England grab sexy Wales and strip them naked

It was billed as a battle for the soul of rugby, English pragmatism versus Welsh ‘sexy rugby’ – as their Australian skills coach, Scott Johnson, called it during the week – crude modernism up against those who will never stop dreaming. However, after a proper pasting, romantics might have to agree with Andy Robinson’s rather dry view of rugby life – it doesn’t matter how you do it, you just want the win.
That said, there was more positive movement from England than in the

strip them naked

strip them naked

last Six Nations, signs that improvements in the autumn are solid, not illusory. There was a readiness to keep probing for gaps with the ball in hand rather than turning it back inside. And, as Robinson said in the glow of victory, ‘We tried to get some attacking rhythm today, some interchange between forwards and backs. We said all along this game is about winning. There’s not just one way. You’ve got to be able to play two, three, four different ways. It was a pretty intense game of rugby out there. The ball was in play for a long, long time.’

A statistical breakdown of several facets of the leading nations’ attacking philosophies over the past year by the International Rugby Board revealed a stark gap between Wales and the others in the northern hemisphere. Wales, for instance, were the only team where more forwards than backs scored tries; the forwards made more passes than the England and Ireland forwards combined; they scored more tries from inside their own half than England, Ireland and France combined; and they scored more tries from opponents’ handling errors and kicks than England, France and Ireland put together. In short, they are a team not only unafraid to throw the ball about but positively gagging to do it. England showed no such inclination last winter.

They ran freely and often in the second half, building on the strength of their front five. In nearly every department, they matched or bettered Wales for flair. England competed 132 passes to 127; made nine line breaks to two; made 16 offloads in the tackle to 11 – and consequently 17 errors to 12. But they were rewarded for their enterprise.

As for Wales, they threw it about at the start – and were hanging on for dear life at the finish. Mike Ruddock, who’d spoken beforehand of giving his team ‘a licence to thrill’, conceded: ‘We were in the game at 18-13. The crucial moment for us was when Martyn Williams was sin-binned [in the second half]. They started to really make us work. In the end they put us to the sword.’

Wales could so easily have scored inside three minutes. Steve Borthwick, one of the best players on the pitch all afternoon, did fantastically well to claw the ball away from the ruck after Mark Jones had inveigled his way down the right and was within feet of the line when brought down. By the mere swing of an England arm had Wales endeavour been denied.

The early pressure was arriving in red shirts. But the opening score was England’s and, as is often the way, came from nothing. Mark Cueto was there on the angled run after Jamie Noon (another splendid contributor) had made the break in midfield. It was a killer blow to Wales as they built momentum.

Wales, as last season, took every tapped free-kick, seeking to turn the defence, but Stephen Jones needed no encouragement when an easy three points presented themselves just outside the 22.

Wales, who had been matching their heavier opponents lump for lump at the scrum and in the loose, were caught killing the ball and Hodgson made them pay from a good way out.

Had Charlie put his kicking blues behind him? Not quite. Gareth Thomas had to scramble to stop England scoring from a cross-kick, before Mr Honiss brought play back for off-side. From the resultant line-out and drive the England pack put their beef into a beautifully timed shove, five yards out, and Lewis Moody emerged grinning hugely. Some return for the Leicester scallywag after suspension – but Hodgson’s kick faded wide, as did two others later.

Two tries up now and England were beginning to swagger. Martyn Williams wiped the smiles away soon enough, though, emerging from a choice of about five Wales support players who’d tailed Dwayne Peel’s break from a line-out. The scrum-half had darted inside Moody and swerved his way to within a few yards of the line before slipping the ball to the ever-present flanker.

England deserved their five-point lead at the break, although Ruddock wasn’t too concerned yet. Soon after the resumption, however, Wales paid again for a dumb infringement. Noon did marvellously well to weave his way across the line and set up Danny Grewcock, charging down the flank, but the lobbed pass went astray – and Robert Sidoli grabbed the big man’s jumper as he tried to wriggle free. Somehow Sidoli escaped the sin bin. Hodgson landed the penalty, but England might have had a penalty try.

Wales had to work hard for scraps and, picking up a dropped pass, hammered the England line before settling for a penalty from a killed ruck. The referee might well have let it roll on a bit. But they were immediately rocked by a yellow card for Martyn Williams, who went up for the ball with Moody and was marched for obstruction. It seemed harsh.

Nearly 10 minutes later, Hodgson pushed a penalty wide – and Wales, having cleverly eaten up the clock, were glad to see Martyn Williams back. There was nothing he could do, though, to stop Mike Tindall who barrelled over on the right after Noon’s break. Hodgson again missed.

Lawrence Dallaglio, on early as a blood replacement, was back for real just past the hour, taking over from Martin Corry, although Tindall took the armband. Either way, Dallaglio could hardly have picked a better time to get involved, with England leading by 13 points and 20 minutes left. And what a statement the former captain made almost immediately; he peeled off the back of a scrum to go over in the despairing grasp of Martyn Williams and Stephen Jones, and his glee was palpable.

It all went wrong for Wales at the end, Matt Dawson skipping out of a weak tackle to score. England have depth, too – and Wales did suffer through the absence of so many front-line players through injury. In the seventh minute of time added on, the replacement Tom Voyce strolled over, unchallenged virtually. Meanwhile, Wales’s replacement scrum-half, Gareth Cooper, was disappearing down the tunnel, holding his dislocated right shoulder. He will be out for the rest of the season. Nothing could have illustrated Wales’s misery more starkly.

England Tries Cueto, Moody, Tindall, Dallaglio, Dawson, Voyce Cons Hodgson (2), Goode, Noon Pens Hodgson (3)

American Airlines boss attacks Chapter 11 law

american airlines

american airlines

Consultants, advisers and other service providers will have netted more than £100m by the time the controversial stock market flotation of defence research group Qinetiq is completed next month.
The costs, much higher than previous estimates, were revealed to The Observer in detailed responses from the Ministry of Defence. They represent some 10 per cent of the expected £1.1bn to £1.3bn value of the business when it is privatised, and are more than double the £42.4m invested by US private equity group Carlyle in 2003 for a 34 per cent stake in the business. That investment is set to soar in value by eight times when the sale is completed.

The government has attracted scorching criticism from two former defence ministers for selling Carlyle its stake too cheaply.

The MoD said that its own consultancy costs leading up to the sale to Carlyle were £17m. In addition, Qinetiq and defence laboratory DSTL – which contains elements of MoD research that are too sensitive to privatise, such as nuclear and chemical weapons work – paid £32m to consultants and advisers. A further £31m was paid for IT hardware, security systems and other costs. In addition, there is a further £25.6m in flotation fees, which go mainly to three investment banking advisers: Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Cazenove and Credit Suisse. The MoD said the costs had been spread over seven years and were not disproportionate given the scale of the project.

Last week Qinetiq published a 325-page prospectus for the float. The document outlines plans for growth, including maintaining its market-leading position with the MoD and growing North American operations.

It also contains 12 pages outlining major risks, including potential reduction in revenues from the MoD, which represented 75 per cent of turnover last year; the government’s increasing use of fixed price contracts; the possibility that the US strategy will fail; and future pension liabilities. Chief executive Graham Love sought to play these down. ‘None of those risks are, from management’s perspective, likely to materialise,’ he said. American Airlines boss Gerard Arpey has turned on his own government’s bankruptcy protection law, which, he says, distorts competition and keeps ailing carriers in business.
His remarks, which echo longstanding criticism from BA, come at a time when American and BA are seeking to forge stronger ties.

Speaking from American Airline’s headquarters at Fort Worth, Texas, Arpey tore into the way rival US airlines exploit Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, saying: ‘Under Chapter 11, companies can legally renege on their commitments to repay money or meet the terms of their contracts, so they can produce immediate cost savings and create a cost structure that can be difficult to compete with. Chapter 11 is used to perpetuate capacity that has failed.’

BA chairman Martin Broughton said recently that he wanted EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson to look into the way Chapter 11 operates. He believes the process creates a false market in aviation. American is the only one of the ‘big five’ conventional US carriers that has stayed out of Chapter 11 since the slump that followed the 11 September terrorist attacks and the hike in oil prices.

Arpey’s competitors have used Chapter 11 to wipe out billions of dollars of pensions liabilities.

Congress is unlikely to reform Chapter 11, although US politicians have raised concerns about the way the procedure works. The topic is part of a wider discussion by regulators and governments on both sides of the Atlantic about what constitutes market liberalisation.

Unless Washington and Brussels can reach an ‘open skies’ agreement, BA and American’s dream of forging a stronger partnership – even one limited to profit-sharing on lucrative transatlantic routes in and out of Heathrow – is unlikely to come to anything. BA recently attacked the US for failing to make legislative changes to allow foreign ownership or control of US airlines.

Arpey said he would like ‘a deeper and more wide-ranging alliance’ with BA. He said: ‘Often, when industries have financial constraints and the market is drenched with capacity, the problem can be addressed by consolidation.’

One industry observer said: ‘His is a game of brinkmanship in which Brussels and Washington attempt to gauge what the other is prepared to give up as a quid pro quo to clinch an agreement.’

BA and American are partners in the OneWorld alliance, but this is confined to areas such as joint-ticketing arrangements and sharing airport lounges.

You’re in the public eye, but can you afford to live there?

You're in the public eye

You’re in the public eye

On the night of the Bermondsey byelection in 1983, I was working my first-ever shift in Fleet Street in the lowliest seat on the sub-editors’ desk of the Sun. The result of the contest between Simon Hughes and his Labour opponent, Peter Tatchell, was expected late, and two front pages had been made up to cover all eventualities. The first headline said: ‘Red Pete Gets Thrashed’, the second: ‘Red Pete Sneaks In’.
Win or lose, the paper’s take on Tatchell would have been obvious to any reader. Underhand, devious, Trotskyite and don’t get us started on the gay stuff. As a jobbing newcomer from Scotland, I was used to handling less malleable forms of news, such as the Aberdeen fish prices. Bermondsey was my introduction to the politics of image.

Version two of the byelection front page proved superfluous. Tatchell, battered by a deeply homophobic campaign, lost to Simon ‘Straight Choice’ Hughes, on a 44 per cent swing. Last week, 23 years after his victory, Hughes was back in the Sun, talking about his sexuality. This time, the front-page headline read: ‘I’m Gay Too.’

Once again, image politics were in play. Hughes had misled blatantly and repeatedly during the previous days. Had a less popular or secure politician told such barefaced fibs, he or she would have been torn apart. But the Sun, which had proof of Hughes’s contact with a gay chatline, chose to treat his forced confession with gentle derision. Barring further revelations, Hughes’s bid for the Lib Dem leadership looked safe.

No such charity for George Galloway, whose career seems effectively over after his bad week. The Serious Fraud Office is considering an inquiry into Iraq’s oil-for-food programme that could lead to criminal proceedings; the parliamentary commissioner for standards may dig deeper into Galloway’s Iraqi involvements.

But the media image police think of such grave matters as opaque and, like tulip skirts, a touch last year. What did for George was the behaviour leading up to his eviction from the Big Brother house. Wars and sanctions come and go, but Galloway’s cat impression will be stamped forever, alongside Fergie’s illicitly kissed toes, on the national cortex. His crutch-hugging red leotard will be remembered long after the photo-opportunity at which he addressed Saddam’s son as ‘Excellency’ has faded from public memory.

Better politicians than Galloway could have told him how imperative it is to invest in a camera-friendly image. Hence the £1,052.22 spent by Tony Blair on make-up between 1999 and 2005. While no statesman, however dandruff-spattered, could ever safely assume that electorates are seduced by halitosis, there is some anecdotal evidence that politicians are spending more time and money on self-presentation. Frontbenchers who once peered through iron spectacles now favour varifocal contact lenses. At a recent Whitehall reception, I met a woman who introduced herself to all and sundry as the voice coach of the host, a serving cabinet member.

Personal enhancement, though, is a side-issue. The humbling of Galloway and the treatment of Hughes are, in their different ways, examples of a more suspect form of image manipulation. They belong to what American social historian Daniel J Boorstin described in 1961 as ‘pseudo-events’.

Boorstin’s theory was that prosperity and success had led rich citizens into expecting the impossible. They wanted to be rich and charitable, powerful and merciful, greedy and thin, solitary and neighbourly. And so, like Napoleon, they began to believe that they could make circumstances.

When heroes palled, they created celebrities to replace them. When news ran out, they invented it. In the absence of any convenient earthquake, assassination or civil war, a PR stunt or movie premiere could fulfil the craving for events. As Boorstin noted, politicians bought into the artificial world. Franklin D Roosevelt could barely kiss a baby without a sonnet scripted by his in-house team of poets and playwrights. Senator Joseph McCarthy called a morning press conference to announce he would be holding another in the afternoon.

And plain Americans began to live, just as the British would, in a synthetic world, where illusion replaced reality. Boorstin, looking back on the half century in which America crossed the divide from daguerreotype to colour television, remained hopeful. With luck, he thought, the West would modify its expectations.

Instead, the illusionary society he identified branched out into PlayStations, podcasts, probiotic yogurt, plastic surgery, reality television, politicians’ sex lives, 24/7 news and audiences of millions in thrall to a fat old exhibitionist in a dance suit. All of Boorstin’s nightmares have come to pass. Not since the days of fairies and hobgoblins has society been so beset by myths. We may be turning into what Jean-Paul Sartre called automatons.

No society gifted with techno-magic is going to revert to God and crossword puzzles. And so Boorstin’s theory of pseudo-events still looks uncannily right. The paedophile hordes who were stalking our schools a few days ago have been forgotten; bird flu has not killed us all; nano-technology has not reduced the planet to grey sludge; the threat of terror has not justified the erosion of liberties.

Meanwhile, politicians are pawns in pseudo-events, programmed to live or die according to the dynamics of the instant sensation. Modern witch-hunts happen when a 21st-century news operation collides with ancient prejudice. Simon Hughes survived partly because he is a fine constituency MP, but partly, too, because the image he offered did not offend media sensibilities. Calling a gay chatline is OK. He might, after all, have been discussing proportional representation or Wittgenstein.

Mark Oaten, outed a few days previously, was unable to supply a suitable vision. Oaten was much less popular than Hughes and he was married. On the other hand, he had told no public lies. What killed him were two images; the shot of him having breakfast with his small daughters and the mental picture of illicit sex. In part, Oaten was the victim of a subtle brand of homophobia. The term ‘rentboy’ places the 23-year-old male prostitute he allegedly visited in an underworld far from the cosy flats the government proposes for female sex-workers and their respectable clientele.

The insults thrown his way – ‘depraved, dehumanised, grotesque’- are the vocabulary of the torture chamber, not the boudoir. Sex between consenting adults is, however unpalatable, only sex. Such condemnation would be less easily applied to heterosexual thrill-seekers caught deviating from the missionary position.

Worthier politicians than Oaten have been evicted, like discarded reality-show contestants, for sins that are forgotten and on whims sometimes too shameful to acknowledge. David Blunkett, for example, was lampooned not only for his private life, but for his blindness. In a post-privacy, post-moral and post-deferential age, politicians have no figleaf, bar their dignity. Take away that prop and they are gone.

The last illusion, and the most dangerous, is that society grows inexorably kinder, wiser and more tolerant, just as Boorstin had hoped. The truth is that we are, in some ways, more febrile and more prejudiced than ever. Nearly a quarter of a century has passed since Peter Tatchell, a fine and principled crusader, was defeated.

It is consoling to imagine that the hysteria directed at public figures dissipated long ago. But the world of pseudo-events was merely in its infancy on the night Red Pete got thrashed.

David Cameron will this week dramatically praise Tony Blair for his ‘profound’ understanding of the political mood of Britain in the Nineties, and make an audacious claim to be the Prime Minister’s ‘natural heir’. In a challenge to Blair’s would-be successor, Gordon Brown, the new Tory leader will portray the Chancellor as an instinctive centraliser and bureaucrat, and claim that only the Tories have the reformist credentials to meet the needs of the underprivileged.

In a speech to the Demos think-tank in London, portions of which have been seen by The Observer, Cameron will balance praise for some of Blair’s accomplishments with a bid to blunt growing criticism from the Tory right that he is becoming too ‘Blairite’ and ditching core Conservative principles.

He will use his most ambitious policy address since winning the leadership in December to argue that it was Margaret Thatcher and John Major who first recognised the need to combine a strong market economy with social justice. Cameron will credit Blair with a ‘profound’ understanding that the changes in Thatcher’s Britain in the Eighties were ‘irreversible, because people didn’t want to reverse them’, as well as with ‘making the aims of a stronger economy and more decent society most explicit’.

But he will argue that New Labour has in the end failed to deliver – and that the Conservatives now are in a position to do so. Blair’s government, Cameron says, ‘has failed to maintain the competitiveness of our economy, and has failed to lift the excluded out of the trap of multiple deprivation’. It had provided ‘neither economic efficiency, nor social justice’.

The speech will blame the government’s failure on looking for short-term, headline-grabbing answers to serious problems, and on reverting to an emphasis on ‘legislation, regulation and bureaucracy. That is the natural instinct of the Labour Party – and especially of Gordon Brown.’