While the nation battles the fallout from the Covid-19 pandemic, some parliamentarians have been preoccupied with a crisis of their own – who runs the MPs’ football team. And, though it might be known as the beautiful game, things have turned ugly.
A row has been brewing for months, with long-serving senior Labour MPs taking the drastic action of calling on their colleagues to boycott involvement in running the group in protest at the behaviour of its new Tory chair.
However, a deal has now been brokered for a Tory-Labour power-sharing agreement so harmony can be restored to the dressing room.
It comes after a hotly contested claim emerged that the Conservative MP Karl McCartney effectively mounted a takeover of the all-party parliamentary football club earlier this year when he became chair with the backing of Tory colleagues.
In an attempt to kick McCartney into touch, the Labour MPs Clive Betts (a former chair of the group), Ian Murray and Justin Madders emailed Labour colleagues on Monday saying: “Karl McCartney proposed himself chair and brought a number of Conservative colleagues to support him without any discussion with Labour colleagues.”
They added: “We have been trying to seek compromise with Karl to continue to ensure the collegiate and consensual way we have always operated but he has refused. Ian Murray and Clive Betts have had a Zoom conversation with Karl today and he is unwilling to run the group in the all-party cooperative spirit it has always operated. We would ask that no Labour members agree to be an officer until joint agreement is reached.”
However, after the row emerged on Tuesday – first reported by Politico London Playbook – a deal was reached to resolve the disagreement, with Madders due to be appointed co-chair of the group. “In the end, it was a hard-fought 90 minutes but football has been the winner,” Madders joked to the Guardian.
After reaching the compromise, Madders and McCartney released a joint statement on Tuesday saying: “We have an OGM later today when it is expected that Justin Madders will be joining the group as co-chairman (with Karl McCartney) and his election will provide cross-party management of the group.
“It is expected at the same time that a number of other Labour members will be joining as vice-chairmen, as well as other members of both Houses. The UKPFC APPG has always been open to all members, and is inclusive, and can now move forward and concentrate on what it was meant to do: playing more football, as well as raising the profile of the many good causes and charities the team support.”
McCartney denied claims of a takeover, telling the Guardian: “The minutes of the 2020 AGM show I did not propose myself to be chairman at all; in fact I was nominated and seconded by a number of parliamentary colleagues who were present at the meeting in person, and Clive Betts (who was in the chair in person in the room) did not put himself forward, nor was he proposed by anyone present.
“I have organised the group, and continued to act both before and since the AGM, in a professional and grown-up manner that is transparent and inclusive to parliamentarians, players and outside interested parties such as the FA and EPL, and will continue to do so.”
Detailing claims of the initial fallout, the ex-chair Betts, who has been involved with the side for nearly three decades, said: “It just got very silly. He [McCartney] walked into the AGM way back in February and just said: ‘I want to be chair.’ He brought a number of Conservative colleagues with him and he said: ‘These are all vice-chairs,’ and that was sort of it.
“The secret is in the name – all-party groups – and they only work on an all-party basis because you’ve got to have officers from certainly the government and the main opposition party to enable it to function.”