OPINION - Human beings are driven solely by their own self-interest — deal with it

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

I couldn’t go to bed. Someone was arguing in bad faith on the internet. The subject that pushed me over the edge and into insomnia was, of all things, the establishment of a football regulator.

There is an important discussion to be had about the Government’s White Paper and whether it can address persistent financial mismanagement or do anything about the use of English football clubs by autocratic regimes as an instrument of soft power. Of course, that’s not what most ordinary football fans really care about. Whether one supports a regulator largely comes down to a simple question: will it help my club?

It’s the same everywhere. Cast your mind back to 2011 and the referendum on the alternative vote. The public debate, such as it was, centred around the impact AV would have on our politics. Might it improve the quality of MPs by getting rid of safe seats or would it exaggerate landslide election victories? The answer was: who cares? What voters want to know is whether AV would help their party win elections.

The idea that people often — though not always — vote in their own self-interest is hardly groundbreaking. People who own their own homes are more likely to elect candidates that promise to block new housing developments. The stated reason may be to protect an area, perhaps even a car park, of outstanding natural beauty. But, in reality, it’s because locals suffer all of the immediate disruption that construction brings but accrue less of the benefit.

Hiding our true motivations gets us into contortions. Take Sadiq Khan’s decision to fund free school meals for all primary students for one year. Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke criticised spending millions on a policy that would end up subsidising meals for “middle-class parents who can afford them perfectly well”.

In a sense, he’s right. The Institute for Fiscal Studies found that while extending free school meals boosted attainment by the equivalent of two months over two years, the costs of a nationwide expansion would be substantial.

But I’m not convinced that’s what Clarke had in mind. Or rather, how his preference for value for money matches his enthusiastic support for Britain’s departure from the European Union — a policy that has cost somewhat more than a year’s worth of free school meals.

Clarke is far from being alone in this mindset. But that’s the point: we fit the logic around our ideology, not the other way around. So we profess to care about value for money when we disagree with a policy but highlight amorphous benefits such as sovereignty when it suits.

This piece probably hasn’t changed anyone’s mind. Writing it certainly hasn’t altered mine. I suppose my real concern should be, were we a little more honest about why we make the choices we do, would that help my side?

Motty was the master

“Look at that! Oh, look at that!” On paper, it is not obviously poetic. But played alongside a swinging left-foot shot by Arsenal’s Liam Brady, in 1978, against Tottenham, at White Hart Lane, in a 5-0 victory… what more needed saying?

If you want alliteration, it’s Peter Drury. Mild admonishment, Barry Davies. But John Motson was BBC commentary. It didn’t hurt that he was also the main voice of World Cup 98 on the Nintendo 64, a game I played so often as a child that I now possess only 40 per cent of standard human thumb flexibility.

The neuroscientist David Eagleman says there are three deaths. When the body ceases to function, when it is consigned to the grave and finally, “when your name is spoken for the last time.” It is hard to imagine a time when Motson’s name, via his voice, will not be heard again. That is some legacy.