Most observers seem to think that England is unlikely to be chosen to host the 2018 World Cup when Fifa, football's governing body, takes its vote on 2 December. If it is beaten by Russia or Spain/Portugal, we can be certain that some people will blame The Sunday Times and the BBC for exposing the corruption of Fifa.
Last week, Andy Anson, chiefexecutive of the body leadingEngland's World Cup bid, described the BBC's plans to broadcast a Panorama investigation into allegations of Fifa corruption on 29 November as "unpatriotic". He seems to be saying that the media should put our bid first.
There is no doubt that corruption exists within the organisation. Following a Sunday Times "sting", Fifa last week banned one of its most senior figures for three years, the Nigerian Amos Adamu, for bribery, and punished five other officials for serious infringements. But instead of congratulating the newspaper for an outstanding piece of journalism that rooted out these bad apples, the chairman of Fifa's "ethics committee", Claudio Sulser, accused The Sunday Times of "twisting the facts" and for being "sensationalist". He should be hanging his head in shame for being part of an organisation that countenanced corruption.
The former French footballer Michel Platini, a Fifa vice-president as well as President of Uefa, says that England's World Cup bid is more at risk from the British media's habit of criticising Fifa over the years than as a result of recent investigations. He seems to be saying that the persistent interest of newspapers in the alleged corruption of Fifa has undermined England's attempt to host the World Cup. If this is the case, it is a cause for celebration, and I am proud of the British media.
Indeed, I would go further. Fifa seems so flawed an organisation that even patriotic football fans should prefer England not to be chosen as a venue until the governing body emphatically cleans up its act. If bribes have to be paid and chins tickled to secure the World Cup, I hope that we never get it. Mr Anson may be a silly ass in describing the Panorama documentary as "unpatriotic", but I do not believe his organisation would act unethically, which may reduce England's chances of winning.
Is there any other country in the world which would allow its major broadcaster to put on a programme on the eve of Fifa's vote, accusing the organisation of corruption? I doubt it. It obviously wouldn't happen in dozens of autocratic regimes, but there are probably many democratic countries, including Mr Platini's France, where such behaviour would be circumscribed. We should be proud of our media for putting the defence of standards of decency before the "honour" of hosting the World Cup. That is why on 2 December I shall be cheering when – or if – England has not been chosen.
Lord Young should have known better
When I heard that Lord Young had been taped talking to The Daily Telegraph's Whitehall Editor, Christopher Hope, I wondered whether the Government's now ex-enterprise adviser had known he was being recorded. He did, though the truth is strange.
Lord Young, though not as young as he was, is an experienced political operator. He was invited to lunch at the finest restaurant in Westminster by Mr Hope. It was agreed, as is usual on such occasions, that the meeting was "off the record". Yet when Lord Young began to dilate in an interesting way, Mr Hope whipped out his tape recorder and asked him whether he minded if it was turned it on. He said he didn't.
The sight of a tape recorder normally makes a politician more circumspect. He is no longer "off the record". But in this instance it had no inhibiting effect. Mr Hope, who had behaved entirely honourably, returned to the Telegraph office in the Commons with his story, and Lord Young's job as enterprise adviser was over, though I should say that his essential message – that those in work with mortgages are mostly better off – was largely correct.
The lesson for any politician is not to allow himself to be recorded in the convivial atmosphere of a lunch where drink may loosen tongues. In 999 cases out of a thousand, political "lobby" lunches of this sort are not taped. Sometimes a formal interview with a politician takes place over lunch, and that too can be perilous. In 2008 the former Home Secretary Charles Clarke found himself launching a vituperative attack on Gordon Brown over a bibulous lunch with the Daily Mail's Petronella Wyatt. I feel sorry for Lord Young, but he has only himself to blame.
Bullock's wisdom a gift to this paper
I have just learnt with great sadness of the death of John Bullock at 83. John was The Independent's first Middle Eastern Editor. Before that, he worked for years for The Daily Telegraph.
I first met John on the Telegraph. He was an experienced foreign expert who sometimes used to brief me when I was an ignorant young leader writer. Invariably polite and kind, he became for me the embodiment of the ideal foreign reporter – brave, resourceful, straight and dependable. In his late 50s, John joined the foreign staff of The Independent before its launch. His experience, wisdom and good humour were invaluable to the young paper.Reuse content