John Terry: the miniseries

At last, our very own sex scandal!

So, farewell then, John Terry (from the England captaincy). And what a week it's been for lovers of a sex scandal. At last we had our own! Tiger Woods's string of affairs was titillating, but too remote: sex scandals are better home-grown. And Terry, now ex-captain of the England football team, "Dad of the Year 2009", husband of childhood sweetheart Toni, is carving out the genre all over again.

He ticked the necessary boxes with ease: best friend's woman, "romping" after training (to romp: the tabloid word of choice, somehow making it all sound like a bawdy country dance), secret assignations at the French model's mock-Tudor home. But Terry then added his own, unique touches: scoring a goal the day the story broke and failing to get a super-injunction to prevent it oozing out into the public domain.

That gave the Sun the glorious opportunity to revel in its moral superiority for reporting the story at all, as if they were investigative journalists in Yemen, uncovering an international terrorist plot by their wits and sleuthing alone. The headline: "Freedom wins".

And so follows the wonderful cast of characters and global range of locations for this, our very own miniseries (title: Transgression). Enter stage left, Max Clifford, publicist to the stars, and stage right, Fiona Shackleton, divorce lawyer to same. (Apparently, though, Toni's sticking by her man. Or so the reports from Dubai claim, accompanied by photos of Toni in a bikini.)



Dubai, the recently collapsed holiday destination of choice for X Factor judges and Premiership footballers, was, of course, a "special place" for Terry and Toni -- they had their honeymoon there. What better setting for her agonised deliberations?

So that's the first episode. The rest of the series will run, replete with twists, cliffhangers and cameos, until the end of the World Cup.

Fabio Capello is making his star turn. There will be an experimental episode devoted to an England training session, tracking the internal monologues of Wayne Bridge (aka: The Cuckold) and Terry, culminating in them eyeball to eyeball in the centre of the pitch.

The ending (spoiler alert!) will see Terry scoring the winning goal at the World Cup final in South Africa; at the final whistle he collapses in grief and self-admonishment, tears splashing against the trophy as he clasps it to his chest.

Or not. More likely, the grand arc of Greek tragedy will be sacrificed for grisly details, drip-fed by the tabloids.

But we can be grateful for one thing. The ingenuity of the English football fan when it comes to creating tailor-made football chants. Try this to the tune of "Lord of the Dance": "Chelsea, wherever you may be, don't leave your wife with John Terry". Perhaps that could be the theme tune to Transgression.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear