Who’s to blame for Leicester’s success? #Championes

Today’s guest blog post by author and academic Tim Hillier looks at our reactions to success and failure and why we need to be cautious about rushing to apportion blame when things go wrong…

Tim Hillier

Tim Hillier

The last few weeks have been pretty extraordinary for the people and city of Leicester and in particular the supporters of Leicester City Football Club.  

Since about 9.45pm on Monday 2nd May the city has been in a state of almost permanent euphoria.  As the euphoria subsides many attempt to explain the reasons behind the 5,000-1 outsiders’ triumph.  There has been some inevitable focus on a number of key individuals: manager Caudio Ranieri, players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the Thai owner, Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha.


More often, however, those attempting to explain have stressed the teamwork, the organisation, the marginal differences made to training or tactics, or diet.  Success tends to be understood in terms of an alignment of a wide range of factors.  Everyone from the CEO to the 8 year old mascot has had a part to play and can take credit from and pride in the success.


Leicester’s state of almost perpetual euphoria

Contrast that to how society reacts to failure.  Every season a large number of football managers lose their jobs, scapegoated for a lack of success on the field.

“When the brick goes through the chairman’s window it hits the manager on the head”

On Radio 4’s The Blame Game (first broadcast on May 8 2016) former manager Steve Coppell spoke to Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller about the readiness of clubs to channel blame towards identifiable individuals.  Dame Eliza quoted the phrase “When the brick goes through the chairman’s window it hits the manager on the head” summing up the downward spiral that sees poor results lead to supporter discontent lead to pressure on the club’s owners resulting in the manager’s sacking.

Quick to blame

Nor is this process confined to football.  In all walks of life society has become increasingly quick to blame.  In recent times the term blamestorming has been coined reflecting the way in which, when something goes wrong, organisations and the wider society seek to allocate blame to identifiable individuals or groups of individuals.

The Hillsborough inquest further illustrates the point.  Initially sections of the media (and some politicians) were happy to point the finger of blame at Liverpool supporters.  The absolute wrongness of that decision was confirmed at the second Hillsborough inquest just concluded.  Yet rather than seek to look for a combination of contributing factors (including human error) the finger of blame has now been pointed at the South Yorkshire police and a number of individual officers.

A football ground on the day of a cup semi-final can be a fairly chaotic, unpredictable place.  Decisions by those responsible for the safety of spectators have to be made in an instant.  Human beings will sometimes make the wrong decision.  Nobody intended the deaths at Hillsborough, just as no social worker or director of social services intends children should suffer neglect and abuse.

5000 to 1

Just like success, failure and disaster occurs as the result of a complex combination of factors coming together.  The odds of this convergence occurring may be 5000 to 1 (or greater).  To seek to blame an individual or group of individuals in such situations doesn’t in any way reduce the chances of the event re-occurring.  If anything the opposite may be true: with the threat of being scapegoated lurking in the background people become risk averse and unwilling to make decisions.

In a climate of fear, accidents, disasters and tragedies are more rather than less likely

This is not to say that any blame is inappropriate.  Clearly there were some grave errors of judgement made on the day of the match and the extensive cover-up afterwards is inexcusable.  Although cover-ups are more likely to occur when individuals or institutions are keen to avoid blame.  Those effected by tragedies may want those responsibly to be held to account but above all they want to know the truth.

In a climate of fear, accidents, disasters and tragedies are more rather than less likely.  When the 5000-1 outsider romps home to victory we can celebrate and calmly investigate the possible reasons for the purposes of seeing if the victory can be repeated.  When the 5,000-1 chance tragedy occurs we need to commiserate and heal and calmly investigate the reasons for the purposes of seeing if the tragedy can be avoided.

Blame has an important role but today’s society seems to value it to the exclusion of other more positive responses.  As Radio 4’s The Blame Game said “Today’s society has become too quick to blame”.


Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats [FC]Tim Hillier is Associate Head of De Montfort Law School. For many years he has taught and researched in the areas of international law and criminology.

Together with Gavin Dingwall, Professor of Criminal Justice Policy at De Montfort University, he has written Blamestorming, blamemongers and scapegoats: Allocating blame in the criminal justice process which is now out in paperback and available to purchase from the Policy Press website here.

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Manufactured Excellence Everywhere: but what about the human cost?

Educational excellence has been in the news a lot of late – from the row over seven year old testing through to the latest government U-turn on school academisation. In today’s guest blog, author of recently published Pushed to the edge: Inclusion and behaviour support in schools, Val Gillies provides her insights into a system that falls far short of providing quality education to a large number of children in its care…

Val Gillies (2)Recent developments at the Department for Education have managed to out-parody even the sharpest of political satires. Attempts to subject primary age children to more demanding standards have descended into confusion and controversy, with experts highlighting the ambiguities and misleading nature of the questions.

The perversely difficult spelling, grammar and punctuation tests stumped even the Schools Minister himself and have sparked mass protests from teachers, parents and kids. Then in the midst of the furore it was discovered some of the tests had previously been published online, not just once but twice. Meanwhile screeching U turns have had to be made on the issues of baseline testing for reception children and the forced academisation.


The recently published Government white paper ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere’ has acquired a comic irony in the context of this omnishambles. Continue reading ‘Manufactured Excellence Everywhere: but what about the human cost?’

Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society?

The official launch of Peter Beresford’s book taking place this evening as part of an engaging debate on the future of the welfare state by an impressive panel of speakers including John McDonnell, Natalie Bennett and Yasmin Alibhai-Brown.

We asked Peter to kick start thinking about the issue by sharing his thoughts on why he felt All our welfare was a book that needed to be written….

Beresford image“I wanted to take a fresh look at the post-war welfare state, particularly from the perspectives of people on the receiving end, as a case study of social policy.

What was wrong with it, could it be improved? I wanted to see how well modern neo-liberal social policy lived up to its claims of improving on state welfare. But most of all, I wanted to explore what social policy might look like and how it might be secured, which was truly participatory and involved us in all our diversity in improving our well-being –the cross-party mantra of modern public policy.

And because my concern here, as in all my work, has been with ‘user involvement’ and ‘citizen participation’, I wanted to do this in a participatory way; engaging with experiential as well as ‘expert’ or professional knowledge, drawing on my own, my family’s and many other people’s experience as welfare service users.

The reader will be the judge of how well this task has been tackled. But it led me to a realization that there was a key question facing modern social policy, that barely seems to have been articulated, let alone addressed in all the discussions, developments and reforms that have been taking place.

“‘welfare’ has in some mouths become a dirty word…”

Continue reading ‘Welfare debate: How should people look after each other in a twenty first century society?’

Police and Crime Commissioners: have new elections intensified the political colouring of the role?

Although last week’s Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) elections saw a 10% increase in voter turn out, up on November 2012, a third of PCCs did not stand for a second term and there was a significant drop in the number of ‘independents’ standing overall.

Author and Policing and Criminal Justice academic Bryn Caless asks whether the evident politicisation of the PCC role along party lines may alienate already limited public support in time…

Bryn CalessThe elections of 40 Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) which took place on 6 May in England and Wales alongside those for local councils, indicate that overt politicisation of the role has increased.

In November 2012, the first ever PCC elections were held amidst controversies about the politicisation of the police, there were worries about the high bar for qualification and the expensive candidacy fee (at £5,000, ten times that for a prospective MP). In 2016, all such concerns persist.


The police themselves were initially suspicious of this cuckoo in their nest, while the media have been unremittingly hostile to a ‘mediocre’ Conservative initiative to replace what Teresa May, the Home Secretary, has called ‘anonymous and ineffective’ Police Authorities. (Actually, the ‘elected representative’ had been Labour’s idea some ten years earlier.) Continue reading ‘Police and Crime Commissioners: have new elections intensified the political colouring of the role?’

What impact has Mayor George Ferguson had in Bristol?

As  we go to the polls today in London, Bristol, Salford and Liverpool to vote for our choice of mayor our guest blog post by author and academic Robin Hambleton reflects on the impact the role has had in Bristol. This post was first published on the Centre for Cities site and can be viewed here.

The introduction of a directly elected mayor in 2012 has given Bristol more visible leadership – but more can be done to bring local councillors onside

HambletonIn a referendum in May 2012, the citizens of Bristol voted to introduce a directly elected mayor model of governance.

The following November, fifteen candidates, more than in any other mayoral contest in England, ran for the newly created office.

To the surprise of many media commentators (as well as the established political parties), Bristol citizens, quirky as always, elected an independent politician. George Ferguson, a respected architect with a good track record of carrying out imaginative urban regeneration projects in the city, defeated Marvin Rees, the Labour Party candidate and his main rival.

Front runners

Ferguson became the first independent politician to lead a major English city, and is now campaigning to win a second term on 5th May. Rees, who was born and bred on a council estate in Bristol and offers a progressive agenda for the city, has been chosen by the Labour Party to run again. He argues (and has solid evidence to back his argument) that gentrification of parts of the city is rampant, and that the prosperity the city is now enjoying is not widely spread. Continue reading ‘What impact has Mayor George Ferguson had in Bristol?’

Educational Excellence Everywhere!

Whilst David Cameron vows to ‘finish the job’ on academies  today’s guest blogger, author and academic Patrick Ainley, explains why academies aren’t the answer. Defining the failure of our young people as a much bigger problem that needs to be viewed within the wider context of politics and the economy he explains how on earth we got here and what must be done to get us out of this mess.

Author and academic Patrick Ainley’s book Betraying a generation: How education is failing young people publishes today. 

Patrick Ainley

Patrick Ainley, author and Professor of Education and Training at the University of Greenwich

“Educational Excellence Everywhere!”

What a bonkers title for a White Paper that imposes another great school reorganisation on all state schools in England turning them into independently competing academies run by charities and chains!

This is supposed to drive up ‘standards’ in tests and exams, though there is no generally accepted evidence that it does so in the half of secondary schools already ‘free’ from local council support.

In fact, overall the UK is falling down the international league tables of school achievement that government and Inspectors are so fond of. Continue reading ‘Educational Excellence Everywhere!’

#PanamaPapers: Beyond Naming Names

Media coverage of the Panama Papers, the leaked set of 11.5 million confidential documents that provide detailed information about offshore companies listed by the Panamanian corporate service provider Mossack Fonseca, has been widespread this week.

But in today’s guest blog post, author and academic Andrew Sayer warns against seeing tax havens as anomalies and asks us to look beyond the current focus on naming and shaming the users of Mossack Foneseca’s services… 

Andrew Sayer

Andrew Sayer

‘We have done nothing illegal’. If you’ve been following the stories of tax dodging that have come out of the Panama Papers, you will have seen this feeble response many times.

To explain why the elaborate schemes for avoiding tax are not illegal, just remember the golden rule: those with the gold make the rules.

And they make them to suit themselves.
‘When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living in society, they create for themselves, in the course of time, a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.’ (Frédérik Bastiat, liberal economist, 1850)

Tax havens are not are not anomalous islands in an ocean of normality. Continue reading ‘#PanamaPapers: Beyond Naming Names’

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