I don't really like wishing for the worst to happen, but sometimes it's only through miserable defeat, failure and humiliation that people can be made to confront the real problems that run right through them.
It's the same, I think, for two former loves of mine who have long since faded from my affections - the England football team and the Labour Party. Once I supported them both, enthusiastically and proudly. Sure, there were times when they let me down, but I knew that they were trying their hardest. Maybe it was the blindness of love that stopped me from seeing what was really going on. But I kept that hope, that dream, in the back of my mind, that one day they would really repay all that faith and all that support I had given them.
"This time, more than any other time, this time, we're gonna find a way, find a way to get away, this time, getting it all together, we're gonna get it right," said 'Ron's 22' as they headed towards the inevitable collapse in Espana 82, having not got it right in the slightest. Soon after, Labour fell into the abyss themselves as the popular vote disintegrated and a well intentioned but thoroughly unpopular Trotskyite agenda was obliterated at the hands of the voters.
Fast forward to 1997 and New Labour, shorn of anything remotely approaching a leftist agenda yet still incredibly labelled as Marxists and Socialists by the press, destroyed the Tories at the ballot box. Destroyed? Not really. They got in through tactical voting, and thanks to the Referendum Party splitting the right-wing anti-Europe vote. But it went down as a victory to the reformers, despite the fact that already there were grumbles in Old Labour heartlands about where this 'new' party was going and what it would really do for working people. New Labour pressed on, going further and further to the right, alienating those who had voted for them for decades as they sought the elusive 'aspirational hard-working families' who would ordinarily have put a cross next to the Conservative Party without thinking twice.
England, meanwhile, had already had their hubris. Buoyed by those remarkable but flattering results in previous World Cups, they had failed in 1994 and were about to be dumped out in 1998. Blame penalties; blame Beckham; blame the cheating Argies. No-one could see what was really going on. Bring in a new boss - that'll solve everything. In came Eriksson - same players, same hoof-it-up-to-the-big-fella tactics, a little bit of early success... and then ordinary performances in 2002, in 2004, in 2006... blame penalties; blame cheating foreigners; blame everyone but England. Yet look at any competitive game England have played over the past 18 years... start with England v Cameroon in the 1990 World Cup. The team were humbled by superior passing, skill and control. It's been the same story in every game ever since, but England have got out of jail, thanks to moments of brilliance, a bit of luck here and there, and when it has gone wrong, it's always been a chance to blame everything but the state of English football and the 'best league in the world'.
When Labour eventually get an absolute pasting in the 2009-10 general election, we'll see the same kind of denial. It'll be Jock McBottler's fault for being a bad leader and being unattractive to voters - stick to exactly the same policies (in fact why not privatise more?) and draft in a blandie like Miliband and everything will be fine, won't it? No. Brown can't save Labour, just as Eriksson couldn't save England, just as Capello can't save England. Labour need to look a lot deeper than that. They need to look at what's gone wrong and what needs to be sorted out. They need to look at whether the electoral system in this country really is advantageous or democratic. They need to look at whether people in the midst of a huge recession really need to be saddled with enormous PFI debts and privatised everything - is that really what working people really want? Who asked for it? Can anyone tell me when voters ever asked for PFI? Anyone? Ever? Yet the assiduousness with which Labour pursues it, you'd think it was the first item on the agenda at every single Labour party meeting ever.
Labour need a crushing, humiliating defeat at the polls. They need to be annihilated. They need to be wiped off the face of the map by those people who are their traditional supporters. It's no use voting for Labour, with policies directly opposite to what you think, in the vain hope that they'll be 'better than the Tories'. They won't be. They've shot their bolt. It's those 'core' supporters who are the problem, and the trade unions too, propping up a party that has done virtually nothing for the interests of working people in 11 years of administration. Labour have had their chance.
England, too, need to be wiped off the football map. Just 14th in the world isn't enough. They aren't that good. They need to be destroyed before there's a real inquest into what went wrong - otherwise it'll just be, oh well, change the manager, things will get better, we've got a Golden Generation of players, they'll magically make everything OK, despite not being able to pass the ball properly.
So, much as it pains me, with a heavy heart I must hope for England defeat to Croatia this week. Otherwise things will never change. I'll be watching millionaire clod-hoppers belting the ball 70 yards upfield for a tall fella, who loses possession and then fouls someone, for the rest of my life. I don't want that. I want a sea-change in football culture, an assessment of the Premier League's value to England and what can be done to bring through young talented players; we want some entertaining football from players who look like they give a fuck about putting on an England shirt. We won't get it if we qualify for the next World Cup.
And Labour must be crushed in the next general election, or they will believe that only minor tinkering to the New Labour project is required to keep everyone happy. People deserve something other than bland political consensus in which human beings' needs are put second and businesses' first. At the moment there is no alternative; there needs to be one. Labour can provide that hope; it's what they were there for all along.