Big money talks. One of the richest football clubs in the world, Manchester United, is at the top of the Premier League. Ferrari, the first of the big spenders in F1, came first and second in the most recent Grand Prix. The Conservative and Labour parties raise most money in British politics and are likely to come first and second in elections. US athletes receive substantial financial backing for training and are likely to win more medals than the athletes of other countries at the Olympics that can afford less.
When I visited an F1 team (Not Williams that I have written about before on this blog) that had failed to win races and asked the obvious question, I was told disarmingly that they would never win an F1 race as they were so heavily outspent by Ferrari. The largest companies in the world pay the highest salaries to attract executive talent. The establishment view in science is reflected in the pattern of grants and payments for research projects. All this leads many of my Parliamentary colleagues, both Labour and Conservative, to adopt a kind of financial fatalism, and believe that elections, like many things in life, are just a question of who can get hold of the most money and the hire the best people to do the job.
And yet. And yet. The four clubs who made it to the FA Cup semi final matches did not include any of the top group of super rich elite teams of multi millionaire footballers and their mutli millionaire coaches. 3 of the 4 teams do not even manage to play in the Premier League at all. 25 years ago IBM was the runaway success in the world of computing: few would then have predicted the rise and rise of Microsoft and Google, Yahoo and Facebook against the apparently impregnable dominance of IBM with all the money and expertise at its disposal. Many a large corporation has watched as small rivals have arrived in the market to do something faster, cheaper, better, and have succeeded in doing so despite having only a fraction of the resources available to the market leader. In international sporting contests sometimes the underdog wins, and the participants from poorer countries often perform with distinction.
What some people fail to realise is that having money can help, but you need to spend it wisely. This government has fallen for the loads of money fallacy. Public services must be better because we are paying more for them. If you simply put the pay of existing managers up hugely but donâ€™t ask or expect anything more from them, you will not get any improvement for your cash. If you hire more managers and administrators, rather than better ones, you may end up with a worse service, as the bureaucracy trips over itself. If you do not inspire commitment, loyalty and a more professional approach, it does not matter how much you spend â€“ you will waste most of it.
The reason Ferrari wins a lot of grand prix is not just that it spends a lot â€“ it spends the money on engineers, managers and drivers who want to be the best and go the extra mile to be the best. The reason Manchester United have stayed at the top of the Premier most of this season and last is the commitment of their Manager and their players to excellence â€“ the wish to perform for their fabulous pay. The reason four clubs without huge money managed to take the top four places in the FA cup was that on the day their players showed more professionalism, more hunger and more commitment than the top clubs they were playing.
What any sporting outfit, political party or company needs is a combination of commitment, passion and professionalism. Big money can help you buy people more likely to have those virtues, but it can lead you to pay them too much so their hunger fades for success. Big money may find people who intend to remain professional and are the best, but they will still be vulnerable to challenge from people who are not yet well known, but have an even bigger hunger, passion and professionalism â€“ who have more time to train and perfect their task because they are not distracted by the lifestyle and requirements that big money anything brings to its practitioners. The smart multi million pound footballers know their financial success ultimately depends on their ability to become and remain the best footballers of their generation. They know there could be someone practising many hours a day in a back street or on a field with a ball to topple them in a year or twoâ€™s time. The smart multi million pound F1 teams strain every ounce of intelligence and every muscle to make sure tomorrowâ€™s car is better and faster than todayâ€™s even when they are winning. The sensible political party ,even when it finds raising money easily, should know that its success depends on harnessing the energy, enterprise and enthusiasm of a big army of volunteers and on mobilising its candidates who need themselves to put in great effort and show a professional approach. Elections cannot be won by a team of highly paid strategists and spin doctors on their own. The Clinton team had all the money before Obama arrived with the passion and the vision.
I am glad big money anything can be challenged, and share the English pleasure in seeing an underdog teach the assumed winner a few lessons. I also take pleasure in well paid professionals, when they show that we are paying for great qualities, and when they earn their generous pay. The multimillionaires of the Premier league clearly let their standards slip in the FA cup this year. It should give hope to all those taking on better paid and better financed rivals. It should remind us in politics that big money does not always win. What matters is spending it wisely, and allying it to a winning professionalism.