The Obscurer

Mark His Words

I was watching the second-half of Brazil v Croatia last night (after I had spent the first half with Springwatch; you need a bit of give and take in a relationship I find), when John Motson goes all statistical on us, wibbling on in irritating fashion as is his wont. Do I really care that if Brazil beat Croatia then it will be their eighth straight win in the World Cup finals, a new record? If Motty were even a half-decent commentator that I could ignore his numerical excursions, but his continued pre-eminence on the BBC is an affliction I really hoped would have been dealt with in the appropriate manner by now. Will there be no end to his reign of tedium?

But then I perked up when he continued “and if Croatia lose then it will be their first competitive defeat in four years”.

Eh? You’re probably thinking what I was thinking; did I dream Rooney ripping their defence apart two years ago in the European Championships? It was Croatia, wasn’t it? It was, I was certain of it, but for a moment I began to doubt my sanity.

The ball went out for a corner to Brazil, and Motson piped up “as I was saying, Croatia’s last defeat was two years ago to England in Portugal”.

As I was saying! You lying git. Or was he? I questioned myself again, wondering this time if I had initially misheard.

But technology is a wonderful thing. I pressed rewind on my Sky+ like PVR until I saw Roberto Carlos take a throw, and listened again as Motson clearly made the claim that Croatia were undefeated in four years, and then continued on to make his “as I was saying…two years” comment; then I pressed the red button, selected Radio Five’s audio, and ditched the pillock once and for all.

I wouldn’t have minded if he had said “oops, silly me, my mistake, what was I thinking of”, but no; instead he embarked on a shameless attempt to airbrush his error from history, to try to purge the mistake from his spotless record on statistics. It was all very ugly.

How did he realise he had got it wrong? Did it just suddenly occur to him and panicking he blurted out his lazy covering tactic; or more likely did Mark Lawrenson, off mic, point out that he had fouled up? I don’t know, but I have enough fear in me to be anxious for Lawrenson’s welfare; I don’t think Motson appreciates someone pointing out his feet of clay. Please, as soon as someone spots Mark safe and well, leave a comment on this post and put my mind at rest.*

*I don’t count a surreal sighting of Mark Lawrenson reading a story at the end of the Bedtime Hour on Cbeebies. I am sure they were recorded ages ago, (and I pray that they are not all we will have to remember him by).

A Gulf

The blogosphere is choc-a-bloc with disillusioned Labour supporters, disheartened by what they see as Tony Blair’s betrayals once he gained power, presiding over a government that tramples on many of our cherished ideals.

But I’m not one of them, not really. For one thing I’ve never been a Labour voter; but for another Blair was elected back in 1997 with a manifesto and billboard campaign boasting of how he would stick to the Tories’ taxing and spending commitments, so I never expected Labour in office to be any different from the preceding rabble. As such, in the early days of the administration I actually sought to defend Blair, after a fashion. To those on the “left” dismayed by Labour’s antics I said, “well what did you expect, he promised nothing and he has delivered”. To his critics on the “right” I just wondered what their problem was; I don’t know what more Blair could have done to satisfy them, short of actually joining the Conservative party.

So I expected nowt from Labour in 1997; but that bright morning after their election victory I clearly remember reading Ceefax (ah, those were the days) when a small story caught my eye claiming that the new government would launch an investigation into Gulf War syndrome. Perhaps I have been too cynical and pessimistic about New Labour, I thought. Early days indeed, but they had already done something that the Tories would never have countenanced. Maybe it would be all right.

So for me it was especially depressing to read this article in The Guardian, about how the MoD had to be dragged into accepting Gulf War syndrome by the pensions appeal tribunal only last November, and that it has since rowed back from that position by unilaterally reinterpreting its conclusions in order to save money. The report states that

Last month, Mr Concannon (the president of the tribunal) wrote to Alan Burnham, chief executive of the Veterans Agency, in unusually strong language. He said: “The Ministry of Defence have clearly and deliberately departed from the terms of the tribunal decision in order to substitute their own expression. In my view the Ministry of Defence have no legal authority to tamper with the terms on which a tribunal allows an appeal. The Ministry of Defence have taken on themselves to manipulate the terms of the tribunal’s decision.

“What they have done is a purely unilateral decision. It is a decision that at least questions and probably undermines any confidence the tribunal might have that its decisions will be faithfully implemented.”

Labour’s former minister for the disabled, Lord Morris, told the Guardian: “The Ministry of Defence has effectively overturned the tribunal’s decision. This could affect hundreds, if not thousands of servicemen who are suffering from Gulf war syndrome. This could stop them getting additional money.”

Last Thursday, the National Gulf Veterans and Families Association wrote to Lord Craig of Radley, the former Air Chief Marshall at the time of the first Gulf War, to highlight the MoD’s change of heart. The association accused the MoD of playing “another sleight of hand”.

Last night the MoD said it would not accept the existence of Gulf war syndrome. The ministry said money was already being paid to ex-servicemen with disabilities, and that it did not need to pay extra money for those who claimed they were suffering from Gulf war syndrome.

This government has done many things to appal; even though I expected little of them they have still shocked me in many of their actions. But this decision feels more personal; it brings me right back to Labour’s first day in power, when a jaundiced and slimmer future blogger briefly thought things could be just a little bit better.

This is where I came in; cynicism restored and intact.