the FA: a case study in modern thinking

Here’s an interesting example of modern thinking. Appropriately enough, it’s one drawn from sport, which seems to play a special role in the whole phenomenon. The Government wants to force the FA to change its internal structures.

Progress on reforming the FA Council and its endless list of committees has also stalled. As part of the Burns package of proposals, the FA promised to make the 116-member council more inclusive with greater representation for ethnic minorities, women and fans. “Rugby did it with the old farts, cricket has done it – although there are still issues in cricket that need to be faced – and football is in a similar position,” says Sutcliffe. “The old school can’t continue.”

Basically, we’re looking at a case of representativeness – by analogy with truthiness – versus representation. This kind of thing is common throughout modern thinking – you identify some sort of democratic, or at least elective, intermediary institution, and then decide there’s something wrong with it, often framed in terms of making it more “representative” in terms of being closer to a representative sample of the population.

But the way in which this is implemented always involves a net reduction in democracy. The number of elected representatives is reduced, or powers are transferred away from them. More appointive posts are created. Reserve powers are taken out by the central government over institutions, or alternatively they are forced to subdelegate their powers to new organisational entities created by the modern thinkers.

Classic examples include the Blairite attitude to city councils and the like; despite a strong rhetorical interest in decentralisation, what happened was that new, appointive bodies emerged which wielded powers over councils, or that city councils were ordered to delegate part of their budgets to a menagerie of semi-elected (or just obscure) “neighbourhood kitties” and the like. A more radical option was to make city government more “responsive”, “representative”, etc, by creating private or psuedo-private entities like Business Improvement Districts, CCTV-operating Community Safety Partnerships, etc, and moving funds and responsibility into these.

Similarly, many organisational changes in the schoolsnospitals sector were justified by being “representative”, “new localist”, etc, and consisted of transferring power and responsibility either away from elected local authorities, or away from ministerial line management with its associated responsibility to parliament. What is being proposed for football is, again, a devaluation of the vote – the FA’s council, which consists of delegates from the local FAs’ elected councils, would be replaced by an entity consisting of 5 representatives of the professional game, 5 of the “national” game (i.e. elected), and 2 “non-executive directors” who will apparently be co-opted or wished on the FA by the government.

The phrase “non-executive director” is telling here; in its natural habitat, non-executive directors are meant to be elected by shareholders to hold the company’s management responsible. But here, they are going to be either chosen by the management or imposed by the government in order to hold the voters responsible. However, one lesson about company boards is that whatever the nature of a reorganisation, the only important question is always “Who controls the company?”

And this proposal clearly implies that the Premier League, plus the Government, will control it. Theoretically, the two very executive non-execs could side with the amateurs, but that’s just not going to happen.

So, let’s derive some conclusions. What matters here is not representation – the function of picking someone to represent collective interests. It’s representativeness, by analogy with truthiness – the quality of looking like a body that should have been selected to represent the voters had the voters agreed with my own set of prejudices. And this might not be so bad, if it wasn’t for the fact that the vote, and only the vote, checks the process by which demanding more ethnic minorities, etc, gets you more powerful people congenial to other powerful people but who emanate representativeness.

Rather than labour representation, you get Alan Johnson, a perfectly featureless Blairite with stick-on postman’s uniform. Rather than real city government, you get an appointed infrastructure planning commission and an appointed Olympics agency that make big decisions, and a dogshit panel with a whole £5,000 budget.

The Modern Thinkers always like the appearance of democracy, but they are deeply suspicious of voting. On another level of analysis, they tend to be very keen on elections in foreign policy, but much less so on democracy. Remember the purple fingers.


  1. Tom

    Hounslow Council have a website with the following URL:

    http://democraticservices.hounslow.gov.uk

    It doesn’t make clear what these services are, but they’re sure they’re democratic (actually it’s things like planning applications, meetings etc., which are arguably administrative). Democracy is defined as us being told about them. Isn’t that nice?

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