Sunday, 27 June 2010

World Cup: England Müller'd

We've just witnessed England's worst defeat in a World Cup finals. You have to feel for their supporters in South Africa; they've spent a fortune, and for what?

The disaster isn't
the manager's fault; Italian iron-man Fabio Capello has a terrific track record. But of the four games England played, in three the players were abject. Against Slovenia, the smallest country in the tournament, they did enough - just.

But today came Germany, and a 4-1 thrashing.
The clear-eyed young Teutons took on our English lionhearts, tamed them, and extracted their teeth. Toward the end of the game some of the German squad players got a gentle run out, to rub salt into the gummy wounds.

In Britain, hundreds watching the game on television must have wondered what it was all about. The tedious countdown to the event, incessant media hype, endless pundit analysis. Never mind the merchandising campaign; but tomorrow, how many England flags will still be seen across our green and pleasant land?

And Capello's contract renewal, signed just before the World Cup? Many now question its timing, but today England's defenders made appalling schoolboy errors which Capello simply couldn't do anything about. He picked the best players available, and they failed him. Though they can perform for their clubs, at international level they are a collection of individuals rather than a team; no cohesion, no passion. Ashley Cole, Gerrard, Lampard, Rooney, Terry: who delivered?

Saturday, 26 June 2010

HM Revenue and Customs: Let's Not Get Cosy

The other night I was idly channel-hopping. I alighted on the disturbingly attractive figure of Anne Josephine Robinson, presenting her consumer affairs programme Watchdog. Robinson's guest, sleek and self-assured in the face of permafrost questioning, was Leslie Strathie, Chief Executive of HM Revenue and Customs.

With delightful acerbity Robinson harangued Ms Strathie over a long list of complaints about her department received from taxpayers. But the public servant was able to comfortably counter with platitudes, generalities, statistics irrefutably demonstrating faultless performance.

What really offended me about Strathie was not merely her poise when confronted with real worries from dozens who'd written in. I realised how much I disliked her when she referred to those distressed people as 'customers', and talked about HMRC's 'customer services'.

When I learned English, customers bought stuff. If I'm now to be a 'customer' of HMRC, and not just some poor sod made to fill in loathsome forms and pay ever more tax, exactly what am I buying? Freedom from prosecution for tax evasion perhaps. Please, don't try to get cosy with me.

Incidentally, it turns out HMRC is bottom of the league of civil service departments, as judged by its own staff. The survey which revealed such catastrophic morale was described by Strathie herself as 'disappointing'. More gratifying must have been the
Dame Commander of the Order of the Bath, inexplicably conferred on her in the Queen's recent birthday honours list.