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In this week's New Statesman | The New Exodus

Plus: Chris Patten downplays the BBC pay-off scandal and slams Grant Shapps for "exceptionally ill-judged" licence fee attack.




On the pay-off scandal: “This is not the most outrageous example I can think of mortal sin.”

On BBC-bashing in the press: “In some newspapers the BBC gets bashed more than President Assad. It’s extraordinary.”










In a frank and robust interview in this week’s New Statesman, Chris Patten, chairman of the BBC Trust, tells Ed Smith he wants to see the BBC’s self-confidence and moral authority restored after a series of blows to the organisation including the Savile affair and the executive pay-off scandal:


“The BBC is the only institution that I’ve been associated with that gets a sense of Schadenfreude about its own problems or mistakes. It beats itself up more. I think we should start to be more positive about ourselves. People get a fantastic service for 40 pence a day. I think the important thing for the BBC is not to lose its nerve. My friends from around the world are amazed that BBC is in the headlines so much. They assume this must be an organisation that everybody is exceptionally proud of. Well, sensible people are.”

Patten contrasts the high regard in which the BBC is held around the world with the way it is pilloried by certain sections of the British press:

“I was thinking the other day that in some newspapers the BBC gets bashed more than President Assad. It’s extraordinary.”

Patten uses the interview to hit back at Grant Shapps, chairman of the Conservative Party, who last month launched a cynical attack on the BBC, questioning the future of the licence fee. Patten was appalled by what he calls the “mis-Shapp”:

“We were appearing in front of a select committee the other day, we’re always appearing in front of select committees, I think we’re now up to 17 in a year, on one issue or another. I said what had surprised me during my period as chairman of the Trust was on the whole the lack of political pressure from anybody. And then just to make it look as though I was a cloth head, the chairman of the Conservative Party launched himself into an exceptionally ill-judged attack on the BBC. . .The chairmen of the Conservative Party invariably have a bash at the BBC in the run-up to elections. I have to say to my eternal shame I did the same. But what was odd [about Shapps’s intervention] was publicly linking an attack on a journalist [the BBC home editor, Mark Easton] with the BBC as whole and the licence fee.”

Patten on the pay-off scandal:

“No-one – nobody sensible – would argue that the way that severance pay had been handled had been other than messy and shabby. It was wrong. The worst damage has been inside, because people have seen their budgets being squeezed and [also] these big pay settlements. Some of these severance payments raised . . . well, not just eyebrows . . .”

“If you then look at a period of seven years from 2006 to 2013, people who left and were paid more than they were contractually entitled, that totalled £6.8m. Which is about what you’d have to pay to televise a football match. This is not the most outrageous example I can think of mortal sin. . . But it was wrong. And it stopped. And it won’t happen again.”

On BBC bureaucracy and creativity:

“That’s exactly what Tony Hall is trying to do at the moment. Strip out some of those layers of bureaucracy that have, among other things, a deadening effect on creativity. . . We definitely have to be faster on our feet.”

“The best drama I’ve seen since I’ve been in this job is the Tom Stoppard Parade’s End, which I thought was magical. Downton Abbey is a huge success. But I’m glad that we made Parade’s End, not Downton. So there is a lot [of good programming] but there needs to be more.”

On his hopes for the BBC:

“Success would be that the BBC was on the way to renewing the charter, at a reasonable licence fee level, which would enable it to go on producing the kind of programming it does now. And for the levels of trust in the BBC to have consolidated and stabilised; I’d like them to be even higher. It’s a great national treasure and it’s important that it should act like a national treasure and be regarded as – not beyond criticism – but as something that we can be reasonably proud of.”


In a controversial essay for the NS, Paul Collier, professor of economics and public policy at Oxford University and author of the new book Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century, argues “liberal intellectuals who dismiss concerns about future migration. . .are being cavalier at other people’s expense” and declares the “noble vision” of multiculturalism incompatible with an egalitarian society.

Collier argues it is time for a sensible conversation about immigration and wants to break the taboo surrounding its discussion:

“Ever since Enoch Powell’s “rivers of blood” speech in 1968, serious discussion of migration has been taboo in British social science. I lost count of the number of times I was cautioned while writing my book Exodus not to include anything that could be ammunition for Ukip. In other words, I was told to write yet more policy-based evidence. British migration policy is too important and in too much disarray for this to be defensible.”

He argues that the multiculturalism model is incompatible with a fair deal for the “indigenous population”:

“Liberal intellectuals want to combine rapid immigration, the multiculturalism that entitles migrants to remain within a distinct cultural community, and an egalitarian society. This is a noble vision but unfortunately the desirability of a policy combination does not ensure that it is technically possible.”

“The weight of evidence suggests overwhelmingly that if a society fragments between an indigenous population and a variety of diaspora communities, co-operation will weaken. More surprisingly, diversity even appears to weaken co-operation within the indigenous population: as indigenous networks are disrupted, people withdraw into more isolated lives.”

Refusing to accept this is, says Collier, an indulgence we cannot afford:

“Liberal intellectuals who dismiss concerns about future migration, as distinct from the complaints about its past effects, are being cavalier at other people’s expense. It is the indigenous poor, existing immigrants and people left behind in the countries of origin who are potentially at risk, not the middle classes.”


In this week’s column, Rafael Behr, NS politics editor, explains that Jeremy Hunt, the Health Secretary, hopes to deal with the winter NHS crisis by positioning himself “as the champion of patients against an unresponsive health bureaucracy”:

“Jeremy Hunt, the current Health Secretary, has a third way. He aims to position himself as the champion of patients against an unresponsive health bureaucracy. He takes as his model the approach that Michael Gove has adopted for schools, casting himself as the scourge of complacency in a system that cherishes mediocrity and cares only about doing things the way they have always been done. ‘Jeremy is always going on about what Michael is doing at Education,’ says a senior Department of Health insider. That is the impulse behind calls for Ofsted-style regulation of hospitals and for GPs to offer more appointments outside working hours. Hunt treats problems in the NHS as evidence of the need for reform. Labour says he is dumping responsibility for the fiasco on doctors and nurses.”


Eimear McBride wins the first Goldsmiths Prize – a new literary prize in association with the New Statesman

Vince Cable reflects on the past 100 years – and shares his fears and hopes for the future – in the NS Centenary Interview

Rachel Cooke watches the final Downton episodewill ITV realise how bad a writer Julian Fellowes is or keep flogging this dead horse?

Ryan Gilbey reviews Ridley Scott’s film of Cormac McCarthy’s The Counselor

Michael Brooks calculates the risk of an asteroid hit in this week’s Science column

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The World Cup you’ve never heard of, where the teams have no state

At the Conifa world cup – this year hosted by the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia – ethnic groups, diaspora communities and disputed territories will battle for footballing glory.

Football's European Championship and the Olympics are set to dominate the back pages over the next few months. How will Team GB fare in Rio? Will the zika virus stop the tournament even going ahead? Will the WAGS prove to be a distraction for the Three Lions? And can Roy Hodgson guide England to a long-awaited trophy?

But before the sprinters are in their blocks or a ball has been kicked, there's a world cup taking place.

Only this world cup is, well, a bit different. There's no Brazil, no damaged metatarsals to speak of, and no Germany to break hearts in a penalty shootout.  There’s been no sign of football’s rotten underbelly rearing its head at this world cup either. No murmurs of the ugly corruption which has plagued Fifa in recent years. Nor any suggestion that handbags have been exchanged for hosting rights.

This biennial, unsung world cup is not being overseen by Fifa however, but rather by Conifa (Confederation of Independent Football Associations), the governing body for those nations discredited by Fifa. Among its member nations are ethnic groups, diaspora communities or disputed territories with varying degrees of autonomy. Due to their contested status, many of the nations are unable to gain recognition from Fifa. As a consequence they cannot compete in tournaments sanctioned by the best-known footballing governing body, and that’s where Conifa provides a raison d’être.

“We give a voice to the unheard”, says Conifa’s General Secretary, Sascha Düerkop, whose world cup kicks off in the Autonomous Republic of Abkhazia at the end of this week.

“We are proud to give our members a forum where they can put themselves on the map.

“From that we hope to give back in the long run and invest in the football infrastructure in our member nations to help them grow.”

The two week footballing celebration starts with an opening ceremony before Kurdistan and Székely Land kick off the tournament. It follows on from 2014’s maiden competition which saw The County of Nice avenging a group stage defeat to Ellan Vannin from the Isle of Man, to take the spoils in the final via a penalty shoot-out.  There were some blowout scores of note however, with South Ossetia smashing Darfur 20-0 and Kurdistan beating the Tamils 9-0 at the event which took place in Östersund, Sweden. Neither of the finalists will be returning to the tournament – throwing down the gauntlet to another twelve teams. 

This, the second Conifa world cup, is testament to the ever-expanding global footprint of the tournament. Abkhazia will welcome sides from four continents – including Western Armenia, the Chagos Islands, United Koreans in Japan and Somaliland.

Despite the “minor” status of the countries taking part, a smattering of professional talent lends credibility to the event. Panjab can call on the experience of ex-Accrington Stanley man Rikki Bains at the heart of their defence, and the coaching savoir-faire of former Tranmere star Reuben Hazell from the dugout. Morten Gamst Pedersen, who turned out for Blackburn Rovers over 300 times and was once a Norwegian international, will lead the Sapmi people. The hosts complete the list of teams to aiming to get their hands on silverware along with Padania, Northern Cyprus, and Raetia.

A quick glance down said list, and it’s hard to ignore the fact that most of the nations competing have strong political associations – be that through war, genocide, displacement or discrimination. The Chagos Islands is one such example. An archipelago in the Indian Ocean, Chagos’ indigenous population was uprooted by the British government in the 1960s to make way for one of the United States' most strategically important military bases – Diego Garcia.

Ever since, they've been campaigning for the right to return. Their side, based in Crawley, has crowdfunded the trip to the tournament. Yet most of its members have never stepped foot on the islands they call home, and which they will now represent. Kurdistan’s efforts to establish an independent state have been well-highlighted, even more so given the last few years of conflict in the Middle East. The hosts too, broke away from Georgia in the 1990s and depend on the financial clout of Russia to prop up their government.

Despite that, Düerkop insists that the event is one which focuses on action on the pitch rather than off it. 

“Many of the nations are politically interested, but we are non-political,” he says. 

“Some of our members are less well-known in the modern world. They have been forgotten, excluded from the global community or simply are ‘unpopular’ for their political positions.

“We are humanitarians and the sides play football to show their existence – nothing more, nothing less.”

The unknown and almost novel status of the tournament flatters to deceive as Conifa’s world cup boasts a broadcast deal, two large stadiums and a plush opening ceremony. Its aim in the long run, however, is to develop into a global competition, and one which is content to sit below Fifa.

“We are happy to be the second biggest football organisation,” admits Düerkop.

“In the future we hope to have women’s and youth tournaments as well as futsal and beach soccer.”

“Our aim is to advertise the beauty and uniqueness of each nation.”

“But the most important purpose is to give those nations that are not members of the global football community a home.”

George Weah, the first African winner of Fifa World Player of the Year award remarked how “football gives a suffering people joy”.

And after speaking to Düerkop there’s certainly a feeling that for those on the game’s periphery, Conifa’s world cup has an allure which offers a shared sense of belonging.

It certainly seems light years away from the glitz and glamour of WAGs and corruption scandals. And that's because it is.

But maybe in a small way, this little-known tournament might restore some of beauty lost by the once “beautiful game”.