameron isn’t gripped by a sense of mission like Margaret Thatcher, blessed with the poise of Harold Macmillian, or – while his chancellor might fancy himself as such – the audacity of Benjamin Disraeli. But by choosing to be a protest movement, not a party of government, Labour threatens to make Cameron a historical figure of comparable stature.

Nor is Ashley Young a Ryan Giggs, Marouane Fellaini an Eric Cantona, Anthony Martial – pace the Sky Sports hype machine that cranked into action after Martin Srktel gifted him a debut goal on Saturday – a Thierry Henry. But the callowness of Liverpool allowed United’s small fry to strut like past giants.

Liverpool’s next league fixture is Norwich at home. Labour’s is PMQs. In a parallel universe, Liverpool host Norwich in front of a crowd large enough to fill Borussia Dortmund’s 80,000 stadium, paying the much lower ticket price norm that pervades in Germany, creating the more raucous atmosphere that fills Turkish grounds. In another parallel universe, Labour answer, not ask, questions at midday on Wednesday.

Demand for Anfield tickets has long far outstripped supply. With greater ambition and better strategy, Liverpool would have ridden these market dynamics to the parallel universe. If over the past five years, Labour had done more to demonstrate our grasp of markets, the party too would exist in our parallel universe of government.

In reality, the Anfield atmosphere will create as many opportunities for Norwich as PMQs does for Cameron, who will pick at the divisions that exist between MPs that want Labour to remain a party of government and the protest movement figurehead putting the questions to Cameron. Anfield too will be divided. Between home supporters who back their team no matter what and those that currently see nothing worth backing. Norwich will know that the more they frustrate Liverpool, the more fans will transfer from the former to the latter, as Cameron is aware that the more errors he can extract from Corbyn, the more fractious the PLP will become.

None of this had to be this way. Labour made many unforced mistakes in the last parliament but none as calamitous as electing Corbyn. Liverpool might long ago have summoned the ambition for a Dortmund scale stadium but off the field actions count for little if conviction is lacking on it, which – like having a potential PM as leader of a major political party – is a de minimis requirement.

It is the avoidable nature of these diminishments that makes them so anger inducing. The energy that derives, which surely courses through the PLP and the Liverpool dressing room, must be harnessed, whether to a tactical formation that makes the most of the talents of the likes of Phil Coutinho and Christian Benteke or a vehicle for the abilities and hopes of those that remain in the PLP still determined that Labour be a party of government.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut