Raheem Sterling put in a good performance. Photo: Getty
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England's impressive start to the World Cup: can they make it through the group of death?

Italy's star players prevailed, but Roy Hodgson's young team made a splash in their first game.

It is hard to remember England making a more impressive start in a major tournament, and hard also to feel other than encouraged by much of what we saw last night. From the moment that Raheem Sterling crashed his shot so narrowly wide in the opening minutes there was a feeling that this young side could achieve against the odds in their "group of death".

Italy are, however, experienced and tough competitors and it was the excellence of their star players that took them through. Hard, though, to disagree with Alan Shearer, who appears to have upped his game for the World Cup as a pundit in a way he never really did as a player, that Rooney's second-half miss was a crucial moment. "Wazza's" failure also to adapt to the defensive side of the role assigned to him left Baines regularly exposed down England's left flank. No doubt the press barons will give him no mercy, which is harsh since it was his superb cross that set up Sturridge's marvellous finish for England's quick-fire reply to Italy's well-worked opener. If there was scope for improvement in some aspects of the defensive performance, there was disappointment that our return from set pieces was minimal, whereas Italy threatened regularly from theirs.

So on to Thursday and Uruguay: the Suarez showdown. England's early contribution to this World Cup is so far impressive. Our young team have made a splash, Roy Hodgson demonstrates dignity and calm, looking perfectly at home at this level, keeping expectations to sensible proportions, and getting a real performance out of an inexperienced squad. On the political front Greg Dyke has emerged as a considerable figure on world football's administrative stage, a man of integrity leading Europe's challenge to Blatter's crass chicanery and deceit. In this respect we have taken the lead, and Germany with Beckenbauer, a sad disgraced figure, and Platini for UEFA and France compromised by his association with the Qatar bid have given us an unlikely starring role among Europe's superpowers.

Let us hope that our players have not given their best shot in defeat and the next two games give us an opportunity to make our presence felt at the highest and most important levels on the pitch. Come on England!

Photo: Getty Images
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The buck doesn't stop with Grant Shapps - and probably shouldn't stop with Lord Feldman, either

The question of "who knew what, and when?" shouldn't stop with the Conservative peer.

If Grant Shapps’ enforced resignation as a minister was intended to draw a line under the Mark Clarke affair, it has had the reverse effect. Attention is now shifting to Lord Feldman, who was joint chair during Shapps’  tenure at the top of CCHQ.  It is not just the allegations of sexual harrassment, bullying, and extortion against Mark Clarke, but the question of who knew what, and when.

Although Shapps’ resignation letter says that “the buck” stops with him, his allies are privately furious at his de facto sacking, and they are pointing the finger at Feldman. They point out that not only was Feldman the senior partner on paper, but when the rewards for the unexpected election victory were handed out, it was Feldman who was held up as the key man, while Shapps was given what they see as a relatively lowly position in the Department for International Development.  Yet Feldman is still in post while Shapps was effectively forced out by David Cameron. Once again, says one, “the PM’s mates are protected, the rest of us shafted”.

As Simon Walters reports in this morning’s Mail on Sunday, the focus is turning onto Feldman, while Paul Goodman, the editor of the influential grassroots website ConservativeHome has piled further pressure on the peer by calling for him to go.

But even Feldman’s resignation is unlikely to be the end of the matter. Although the scope of the allegations against Clarke were unknown to many, questions about his behaviour were widespread, and fears about the conduct of elections in the party’s youth wing are also longstanding. Shortly after the 2010 election, Conservative student activists told me they’d cheered when Sadiq Khan defeated Clarke in Tooting, while a group of Conservative staffers were said to be part of the “Six per cent club” – they wanted a swing big enough for a Tory majority, but too small for Clarke to win his seat. The viciousness of Conservative Future’s internal elections is sufficiently well-known, meanwhile, to be a repeated refrain among defenders of the notoriously opaque democratic process in Labour Students, with supporters of a one member one vote system asked if they would risk elections as vicious as those in their Tory equivalent.

Just as it seems unlikely that Feldman remained ignorant of allegations against Clarke if Shapps knew, it feels untenable to argue that Clarke’s defeat could be cheered by both student Conservatives and Tory staffers and the unpleasantness of the party’s internal election sufficiently well-known by its opponents, without coming across the desk of Conservative politicians above even the chair of CCHQ’s paygrade.

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog.