Exit middle-aged, middle-class males, enter Dave’s Dolls to spice up British politics

THERE’S a fair chance I’ll get my head chewed off by feminist ultras for sounding sexist and patronising, but say it I will, because it’s a fact: in a week of bad tidings the last seven days have been great news for the girls.

First, the Church of England General Synod voted in favour of ordaining female bishops and one candidate is said to be awaiting receipt of her mitre and crozier before the year’s out.

Quite why this was the stuff of headlines was beyond me.

Women won the right to be welcomed into the Anglican priesthood yonks ago and I’ve always believed they’d had a pretty strong discrimination case to take before an employment tribunal for not being allowed to realise their full potential much beyond being parsons.

This ‘glass ceiling’ was especially ludicrous and contradictory, since a female – The Queen, no less! – is the titular head of the whole shebang.

Canon Law, though, governing the clergy has been an omnishambles of an ass for centuries. Nonethelesss, it was instructive that Justin Welby, the oil industry exec-turned-Archbishop of Canterbury, emphasised the church’s volte face was based on religious principles, not a rush of 21st Century liberalism to the collective brain.

However, before a Geraldine Grainger can swap her Vicar of Dibley’s black cassock for a bishop’s purple and ask, ‘Does my bum look big in this?’, a tad more tinkering with the rules has to happen.

This involves designing special opt-outs for hardline evangelicals – especially from the African communion – and traditionalist Anglo-Catholics, who won’t accept the authority of a woman on theological grounds, in an attempt to keep them within the Cof E’s shrinking fold.

The second and more momentous win-of-the-week for women came with Squire Cameron’s Cabinet reshuffle – well, at least the Tory element of the Coalition – with what’s been described as a ‘cull of middle-aged, middle-class males’.

TEN UP! Prime Minster Cameron has promoted 10 women to top jobs in his government, with five now sitting at the Cabinet table

TEN UP! Prime Minster Cameron has promoted 10 women to top jobs in his government, with five now sitting at the Cabinet table

The Prime Minister has long been at the butt-end of criticism for denying women seats at the grand table of power, which – apart from three  females – has tended to be warmed by the backsides of fatcat Old Etonians or chums from his Bullingdon Club days at Oxford.

Now comes the figurative ‘charge of the skirts’, as 10 women enter the higher echelons of Britain’s corridors of power and a succession of big, male beasts are defanged or forcibly demobbed.

Not since Harold MacMillan’s ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in 1962, when seven ministers got the chop, has a British Cabinet undergone such drastic surgery.

At face value, William Hague’s decision to quit as Foreign Secretary and stand down as an MP at the next election, seemed extraordinary. On reflection, however, it makes perfect sense, since he’s one of few politicos whose CV includes proper jobs – from working in the family brewery as a 15-year-old drayman to high-flying management consultant.

With his experience, contacts and intellect, Hague’s bound to attract directorships by the bucket-load and, having once failed as Tory leader, he’s hardly likely to get another shot at the top.

As his dad, Neil, 86, noted undiplomatically, though with typical, Yorkshire bluntness, ‘William plans to enjoy himself, do some writing, go to places and make a lot more money, because he loses money working with all those goons.’

ON THE MOVE: A bewildered Michael Gove has been 'transferred' from Education to Chief Whip...but wonder if it's a demotion or promotion

UPPER OR DOWNER? A bewildered Michael Gove has been ‘transferred’ from Education to Chief Whip…but can’t tell if it’s a demotion or promotion

Meanwhile, Michael Gove doesn’t know if his move from Education Minister to Chief Whip signals a downward spiral – ‘Demotion, emotion, promotion, locomotion, I don’t know how you would describe it,’ he says, uncharacteristically mystified – but it smacks of damage-limitation, after a succession of Gove-driven reforms have left teachers seething.

Veteran Ken Clarke’s departure from office was the least surprising, since the 74-year-old was first appointed a minister in 1972 and has spent two decades in top jobs, including Home Secretary and Chancellor of the Exchequer.

However, British politics surely hasn’t heard the last for the man famed for his brown, suede shoes. He’ll undoubtedly be offered a lordship, whereby he’ll be unshackled from the chains of office to harangue his party’s lurch further towards Euroscepticism.

Because, despite Cameron’s pre-election stunt being a naked appeal to female voters by promoting a posse of women, the lion’s share of the new Cabinet is dominated by the anti-Brussels brigade, none more so than new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond.

Nevertheless and regardless of this Machiavellian sleight of hand designed to placate the Tory Right, the arrival of the likes of Nicky Morgan (Education), Liz Truss (Environment) and ex-TV presenter, Esther McVey (Employment) is the real attention-grabber.

Hence, after Blair’s Babes, we have – in tabloid parlance – Dave’s Dolls, as inadvertently underscored by BBC Political Editor, Nick Robinson, in a mis-Tweet announcing Morgan as ‘the new Education Sexretary’.

So does this presage things to come?

ONE OF DAVE'S DOLLS: Ex-telly presenter, Esther McVey, takes over at Environment

YES, A MINISTER: Blonde, ex-telly presenter, Esther McVey, takes over as Minister for Employment

Undoubtedly and, at the risk of being accused of indulging in reverse misogyny, it’s no bad thing – perhaps even a wakey-wakey call for those of the male persuasion not to presume we rule by divine right.

Because the unassailable truth is girls now outperform boys at school on almost every count, from nursery to uni.

The gap in reading abilities between the sexes widens from seven percentage points at seven years old, to 14% by GCSE time; more girls are applying for university places than boys; and women in their twenties now earn more per hour than men.

Germany’s Angela Merkel is the unchallenged mistress of Euroland – by the way, Mutti, congrats on your boys winning the World Cup – and the EU has more female leaders than ever (i.e. Denmark, Latvia, Lithuania and Slovenia).

Furthermore, in less than two years, the US could very well have it’s first female president in Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Finally, speaking as the father of a daughter, who’s intelligent, resourceful and balances a high-pressure career while being a wife and mum to two rumbustious boys, I have only great admiration and pride in all she’s achieved through hard work, true grit and sheer talent.

Lauren was in the vanguard of the breakthrough generation of ambitious, young women and all the indications are the next will strive to stride even further.

So is this ‘the end of men?’ as one newspaper editorial asked last week.

Dunno. I’ll have to ask my wife.

Gary versus Ade…Auntie BBC against ITV – now that’s what I call a World Cup crunch match

SHE thought it was all over when England scuttled home, but tonight it really is and my long-suffering wife’s World Cup widowhood comes to an end.

Mrs A has borne the burden of the great soccer fest manfully – okay, womanfully – but it has only served to underpin her belief sport needs a radical makeover.

Her contention, you see, is footie would be all the better a spectacle if reduced to penalty shoot-outs, golf to putting competitions and tennis to tie-breaks, though she reluctantly admitted to being as transfixed as I was by the electrifying Jokovik-Federer Wimbledon men’s final last Sunday.

And cricket? Well, that should be banned by the International Criminal Court on the grounds that it abuses spectators’ human rights with rules beyond comprehension.

For the record, though, let me fast-back to a conversation of a couple of weeks ago, when my fair lady asked plaintively, ‘With England out, why are you still interested in the World Cup?’

‘Because I like to see how top class teams perform and England aren’t one of them,’ I replied. ‘Only a starry-eyed optimist believed Woy’s Wonders had the ghost of a chance of reaching round two, let alone the quarter finals.’

‘Then why do you keep saying the English Premier League is the world’s best?’

‘It is, but that’s because it’s crammed with talented foreigners.’

‘Why doesn’t someone ban them, then?’

‘It’s all about money – and European Union rules, which allow for the free movement of people, including footballers.’

‘Luis Suarez [now Barcelona-bound] isn’t European; he’s from Uruguay. So what’s he doing playing for Liverpool?’

SOCCER SMOOTHIE: Ex-England star Gary Lineker, skipper of the BBC's World Cup pundit panel

SOCCER SMOOTHIE: Ex-England star Gary Lineker, skipper of the BBC’s World Cup pundit panel

Good shot, even if Mrs. A hasn’t quite got a handle on why World Cup referees were toting cans of shaving foam, when some – like England’s Howard Webb – are as bald as cue ball.

‘Can we have this conversation another day,’ I pleaded, feeling a tad sick as Steve Gerrard’s parrot, after Chewey Luis showed him the exit door with a brace of super goals, before acquiring a taste for Italian beefcake. ‘Besides, there’s an interesting game going on off the pitch.’

‘What game?’

‘The one between the BBC and ITV over who’s providing the better coverage.’

‘You can’t be serious.’

‘And you can’t be John McEnroe.’

Ah, well, back to re-reruns of Downton Abbey and Homeland on the spare telly for one member of the household – clue: not yours truly.

So, returning to the theme of who won the punditry teams joust and who was their better skipper: boyish smoothie, Gary Lineker, who knows a thing or two about soccer, fronting the Beeb, or Adrian Chiles, who know a thing or three about imitating a plank, in ITV’s hot seat?

Now I realise that seems judgemental. But, since Chiles’ ‘transfer’ from hosting Auntie’s The One Show to ITV’s Daybreak and That Sunday Night Show, it’s not gone unnoticed commercial telly has pulled both progs, apparently leaving Ade a £1M a year worse off.

KNOBBLY KNEES COMP? Chiles (right) with bare-legged ITV analysts (l-to-r) Lee Dixon, Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Cannavaro

KNOBBLY KNEES COMP? Chiles (right) with bare-legged ITV analysts (l-to-r) Martin O’Neill, Glenn Hoddle and Fabio Cannavaro

However, good for him, I say, in hanging onto Channel 3’s soccer coverage, despite a dreary presention style – possibly a result of being a life-long West Brom fan – even if ITV’s World Cup didn’t exactly get off to a champagne start.

‘Welcome to Rio!’, Ade announced to viewers before the start of England’s pre-tournament warm-up game with Ecuador…the only flaw being the backdrop wasn’t Copacabana, but a strand of sand 4,000 miles north in Miami. But let’s pin that faux pas on jet lag.

Alas, similar leeway can’t be extended to pundit, Glenn Hoddle, in ITV’s pre-match pontification on Germany’s game ‘with Al Jezeera’.

You could practically see the ex-England manager’s tanned face blanch, as the producer was presumably shrieking into his earpiece, ‘It’s bloody Algeria – Al Jezeera’s an Arab TV news channel!’

Neither did ITV cover itself in glory by having Chiles and his World Cup brains trust sitting at a trestle table above a beach – this time it really was Rio – all clad in shorts, as if they were auditioning for a dads’ knobbly-knees contest at a Butlins’ holiday camp.

To add injury to insult, they then spent a small eternity discussing the pronounciation of Columbian striker, James Rodriguez’s name.

‘It’s Ya-mes,’said Chiles.

‘No it isn’t,’ insisted a bullish Ian Wright. ‘It’a Hah-mez.

The dispute was finally arbitrated by match commentator, Clyde Tyldesley, who resorted to the anglocised ‘James’, which reflected the player’s parents’ preference, since they’d named him after Ian Fleming’s 007.

HAND IT TO HANSEN: The veteran Beeb pundit is still the shining star of the sofa

HAND IT TO HANSEN: The veteran Beeb pundit is still the shining star of the sofa

Over at the BBC, where much emphasis was placed on sartorial elegance – loved Clarence Seedorf’s shirts, by the way – the game plan didn’t always follow Match of the Day’s seemless format, either.

A hiccup, before a ball was kicked, almost sidelined Robbie Savage, who turned up at Heathrow for the Brazil flight with his wife’s passport.

Then there was L-driver analyst, Phil Neville, droning monotonously like a superannuated country parson. Even by his own admission, he was an antidote to insomnia, which was about as funny as Phil got (suggestion to the former Man United and Everton star: Give Radio 4′s Shipping Forecast a go).

Meanwhile, quipster Mark Lawrenson went clearly OTT with a sexist remark that Swiss striker, Josip Drmic, ‘should have been wearing a skirt’ after a glaring miss against Argentina.

It produced 172 complaints and a yellow card from his Broadcasting House referees.

Further brickbats, too, were aimed at the Beeb for their employment of barely comprehensible, foreign soccer luminaries.

The taciturn Thierry Henry’s verdict on most games was measured on the Gallic Shrug Scale – the higher the shoulder blades, the worse it was – while Fabio Cannavaro was so linguistically challenged, all he could sprout sounded pure gobblygook.

This was understandable since the former Italian international only learned English two years ago…in Dubai. But you have to question who picked him to play for the BBC.

Inevitably, it fell to veteran Alan Hansen, marking his swansong from telly punditry, to act as bulwark of Auntie’s defence with tellingly concise, if the occasional tetchy observation that has been his trademark.

So which channel won the World Cup battle of the sofas? On cock-ups, I’d say it was a draw.

Whatever ‘British values’ are, there’s no room on the list for extremism

DAVID Cameron has had a stab at defining them. So have throngs of media luminaries, from sanctimonious liberals to hard-nosed Right-wingers.

Yet, to my mind, no-one has yet nailed a concise explanation of what are loftily describe as ‘British values’, even if we know – instinctively – the answer, since they’ve been inculcated in us since we were toddling around in soggy nappies.

The issue has become the subject of fierce debate, after allegations emerged of a ‘Trojan Horse’ plot by Muslim radicals to hijack control of a group of state schools in Birmingham and transform them into virtual Islamic madrassas.

After an Ofsted investigation, Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the UK Government’s education watchdog, delivered a withering verdict that an ‘organised campaign’ had targeted certain academies to impose a ‘narrow, faith-based ideology’, with the same people ‘highly influential across several schools’.

A ‘culture of fear and intimidation’ had developed, he said, with ‘head teachers, including those with a proud record of raising standards… marginalised or forced out of their jobs’.

Wilshaw’s report examined many charges, including girls forced to sit at the back of classrooms, music ditched from the curriculum, an extremist, al-Qaeda sympathiser invited to preach at kids and state funds diverted to subsidise trips to Saudi Arabia.

WATCHDOG BITES: Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the UK's schools inspectorate, Ofsted, found a culture of 'fear and intimidation' in some schools

WATCHDOG BITES: Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the UK’s schools inspectorate, Ofsted, found a culture of ‘fear and intimidation’ in some schools

Based on ancient Greek legend, the ‘Trojan Horse plot’ reportedly came from a leaked letter discovered in March, 2014, alleging Islamists in Britain’s second city sought to wrest control of schools and expand their warped agenda elsewhere.

Hence, a scab of local controversy erupted into a festering cyst of national dispute, with the nation’s core principles placed under a philosophical microscope and a UK prime minister minded to outline what he regards as Britishness and British values.

Cameron cited the Union flag, football and fish and chips as symbolic, but none cut to the quick of why we are who we are.

He also harked back to the Magna Carta of 1215 and the first time an English monarch’s absolute powers were curbed by law. This, though, was hardly a people’s revolt, since it merely forced bad King John to bow to will of his feudal barons and it improved the plight of long-suffering serfs not a jot.

What Magna Carta did, though, was to kick-start the process by which English common law evolved to what exists today, whereby every citizen, regardless of rank, gender or ethnicity, has the right to liberty and justice. Small wonder, then, it has been the template for countless other nations to copy.

So, certainly the law – dispensed by an independent judiciary – is valued, yet it’s not a value; neither is a parliamentary democracy, a constitutional monarchy, a moderate church, a vibrant Press and a culture of free enterprise.

Taking a millennia to develop, these pillars of the British Establishment are certainly entwined in the national psyche, but they are the products of values so abstract, they almost defy simple definition.

To hazard a guess at a few, though, I’d cite respect for freedom, justice and stoicism, that ability to withstand adversity without become hysterical.

That may partly explain the British virtue of tolerance. Because, even if some Brits are head-banging racists, collectively as a nation we possess a deep sense of fair play, which is why Shakespeare’s Sceptred Isle became a land of hope, salvation and opportunity for waves of immigrants, many escaping repression.

RACISM 1950s-STYLE: A typical sign in many boarding house windows

RACISM 1950s-STYLE: A typical sign in many British  boarding house windows

From the persecuted Protestant Huguenots arriving from 16th Century France – ironically ancestors of UKIP’s Nigel Farage – via the Irish navvies, who built Britain’s canals and railways in the Industrial Revolution, to Jewish migrants fleeing czarist pogroms at the turn of the 20th Century…all came and became infused with British values, each adding to the nation’s vitality.

Post World War Two, West Indians arrived to man the trains, buses and NHS, while Asians were recruited to work in the North’s fabric mills.

But integration was never easy for immigrants, because many faced walls of prejudice, manifested by anti-Semitism, xenophobia and a colour bar. Remember: it wasn’t so long ago a common sight in boardinghouse windows were signs, stating, ‘No Irish, no blacks & no dogs’.

However, there was a tacit acceptance among incomers that their adopted nation’s proud traditions and values – no matter how obscure – deserved respect and that reverence was passed on to their children.

So the country really didn’t need synthetic words like ‘multiculturalism’ foisted on it, because Britain melded into a rainbow society, which mostly succeeded…so long as everyone stuck to the script.

Neither did it require the zealous Left to force-feed the masses a dogma of political correctness, as prescribed by an arrogant, metropolitan elite, isolated from harsh reality in London’s ritzier suburbs.

But, mainly north of Watford, something was going radically awry and, instead of barriers breaking down, they were being raised, as folk witnessed irrevocable changes in their towns and cities that tested tolerance to the full.

Among some Muslim communities a hardline Islamist ideology – one denigrating the very ethos of Britishness – was being imposed that silenced the voices of the moderate majority.

Sadly, then, it has become easier to define what isn’t a British value than what is.

It is not, for example, forced marriage, the taking of child brides or the subjugation of women; it is not hostility towards other faiths or the supremacy of one; it is not discrimination against gays; it is not the encouraging of impressionable young men to destroy the society that nurtured them; it is not extremism in any of its various manifestations.

Muslim have as much right to freely practice their faith and culture in Britain as anyone and they should do so without fear or favour.

But, like all who take pride in their Britishness, warts and all, it should be understood that the very British value of mutual tolerance must triumph if Britain is to have any values left.

The ‘peacenik’ President heeds a call to arms – but is it too little, too late?

THERE must be an awful lot of soap being used up in the White House and Whitehall, as ministers and their minions try to wash their hands of Iraq.

And I bet the label on each bar is stamped, ‘For ditherers only.’ If not, they should be.

Because the great brains of Western diplomacy haven’t a clue whether to stick, twist or chuck in their hand and allow violence to take its unnatural course in sorting out the latest Middle East imbroglio.

Various military acronyms rooted in WW2 slang – like FUBAR and SNAFU, whose meanings I won’t spell out for fear of upsetting those of a sensitive disposition – spring to mind as pertinent descriptions for the plight of those whose indecision may, or may not, be final.

And at the very top of the pile of confused, anguished hand-wringers is an American leader, whose default setting is to gaze at his navel, as if answers to the world’s ills miraculously lie within the lint of his belly button.

In 2008 Barack Obama was elected President on an anti-war ticket, redolent with slogans ranging from ‘Hope’ to ‘Yes We Can’ (whatever that meant). The following year he was awarded the Nobel Peace prize, based not on deeds, but the same windy promises that shoehorned him into office. Even the man himself was flabbergasted.

Over six years later his main achievements of note have been extricating his gung-ho predecessor, George W. Bush’s ‘Coalition of the Willing’ from Iraq and downsizing troops in Afghanistan, with the aim of every Crusader GI quitting by New Year.

But, given the daily evidence of mounting carnage afflicting both rudderless states, there’s little to embellish Obama’s legacy, except for taking Hillary Clinton’s advice on obliterating Osama bin Laden.

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS have ignited  the power-keg of Iraq

RUTHLESS & MURDEROUS: The Sunni fanatics of ISIS march on, having ignited the power-keg of Iraq

Meanwhile, even starry-eyed optimists recognise it’s only a matter of time before the untamed Taliban return to Kabul and fill the void created by the exit of NATO troops.

An even more alarming spectre haunts Western policy-makers over the future of Iraq, where a sectarian strife has erupted in all but civil war, as murderous Sunni fanatics of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, ISIS, mop up the oil-rich hinterland and threaten Shia-dominated Baghdad.

It’s futile to rake over old coals, as former British leader Tony Blair recently did in justifying the 2003 invasion/liberation of Iraq, because history is already writ large, though it was always received wisdom the country would be a powder-keg for decades.

That it has exploded so ghoulishly is largely due to the ineptitude and arrogance of Nouri al-Maliki, the Shia Prime Minister, who ethnically cleansed Iraq’s government, army and civil service of virtually any Sunni and Kurdish influence.

Even if the nation’s religious demographics gave Shias a 65% majority, the vision for a democratic, post-conflict Iraq was intended to be an inclusive one, with a modicum of power-sharing.

Now, stability exists only in far-north, autonomous Kurdistan, while the rest of the country seems damned to imitate next-door Syria and descend into a sectarian bloodbath.

That the blinkered Maliki was stupid and overcome by megalomania is beyond doubt, despite having a democratic mandate.

But, as his paymaster and sponsor, Obama – for all his aversion to confrontation – should have had the wit to nip the shameless power-grab in the bud and read the riot act to the idiot of Baghdad much earlier.

Hence, now we see a battle-fatigued America being re-drawn into the conflict, after the President announced on Thursday 300 special operatives would go to Iraq and ‘provide technical support’ to help overcome ISIS, after Maliki pleaded for US intervention.

Talk about déjà vu all over again!

FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

CLOSE TOGETHER, FAR APART: Obama is angry Prime Minister Maliki (right) has turned Iraq into a Shia-governed state

Meanwhile, how much difference 300 specialists can make – and whether they are too little, too late – is debatable, as is Obama’s vague threat of force, ‘if intelligence recommended it’.

But, at least, he took a sideswipe at the Iraqi leader, underlining the error of his ways.

Nevertheless, it bode ill for the 44th President, who’s hardly put a foot right dealing with crises on foreign fields since his election.

He and his diplomatic corps at the State Department – situated in aptly-named Foggy Bottom – utterly misread the runes of the Arab Spring, ignominiously backtracked over the ‘red lines’ warning to Syria’s butcher, Assad, tried and failed to arm-twist allies Israel into a one-sided peace deal with the deceitful Palestinians and contracted the ousting of Libya’s lunatic, Gaddafi, to France and the UK.

To add to his litany of follies, Obama has practically given Iran a free pass on its nuclear ambitions and allowed Vladimir Putin to run rings round him over Ukraine.

Rarely – if ever – has a US commander-in-chief commanded so little respect on the world stage, now a far more parlous place for his ineptitude and dithering.

The very real and present danger is that matters threaten to grow rapidly worse, because not only does ISIS make Al-Qaeda appear pussycats, their manifesto is to export terror worldwide, once they’ve established a Sharia caliphate across a swathe of Syria and Iraq.

The irony of all ironies is only one nation has sufficient military and diplomatic muscle to halt their charge and lift the West off the peg it’s impaled upon: Iran.

Through its religious ties, only it has the ears of Maliki and Assad, whose Alawite sect is a Shia offshoot.

However unedifying, the notion of Tehran’s terror-mongers and ‘The Great Satan’ of the USA finding common cause is increasing from possibility to probability, as back-channel chatter between the two is said to be buzzing.

The threat is not lost on Iran’s arch foe, Saudi Arabia, whose ambassador to Britain, Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf al-Saud, warned last week, ‘There must be no meddling in Iraq’s internal affairs, not by us or by the US, the UK or any other government.’

If a US-Iran alliance does come to pass, though, any slender hope of Obama leaving a legacy of a peace-maker president will be forever tarnished.

No wonder they’re busy passing the soap in the White House and Whitehall.

Bye, David – it was a privilege to have been your friend

HAPPIER DAYS: David  with his wife, Scots-born Mallorca politician, Kate Mentink

HAPPIER DAYS: David with his wife, Scots-born Mallorca politician, Kate Mentink

A WEEK ago I lost one of my best buddies and life will never be quite the same without him.

David Hammond, who has died, aged 67, was one of Mallorca’s great characters, a Liverpudlian blessed with the impish streak of humour that’s a hallmark of folk from the great port city.

Highly articulate, warm-hearted and generous, to be in David’s company was a privilege and a pleasure.

Loyalty counted much in his reckoning and the man nicknamed ‘El Hammondo’ by his friends at Portals Press Club was always ready to lend a helping hand to those in need.

He was also driven by great passions, first and foremost in supporting his adored Scots-born wife, Kate Mentink, in her political career, which saw her serve two terms as a councillor – and assistant mayor – on Calvia Council.

David played no small part, either, in helping establish and develop the local expatriate group, Europeos por Espana, besides being a stalwart of local freemasonry.

A life-long motorbike aficionado and skilled rider, he dedicated the same fervour to his favourite sport, Moto GP racing.

But to those of us who knew him well, he’ll forever be remembered as that rare commodity – a thoroughly decent, principled man.

My deepest condolences to Kate and David’s family.

For the sake of progress, the EU must junk Juncker’s presidential bid

SCANNING the likely runners in the forthcoming European Union presidential stakes, I was suddenly distracted by the question: which animal would best symbolise the EU.

After all, America’s political parties long ago adopted creatures as quirky symbols – the Democratic donkey seen as smart and brave, the Republican elephant strong and dignified.

Many countries also have beasts they regard as emblematic…Britain the bulldog, France a cockerel and Russia a bear.  So I set my mind to choosing one that captured the essence of the EU and initially seized on the camel.

After much deliberation, though, I sacked it on the grounds it would give Europhiles the hump, despite my belief a camel encapsulated typical EU ‘group think’: a horse designed by committee.

The idea of a hippo briefly appealed, since it spends most of its time wallowing in muddy self-gratification or underwater, oblivious to criticism.

Then – voila! – the rhino raised its monstrous head. Thick-skinned, brutish and easily nettled, it’s also short-sighted but blessed with an acute sense of smell to alert it to threats.

Besides, the comparison between the lumbering ungulate and today’s newly-elected EU assembly seemed apt, since MEPs are behaving in rather rhino-ish ways in their hostility to the heads of Europe’s 28 member states, each of whom appoints a commissioner to Brussels.

The rumpus concerns who replaces José Manuel Barroso as President in November, but, more significantly, who has the right to appoint a successor.

FACE FROM THE PAST: UK Premier, David Cameron, doesn't want Juncker as the next EU Commission leader

FACE FROM THE PAST: UK Premier, David Cameron, doesn’t want Juncker as the next EU Commission leader

All eleven, previous bosses owed their jobs to accommodations struck between national leaders.

Now, however, the largest party grouping of MEPs claims it is entitled it to decide who rules the EU roost, even if the 2008 Lisbon Treaty simply say its views should be ‘taken into account’.

Certainly, giving power to elected representatives would be a step in a democratic direction for an institution not famed as egalitarian.

But therein lies the rub. The main clique is the European Peoples’ Party (EEP) – an amalgam of centre-Right democrats, which David Cameron’s Conservatives quit in protest at its archly federalist tendencies – and their preferred candidate is Jean-Claude Juncker.

The problem is the former Luxemburg Prime Minister is something of a Marmite Man, admired and abhorred in equal measure.

It is not simply his messianic belief in the EU morphing into a United States of Europe that riles detractors; it’s rather that he’s the diplomatic equivalent of a Sherman tank, crushing dissenting voices and taking no prisoners.

And the nation at which Juncker targets most of his spleen is the UK, as his vitriolic speech to the 2005 EU parliament demonstrated.

In it, he singled out ‘Anglo-Saxon villainy’, asserting that any country standing in the way of ‘the future superstate’ was inspired by petty, squalid and immoral interests, while being ‘deaf to historic destiny’.

It was a reckless tirade, all the more stupid since it ignored every member state leader’s declared priority to pursue their ‘national interest.’

But Juncker has a reputation for loose-tongue faux pas – especially when primed by alcohol – never more tellingly than with his remark, ‘When the going gets tough, you have to lie.’

This notorious one-liner came in the wake of his forced resignation as Luxemburg’s premier, after an inquiry concluded that he turned a blind eye to rogue elements of the Grand Duchy’s security service spying on whoever they liked.

CHEERS TO JUNCKER: German's Merkel wants the Luxemburger to lead the new Commission

CHEERS TO JUNCKER: German’s Merkel wants the Luxemburger to lead the new Commission

Meanwhile, there’s also the taint of hypocrisy in Juncker being the first ‘chosen one’ – spitzenkandidat – from the floor of the EU parliament, since his take on democracy can verge on Stalinist.

When the French and Dutch famously voted against a European constitution, Juncker led calls for them to vote and vote again, until they bowed to his will. As it transpired, the Lisbon Treaty put paid to rebellion, since no member state bothered to hold it to a referendum, apart from Ireland, which was pressured into overturning an initial ‘No’ vote at the second time of asking.

Dubbed ‘a face from the past’ by Cameron, the wave of popularity that promised to sweep Juncker to the throne of Europe is now being undermined by many powerful voices, though Germany’s Angela Merkel remains a fervent fan.

However, that the largest bloc in the EU parliament lauds him is further testimony to its crass disregarded for the welling discontent fomenting across Europe.

In last month’s MEP elections, huge swathes of electors delivered a resounding message to the Brussels elite that they are riled to the point of revolt by the incompetence of EU decision-makers and, particularly, the impact of ill-conceived austerity.

As they voted far-Right and extreme Left in droves, Juncker’s vision of force-feeding more of the same, putrid medicine down their throats underlines the widening disconnect between the rulers and the ruled.

Cameron is clear he needs the Luxemburger like he yearns for a root canal filling minus anaesthetic. Others – particularly the reformist Dutch and Swedes – are similarly persuaded a Juncker presidency would be an unmitigated disaster and drive the electorate to further extremes.

The best-case scenario is that a compromise candidate is agreed between the national leaders and the EEP, so the name of Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Denmark’s moderate, centre-Left prime minister and Neil Kinnock’s daughter-in-law, is being loudly touted.

Whether common sense ever prevails where the EU is concerned is entirely another matter.

Forget Brazil – the real World Cup drama is how FIFA survives the Qatar ‘scandal’

TO whom it may concern: this is to inform you that, as of Thursday, I’ll be mainly incommunicado for a goodly part of a month, in a state of purdah so to speak – or, if you’re an England soccer fan, probably consumed by murder.

My wife will retreat to an adjacent room and a stack of DVDs, where she’ll revisit her favourite, fictional country pile and once again acquaint herself with the upstairs/downstairs antics at Downton Abbey.

Unlike me, the ending will come as no surprise to her, because the epicentres of my world will be locations littering Brazil, often with incomprehensibly names, like Manaus (apparently pronounced ‘Ma-naws’) and Cuiabá (locally known as Kujaˈba).

Luckily for perplexed TV viewers, World Cup match commentators have had years of experience in making sense of the exotic monikers of the English Premier League’s foreign legion, hence we needn’t bother trying to get our tonsils round the likes of Šime Vrsaljko, Ognjen Vranješ or Reza Ghoochannejhad.

So what chance England? The bookies odds of 28-1 offer some clue Hodgson’s hopefuls won’t be there long enough to excavate much of a hole in the Football Association’s wallet – and there are always a litany of excuses to rely on, like pitches having the wrong kind of grass, the climate too steamy and refs needing guide-dogs.

OOOPS! Even FIFA chief Blatter admits awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar may have been a 'mistake'

OOOPS! Even FIFA chief Blatter admits awarding the 2022 World Cup to Qatar may have been a ‘mistake’

This may sound pessimistic – and I sincerely hope I’m wrong – but the action off the field, in world football’s corridors of power, is likely to prove far more compelling than much of what England muster on it.

FIFA, the governing body, has long been something of a conundrum; not so much an administration, more a corporate cash-cow, amassing reserves estimated at $1.4-billion.

And that it situates itself in Switzerland, whose very name conjures up visions of financial mystique, adds nothing to the organisation’s image. Neither does the fact that FIFA’s president is the seemingly Teflon-coated Sepp Blatter, now in his fourth term of office.

Notably, Blatter’s CV includes a previous ‘presidency’ – that of the World Society of Friends of Suspenders, which tried to stop women wearing pantyhose.

If nothing else, this may provide a fascinating insight into the man’s peccadilloes, as does his remark in 2004 that women footballers should ‘wear tighter shorts and low cut shirts… to create a more female aesthetic’.

However, Blatter’s role as an administrator has garnered even more controversy than his sexism, with rumours of irregularities dogging him since his first election to the job in 1998.

Nevertheless, his survival instincts are supremely honed, never more so than when he displayed nimble footwork to equal Barcelona’s midfield in deflecting fall-out from an investigation into allegedly corrupt links with ISL, a marketing company which went bust in 2001, reportedly owing FIFA $100M.

Now, however, the small, bald, 78-year-old Swiss is up to his jowly neck in a virtual cheese fondue, amid allegations that Qatar ‘bought’ the 2022 World Cup for approximately US$5M.

The sandcastle-sized emirate – it’s actually smaller than Yorkshire – is more renown for camel racing, with robot jockeys, than soccer. And, with frazzling summer temperatures of 50C (120F), it one of the last places on earth to host a tournament where competitors will struggle to amble for five minutes, let alone run for 90.

Still, Blatter applauded Qatar’s ‘successful bid’ and helpfully advised gay fans they should ‘refrain from any sexual activities’ while there, since homosexuality is taboo.

CUP TIED: Ex-Asia soccer boss Mohammed Bin Hammam is accused of 'buying' the World Cup for the tiny Arab emirate

CUP TIED: Ex-Asia soccer boss Mohammed Bin Hammam is accused of spending $5M to ‘buy’ the 2022 World Cup for the tiny Arab emirate

However, the venality of how the oil-rich statelet came to be ‘awarded’ one of world sport’s most glittering prize first began to unravel when the Daily Telegraph revealed that Jack Warner, dictatorial boss of Caribbean football and long-time Blatter crony, trousered some $1.2M from sources not a million miles distant from Qatari, Mohammed Bin Hammam, then FIFA’s Asia’s soccer supremo.

To add tinder to the scandal’s flames, the aptly-named Chuck Blazer, an American member of FIFA’s executive committee, submitted evidence that Warner and Bin Hammam handed envelopes – each stuffed with $40,000 – to Caribbean football union delegates during a junket in Trinidad.

This, apparently, was only the tip of an iceberg of sleaze embroiling Bin Hammam, who also tried to overthrow Blatter, and last week the plotting was graphically detailed by the Sunday Times.

Among a catalogue of scathing allegations, the newspaper contends: Bin Hammam operated ‘slush’ funds to dole out thousands in bribes to African delegates of FIFA and paid the Confederation of African Football $1M to ‘sponsor’ its congress in Angola, thus stymying rival bidders – like Australia – from putting forward their cases for 2022.

More revelations appear in today’s Sunday Times, while an incandescent Warner – now banned from world football, along with his Arab chum – promises to unleash a ‘tsunami’ of evidence of corruption inside FIFA and how Qatar ‘bought’ the World Cup.

INVESTIGATOR: American lawyer Michael Garcia will report next month on his probe into how Qatar 'won' the right to stage the competition

INVESTIGATOR: American lawyer Michael Garcia will report next month on his probe into how Qatar ‘won’ the right to stage the competition

Naturally, the Qataris deny any wrongdoings and continue work on eight, lavish stadiums, which have so far cost the lives of 964 immigrant workers.

Bin Hammam, they insist, was not working for the ‘official bid committee’, although he flew around the world distributing largesse in a private jet loaned by Qatar’s royal family.

They will, however, have to convince Michael Garcia, an American lawyer appointed by FIFA’s Ethics Committee – yes, perhaps surprisingly, they have one – to investigate the 2022 bidding process, before he reports next month.

Meanwhile, even Blatter has begun to question the wisdom of a World Cup being staged by the pinprick Gulf state, admitting it may have been ‘a mistake.’

Feeble though it is, the admission vindicates the groundswell of learned opinion that believed Qatar was never a fit and proper place to host such a showcase event, when the award was made in December, 2010.

Overwhelmed by international criticism, Blatter now faces the problems of not only fending off any personal blows from Garcia’s probe, but how to ditch Qatar and re-run the 2022 bid without drowning FIFA in a floodtide of humungously expensive litigation.

Short of resigning, how the artful Swiss can mastermind this should prove far more intriguing than anything England contrive in Brazil.