Liverpool’s origin tale is one of triumph against the odds – so where do they go when they’re winning?

The only team left who can beat them is themselves. 

About an hour into Liverpool vs Manchester City at Anfield, the ball bounced in the direction of Jordan Henderson, Liverpool’s grizzled, industrious captain. Whereupon something quite unexpected occurred. With a City opponent charging towards him, Henderson pirouetted his body through 360 degrees, and then, without looking, flicked the ball with his right heel perfectly into the path of a teammate.

The crowd roared. It’s probably fair to say there were two noises: an initial cheer for the trick, and then a sort of strangled collective gasp as everyone realised who had executed it. Was that… Jordan Henderson? The dependable, self-effacing midfield distributor? Pulling off a spinning backheel flick against the Premier League champions? For all the orchestral splendour and ear-splitting euphoria of Liverpool’s 3-1 win on 10 November, this moment of sparkling incongruity – the equivalent of seeing your parents breakdancing – was probably the moment we all realised something special was happening.

Modern football likes to give the impression that it is an ordered, empirical place. Everything is monitored and recorded; everything can be measured and explained. The idea that elite athletes – winnowed from a talent pool of millions and nurtured to perfection – could be spooked by something as rudimentary as a bellowing crowd feels somehow quaint.

And yet here were City, one of the greatest teams ever seen in English football, skimming haphazardly across the turf like victims of some terrible trauma. Raheem Sterling, the golden boy of English football, squared up furiously to his international teammate Trent Alexander-Arnold after being casually shoved into the advertising hoardings. City’s refined central midfielder Rodri was booked for dissent. Even the officials were addled: City were denied a clear penalty for handball early on, and in a game marked by petty tactical fouls, the home side escaped without a single card.

Anfield and its weathered red bricks tend to have that effect on people, whether or not they would like to admit it. Sergio Agüero, one of the most lethal strikers in the history of the Premier League, still hasn’t scored at Anfield in 13 attempts (and here was hauled off after 70 ineffectual minutes). City haven’t won at Anfield since 2003. In fact, it’s been two-and-a-half years since anybody but Liverpool won at Anfield, the longest unbeaten home record in Europe’s top five leagues.

There are Liverpool’s famous European comebacks, too: from St Etienne 1977 to Olympiakos 2004 to Barcelona 2019, nights when the old ground seemed to be gripped by a strange and supernatural fever. “It’s the hardest place in Europe,” cooed former Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger, who was commentating on the game for Qatari television. “Today we build sophisticated stadiums, but this is a stadium with soul, with pressure really on the opponent.”

A third of the way into the season, a howling gale at Liverpool’s back has blown them into a staggering eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League table. No club has ever built a gap that great this early in the season and failed to win. Bookmakers and statistical modellers are roughly aligned in giving Liverpool around a 70 per cent chance of coming out on top in May. For many pundits, meanwhile, the race is already over: for the first time since 1990, the league title is coming back to Anfield.

With six months of the campaign remaining, this puts Jürgen Klopp’s side in a curiously novel position. For much of the club’s recent history, Liverpool’s narrative has been built on operatic resistance: against the collapse of their 1970s and 1980s dominance; against the new money sweeping through the European game; against the police and government over Hillsborough; occasionally even against their own hated owners.

It’s a powerful origin story, one that has fuelled some of the most memorable nights in Liverpool’s history, and also sustained its longest ever era of failure. Here’s the thing, though. When your entire identity is founded on the trope of triumph against the odds, of harnessing the power of the paranormal to bend the rules of sport and lay your enemies to miraculous waste, what happens when no more miracles are required? What happens when the odds are skewed dramatically in your favour? When you’re eight points clear after 12 games, what is there left to resist?

Perhaps this attachment to resistance is why Liverpool’s least convincing performances have often been in games they were overwhelmingly expected to win. June’s Champions League triumph over Tottenham was one of the worst games of any season: a horribly taut game where the 2-0 result ultimately justified the means. Already this season they have come from behind to beat the likes of Newcastle and Aston Villa, and tiptoed to narrow home wins against Red Bull Salzburg and Genk. And while Anfield can be a terrific tonic when things are going well, it can also turn extremely jittery: Liverpool’s nine home games this season have already produced 43 goals and enough nervous moments to suggest that the next six months might not go quite as smoothly as they would like.

Perhaps, too, it’s why Liverpool’s players and staff have been almost allergically opposed to any premature talk of the title, cleaving furiously to old platitudes such as “having a long way to go” and “taking it one game at a time”. It’s almost as if, having reached the summit, they’re afraid to open their eyes and take in the view. As if deep down, they suspect what everyone else already knows: that the only team left to beat Liverpool is themselves.

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Jordan Henderson runs with the ball in the build-up to Liverpool’s third goal against Manchester City on 10 November
Author: Jonathan Liew | Source

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Would Jeremy Corbyn really deny the SNP a new independence referendum?

In Glasgow this morning, the Labour leader ruled out granting permission for a new vote in the next parliament. But there’s a catch.

Would a Corbyn government hold two referendums in its first year in office? That’s what Boris Johnson would like voters to believe. But, while Labour’s commitment to a fresh vote on Brexit in the first six months of 2020 is now set in stone, its precise position on a new Scottish independence referendum has been rather less clear. 

Until today, that is. On a visit to Glasgow this morning, Jeremy Corbyn ruled out calling a second IndyRef in the first five years of a Labour government. “No referendum in the first term for a Labour government because I think we need to concentrate completely in investment across Scotland,” he told the Press Association.

Though the Labour leader has long said that he would not allow another independence referendum in the “formative years” of his administration, he has never gone so far as to define that timeframe as an entire parliament. It is a clear attempt to shore up support among unionist voters – after all, in all of the seven seats Labour is defending in Scotland, the next biggest party is the SNP. 

But any solution to that electoral headache – and, as one Scottish Tory MP notes, today’s statement is “far too little, far too late” for many pro-UK voters – risks creating a problem for Labour at Westminster. Should it be the largest party in a hung parliament, its likeliest route to a majority will run through SNP MPs. Last week, Nicola Sturgeon named her price for supporting Corbyn: an independence referendum in 2020. Whether you take Corbyn’s latest statement or the fuzzier “formative years” standard as gospel, Labour is clearly unwilling to meet it. 

The best Sturgeon can hope for is a poll in 2021: sources close to Corbyn say his stance is liable to change if the SNP win a majority at the next Holyrood election, scheduled for that May. Having already said she would never put Boris Johnson into office in the event of a hung parliament, it may well be that she must settle for it. 


Author: Patrick Maguire | Source

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New York Notebook: Big backers for Bernie, billionaire maths – and why US capitalism ain’t what it used to be

Sanders now seems to be gaining support in some early primaries. How far can he go?

The United States is never out of an election cycle – almost as soon as the 2018 midterms were over, the race for the presidency began. And a group of left-wing congresswomen elected last year – Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her “squad”, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib – will prove pivotal in the race for the Democratic nomination. A few weeks before I arrived in New York in mid-November, all endorsed Bernie Sanders for the nomination bar Pressley, who supports Elizabeth Warren. The endorsement appears to have shifted some momentum towards Bernie Sanders, while the gaffe-prone Joe Biden is trending downwards in many polls. Sanders now seems to be gaining support in some early primaries such as New Hampshire and Michigan. How far can he go?


The presidential race was not the only election under way while I was in America. A swathe of local elections – for state legislatures, councils and governors – were also taking place in a country where local elections actually matter. The Democrats enjoyed a triumphant night on 4 November, winning the Virginia state legislature, which hasn’t been blue since 1994, while Andy Beshear took the Kentucky governorship. And in Seattle, it looked as though the city’s socialist council member, Kshama Sawant, would be ousted by the Amazon-backed Egan Orion (the corporation has its headquarters in the city). But despite the firm spending $1.5m on the race, the incumbent, a member of the Socialist Alternative party, retained her seat. The winners here are not old-fashioned Democrats, and the reaction to these results among the Sanders crowd was euphoric.


One of the defining election issues, in both local and national contests, is health care. Warren and Sanders are both promising “Medicare for All” policies, which would replace private insurance with a tax-funded public model. It’s not hard to see why – you can’t really go anywhere without witnessing the impact privatised health care has had on American society. When wandering out of a Starbucks I stopped to chat to a homeless man on the street. He told me he was born blind in one eye – he didn’t have health insurance so he couldn’t receive the ongoing treatment that such a condition would require. Instead, he worked at a local logistics company. He gestured to the other side of the road, “right there, that’s where I went blind”. Unable to access public health, and without social or community networks to rely on, he ended up on the street.

Health care isn’t just an issue for the poor. On the flight home, I sat next to a British man who’d recently moved to the US. He told me a friend of his injured himself while at the gym and required emergency care. Though their company provides them with health insurance, that doesn’t include so-called co-pays – the excess you have to pay under almost any insurance plan. His 15-minute trip to the hospital ended up costing his friend $3,500: “Lucky for him, that’s his entire excess gone – he can hurt himself as much as he wants now and it won’t cost him a thing.” It struck me that the idea of “hurting oneself as much as one likes” is a peculiarly American concept.


The conversation about the “billionaire class” that has recently emerged in the UK has been taking place over the Atlantic for several years now. One of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s staffers, Dan Riffle, went viral with the line “every billionaire is a policy failure”, which is now something of a rallying cry on the US left. Just a few days after the Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle stated that he didn’t believe billionaires should exist, Bill Gates made the headlines for criticising Warren’s plans to tax billionaires at a rate of 6 per cent. Gates said, jokingly: “If I had to pay $20bn, it’s fine. But when you say I should pay $100bn, then I’m starting to do a little math about what I have left over.”

Many younger voters pointed out that the answer to Bill Gates’s maths question was around $6bn – if you taxed the Microsoft co-founder $100bn, he’d still be a multi-billionaire. A vivid illustration of the scale of Gates’s wealth went viral on the social media app TikTok. A young woman uploaded a video of herself using the website “spend Bill Gates’s money” and discovered that Gates could buy every team in the NFL and still have $16bn left over.

The responses of Warren and Sanders spoke volumes about their respective campaigns. Warren reassured Gates that she wouldn’t cost him $100bn, and that she’d be happy to meet him to explain her tax plans in person. Sanders, chiming with his millennial audience, tweeted: “Say Bill Gates was actually taxed $100 billion. We could end homelessness and provide safe drinking water to everyone in this country.” He has a point. Last year in the US, billionaires paid less as a proportion of their income in tax than the average working family.


I spoke to a group of policymakers, politicians and their staffers at the Aspen Institute, a think tank that leans towards the “Clintonite” wing of US politics. Most of them were not the enthusiastic converts to socialism whom I addressed during the rest of my tour. But when I opened my discussion about the problems with American capitalism by pointing to a recent Financial Times front page – “Capitalism: time for a reset” – there were murmurs of recognition. However you look at it – Amazon backing council candidates, working families unable to access health care, the growth of the billionaire class – it’s hard to shake the feeling that US capitalism isn’t what it used to be. The question the US faces in 2020 is “can it be revived, or should it be replaced?”

Grace Blakeley’s “Stolen: How to Save The World From Financialisation” is published by Repeater Books

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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has endorsed Bernie Sanders for the Democratic nomination
Author: Grace Blakeley | Source

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In the old monetary world markets created constraints, but now there is no sense of where the limits lie

Corbyn won the leadership because his opponents, saturated in New Labour culture, had nothing to say about his ideological attacks on austerity. 

For more than seven decades, the convulsions of British politics were marked by sterling crises. The second Labour government fell apart in 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald cut unemployment benefit to try to keep sterling in the Gold Standard. British postwar foreign policy crumbled when sterling crises ended military action against Egypt in 1956 and later forced a withdrawal from East of Suez. James Callaghan ended the postwar commitment to full employment after his government was forced to seek an IMF loan in 1976 to compensate for sterling’s collapse. Black Wednesday in September 1992 terminated more than a decade of Conservative electoral hegemony and any hope that Britain would turn its Maastricht opt-out on monetary union into an opt-in. That monetary fault line went on to play a crucial part in wrecking Britain’s European Union membership.

Although Conservative governments suffered their fair share of sterling-induced political crises, Labour was structurally disadvantaged by the perpetual risk of a currency run. The fear that investors would take fright made it harder for Labour to present itself as a party of competent government. Indeed, New Labour’s repudiation of the past was directed, as much as anything else, at the financial markets, reassuring them that a chastened Labour leadership now understood the constraints markets created better than the Conservatives. George Osborne’s tactical success in 2010 was to disrupt this New Labour narrative by using Gordon Brown’s fiscal record and the financial and eurozone crises to resurrect that old fear within the bond markets.

But the monetary environment around the 2010 general election has vanished. Greece, whose fate Osborne used to attack Labour, now enjoys an interest rate for ten-year bonds of not much more than 1 per cent. Attempts by central banks to steer the world economy back to anything remotely like monetary normalcy have failed. The Federal Reserve has cut rates three times since July and returned to a form of quantitative easing, even though in July the American economy’s recovery from its last recession became the longest in history. The Bank of England started talking in early 2014 about the economy returning to normal, but at 0.75 per cent the bank rate now stands but one quarter of a percentage point higher than it then did.

Despite having fallen around 15 per cent since the Brexit referendum, sterling has never since 23 June 2016 created an atmosphere of crisis comparable to the past. A parliament that refused for months to pass a withdrawal treaty but lacked the political wherewithal to reject it or revoke Article 50 could not have indulged itself during an age in which financial markets imposed hard, immediate choices.

This new monetary environment disabled the Conservatives’ old advantages over Labour and opened the opportunity within Labour for Corbynism. Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership in 2015 because his opponents, saturated in New Labour culture as they all were, had nothing to say about his ideological attacks on fiscal austerity. Corbyn ended up capturing 40 per cent of the vote in the 2017 general election by rejecting market-induced restraint and by, among other things, promising largesse to university students and their parents on tuition fees.

But since the last election the Corbyn project has become much more ambitious. The Green New Deal is now Labour’s policy centrepiece. It relies on gargantuan borrowing and has become an existential justification for shedding any remnant of the idea that a government’s creditworthiness should constrain what politically can be achieved.

Concentrating on the climate emergency represents an attempt to entrench economic radicalism within the party. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, appears to be hoping it will also open up a line of defence against Conservative attacks on Labour’s spending plans by insisting that the Conservatives’ response to the environmental crisis is hopelessly insufficient.

The Conservatives have adjusted more cautiously to the new monetary landscape. Former chancellor Philip Hammond wanted to remain a fiscal conservative, as if it did not matter that interest rates in Britain and elsewhere are too low to reap any benefit from further deficit cutting. Boris Johnson talks as if he has strategically embraced the monetary moment. He wants to use additional borrowing for infrastructure projects and tax cuts to hold together a political coalition of former Labour voters who support Leave and Tory Remainers. But his chancellor, Sajid Javid, appears more reluctant to concede the political opportunity to attack Labour for fiscal incontinence by making extravagant tax promises.

Beyond Brexit, this general election is being fought over the political parameters of the new monetary world. Labour has raised the stakes inordinately, effectively committing itself to borrowing however much is necessary to prevent an environmental apocalypse, even though there is zero chance that renewable sources can replicate the energy produced by fossil fuels in time to meet the party’s climate-change targets (zero net carbon emissions by 2030).

The Conservatives are trusting that such a millenarian project shows that, however hard it is for politicians to generate a sterling crisis in the present economic circumstances, a Labour government would nonetheless manage to create one.

In this new era central bankers have not told any politician where the fiscal limits for a state with its own currency lie, or how they might manifest. In fact, central bankers may have created a political world that nobody is equipped to understand before the strains become so great that it collapses in crisis.

Helen Thompson is professor of political economy at Cambridge University

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Author: Helen Thompson | Source

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The two ways that Jo Swinson can hurt Boris Johnson

A very good Liberal Democrat performance hurts the Conservatives – but so does a very bad one.

There are two ways that Jo Swinson can hurt Boris Johnson in this election: doing very well at the election, and doing very badly. Do very well, and the Liberal Democrats gain far more seats at the Conservatives’ expense than they indirectly cost the Labour party in seats where the party has no hope of winning, making it impossible for him to go ahead with Brexit. Do very badly, and the Labour party recovers to its 2017 level, holds on to all or most of its seats in England and Wales, and the SNP retake enough seats from the Scottish Conservatives to shut Johnson out of office.

Thanks to our antiquated electoral system, it’s quite difficult to tell what “doing well” looks like until the evening of 12 December. One reason that the Liberal Democrat rank-and-file is excited about this election is they think that the party’s new pro-European voters are much more effectively located and concentrated than the voters it gained from the 1980s until it entered the coalition. Although the Liberal Democrats are still badly served by the United Kingdom’s electoral system, their 2017 electoral coalition was more efficient than their 2015 one, electing 12 MPs with fewer votes than they got in 2015, when they got eight. Many in that party think they can pull off similar gains thanks to a more concentrated Liberal Democrat core vote. But they could be wrong: the Liberal Democrat surge could be happening pretty evenly across the country in a way that has very little direct effect on the Liberal-Conservative battleground but a significant indirect effect on the Labour-Conservative battleground.

The polls are divided: essentially, of the companies doing regular polling, YouGov, Opinium, IpsosMori and Deltapoll show a Conservative lead that is probably big enough for gains at Labour’s expense to cancel out Liberal Democrat losses, while Survation and ComRes show a lead that probably isn’t. The pattern in Survation’s constituency polling shows remarkably well-distributed Liberal Democrat and Labour voting, with very few Liberal Democrat voters in the marginal Labour-held seat of Gedling, and very few Labour voters in the numerous Liberal Democrat marginals they have polled. Constituency polling is very difficult to do well and one reason to be dubious about it is the effectiveness of the Labour-Liberal Democrat vote in these polls suggests a very high-level of political engagement, and one reason why opinion polls have tended to get things wrong is that they have oversampled politically engaged people at the expense of the politically engaged. (In 2015, politically engaged 2010 Liberal Democrat voters were more likely to have switched to Labour, while politically unengaged ones were more likely to have switched to the Conservatives.)

But we can say with reasonable certainty that at the point the Liberal Democrat vote is above 22 per cent, it starts to cause sufficiently large problems for the Conservatives that the indirect problems it causes for Labour are cancelled out, and that when it gets to below ten per cent, Labour start to do well enough that the Conservatives start to have real problems in the Conservative-Labour battleground. The good news for Boris Johnson is that the Liberal Democrats are not at 22 per cent in the polls and they are well above ten per cent.

The bad news is that we can’t say with any certainty what the net effect of the Liberal Democrats’ increased vote share is while they continue to poll at around 17 per cent. We know that there is an indirect benefit to the Conservatives and a direct cost to them. We just don’t know which of those is greater.

One of the ways that Jeremy Corbyn has a simpler job in this election is that his interests are pretty straightforward: the lower the Liberal Democrat voteshare, the better for him. He and Labour are doing a pretty good job of repeating and reinforcing the message that this election is a choice between him and Johnson.

The problem for Boris Johnson is that his best interests are not as clear: we can’t say exactly where the optimal Liberal Democrat performance is from a Conservative perspective but we can say that it is probably quite a small range.

But Johnson’s campaign is doing a ruthless and pretty efficient job of repeating the message that this campaign is a two-horse race between him and Jeremy Corbyn. He has even agreed to two one-on-one debates between himself and the Labour leader. It’s hard to see the benefit of these to Johnson: one-on-one debates are difficult for the incumbent, Corbyn is quite good at this format, and most importantly, Swinson’s absence from them underlines the message that Labour want to send, which is that this election is a choice between Labour and the Conservatives. Johnson may have cause to regret that.

Photo: Getty

Author: Stephen Bush | Source

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General Election: Boris Johnson heckled again as man shouts: ‘The country’s a joke’

The Prime Minister faced embarrassment for a second time on a difficult visit to Yorkshire today, when an angry voter confronted him in a community centre in Fishlake, telling him: “Kids are living in the streets, nobody gives a f*** about them”
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McCluskey tells Corbyn to defy calls to extend freedom of movement

Unite leader also urges shadow cabinet to keep quiet about second Brexit referendum

Jeremy Corbyn’s key union supporter, Unite’s Len McCluskey, has told the Labour leader that victory in the general election means winning over the party’s traditional working-class supporters with a tough line on free movement of workers.

In a Guardian interview, the Unite general secretary said shadow cabinet members should not upset Labour’s carefully crafted Brexit position during the election and that he would oppose any attempts to extend free movement as voted for at the party’s annual conference in Brighton.

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Author: Larry Elliott | Source

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Resident tells PM on floods visit: ‘You took your time, Boris’

PM heckled in Stainforth, South Yorkshire, as troops help shore up battered defences

Boris Johnson has been accused of doing nothing to help flood victims as he visited one of the worst hit areas and told residents: “We’ve been on it round the clock”.

The prime minister appeared in Stainforth, in South Yorkshire as 100 soldiers were deployed to help shore up the region’s battered flood defences.

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Author: Josh Halliday North of England correspondent | Source

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