Magazine article The Spectator

How to Reshuffle

Magazine article The Spectator

How to Reshuffle

Article excerpt

SO THE WORLD has not ended. Gazza may not be in France, but the World Cup has begun. Scotland have played Brazil. England will beat Tunisia on Monday. All is reasonably well with the world.

But what a time we had in the days that followed Glen Hoddle's bold decision, and how interesting the way in which he took that decision, compared with the Gascoigne response. The England coach said little more than was necessary both on the Sunday night of the announcement and at the Monday press conference. He had clearly decided that it was best to leave the rest of the world to take sides. He also made the wise decision to allow Gascoigne to do most of the talking.

Predictably this led to headlines about Gazza being drunk on the Saturday night and tales of him having `lost it' when Hoddie broke the news to him. I think I detect the hand of the estimable Mr David Davies in all of this. I suspect that the FA's media adviser told Hoddle to keep it simple and rely on those who are close to Gascoigne, as well as Paul himself, to do the work for him.

It certainly succeeded. Gascoigne contrived to condemn himself out of his own mouth and sympathy quickly began to dissipate. Although many well-known figures, from Venables to Lineker, were critical of the decision, most of the sports writers welcomed it - despite being rather quiet on the subject before Hoddle acted. The fans themselves now seem equally sure that the England coach was right. Of course the irony is that we now know that Gascoigne may not have played anyway because of a fractured cheek.

So, a bit of masterly media management: Gascoigne goes; the coach's reputation is enhanced; and everyone has forgotten that, only a few weeks ago, Hoddle was being ridiculed for his reliance on a middle-aged, female faith healer. There are lessons to be learned from all this that go well beyond football. Indeed, at this time of real and anticipated political reshuffles, it may pay both the leaders and the led to draw conclusions from what happened in La Manga.

Leaders of political parties are regularly faced with the need to reshuffle their pack and think about the future of some of their key players. William Hague did this the other day. There is much speculation that Tony Blair is on the verge of his own team changes. One or two past decisions (from a host that might be analysed) show that Hoddle knew what he was doing.

In 1987 Bryan Gould was the star of Labour's election campaign; very much the equivalent of Gascoigne in Italia '90. But straight afterwards, and to his deep distress, he failed to become shadow chancellor. That post went to John Smith. Gould never really recovered. He had a decent campaign during the 1992 election but then fought a futile leadership battle against Smith after Neil Kinnock resigned.

Throughout this time John Smith remained emollient and uncritical. Many would say that this was easy for him as he was so much the favourite. But he clearly left Gould to dig a hole for himself, which he duly did. Soon after the leadership election Gould announced that he was leaving British politics and going back to New Zealand. He then launched some sour attacks on the party and has continued to do so from the other side of the world. Reputation much reduced. Nothing gained by whingeing. Smith in charge. Team member damages himself. No chance of a recall.

Let us now turn to Norman Lamont, hero of John Major's successful leadership campaign. …

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