Thursday, 20 May 2010


It was a relief to find that the ‘new coalition’ was eventually supplanted by other stories at the top of news bulletins. I wish it hadn’t been the violence in Thailand, as that’s a truly awful situation which is tearing apart a wonderful country, but that then made way for Lord Triesman’s demise at the Football Association.

Some people laugh at the Triesman fiasco, but I don’t, and it has nothing to do with football. In fact it has a lot to do with the coalition.

There was a lot of talk at the election (much of it from me!) about the need for a new politics. And I find it great that we have a form of government that no-one had thought would come about. But for it to work, you need some valves in the system that release the pressure, as well as space to think creatively.

Much releasing of pent-up tension and resentment, and much creative thinking, come in quiet discussions where you can think the unthinkable and speak the unspeakable. Some know it as brainstorming, but the name isn’t important. What’s important is that you can say what you want, so that what you eventually say in public is measured and reasonable.

We’ve all done it. We’ve let off steam privately about a boss or colleague, even a member of our family with whom we have to get on but who privately drives us up the wall, only to moderate our stance in public. Or we’ve said to a friend or relation ‘This is probably a mad idea, but …’ And it often is a mad idea, but occasionally it proves to be inspired.

All this is fine and dandy as long as these conversations remain private. But what happens when they become public? There are two ways to go – either you clam up and say nothing to anyone, or you get the world to recognise that the conversation was private and don’t give the person who has made it public the satisfaction of having embarrassed you.

This is why I’m worried that David Triesman had to resign after being betrayed (there really is no other word for it) by his dinner companion. I have never met the man and have no idea whether he holds some weird views or has alienated people in his entourage, so I don’t know about any underlying motives.

But what I do know is that his conversation with Melissa Jacobs was private and should have remained so. As head of the FA’s bid to bring the 2018 world cup to England, Triesman had to think around all elements of the bid, including elements he would never have dreamed of expressing publicly. If he hadn’t wondered about vote trading or even influencing referees, he wouldn’t have been the right man for the job.

That’s why the Mail on Sunday should never have published the story. Once it had, the FA was in an awful position – it should really have stood by its man, but it knew that would have virtually killed off England’s bid.

You can be sure that there are conversations going on now in Lib Dem and Tory circles which involve a lot of letting-off of steam and thinking the unthinkable. These conversations really are vital, and if we make them impossible to have because of the fear that they will get out, then we really will make this country ungovernable.

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