Football and politics

| 09/09/2011

If you went to a football match and the referee suddenly tackled a player on one side and attempted to score a goal for the other, you’d be scratching your head in amazement. I mean, that’s not the ref’s job, is it? Speakers of parliaments are a bit like football referees – well, they wear a black strip and they have a gavel even if they don't have a whistle and yes, they wear wigs, but let’s face it, so do quite a few refs.

Anyway, the point is, speakers are meant to referee parliaments and political assemblies and like football refs, they are not supposed to join in, no matter how much theymight want to. No matter how many times they’d tried out for a team and didn’t get picked, if they then get the chance to become a ref and take it, that’s not a side door in to be a player.

There are many refs who probably think they could have been a contender when they are running up the park of a Saturday afternoon, blowing their whistle, but the thing is, they know that they have donned that black strip and agreed to uphold the rules of the glorious game.

Political arenas, especially ones that follow the British or Westminster system, are governed a bit like a football game – by a set of rules. Now, politics might not be quite so glorious but rules still need to be upheld when the two sides go at it. The system is adversarial, one side pitched against the other. Even when there is more than one political party involved, they tend to group together to create the government side and the opposition side – like football teams.

The chamber, like the pitch, is set up on opposite sides and the opponents face each other as they go into verbal battle and try and score political points and votes – a bit like goals against each other. There is a lot of verbal tackling and passing of the ball (a political subject of debate) around as each member gets up and yells a lot at the other side in the hope of getting near the goal line. There are verbal skirmishes that sometimes wound emotionally and lots of the debating equivalent of rolling around on the floor clutching shins in order to get the speaker-refs attention.

As a result of the political shenanigans, the speaker-ref has to know how to play the game very well.  Although, like the football ref, he or she (as some of them are ladies) can’t get on the pitch and play, they need to know the rules (or ‘Standing Orders’, as the political rules are known) inside-out. That means even learning the really tricky ones (like if a member should be able to read from a document, for example – that might be a bit like the offside rule, as you can’t always tell whether or not it was or it wasn’t offside).

The problem with the parliamentary pitch, though, is that there are no linesmen and no instant replays, so the speaker-ref has to use good judgement based on their swotting up on the rule book at every opportunity.

What the speaker-ref can’t ever do when he (or of course she) doesn’t quite understand what’s going on is get on the pitch, tackle an opposition player and bring them down, especially with a sliding tackle from behind. Not good.

If that was to happen, then, just like in a football match, it would make it really unfair and the losing team might get demoralised and their fans really grumpy. It might even lead to a pitch invasion. It would also look really bad on the team that the ref was playing for and even their fans might not be that impressed, because while the points might get on the score board, it could feel like a bit of a hollow victory and take the fun out of the after match celebrations.   

Anyway, back on the parliamentary pitch, what the speaker-ref has to do when a politician-player looks like they might be breaking the rules and cheating (trying a dodgy tackle, such as  going for the player politician and not the ‘the subject of debate’ ball) is always apply the rule book (Standing Orders) to both sides equally. If she (or he) has done the necessary swotting and learnt the rule book really well they will know how to rule with confidence and assertion, just like how the football ref blows his whistle. Rule, that’s that, done deal, play on. The speaker-ref certainly cannot get involved in the rolling around on the floor with the clutching at shins either.

The problem is, of course, that because politicians, just like footballers, can be real prima-donnas and they will yell and scream and insist that the other side was playing foul and make all sorts of accusations about their opponents, the speaker-ref really does have to play very close attention and understand what’s going on. The captains of the teams can be especially bad at the yelling and screaming about the rules and insisting that the other side is breaking them.

And that’s where the knowledge of the speaker-ref comes in. You see, if the speaker-ref turns to the captain of one of the teams that’s accusing the other side of all sorts of rule breaking because they might be getting a bit close to the political goal line, the speaker-ref can’t ask that team captain if the other political player was offside. That can’t work. The speaker-ref has to make the judgement him- (or as we know) herself based on their knowledge of the rule book.

Speaker-refs are paid handsomely for their work and that’s why they are expected to know that rule book very well. Some are paid as much as CI$170,000 every year – quite a lot more than football refs, who average around £50,000 plus £200 for a premiership match. Speaker-refs also come up very high in the pecking order in some countries and could even be in charge if the four people or so above them were to all get food poisoning and be in a the hospital at the same time.

Now there’s food for thought.

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Category: Viewpoint

Comments (17)

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Billy Bremner?? Of the 1973 Leeds team ??

  2. nauticalone says:

    Very well presented viewpoint.

    Maybe the Constitution should allow for "The Speaker" to be voted in by "The People" also?

    With proper qualificaions of course! The current Speaker is clearly lacking.



  3. Polly Picked A Pickled Pepper says:

    The Speaker's decisions in the LA have been consistently poor.  It is clear she either a) lacks the experience and knowledge of the rules to do her job or b) is not neutral. 

    The "reading of documents" ruling was a disgrace, but makes more sense now that we know about the Stan Thomas invoice.  Did she know?

  4. Just Me says:

    Briliiant analogy!!

  5. Anonymous says:

    so how do we remove the referee and get a new one?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Billy Bremmer you are brilliant and very accurate. Refs and speakers in this situation should sit their back sides down and retire as they create an unhealthy environment for the future of the games, the laws, the spectators and the future of all concerned. They are obviously has beens and they have no place on the field or much less in Our Legisslative Assembley! 

  7. The Giggler says:

    What point are you making?

  8. Anonymous says:

    When one team not only has no respect for the rules of the game but likes backhanders and that team also gets to select the referee of their choosing and is permitted to secure the referee's cooperation through control of a salaray for the referee and the referee's offspring. the result is typically a sham with most of the benefits going to the team that breaks the rules.  

  9. Anonymous says:

    Football is more successful when the home team gets to appoint the referee of their choice. Sometimes it might be necessary for the offspring of the referee to become paid liason officers at away venues, but results are what matters.