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16 October 2019

First Thoughts: The Booker debacle, Japan’s rugby heroes and the Daily Mail wars – again

Facing men often two stone heavier, Japan overcame the deficit with handling skills that one sports journalist described as “other-worldly”.

By Peter Wilby

The subservient relationship

If a Briton fled home from the US after being involved in a road fatality, you can be sure that he or she would be sent back across the Atlantic to face charges. But Anne Sacoolas, the wife of a US intelligence officer, who departed for the US after her car killed a 19-year-old motorcyclist in Northamptonshire, almost certainly won’t be making the reverse journey.

Whether Sacoolas has diplomatic immunity is beside the point. If Britain requested her extradition, an American court would have to be satisfied as to the quality of the evidence against her. Since she scarpered before the police could interview her, the evidence is unlikely to be sufficient. Under a treaty signed in 2003 by Labour ministers, however, British courts need only be satisfied – even if the alleged crime was committed on British soil – that the Americans’ paperwork is in order.

That illustrates perfectly the subservient nature of the UK’s relationship with the US.

Brouhaha at the Mail

The feud between Paul Dacre, the pro-Brexit former Daily Mail editor, and his pro-Remain successor, the former Mail on Sunday editor Geordie Greig, has flared up spectacularly. In a Financial Times interview, Greig said that, since he took over last year, 265 advertisers had “come back” to the Mail, implying that Dacre’s abrasive style of journalism drove them away. Dacre, now chairman and editor-in-chief of Associated Newspapers, the Mail’s parent company, riposted that “far more than that number” have left during Greig’s tenure. An official company statement seemed to declare an honourable draw: without disputing Dacre’s claim, it said the returning advertisers brought in more revenue than the leavers.

Greig has made the Mail respectable. When judges ruled in 2016 that parliament should have the final say on Brexit, Dacre’s Mail loutishly called them “Enemies of the People”. When the Supreme Court ruled against Boris Johnson’s prorogation of parliament last month, Greig’s Mail called Brenda Hale, its president, “erudite and impeccably neutral”.

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Whether Remainers can celebrate a net gain is debatable. Greig says that, in a second referendum, the paper would back “no deal” against Remain. Meanwhile, the Mail on Sunday, now edited by Dacre’s former deputy, has become virulently pro-Brexit.

Sporting giants

Rugby union has become a power game: collisions between giants running towards each other usually decide the winner. Japan, where the average male is seven inches shorter than in most other rugby-playing nations, lacks giants. That is why its victories over Ireland and Scotland, taking it to the World Cup quarter-finals, have created such excitement. Despite imports from other countries, about half the team that beat Scotland were Japanese. Facing men often two stone heavier, they overcame the deficit through sidesteps, swerves, changes of pace and handling skills that one sports journalist described as “other-worldly”.

In the 1960s West Indies cricketers transformed their game with their aggressive approach and saved it from boring spectators to death. Could Japan do something similar for rugby union?


Explaining why this year’s Booker Prize was split between two authors, the judges’ chair Peter Florence said: “We tried voting. That didn’t work.” Since five judges were choosing between six books, that isn’t as daft as it sounds. In April, MPs had the same problem when they voted on five Brexit options (including Theresa May’s deal) but found no majority for any of them. What a pity they couldn’t split the prize.

Hear no evil

For the third time, I have been excused jury service. On previous occasions, I argued that the magazine I was editing would collapse without my presence. Now, approaching my 75th birthday, I pleaded that age and deafness would prevent me understanding the evidence. My case was accepted without demur. I feel guilty about declining to do my civic duty. But since I’m a liberal-lefty inclined to declare almost anybody innocent, I’m sure Priti Patel won’t mind.

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This article appears in the 16 Oct 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Syria’s forever war