Leading article: Adverse reaction

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The pity of the situation is almost worthy of some lines of verse itself. Oxford University could have been welcoming its first black professor of poetry or its first female one. Either would have been a breakthrough. But now the university is left with neither.

The smearing of Derek Walcott and yesterday's resignation of Ruth Padel, after admitting her team's role in dredging up damaging allegations from Walcott's past, is a vivid lesson in the foolishness of fighting dirty for a prize.

As Gordon Brown's ex-spin doctor, Damian McBride, discovered, in rather different circumstances, smearing rivals can end up damaging your cause just as much as theirs. The architectural critic and sometime poet, John Ruskin, once wrote that "nothing is ever done beautifully that is done in rivalship; or nobly which is done in pride". This destructive battle would seem to have borne him out.

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