Sunday 16 June 2019

Declan Lynch: 'The best leaders are not to be found in politics'

Declan Lynch

Declan Lynch

Imagine, for a moment, that Jurgen Klopp was the President of the United States, and Donald Trump was just some football manager.

Imagine, if you will, that Gary Lineker and John Barnes were leaders of the Opposition in Britain instead of Jeremy Corbyn - indeed this last one is a substitution that would happily be made right now, by the overwhelming majority of intelligent people in the UK who have seen Lineker and Barnes speaking with such clarity on the matter.

You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. On a recent Channel 4 News, the Kloppmeister sat down for an interview with Krishnan Guru-Murthy - which was interesting in itself, as the Krishmeister doesn't usually sit down with football men in that arena. But he knew that Klopp is bringing more to the game than just an outstanding gift for club management.

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And in the time of Brexit, perhaps Guru-Murthy just wanted to experience what it's like to talk to a strong leader type, who is not obviously a very bad person.

We don't see much of that these days - of the likes of Klopp, as obsessed with drawing all these good energies towards him as a Trump is obsessed with gathering in all the badness he can find.

So Klopp is clearly against Brexit, and will be asked to speak on this by current affairs broadcasters, because even they can see that a connection can be made between what he does, and what a political leader is supposed to be doing.

He exudes all these positive attitudes, not because he's just a happy-go-lucky kinda guy, but because he has a profound understanding that you get the best out of people by encouraging their strengths, by giving them a sense that they can always get better.

He has done this, not just with his players, but by urging all parts of the organisation to share this vision, even challenging the supporters to show more belief in the team, and in the possibilities of each game. But as he told the lad Guru-Murthy, moving on to the world beyond football, such as it is, "a lot of politicians do what other politicians did in the past, they work at making people afraid…"

It is the way of the "strongman", that invariably he exploits the weakest part of human nature, that which is fearful and stupid. Trump feasts daily on weakness, fear and stupidity, with the relentlessness of a barracuda.

It is the way of all the "populists", the "nationalists", the "authoritarians", call them what you will. They seek the wounded parts of people and they keep poking at those wounds, inflaming them. It is all they know, but they know it very well, and they have enough badness in them, to make it their life's work.

They couldn't get away with it in football of course, it just wouldn't work - these people are destroyers, indeed without the smoke and mirrors, almost everything Trump has done has eventually led to destruction as any normal person would understand it.

And yes, I know there are some who say that the great football managers have always had an "authoritarian" streak, that Klopp is as ruthless in his own way as Sir Alex Ferguson was, but this is to misunderstand Ferguson too. Yes he was a tyrant, but the better part of his genius was an appreciation of the talents of brilliant footballers, almost to the point of child-like wonder.

He understood that you couldn't get anywhere without appealing to the better instincts of the people at your command, to make everyone feel that they have a common purpose.

Indeed, Ferguson would always claim to be a socialist, just as Klopp says he is "of the left" - though these days the global mood has drifted so far towards the realms of outright fascism, a man of the left is merely one who doesn't want the EU to be smashed up and replaced with various juntas run by our old friends, the "strongmen".

So you can see what a happy release it must be, for a Krishnan Guru-Murthy to be talking to a man who has emerged as a leader of multitudes, without access to the usual tricks of privilege or corruption or general twistedness. After Kloppo, it would be back to the 128 people trying to become the next leader of the Tories.

But it is a poignant thing for all of us, that such leadership is out there, but in the "wrong" place - not wrong of course if you are a supporter of Liverpool FC, but wrong if we want our civilisation as a whole to continue in some recognisable form.

The mere fact that people all over the world can identify completely with a football club in a city in some foreign country, is proof of that powerful need we have, to belong to something greater than ourselves.

It is a need that can be turned into something wonderful, by a Jurgen Klopp, or perverted into the worst of things, by the worst of men.

Why are they talking about Chernobyl on the Streets of Arklow?

What's all this about Chernobyl then? The five-part HBO series, seen here on Sky Atlantic, has become one of these freak hits - that send us all looking for its deeper significance and sends TV executives off to look for the next Chernobyl... which in their minds will be almost exactly the same as the original Chernobyl.

And therefore it will not be a hit, freak or otherwise, because the whole point of Chernobyl is that nobody saw it coming. So the top people in the TV game may be scouring the world for a story of another nuclear power station that went haywire, endangering hundreds of millions of people - and we'll leave them to that important work of theirs, but we have enough to be doing, trying to crack the secret of this one.

I mean, I'm hearing people on what Van Morrison rightly called the Streets of Arklow, mentioning this Chernobyl in everyday conversation. And we're not easily swayed in these parts, by your five-part TV dramas about some catastrophe that happened in the old Soviet Union, when Garret FitzGerald was Taoiseach.

No, you won't find us remarking on what a fine performance it is by Jared Harris, in the role of the scientist Valery Legasov, unless something quite unusual is afoot.

In simple terms, I suppose Chernobyl is very good. It's well made, with some excellent actors in it, and some tremendous scenes of nuclear conflagration. But then there's plenty of very good TV programmes that don't have them talking on the Streets of Arklow.

So I suppose there's a special interest for Irish people in general, in that the USSR in the 1980s feels extraordinarily like Ireland in that era, and not just in terms of fixtures and fittings. The people seem similarly defeated by the ineptitude of the regime, and the rundown nature of it all, and the boredom - there's a line toward the end about the Russians' fear of making a disgrace of themselves, which would sear any Irish soul.

Truly we are kindred spirits, though tragically the Russians also had nuclear power plants and space stations and pretensions to being a superpower to deal with, on their way down. Paddy dodged those bullets, or rather, those intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But Chernobyl is doing well in Britain and America too, with viewers suitably in awe of Jared Harris's line that "the fire we're watching with our own eyes is giving off nearly twice the radiation released by the bomb in Hiroshima, and that's every single hour, hour after hour, 20 hours since the explosion, so 40 bombs' worth by now, 48 more tomorrow, and it will not stop, not in a week, not in a month, it will burn and spread its poison until the entire continent is dead…"

On the upside, the ratings for Chernobyl suggest that there is now a healthy awareness of these phenomena, and a massive distrust of the authorities who are supposedly looking after such things on our behalf.

There's something in this too, about the decline and fall of empires - except unlike in the old Soviet Union, we can see Britain and America in meltdown on the rolling news, every single hour, hour after hour…..

Sharp Shane now a shirker

When people are in the presence of power, they tend to lose their minds. Or at least they lose those parts of the mind which in normal circumstances would enable them to form intelligent opinions, to be critical or argumentative.

So you might have some correspondents casting a wintry eye on the people of Doonbeg who were hailing the Trumper and his sons, the same kind of correspondents who will be conveying the thoughts of a Junior Minister in the deferential style of a shoeshine boy attending to his most important clients - though of course the shoeshine boy will be doing it with more wit and worldly wisdom.

It would happen to us all, no doubt, if we were living and working in that environment - because they say that power corrupts, and power is an aphrodisiac, and all that - but, if anything, its effects on the human mind have never rightly been quantified.

Look at Shane Ross.

I hardly know Shane Ross, but when he was a journalist I'd spoken to him a few times and I'd formed the same impression that most people probably formed of him, in that phase of his public life - that he was a sharp sort of a guy, alert at all times for displays of foolishness on the part of legislators and their cronies.

This is not the same Shane Ross who was front and centre at Katie Taylor's homecoming last week. The journalist Shane Ross never shirked from asking the big questions, nor does the minister Shane Ross - except now the big question seems to be: what would Charlie Haughey have done?

Now Ross seems like the chap who went to an English public school, and like Haughey with his aristocratic leanings, has observed over time that displays of eejitry in Irish life, however flagrant, will not go unrewarded by the electorate.

He could be right.

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