General Election 2019: what Conservatives, Labour & Liberal Democrats would do for football

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Safe standing has earned its place in all three manifestos, though only one party offers a detailed plan for the game’s future

11 December ~ With just 50 and 21 words about football in their respective manifestos, it’s fair to say that the national game is not a high priority for either the Conservatives or Liberal Democrats in this General Election. Despite this, there are some nuggets that could seriously affect football across the UK, no matter who, if anyone, gains a majority on December 12.

The big winner is safe standing, which has now officially been incorporated into all three manifestos. This is a huge moment for a campaign which has worked tirelessly to turn public and political perceptions from rock bottom to widespread acceptance. The result of a consistent message backed up with sound research, relatable case studies and a steady programme of practical demonstrations for those still wavering, it’s surely become a best-practice example of how to run a steady, consensus-building campaign for an extremely emotive and sensitive subject. Of course, the manifesto pledges would still need to be carried out. Labour’s method would be to remove central government legislation that blocks safe standing, and instead allow clubs and local authorities to decide on its use on an individual basis. The Lib Dems, who have long backed the campaign and included it in their 2017 manifesto, have committed to “Moving towards introducing ‘safe standing’… requiring the Sports Grounds Safety Authority to prepare guidance for implementing this change”. While a little more cautious in the wording, it amounts to the same policy.

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The real surprise is safe standing’s backing by the Conservatives. In October this year an independent review commissioned by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport concluded there was a lack of “robust evidence” on whether a change to current policy would ensure “equivalent or improved spectator safety” and suggested further research was needed. However, it seems even the Conservatives can see the overwhelming demand and will “work with fans and clubs towards introducing safe standing”. There is still some way to go before it will be seen in every UK football stadium, but fully sanctioned trials are surely now close, especially with clubs already installing rail seating in anticipation of its adoption.

Labour and the Conservatives also find common ground on another surprising area – the need for fan involvement in football governance, though you have to assume their ideas for its implementation are rather different. The Conservatives’ rehash of their 2017 policy simply states that they will “set up a fan-led review of football governance, which will include consideration of the Owners and Directors Test”. This will be backed up by a “£150 million community ownership fund”, designed to help people take over assets such as local football clubs. However, the plan is vague, with no concrete promises to take action or indication of how the fund would work.

The Conservatives have also said they will invest £550 million in grassroots football and they “will ensure every family in England will be, on average, 15 minutes from a great football pitch”. Whether that is by car, bus, bike or walking is unclear. As is the source of that money, exactly how it will be spent and what sort of improvement that would be on the current situation. Over 215 school playing fields have been sold off across England since the Conservatives took power in 2010 – plus, of course, 10,000 under their watch between 1979-97.

Throw in the Conservatives’ support of any potential UK and Ireland joint bid for the 2030 World Cup – the only ones to include that in the manifesto, but with no costings included – and you have the sum total of football-related manifesto pledges from the three major parties in 2019. If Labour offer a blueprint for a fan-focused revolution of the game, admittedly with some stumbling blocks that will be tricky to overcome, the Conservatives have sketched theirs on a napkin, while the Lib Dems’ pen ran out after one sentence. Tom Hocking

Read an exclusive interview with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell here.

This article first appeared in WSC 394, January 2020. Subscribers get free access to the complete WSC digital archive – you can find out more here

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