Way back in 2006, there were a lot of Labour MP’s who were, for one reason or another, struggling to accept what most people outside Westminster regarded as a simple fact, and which the country had reconciled itself to more or less completely; that at the top of the party, the two key architects of New Labour were openly at war with each other.
Everyone knew by then that the two men were somewhat at odds over a promise Blair had allegedly made to step down and hand over the reins. Some simply refused to understand just how deep the enmity was, or how out of control it had all gotten behind the scenes.
Blair and Brown had been at it for well over a decade by then. The fights over the succession had started, more or less, from the minute Labour won its second term in 2001, but their roots went all the way back to Blair’s ascension to the leadership after John Smith had died.
On 9 May that year, Gordon Brown himself torpedoed all pretensions those MP’s had left about the debate being conducted in a civil manner, with an attack on Blair that was so brazen and naked and public that it erased all doubt and opened up the enormity of the conflict to full public gaze.
Brown was appearing on GMTV, where he and his aides knew the question of the handover would certainly arise. He had already made several media appearances that week, and brushed off the question during all of them. He welcomed it on that occasion.
“There are problems that have got to be sorted out and they have got to be sorted out quickly,” Brown told his interrogator. “Tony has said he is going to do it in a stable and orderly way. That means he is going to be talking not just to me, but to senior colleagues about it. Remember when Mrs Thatcher left, it was unstable, it was disorderly and it was undignified.”
Senior Labour ministers, who had no idea it was coming, openly gasped when they heard that.
Those MP’s who’d been in doubt were shell-shocked that the Chancellor would so openly issue such a threat to his boss.
The reference to Thatcher and her being deposed by her own party was unmistakable, deliberate and amongst the most cold blooded things Brown ever did whilst serving in Blair’s government.
In spite of this, there was a core of truth in what Brown had said.
Leadership always comes at a price; if you hang around long enough people get tired of you, and then it ends in one of two ways. You can choose how you want to bow out or let others do it for you.
One of those paths can – and sometimes does – end in something like triumph, although that’s rarer than people think.
The other road is ignominious, humiliating and often shambolic.
A lot of those who’ve suffered that never get over it, professionally or otherwise.
The club across the city, and the fate of some of those who’ve worked there, provides many cases in point for those who want to look.
Last year, I wrote a scathing article on the Celtic strategy, in full knowledge that it would change precisely nothing.
I’ve written a similar piece in the last few weeks, again knowing that there was no possibility of it influencing events.
No-one involved with our club is minded to support a coup or a full-on Celts for Change style revolution and we all know it.
But I tell you … the people running our club would be complete mugs if they believed that what’s now is forever.
Times change, and people change with them.
Lawwell and his board follow supporter opinion closely, so they know what I do, even if the full implications haven’t sunk in yet; there are large sections of our support who have simply had it with the austerity agenda.
I use that phrase quite deliberately.
In my life, I’ve had two great passions; Celtic and left wing politics.
By that I used to mean the Labour Party, as almost everyone who reads this blog will undoubtedly be aware. The first comes with no qualifications; I am Celtic fan now and forever, until the day I die.
My party political loyalty was never as concrete, as I’m an ideologue rather than a tribalist.
I’ve left the Labour Party three times in my life, going back twice against my better judgement. What finally decided me, and caused me to quit for good, was a combination of things, but the stink of Iraq was fresh in the air and if there was a straw that broke the camel’s back then that was certainly it.
It had been clear to me for over a decade that the party took people like me for granted, that it rode roughshod over my wishes and aspirations and ignored me when it wasn’t asking for my vote.
Then, and only then, did it engage and it did that in the most appalling, arrogant fashion, not trying to make me an offer based on hope but on trying to scare me into the voting booth instead.
They assumed my loyalty and that of people around me. They never earned it.
It reeked, and I knew, as you sometimes instinctively do, that one day there would be an almighty backlash, one that would rock them to the foundations.
It came last September, of course, with the referendum campaign, but it didn’t manifest itself until this year, when the general election result in Scotland engulfed them like a tidal wave.
Even then, the party leadership in London didn’t understand the reasons for it, and seemed Hell bent not only on continuing the dreadful policies that contributed to that defeat but to actually accelerate them, dragging the political centre of gravity even further right.
The scale of their misjudgement can be most clearly seen in the spineless way they abstained on the welfare bill when the Tories put it before parliament just a few months ago.
The mood of the activist base, disillusioned already, looking at Scotland and seeing a political reawakening, an atmosphere of hope and engagement, erupted. The consequences of that are apparent in the scale of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership election landslide; if you wanted a perfect metaphor for how swiftly events can overcome an institution you could not do better than to look at all that remains of “New Labour” … the organisation that once thought it would dominate UK politics for a whole generation.
Today, nothing but rubble remains of it.
The signs of its coming were everywhere, for those who cared to look. But our political class was too busy talking to itself and asking all the wrong questions, drawing whatever conclusions fitted into the view from the Westminster bubble.
I know a lot of Celtic supporters take a similar, narrow focus view on Lawwell and the strategy.
They’ve accepted, as any number of Labour MP’s accepted, austerity as a given, as merely a consequence of our circumstances and the economic climate. This “we play in Scotland, that’s our level” argument is used to justify lack of spending, lack of ambition and the way in which we’ve watched as the quality of the team has been eroded.
Ten years ago, our stated ambition – from Lawwell’s own lips – was to be “qualifying for the latter stages of the Champions League.”
Now, our ambition is to simply get to the Groups, and not even every single year.
He considers it a success if we achieve it three years out of five, a target we’re not even meeting at the current time.
We hear, constantly, that we can’t compete with England, as if anyone has ever asked us to.
There are even those who say that spending money doesn’t guarantee success; take a look, would you, at the last fifteen years as proof positive that this is garbage. Under Martin O’Neill we spent money, and we got to a European final. Under Gordon we started out spending money, and we got out of the group stages twice, meeting exactly the target Lawwell and others had said we should be striving for.
And the financial rewards of it were obvious; those were the years in which we hit our peak earnings, cracking the £70 million barrier … incredible for a Scottish club, and the result of showing ambition and playing in front of packed houses as a result.
The truth, the one some people struggle with for some reason – as it’s actually a very pleasant truth – is that when we’ve taken ourselves seriously as a major force, the rewards have followed.
It’s when we’ve taken our eyes off the prize that bad things happened.
My love affair with Lawwell ended with the Wilo Flood transfer window, and I’m happy for anyone who wants to trace my writings on the subject all the way back to that.
I thought we were told blatant untruths during that month, but it was certainly the moment the club stopped going the extra mile, the point we stopped trying to grow.
Amidst warning signs so stark that some of us were practically screaming from the side-lines about the need for a striker, the board refused to give Gordon Strachan the funds for one.
The result? Rangers came from behind to win the title.
And the next two after it.
Before that, I had been a huge supporter of Peter Lawwell and the strategy.
I wrote glowing things about him, and the way he had allowed Strachan to develop his squad at the same time as we posted profits.
Back then, I thought he walked on water.
I wrote a lengthy blog about this some time ago (A Pale Horse), where I tried to address some of the misunderstandings about the Lawwell era and where I changed my mind.
See, it didn’t start badly; it started phenomenally well.
So too did New Labour though.
In fact, those early triumphs are one of the reasons he remains in the good graces of a lot of Celtic fans today, in much the same way as a lot of the PLP self-define as members of the Church of the Third Way.
What they forget – what a lot of our supporters forget – is that the early reputations of both New Labour and Lawwell were a consequence of the very type of policies that they later ran, screaming, away from.
Strachan succeeded because he was allowed to develop a team, instead of developing players so we could sell them for profit.
The 1997 Labour manifesto, which so many members of the PLP who deribe Corbyn never tire of defending, the one that won a national landslide, was about as left wing as any Labour party document has ever been.
It committed the government to a national minimum wage, a windfall tax on privatised utilities, devolution for Scotland and a host of other things. It was what happened after they’d been elected – cutting benefits to single parents, university tuition fees, the private finance initiative, Iraq and a tumult of other betrayals – that started turning people off.
You can only continue spitting in the faces of your most loyal supporters for so long before they become cynical.
Then they become angry. Then you pay the price.
I ended A Pale Horse with a quote which originated with Oliver Cromwell, but is better known for being delivered by Leopold Amery MP, levelled at Neville Chamberlain, during the Commons debate which brought an end to his government and ushered in Winston Churchill at the height of the Phony War of 1939 – 40.
“You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately … Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!”
In my view, it’s time for Lawwell’s departure from his role at Celtic Park.
As long as he’s there the strategy will be continued, and if changing it means that he’s got to go then hey, “farewell and good luck to you”.
If he does it whilst Celtic are still on top in Scotland he’s got a fair chance of being warmly regarded, well remembered and finding another post at another club if he wants to continue climbing football’s ladder.
But he ought to heed the lessons of history, and the consequences of hanging around too long, because there’s a flip side to that coin.
The policy he’s presided over has led to a disastrous decline in the standards of our squad, it has resulted in attendances dropping like a stone and it has sown deep distrust amongst the fans, who see too little action inside and outside our club, and a creeping suspicion that he’s not exactly sad to see a team calling itself Rangers inching its way towards the SPL.
He and some of his cohort seem to believe this will be greeted with great relief and enthusiasm by the vast majority of the Celtic support.
This misjudges the mood every bit as much as Labour’s MP’s did when they abstained on the welfare bill shortly before Jeremy Corbyn rocketed into the lead in the leadership election.
What most Celtic fans feel about this prospect is nausea and revulsion, and the club would be making an epochal mistake to think otherwise.
The vast majority of us aren’t looking forward to that with any enthusiasm at all.
We have no wish to be force fed all that “greatest derby in the world” cobblers, made one half of a twisted commercially driven “rivalry”, fused into the wreckage of that cobbled together zombie club, led as it is by Mr Resurrection Man himself, a convicted tax cheat who Lawwell and the SPL board ought never to have allowed near the running of a major Scottish football club.
If Peter Lawwell goes in good time, and the strategy with him, his reputation will be largely intact. People will look back, and those who choose to remember the positives will have them to hold onto and the black spots in between can be conveniently ignored.
Otherwise not a single Celtic supporter will remember him with other than disgust and contempt.
He will turn himself if not into Celtic’s Craig Whyte then certainly into its Charles Green … a CEO who presided over a financial calamity, to the detriment of any good he might have initially done.
I suspect he’s already used up as much luck as he’s going to get.
The future of our club, and how he’s considered, almost pivoted completely on the night of 11 October 2011, when we were 3-0 down at Rugby Park.
Neil Lennon was considering his future at that point, and had we lost that game it’s not unreasonable to suppose that he would have walked.
Rangers had a 10 point lead going into that one, and although they also drew that night we would have suffered a major psychological trauma from which it’s difficult to believe we’d have recovered.
Rangers had won three titles in a row. Had that night ended differently the road to a fourth would have been wide open, and although they were to self-detonate in spectacular fashion just four months hence we’d have been dealing with the reality of that evening as it presented itself at the time, without the benefit of foresight.
Lennon’s departure would have made him the third manager to go in just four years.
Lawwell, who had already apologised to the fans for the disastrous appointment of Tony Mowbray, would have been under the kind of pressure to follow him out the door that people just don’t survive.
What’s more, based on the three years prior to that night it’s not unreasonable to suggest that had Rangers not gone into a tailspin and been liquidated that under the confines of the present strategy we would probably not be trying for five in a row.
Don’t forget that when the chips were down in the aftermath of Mowbray’s departure, Celtic’s solution was to hand the job to an untested coach with all the attendent risks that presents.
Don’t kid yourself that Lennon’s appointment fitted into some grand plan … it was an enormous risk, taken in desperation, as a cheap and easy option, to buy time and stave off difficult questions.
In short, they were making it up as they went along.
The alibi people offer Lawwell is that we can’t be expected to compete in Europe. That will get him only so far, because he’s only allowed that because we’re the biggest club in Scotland at the moment … and that has as much to do with the collapse of Rangers as any great genius of his. Stop denying this, people, it’s a stone cold fact and the sooner we face it the better.
Woe betide him – and those making his case – if the day comes around whilst he’s in post when we are no longer that.
We all know that shouldn’t even be remotely worrying us for at least the next five to ten years. The Promised Land of ten in a row should be well within our reach. We should be out of sight, ahead of everyone else by light years, and cruising towards it.
And we’re not. Nowhere near it.
Complacency is part of what’s going to end our ambition of reaching that milestone, but complacency isn’t what I’m accusing him and the board of, because this isn’t taking your eye off the ball … we are where the strategy has put us, and the strategy is going to continue.
This is gross mismanagement of the football club.
The result on Saturday spurred me on to write this piece, but it had existed in embryonic form for longer than just the last fortnight.
I’ve been arguing for a while that Peter Lawwell’s best days at this club are far behind him and that the only way is down.
Corbyn’s victory, in the face of a quite extraordinary media campaign and in opposition to so many hysterical voices within the ranks of his own parliamentary party, simply gave me the theme.
Times change. Circumstances change. And people change with them.
It took Labour a catastrophic defeat in Scotland before they even started to think about altering their politics and their knee jerk reaction was to veer further to the right. Internally, the PLP would actually still be struggling with those lessons today, but then Corbyn came along and made their naval gazing redundant anyway.
But it happened, in no small part, because they took our votes for granted.
They assumed them rather than earned them.
They believed that all you had to do in Scotland was stick a red rosette on someone and they would waltz into office.
One look at the Celtic FC website today should tell you all you need to know about how the club is handling our European defeat and yesterday’s reversal against ten men; of the articles that went up in the last 24 hours, almost all were concerned with money, with asking the fans to spend it, without giving them one good reason why they should.
They take the fans for granted.
They assume the loyalty of the supporters without doing anything to earn it.
I wrote a year ago on this site about the need for the club to give us a vision. Lawwell sat in front of CelticTV and answered a bunch of softball questions lobbed at him by one of his own employees and then tried to pass that off – with the help of a compliant media who were only too happy to eat succulent lamb from Celtic’s table in the absence of one at Ibrox – as offering that to those of us who’d dared ask.
I wrote a similar editorial a week or so ago, after Malmo, and what we got were some second hand comments about the board having faith in the manager. It no longer looks like complacency as much as it seems like contempt.
But you don’t have to be a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.
Our club is heading backwards, where signing SPL and even Scottish Championship players is becoming the norm. Aberdeen have their best chance in a generation to catch us in the league, and if it’s not them then it could easily be someone else.
If a genuine challenger should emerge – and all it will take is a Scottish team with a good enough squad to edge in front of all their competitors – and we slip even a little … everything comes crashing down.
Can you imagine the reaction when we next lose the league flag?
On a long enough timeline, it’ll certainly happen … but it ought not to be for many, many, many years to come.
If Peter Lawwell is still in office when it does, and that looks more possible with every passing day … meltdown.
A few short months after Brown had dragged the political corpse of Margaret Thatcher across the floor of GMTV, and pushed it into the face of Tony Blair, the two men finally agreed on the handover of power. To get there, Brown had orchestrated an open rebellion within the PLP, in an effort to push the takeover forward. It hadn’t been an empty threat.
One of Blair’s senior aides in Downing Street mourned the way in which matters had resolved themselves, telling Andrew Rawnsley of The Guardian, “Prime Ministers never get their departures right, do they?”
Peter Lawwell may be a mere CEO, but in this he still has the power to make the right call.
If he cares, at all, about Celtic and about saving his own reputation, then I’d suggest he thinks very strongly about what to do next.
He can leave on his own, or wait for the turning of the tide … and it’s coming.
You cannot watch what we’re becoming and seriously doubt it.
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