Capello – the most successful England manager of all time?

On the face of it, England did rather well. A great performance in qualifying and undefeated in Group C. They made it through to the final 16 of the World Cup and even scored against Germany. Twice.

I was on a (pre-booked) train during most of the match. I wasn’t expecting to watch it, but when I got my laptop out various strangers took an interest and chipped in for internet access from T-Mobile via the Virgin connection. But the live video was unavailable because of BBC copyright concerns that we might be in some foreign country rather than rolling through the shires between Birmingham New Street and London Euston.

So for a rather bizarre hour or so, four strangers sat around a BBC text site updating us on the dazzling developments every 30 seconds.

It was 2-1 when we left the train, and the rest is history. My mobile phone revealed the final scoreline later and I texted my commiserations to Vanessa.

Three Lions
The Pride of England

It would not be fair to measure Mr Capello’s performance based on the events of recent weeks. While his team played okay against against Slovenia, it was a somewhat less-than-satisfactory show in the other matches. But England won nine out of 10 games in qualifying. That is quite a performance.

The trouble is, England is always expected to qualify. And the manager will always be judged on his final few weeks (ie on the point of failure), especially by the British media.

I simply don’t know enough about football to judge Mr Capello. But I do know England have been short of any serious success for 44 years. Capello’s career in football covers the same era and he has not been short of success.

But here in England there is a wide acceptance that the England players are better than their World Cup performance. A belief that somehow the results are a deceit against the team. Fabio Capello was employed to do better than his predecessors (including such luminaries as Glenn Hoddle, Howard Wilkinson, Peter Taylor and Steve McClaren). He has outperformed them all.

Indeed my analysis of the statistics shows that – at competitive level – he has outperformed every manager in the team’s history. 10 wins to four draws or defeats (two each) is a success rate of 71%. It is an average of 2.3 points per game. Both stats are unrivaled in the team’s history. And it is the same headline fact when friendlies are taken into account.

Fabio Capello is the most successful England manager of all time.

He just lacks a trophy. Or an appearance in a worthy final. Or a semi-final. Or even a quarter-final! How depressing.

To see the team on the pitch, England’s performance in the World Cup matches was humiliating. My colleague, Ibrahim Mustapha has much to say about this at The Ibyss, including other issues for FIFA to explore following the referee’s failure to acknowledge Frank Lampard’s goal.

For me the biggest issue seems to be the opponent. Germany and Argentina are particularly problematic. Don’t mention the wars:

  • World Cup 1966 – England defeated West Germany at Wembley. An anomoly.
  • World Cup 1970 – West Germany defeated England in the quarter-final in extra time.
  • World Cup 1982 – England drew against West Germany in the second round group stage, costing them a place in the semi-final, which the Germans later won.
  • World Cup 1986 – Argentina defeated England in the quarter-final.
  • World Cup 1990 – West Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • Euro 96 – Germany defeated England in the semi-final on penalties.
  • World Cup 1998 – Argentina defeated England in the round-of-16 on penalties.
  • World Cup 2010 – Germany 4, England 1 in the round-of-16.

If this pattern sounds familiar it shoudn’t be a surprise. This stuff really happened. England keep meeting the same opponents, time and again. And losing.

Let us assume they will keep facing the same teams. There are other questions to explore. Are there systemic problems which cause the team to underperform? Are the players too tired after a tough season? Is the Premiership style of play unsuited to international football? Are the WAGs a bad influence? Is the press too hard on the little lambs? Has the coaching style been too relaxed (Sven)? Or too tough (Fabio)?

The World of Wad does not have all the answers. It never does. I leave such erudition to others.

In the meantime, I must go and check whether Northern Ireland made it through to the quarter-finals…

UPDATE: I honestly don’t think this is the time to sack Capello although the mood has been overwhelmingly against him. It seems FA board members are swinging behind him, although this could be led as much by financial concerns as by football.


Laws on the ropes?

David is… Mr Integrity. Integrity is the thing that drives him. I believe that he may have been caught, in a way, in the imprecise nature of the word ‘partnership’. The word is used in the House of Commons regulations… I think in good faith he concluded that it did not apply to him.
(Lord Ashdown, David Laws’ predecessor as Yeovil MP)

I have some personal sympathy for David Laws. What a month it has been. He was still campaigning for re-election at the beginning of the month. He didn’t expect then to help negotiate the first coalition government for 65 years. He didn’t expect to become Chief Secretary to the Treasury. He didn’t expect some of his closest friends and family to learn he was gay.

Now the Daily Telegraph suggests he broke parliamentary rules by claiming second home expenses to rent a room from his partner, James Lundie. Mr Laws’ defence is that Mr Lundie was not a ‘partner’ under the expenses rules.

He did not want his relationship revealed. He and Mr Lundie “are intensely private people. We made the decision to keep our relationship private and believed that was our right. Clearly that cannot now remain the case.”

How frustrating these revelations must be for him. But as the expenses saga unfolded last year, surely every MP must have considered how their own circumstances might have appeared under close scrutiny. It was clear they would be judged by their adherence to the spirit, not just the letter, of the rules.

Mr Laws says he will pay back £40,000 and refer himself to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.  Surely it would have been prudent to refer himself last year? Surely that must have occurred to him last year? It may not have prevented the Telegraph uncovering the story, but it might have taken some of the steam out of it.

Now David Cameron and Nick Clegg have a rather awkward situation to deal with. In theory it is a matter for the Prime Minister to decide Mr Laws’ fate. But perhaps he will delegate the problem to his deputy. David Laws is a Lib Dem; he is Mr Clegg’s problem.

If he goes, would he have to be replaced by a Lib Dem? Or could he be replaced from either coalition party? It is an important question for the coalition. I suspect that resignations such as this (if it occurs) may often need to be followed by a minor reshuffle.

The pressure on Mr Laws will be all the greater for his ministerial responsibility. As Chief Secretary to the Treasury it is his job to wield the axe on public spending. His expenses claims may detract from his moral authority in one of the most crucial jobs in government.

Update: David Laws has resigned from the Cabinet. He is replaced by the Scottish Secretary Danny Alexander, perceived as a more awkward fit than Mr Laws. As the Times describes it: “Coalition wobbles in bid to keep its balance.”

Where are they flocking from?

Gillian Duffy was a lifelong Labour voter who told Gordon Brown she was now “absolutely ashamed of saying I’m Labour.”

Mrs Duffy raised a number of issues with the PM: crime; tax on pensions; national debt; immigration and student tuition fees. She spoke forcefully and he responded persuasively in a four minute exchange. Afterwards he dismissed her as a “bigoted woman” in a private conversation.


You can’t say anything about the immigrants, because you’re saying that you’re a… But all these eastern Europeans what are coming in, where are they flocking from?
(Gillian Duffy, Rochdale, 28 April 2010)

One assumes they may be “flocking” from eastern Europe!… Mr Brown thought the encounter was a “disaster” and the idea of talking to her “ridiculous”. But really the encounter was fine. It was a heated discussion, probably uncomfortable for him, but not particularly harmful. And after the conversation, Mrs Duffy told the BBC she would probably still vote Labour, though perhaps that is now in doubt.

The infamous exchange (from BBC News)

A deception?

My only complaint with Mr Brown’s handling of the conversation was on the issue of debt.

How are you going to get us out of all this debt, Gordon?
(Mrs Duffy)

We’ve got a deficit reduction plan to cut the debt by half over the next four years.
(Mr Brown)

If only that were true… At the end of March, the public sector net debt was £771.6 billion (excluding financial interventions). That is a lot. In the year ahead, our interest payments alone are projected to be £43bn.

£43 billion.

That is more than the government proposes to spend on defence. It is twice the budget for transport or half the budget for education.

It is more than the government expects to raise in corporation tax. It is over half the VAT take.

It’s not as if we can afford to spend so much on interest. Last year alone, the government deficit was £163 billion. It spent £163bn more than it raised in taxes. This is not just a number; it is an obscene amount to borrow.

Alistair Darling’s plan is to cut the deficit by half over four years. If he is successful, in four years time we will borrow just £82bn. The deficit will be half what it is now, but the national debt will not be. It will have risen by hundreds of billions of pounds. Any budding chancellor should read my blog on debt: good, bad or ugly?

Gordon Brown told Mrs Duffy he would cut the debt by half over four years. Obviously, he meant the deficit. A slip of the tongue. The difference is profound, but the language is deceptively subtle. Cutting the deficit by half may sound great, but the burgeoning debt draws us ever closer to economic doom.

“A sort of bigoted woman”

I must digress no more. What Gordon Brown said after leaving Mrs Duffy was more damaging for him.

She’s just a sort of bigoted woman that said she used to be Labour.
(Gordon Brown, oblivious of his personal microphone)

Perhaps he was right? Mrs Duffy selected eastern Europeans to illustrate her immigration concerns. Perhaps she is a bigot?

She seemed to acknowledge the issue could get her into hot water: “You can’t say anything about the immigrants, because you’re saying that you’re a…” It’s impossible to know what she almost said, but I’ll hazard a guess: she was concerned about being labelled a racist. However, she persisted and made the point, somewhat ineloquently, that immigration is too high.

I don’t believe her primary concern is eastern Europeans. I believe it is immigration. For her, recent immigration is characterised by eastern Europeans. It’s a reasonable perception. A million eastern Europeans have registered to work in the UK since the jobs market was opened to them in 2004. I believe she would have been equally concerned about immigration to Rochdale from Spain, China, Australia, Birmingham or, God forbid, Northern Ireland.

That is my perception, and I may be wrong. But Mrs Duffy seemed to recognise the danger of talking about immigration. Even the Prime Minister hears the word ‘immigration’ and thinks ‘bigot’. Mrs Duffy was evidently upset when learned what he’d called her.  He later visited her to apologise.

Gordon Brown hears his error on The Jeremy Vine Show (from BBC News)

Immigration is an important issue. We must be allowed to discuss it. There are many arguments in favour of immigration. There are strong arguments against it too. But even if debate was clear cut, if immigration was acknowledged to be A Good Thing, there will be many who remain concerned. Those concerns should be addressed, not ignored or dismissed as bigotry. That approach has given succour to the BNP, and that is – in my view – A Bad Thing.

Click here to compare the main parties’ immigration policies.

Gordon Brown should have learned from John Major’s error in 1994. He probably has ‘bastards’ in his own cabinet too, but all politicians know that a microphone has only one job, and that is to listen. He must be careful what he says when a microphone is listening.


A reprieve for cider drinkers

After the Budget, I wondered: who do cider drinkers vote for? Along with some other measures, the proposed big tax rise on cider has been shelved.

The general election is on 6th May and Parliament will be dissolved in a few days. So soon after the budget, the Government has had to cut deals to pass legislation (including the finance bill) and the higher cider tax is one of the victims. The winners, of course, are the cider drinkers and manufacturers of the West Country (and elsewhere!)

The Government has a healthy working majority in Parliament. But it cannot do all it pleases. It is not all-powerful. In this case its ambitions were thwarted by MPs fighting for their constituents (particularly for cider makers, not just the drinkers). These MPs may have been acting in concert with others fighting for different causes.

Sometimes – working together – the ‘powerless’ carry enough strength to deliver. Perhaps the Great Ignored could collaborate to influence the election and the next Government.

Cider drinkers probably won’t swing the election, and the Government knows this. If Labour stays in office after 6th May, the tax rise will be reinstated.

But it doesn’t concern me; just stay away from my Guinness!


Expenses – the new system

There is a new system for MPs’ expenses. Like many of us, I took some interest in the expenses scandal when it first broke and suggested some of my own ideas for how the new rules should look. I also recognised how I might have fallen foul of the rules at the time.

The changes are sensible and worthwhile. See here how the new rules stack up against the old ones.

It’s good to see the maximum accomodation allowance cut from £2,000 per month to £1,450. I suggested £1,200 would be enough for a decent one bedroom flat in central London, but the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) is more generous.

MPs won’t be able to use their allowance to pay for mortgage interest, so it excludes property investment from taxpayer-funded expenses. It wasn’t among my suggestions, but it’s an appropriate response to the public outrage.

In November, Sir Christopher Kelly’s recommendations included a ban on MPs employing relatives. Derek Conway was the primary abuser of this tradition, but I didn’t agree with a ban. An MP’s work is so demanding, in terms of both time and geography, it seems reasonable that spouses (spice?) should be allowed to work alongside them. Eve Burt is one MP’s wife who felt this very strongly, campaigning vigorously to keep her job! IPSA has wisely conceded that MPs may continue to employ one family member.

It is good to see that MPs must now submit receipts for all claims. As I argued last year, MPs should only be reimbursed for expenses actually incurred. if they consider it too onerous to supply a receipt for any claim, then it’s probably too small to bother reclaiming.


Generals v Politicians – a war of words

Every request that the military commanders made to us for equipment was answered. No request was ever turned down.
(Gordon Brown, Iraq Inquiry, 5th March 2010)

Fighting a war brings all sorts of challenges. There is a foe to contend with, but it’s harder when your armoury’s missing some key bits of kit, or when you step onto hot desert sand and find your boots melting. Effective transport is crucial, but the Snatch Land Rover used in Iraq and Afghanistan has been described as a ‘death trap’. And helicopters have been slow to arrive, their absence sometimes blamed by parents who feel their injured sons might have survived had they reached a field hospital sooner.

In some cases, parents report shelling out for better kit: webbing or helmets for example.

So what was the problem? The Prime Minister is careful not to accept blame for this under-resourcing. Why then do the generals (or admirals/air marshals) feel compelled to say they didn’t have enough?

He cannot get away with saying ‘I gave them everything they asked for’. That is simply disingenuous.
Lord Guthrie, Chief of Defence Staff 1997-2001, speaking on 6th March 2010)

He is dissembling, he’s being disingenuous.
Lord Boyce, Chief of Defence Staff 2001-3, speaking on 6th March 2010)

There is a clear sense of frustration among some key military leaders. They haven’t accused Mr Brown of lying; the word ‘disingenuous’ is their weapon of choice. It makes me curious. Did the generals ask for what they needed? Did they go to war claiming they had what they needed when in fact they did not? Should they have resigned for resource reasons as Robin Cook did for political reasons?

Gordon Brown hinted his predecessor would not have gone to war if the generals told him they were unprepared. Well, of course not! But it’s a rhetorical point. The generals are unlikely to say ‘no’ to their masters; it’s not in their blood. They know that fortune favours the brave. They know the difference between essential and desirable. And with the essential kit, they know that all things are possible.

What our troops lacked in Iraq and Afghanistan could perhaps best be described as ‘highly desirable’ rather than essential. While the political struggle continues, we have been able to undertake military operations with broad success. The generals have their cut their cloth as required, but some men and women needed better provision and have paid for its absence with their lives.

What the Prime Minister yesterday said… narrowly and precisely was correct… What Gordon Brown didn’t address… was the underlying underfunding of defence that goes right back to the outcome of the defence review in 97/98.
(General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of General Staff 2006-9, speaking on 6th March 2010)

Finally some clarity. As I expected, while the fact-claims of the generals and the politicians appear to conflict, the truth accommodates both.

But now we have a problem. In recent times, retired military chiefs have routinely criticised the government. We don’t expect this so much from serving officers; as men under authority, such insubordination would be at odds with the career that took them to the top.

General Dannatt is a notable exception. Before his retirement, he was happy to make life uncomfortable from time to time for his political masters. In so doing, he voiced publicly what other generals may have said in private to the ministers. He is a man of great experience and wisdom. He also has a natural outspoken honesty which I believe may be sorely tested under a Conservative government.

That’s because General Dannatt is now an adviser to the Conservatives. If they win the general election, he will take a peerage, but won’t become a minister. He will bring great strength to David Cameron’s team, but his decision is clearly a controversial political judgement. The announcement was leaked while he was still in the pay of the army. I believe it has dented his authority.

With regard to the other defence chiefs, an explanation has arisen as to why they might have felt motivated to speak out against the prime minister.

When Guthrie and Boyce attack Gordon on defence spending note they are consultants and non-execs of defence coys. and have vested interest.
(Lord Foulkes, via Twitter, 13th March 2010)

Well, perhaps they do. But what they said is either true or it isn’t. If it is true then I would expect to hear from them. In these circumstances, who else could speak out? If it is not true then Guthrie, Boyce, Dannatt and others are all singing from the same flawed hymn sheet. Gordon Brown had plenty of facts at his disposal for his appearance before Sir John Chilcot. But they were spun carefully and the truth behind them was hidden.

In any case, Lord Foulkes has form. He sees the military as the enemy. He is a tribal Labour loyalist who defended Speaker Martin when the game was lost, freely attacks those he regards as his opponents without regard to the arguments and tried to smear General Dannatt last summer.

Am I saying the politicians are wrong and the generals are right? Not at all. We live in a world of limited resources. And it is for the government to decide on the allocation across ministries. I have no doubt that generals will always want more. So will doctors, head teachers and many others. When the resources fall short, they’ll have to make do. Or if not, then resign as Norman Tebbit has argued.

Resignation is the ultimate political statement. It is a very tough decision, especially when the stakes are so high. For most of us, there is a very practical reason we might not want resign our jobs. How would I pay the mortgage? For generals and politicians the reason is likely to be more philosophical. Had Lord Boyce resigned before the Iraq war he could have pulled the plug on the whole adventure. Unless that was his objective, it would not have been an attractive option.

So while resignation is always an option, for the most part it is far from ideal. But speaking out against a sitting government is fraught with problems as Professor Vernon Bogdanor explains. We are not about to be led by a military junta, but the generals must think very carefully before engaging in politics. And if they back off, the politicians must show more respect.


Extraordinary Influence

Ordinary people can exert extraordinary influence. I joined a Facebook campaign on Saturday, to oppose billboard advertising promoting marital infidelity. On Monday I blogged about it and updated this on Tuesday, outlining the campaign steps I had taken. I am just one of many campaigners.

The campaign leaders emailed their followers this afternoon to confirm their campaign was successful. They had seen their Facebook group swell to over 3,500 members in just four days. But more importantly, many of us took action and it yielded results.

Facebook campaign

A successful campaign

Did we know we would be successful? No. Was it risky to campaign in this way? Yes. We faced criticism from several different angles.

Some critics felt free speech was paramount. Yes it’s important, but it does not trump all else. In any case, if advertisers are entitled to free speech, so are campaigners.

I am not generally against free speech. I supported the BBC’s decision to host the BNP’s Nick Griffin on Question Time. In the end I felt an opportunity was missed to allow him to develop his ideas and face serious challenge, but I stand by my support for the decision. However, this campaign was different. The adverts appeared to breach the ASA code (although it didn’t initially accept this). Many of the BNP’s policies and utterances are offensive, but their political mandate was empirically recognised in a recent election.

Some critics argued it was a waste of time campaigning against something which was legal. If it wasn’t legal we’d just call the police! Marital infidelity is not a breach of criminal law, but it is a breach of civil law. It is a breach of contract between those who choose to forsake all others for as long as they both shall live. Or at least for as long as they remain married! The advert was not illegal, but we certainly believed it fell foul of advertising standards.

Some critics made the point that the website was not forcing individuals to break their marriage vows. They suggested visitors to the website were prepared to be unfaithful already and that advertising could not be blamed for the breakdown of their marriages. Yes, there is a truth within this, but it’s too simplistic to rest the argument there. Advertising works. It has a material effect on people’s decisions, which is why successful companies devote substantial resources to it. It’s also true that the website makes it easier for individuals to stray.

Marriage takes work. It ought to. Society doesn’t need organisations seeking to profit out of threatening the institution still further. Other organisations such as Relationship Central set a much better example.

If you tolerate this, then your children will be next.
(Manic Street Preachers, 1998)

Finally (among the main arguments I saw) some critics felt we were giving the oxygen of publicity to the website in question. See the Streisand effect for more on this phenomenon. It is true the campaign probably had this effect, but I believe it was better to take action than to walk on by. The website has received publicity, but challenging the advertising was important. The risk was that we may have failed while granting free publicity to our opponent’s cause. But we succeeded and the risk paid off. Such campaigns will not always succeed, but they are still worth fighting. We drew a fresh line in the sand for the ASA to consider before approving future advertising.

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.
(War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy, 1869; or Edmund Burke)

In our campaign many good men and women did something. And they did a good thing. One of the organisers, Jon Yates, explained early on that we needed to be more than a Facebook group to get results. Daily actions were suggested.

I took a number of simple steps to help. I was amazed at the reach of one of my efforts. When I discovered one of the billboards was in my own constituency, I wrote to my MP, Jim Fitzpatrick. I also copied in my local councillors and one of them, Ahmed Hussain (Conservative), was tenacious in his response.

Cllr Ahmed immediately contacted his party colleagues and key officers in Tower Hamlets. He also raised the matter with City Hall and within a few hours the Deputy Mayor, Richard Barnes, was involved. Tim Archer, the local Conservative PPC, dipped his oar in, with a letter to the Chief Executive of the ASA asking why the complaints weren’t being investigated. The MP and his Labour colleagues on the council also took an interest. All this from one email.

Never underestimate what’s possible, especially in an election year! I am not the reason this campaign was successful, but I know I played my part. I was one of many.

Now there is a new campaign. This one is – in effect – to encourage White Label Dating (a B2B internet company) to break its link with the website in question. It will be tough but…

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
(Margaret Mead)