Monday, July 04, 2005

TWTWTW: Mumbo-Jumbo in the Old Jokes Home

And so, with two matches, including one test, remaining, it appears there will only be ignominy and infamy as laurels for the 2005 British and Irish Lions. There is no shame in the losing, at least on Saturday in Wellington, for this All Black side appear dappled with greatness, albeit in a perilous no man’s land two years from a World Cup. This tour was tarnished off the field.

The awesome truth of Saturday absolved the best of the four nations players from the sin of being anything other than inadequate in the face of a vastly superior foe. There has been much hypothesising in recent weeks on how the All Blacks were evolving a new brand of rugby, with its speed, skill and power, which made the World Cup winning English style seem anachronistic. While Clive Woodward was of course wrong to believe that he could triumph with his rusty old artillery against the stealth bombers of New Zealand, this was a mere forgivable error of sporting judgement.

The real pall on this tour was in its conceit, and in the depressing mountain of bullshit of which it stank.

Far worse than Woodward’s already antiquated gameplan, was his resurrection from public purgatory of Alistair Campbell, Tony Blair’s sinister stooge, whose grim dancing on the grave of the BBC following the Hutton report failed to distract from the blood on his hands, from the “sexed up” weapons dossier which sold the war in Iraq to Labour’s meek backbenchers, and from his department’s role in the exposing of David Kelly.

Campbell was mandated by Blair to create a political environment where truth was akin to quicksand. The embodiment of this era was the infamous memo leaked by government aide Jo Moore in the hours following 9/11, advising that this might be a good time to release any bad news which would be nicely hidden by the fallout from the atrocity.

But Campbell’s approach to truth spun a web of mistrust which trapped him, and ruined much of New Labour’s credibility in the eyes of a public mollified only by a successful economy and a feeble opposition. The British public grew wise to spin, and its legacy makes Blair’s every move subject to suspicion today.

Yet here was Alistair Campbell, perched by Clive Woodward’s shoulder after Christchurch, picking up the O’Driscoll-Umaga ball and running with it, in the vain hope that we, like the dumb backbenchers he used to bamboozle, would be too stupid to notice the stinker his boss had just served up on the field.

But haven’t you been paying attention Alistair? We know what you’re up to! And because it was you, you actually managed to give the All Blacks an excuse not to entertain the very genuine sense of outrage at the way O’Driscoll’s tour was ended, and its inglorious immediate aftermath.

No doubt Campbell was behind Woodward’s quote on Saturday that he felt it “had been quite a successful trip” actually. This is a classic example of the modern phenomenon documented by Francis Wheen in his book How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World, a section of which documents how deconstructionist thinkers like Jacques Derrida believed language could be made to mean whatever the reader wished it to mean, simply by dismantling and reinterpreting the text using different “values”. This was the raw material for spin: you can say whatever you want about something, and it can be true! So, therefore, the Lions 2005 tour becomes a “successful trip”! Saddam Hussein will kill you in forty-five minutes!

Woodward was exposed as something less than the Churchillian figure he had become in the eyes of some of the English media by the failure to recognise that his masterplan was out of date, and by the inability to blend anything much better as a plan B. By hiring Campbell however he seemed to believe an even shabbier and more discredited tactic would still work, when for most of us, the tired philosophy of spin is about as fresh as Jimmy Tarbuck’s joke book.


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