WHAT PRICE DEMOCRACY?

FIFA, USADA, IPSA. Its one of those weeks beloved of the alphabet soup brigade.

Everything has to have an acronym these days and I should apparently know instinctively what they all mean despite many being obviously context dependent. In the social media whirl of instant familiarity there is a reductionist spirit of popularity, however banal, that dictates that I should read OMG as a casual blasphemy rather than an interesting precursor to a discussion of Soviet era operational theory (The Operational Manoeuvre Group was a Soviet embodiment of the theory of deep warfare – far more interesting than the usual objects of current OMG! rashes). But I know what FIFA means, both literally and as a watchword for suspicions of dodgy dealing. That may appear unduly reticent when one considers the allegations being trumpeted as facts.

It does appear that there is a lot to answer for in FIFA’s administration but I prefer to see some proof first before jumping on a bandwagon. Ridiculously unfashionable I know. I am not a follower of modern football and I dearly want all the stories to be true – I suspect the whole massive influx of money into the system over the last quarter of a century has done many horrible things to that infrastructure and has helped wreck a game I used to enjoy watching. But I’ll still wait for evidence in a legal context rather than accepting a raft of fervid speculation as gospel.

Similarly USADA (and all the other little –ADAs come to that) is normally seen in the context of a hushed revelation that someone has a suspicion that someone has taken…performance enhancing drugs! Evidence, if any, later, maybe. We’ll come back perhaps another day to the point or otherwise of a multi-million (billion?) dollar worldwide industry policing people playing kids games.

IPSA doesn’t normally have the coverage, certainly in the frenetic and capricious world of social media, that the other two acronyms have. Yet this is probably the one that matters most, and perversely has had more opprobrium heaped on it in the press recently. IPSA (the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, not the International Professional Security Association, nor yet the International Political Science Association – context again!) is the body responsible amongst other things for deciding MPs pay. They recently recommended a 10% pay increase for MPs. Mr Cameron made a pledge to freeze MPs pay of course so there is a clash. The way our system works the smart money (sorry!) is on the executive winning. If so, what is the point of having an independent body doing the job if you ignore it?

The uproar of course is because many people have been subjected to a vicious austerity package by the government and it looks bad and frightens the horses if MPs get what looks like a whopping pay rise.

What is it? £67,000 p.a. to c £74,000 p.a. which does look a lot doesn’t it?

Context again.

That is in the mid range for a head teacher in England and Wales with c 1,000 heads earning over £100,000.

Now I’m not going to knock the effort of head teachers, but do you want someone paid as a deputy head teacher helping to run the country? Okay that is MPs, the PM is different. He gets £142,000 and this is supposed to rise, in a slightly different settlement, to £149,440. Not bad, but not much for the man/woman responsible for negotiating with Vlad Putin and Angela Merkel and Barak Obama. Mid range CEOs and directors of financial compliance in banks earn around this. Difficult jobs certainly, but they aren’t running the organisation directly responsible for the lives and well being of 60 million people. Neither is anyone asking them to press the nuclear button in extremis. An unlikely responsibility in the current climate one hopes, but still there.

So do we want the brightest and best making laws, running the country and helping their constituents or are we really after people who couldn’t get a job running an infants’ class?

You tend to get what you pay for.

The corollary of course is, the more money sloshing around the more opportunities for cheating in various ways. Which brings us back to FIFA and USADA/WADA etc. FIFA of course is charged with using money from the Beautiful Game to benefit officials and national bodies rather than encourage the game and run it successfully. The Anti-doping industry runs around looking important because various sports people cross a fuzzy line between legitimate improvements in technology and training and illegitimate use of chemical technologies to improve performance.

Here massive amounts of money have poured into children’s pastimes as they became part of the entertainment industry. And there is the difference. Yes, money tends to corrupt but context is all. Excessive money and no responsibility (no-one would suffer if all the sports men and women stopped being paid tomorrow – they are only games!) encourages a less than responsible attitude to that cash.

Society itself, and that means you and me, seems to have got a very odd perspective when we start complaining about paying £74,000 a year for an MP but we happily accept that paying double that a week for footballers is a good deal.

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