The curious timing of Ranieri’s removal

What do Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, the owner of Leicester City Football Club, and Jo Moore, once a special adviser to Tony Blair’s government, have in common?

They both know that a busy news day is a good time to bury embarrassing stories.

Moore will forever be associated with the phrase that “this is a good day to bury bad news” which she uttered after the attack on the World Trade Centre on 9/11.

Her only fault was to state baldly what every corporate and political organisation does: ensure there is a clear run for good news and plenty of distractions when an uncomfortable announcement has to be made.

This approach explains the strange timing of Vichai’s announcement that he was sacking the Leicester City’s manager Claudio Ranieri.

The team had just performed well in the Uefa’s Champions League and has a good chance of winning the second leg. Nor was there a high-profile replacement to slot in later that day. And Ranieri was not sacked after a humiliating FA Cup exit the previous weekend, which might have made sense.

The only explanation is that the manager’s sacking was carefully orchestrated by the owner, the ceo Susan Whelan and the director of football Jon Rudkin to take place when there was strong competition for lead story in the media.

So, it is a fair assumption that when Ranieri received the dreaded vote of confidence a couple of weeks ago (all too often a forerunner to the sack), the question was not if, but when he would be fired.

And you can be certain that, from that moment, Vichai, his management team and PR advisers would have been looking for the best timing to minimise the wider impact of a decision that was always going to cause anger and distress that would extend beyond the football world.

February 23rd would have been pencilled in as an early target date. Media and public attention would have been diverted by the two of the most important parliamentary by-elections in many years – and the fallout from the results was certain to last for the rest of the week.

The date began to look even more attractive last Monday with forecasts (later fulfilled) that Britain would be ravaged by Storm Doris a few days later.

Add in the bonuses of the Iraqi government attack on Mosul (with lots of headline grabbing film coverage of the fighting) as well as the decision to sentence the murderer of a popular children’s author and the case for a Thursday announcement becomes irresistible.

If further proof of the strategic plan were needed, it came with the meeting between owner and players after Wednesday’s Uefa Champions League match.

The timing appears nonsensical as it is ridiculous to expect a coherent response from players who were physically and mentally drained after one of the toughest games of the season.

Unless of course you have decided to sack the manager the next day, need to spin a story about player discontent and have to act before any challenges can be made to that version.

There is of course a limit to damage limitation – social media went into meltdown (though the timing of the announcement ensured the impact was minimised) and it was the lead sports story on radio, TV, on line news sites and the written press.

But the sacking had to fight hard to get near the top of the main news agenda – let alone to lead it. On a quieter day, it would undoubtedly have been the top story.

That does matter. Remember that the owners have a global commercial brand to protect as well their image as football owners.

Ulimtately, the removal of Ranieri was a reminder of the way owners and their chief executives like to spin failure as the fault of the manager, while being all too ready to bask in the fruits of success.

At the end of last season, VIchai’s media managers were careful to ensure a careful branding of the owner and his senior managers as the publicity shy unsung heroes without whom Ranieri could not succeed.

No newspaper was more complimentary in lauding this faux modesty than the Telegraph

And even the Guardian, usually a reluctant fan of global business tycoons, was grudgingly generous

Failure of course is a different matter. Ranieri alone is paying the price with his departure is presented as “painful but necessary”.

But that will always be the case in the modern Premier League.

Owners and chief executives will always bask in the glory of success, but, even though they hold the purse strings and ultimately set the club’s culture, they will always blame the manager when things go wrong on the pitch.




Always distrust a consultant, an academic or a think-tanker

Yet another story reveals just how sceptical one has to be when listening to research produced and opinions deployed by consultants, academics and think tanks.

And also the need to ask questions when a famous name – particularly a semi-retired one – is presented as the author of an article that is not linked to their professional responsibilities.

Yesterday’s Sunday Times has stated that the think tank, Henry Jackson Society – – was being paid “about £10,000 a month by Japan to wage a propaganda campaign against China.”

As part of that campaign, the former British foreign secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind was approached by the HJS to put his name to an article published in the Daily Telegraph last August, headlined “How China could switch off Britain’s lights in a crisis if we let them build Hinkley C” –

I have written on a number of occasions about the need to be very cautious about research and analysis which purports to be independent and is often cited in support of their positions as such by the biggest commercial and political organisations, including governments.

All too often there is a commercial/professional link of some sort between organisation and the consultant producing the research.

I produce evidence in these blogs

In fairness to the HJS, it is one of the few consultants/academics/think tanks not to flaunt the word independent in its aims and values. It makes no pretence of being anything other than an advocate of an interventionist pro-western foreign policy.

No-one looking at its web site could be in any doubt where the think tank is coming from –

However, there was no suggestion in the article that the origins of the idea might have come from an organisation with a commercial interest in promoting the interests of Japan. Indeed Sir Malcolm says he was not aware of HJS’s financial relationship with the Japanese embassy. Nor could I see the mention of Japan as a client on HJS’s website – though I could be mistaken on this.

Moreover, HJS executives are invariably represented as independent experts when they appear on broadcasting outlets like the BBC. Perhaps the time has come for the BBC to identify them more directly.

The Sunday Times story is a reminder of just how critical we need to be when looking at the often overlapping world of think tanks, consultants and academics. Whenever their findings are cited to support a particular case, it is worth looking them up and examining carefully their political and commercial interests.

The article also lifts the lid a little on that murky world in which the name attached to an article bears no relationship to the actual author – a concept known as “ghosting.”

There can be no objection in principle to ghosting. No cabinet minister can have time to write all the articles written in their name for the national and local press, nor indeed to have the skills to switch from writing for the most populist of tabloids like The Sun to the most heavyweight broadsheets like the Financial Times.

And no non-journalist can be expected to pick up the peculiar style required to write for the Daily Mail.

There is a perfectly legitimate trade of ghost-writing. Special advisers write speeches and articles which appear in their boss’s names. And almost every article written by celebrities, from sports stars to celebrity chefs and accident victims, will be re-engineered to fit the house style of the paper they appear in.

The key point here is that the views expressed are an accurate reflection of the beliefs of the person signing the article.

It becomes much less acceptable where distinguished people attach their names to articles expressing views they do not care deeply about. They give credibility to a view they do not necessarily share.

I have no idea if Sir Malcolm shares the views he expressed in the Telegraph article or whether he accepted payment. But it does seem clear that he neither had the idea for the article nor wrote it.

I learnt where my red line was some years ago. I was approached by the Hinduja Brothers and, when I met them, they asked me to write a book, expressing some rather eccentric but essentially harmless views about the world – I can’t remember the details.

The meeting proceeded happily and I concluded by saying I would be delighted to ghost the book in exchange for the usual sum of money. They looked at me in surprise. The money was no problem, but they expected the book to appear in my name and that there was to be no suggestion it was their idea.

Others may have been happy to do this – but I could not.

So the Sunday Times article reminds of two things.

  1. Always be sceptical of anything produced by academics, consultants or think tanks.
  2. Unless it is someone writing about their direct responsibilities, never take at face value articles written by famous names and ask whether they wrote it and believed it or whether they were attaching their name to it for money or other reasons.

More than wallies with brollies


ITV’s finest in a touch of Cheltenham mizzle


Me in a Fontwell park monsoon


ITV’s return to racing was a damp and soggy affair – though that can be blamed on the Cheltenham weather rather than the quality of their broadcasting.

They did at least demonstrate their desire to attract a new audience without alienating those like me who have been watching for years. The mix of old and new presenters offer a decent combination of humour and knowledge.

And no doubt there will be more incremental changes as they introduce more changes. So it is probably not fair to deliver a final judgement for some months.

However, ITV has had plenty of time to prepare and yesterday’s effort was like the curate’s egg – good in parts. Professional camera work, excellent commentary, well-balanced team of presenters and informative features; but no plan B for the presenters when it rained and dreadful graphics.

On the positive side, the editorial direction of the cameras during the races seemed more disciplined – there were fewer of those ego-tripping angles that characterised the last years of Channel 4’s coverage. I found it easier to follow the horses in the races without having to cope with the Channel 4 director’s search for a novel pretty angle.

I will though never be convinced of the head-on camera as the foreshortening effect makes it much harder to read what is happening.

The commentators were excellent – but then they all are – as was the decision use an analyst during the race.

They say the old tricks are the best ones and this one is a real blast from the past – those with decent memories will recall Lord Oaksey in particular doing this when ITV last broadcast racing many years ago.

The mini features on jockeys and trainers were interesting (though I have no idea why they needed to be accompanied by dire elevator muzac) for both regular and new viewers.

And the attempts to explain the betting ring were also welcome. Those of us who regularly go to the rails and other bookmakers forget how daunting the serried ranks of pitches and complex odds can look to the newcomer.

But there were some areas that were less successful. In principle it is great to have the presenters on the course rather than in the studio.

But surely it is not beyond the wit and wisdom of outside broadcast producers to realise that mid-winter in Britain can be cold and wet. They cleverly introduced their own weather forecaster but then failed to take any notice of her forecasts!!

Yesterday there appeared to be no plan B, leaving the presenters shuddering uncomfortably under a couple of large umbrellas.

They would have looked a lot better in fedoras or trilbies but no doubt the channel’s fashion gurus decreed this to be too traditional.

As a fedora and trilby wearer of many I know that the reason they survive on a racecourse (worn by men and women alike) is not fashion but because they are much more practical than umbrellas, which are a complete disaster.

Hats keep out the rain, ensure a warm head in the cold and act as a sun visor on the few days of the year when this is necessary.

In contrast, an unfurled umbrella is a lethal weapon in a crowd as well as being anti-social as it cuts off the view for other spectators. A furled one is irritating – you need two hands to use binoculars, as well as to hold a hip flask, betting slip or race card.

For the television viewer, the sight of these men under umbrellas may have been marginally amusing as it made them look like “wallies with brollies.”

A more immediate problem was the decision to use the wrong type face and font size for the results, race-card and betting odds. Whatever Channel 4 may or may not have done, it was at least possible to read the information sitting a reasonable distance from the screen.

This was simply not possible yesterday. It defies belief that the graphic designers were too lazy to check what their images would look like on normal sized television screens. This mistake can though be easily rectified.

I can’t say that I look forward to seeing an improved performance next Saturday. But that is only because I will be at Sandown Park, watching the racing live – and wearing a fedora, whatever the weather.

Is there any independent academic integrity left?

The stories have been dripping out one by one. But, taken together, they demonstrate the way in which big business is successfully subverting the way in which it is regulated and the evidence on which that regulation is based.

Today, for example, Joanna Blythman highlights the way in which Big Food has manoeuvred so that it can effectively regulate itself

And The Times published a story explaining how the tobacco giants funded studies into vaping.

But these are only the most recent examples. A few days ago a story in Medical News Today revealed the big soda companies had been funding almost 100 national health organisations at the same time as they were campaigning against legislation designed to reduce soda intake.

Last month an article in the New York Times reports on research which argues that “the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead.”

Before that there was the controversy over the dispute over the benefits or otherwise of statins – particularly the role of the drug industry in funding Sir Rory Collins who supports the use of statins.

And then there was the way the Soft Drinks Association’s Gavin Partington was brilliantly caught out by Mishal Hussain on the Today programme.

He cited research which he said proved the case against the British government’s proposal to put a levy on sugary drinks. Hussain forced him to admit that this research had been commissioned by his organisation.

For further example, please look at my earlier blogs on academic integrity, including

I am sure I have missed many further examples of these potential clashes of interest.

But there is more than enough evidence now to show that we can no longer take as read the integrity of academic research.

Indeed it is perhaps not just the products we consume that should carry detailed labelling. It is time to impose the same disclosure obligations on all academics, particularly when they claim their research is “independent”

Bankers’ contemptuous response to defrauded jockeys


It is always reassuring when large organisations are unable to kick a story into the long grass, particularly when they use the oldest public relations tricks in the book.

The banking industry has failed dismally to end coverage of the revelation that some £200,000 had been stolen from jockeys in the UK. The money was withdrawn over the counter from cashiers, possibly using fraudulent documents.

In fact the banking industry’s response has had the opposite effect. Broadcasters and print journalists are now asking: If jockeys are being advised to abandon their High Street bank accounts, are any other bank customers safe.

It is almost certain to lead to some uncomfortable revelations about the scale of the problem.

Much of the credit for keeping the story in the public eye – it is now on the second day of widespread coverage, including a full page story in The Times – is due to Paul Struthers.

A veteran of racing and public relations who is now chief executive of the Professional Jockeys Association, he has played a blinder for his members, speaking brilliantly and deploying intelligent and eloquent jockeys who have been victims.

But, the banks have only themselves to blame.

Rather than seeing this as a banking challenge, they approached the story as a public relations problem, using tactics beloved of all large organisations on the defensive.

The first aim is ensure that no individual from a company appears on the media to answer direct questions.

As more than one bank was involved in the alleged frauds, the banks could hide behind one of their joint organisations – Financial Fraud Action (FFA).

This is a tried and tested trick because industry wide bodies can’t talk about the actions of individual members – so any comments tend to be generalisations that are hard to challenge.

The next trick is to avoid appearing in person. A statement cannot be questioned or directly challenged.

So when Radio5 Live produced an item on the subject, the FFA did not appear directly –

The FFA’s statement was a classic of corporate deception.

“Banks take fraud extremely seriously and stopped most of all the attempted fraud last year. Fraudsters may try to use stolen or false documents to commit their crimes. Banks do have systems in place to prevent this.

The spate of crimes targeting jockeys suggests fraudsters may have gained access to data relating to these victims.

It is important that any organisation holding personal data take steps to ensure it is safeguarded.”


It is amazing how many corporate statements start with “we are taking xyz very seriously.” The fact that they are using this hack sentence from the beginner’s PR handbook actually shows they are not taking the subject seriously at all.

The next step – found in virtually every corporate statement – is to state that the problem is under control. So this statement says that “banks have systems in place.”

Then there is the subtle use of tenses. The statement says that “fraudsters may try to use stolen….” and that “the spate of crimes targeting jockeys suggests fraudsters may have gained access…..”

Using the word “may” makes it possible to leave ideas with the audience – in this case suggesting others may be responsible for the theft of information – while remaining unaccountable if the claim turns out to be inaccurate.

A third element of these statements is that they are drafted to ensure no institution or senior executive is identified or takes responsibility.

Finally these statements invariably end with a portentous general comment which adds up to nothing substantive. The comment that “it is important that any organisation holding personal data take steps to ensure it is safeguarded” is a meaningless truism.

If you have read my blogs, the use of these techniques will be no surprise.

All too often the technique works. But fortunately, in this case, the rather cleverer tactics of Mr Struthers are ensuring that the banks are losing control of the debate.

Does academic integrity exist?


There is yet more evidence of the way in which big business has financed academic research with the sole purpose of shaping the debate about the healthiness or otherwise of various products.

An article in the New York Times reports on research which argues that “the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead.”

It cites internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, and published in JAMA internal Medicine.

They suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today’s dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.

While it is true, as one of those quoted in the article says, that academic conflict-of-interest rules have changed significantly since the 1960s, this article is still a salutary warning about the way in which industry operates.

It would be naive to assume that industrial lobbyists have not adjusted their lobbying tactics and support of research to take account of modern media scrutiny.

They may not hand over used dollar bills as appears to be the case of the sugar industry in the 1960s, but through sponsorship of academic institutions, there is at least the possibility that they can influence research.

I have tried to highlight a number of occasions where a potential conflict of interest occurs – though I lack the scientific expertise to judge research, I believe that the more information we know about commercial, the better equipped we are to decide whether to take academic research at face value.

This includes the debate about statins

And also the wider commercial and funding links of academics.

I doubt if it will ever be possible track the extent of the influence of the drug, sugar and salt industries. They have the resources and the expertise to keep one step ahead of those who try to monitor and expose them, even when it is done by someone as effective as for example Joanna Blythman.

They have more opportunities to publicise their findings. Ever more articles in newspapers and items on radio and television are based on academic research – one issue of the Daily Mail had at least seven articles based on academic studies.

University PR departments, desperate for the headlines that will attract students, are ever more ready to process the research into marketable stories.

And we should also be careful when we read research findings we agree with. It is human nature to be more trusting of findings that support our beliefs – so perhaps I should now check the interests of the JAMA article!!

So, don’t trust anything written by an academic until you have checked on line to see the commercial and funding interests of the lead authors. We can no longer take any academic’s integrity for granted.

The “independence” of Sir Rory Collins

Just a brief addition to my blog on the credibility of Sir Rory Collins from the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford in the statins debate. He was the lead author of research that suggested statins are safe and effective.

I lack the skills to enter the medical debate but I did suggest that we should make ourselves better informed about Sir Rory by googling the relevant information about him.

I am always interested in the lead figures in any inquiry and what their external links may be – particularly on issues where opinion is still ferociously divided.

It did not take long for questions to be raised about Sir Rory’s connections with the drug industry.

His response was that “we get funding from the pharmaceutical industry  to do research which is run independently through Oxford University. We hold the data, we analyse the data, we interpret the data.”

Now, I have warned a number of times in my blogs on the way cases are presented of the need to be careful when anyone claims their research is independent.

There may be examples where funded research reaches conclusions that do not support the case of the funders and that these conclusions are presented energetically to the press and public.

But I doubt if there are many. And I am always suspicious about anyone funded by organisations with an interest who keeps insisting that the research is “independent.”

The principle is simple. Research of any kind, whether or not it is credible,  should not be described as “independent” if it is financed by someone with a commercial interest.












Can we trust Sir Rory Collins on statins?


The results of research that suggested statins are safe and effective are being given extensive coverage today in the print and broadcast media

And Professor Rory Collins from the Clinical Trial Service Unit at the University of Oxford was quoted and interviewed about the research.

Now it is not for me to even dip a toe into the debate on the relative merits of the different piece of research into the subject. I have no medical knowledge and no close contacts with anyone using the drug.

But I am always interested in the lead figures in any inquiry and what their external links may be – particularly where opinion is still ferociously divided.

And in the last year or so i have written about the links that academics have with outside commercial organisations. Here are a couple of examples.

Academics will always insist that they preserve academic integrity and supporters of the sponsors will complain that sceptics should address the message rather than the funding of the messenger.

It is not for me to judge this.

But I also think it is wise to dig deeper and ask about the interests of all those responsible for major research. Then at least we are informed about the external interests of the leading protagonists.

So it is worth googling in “Sir Rory Collins drug industry links.”

The results are interesting. Some clearly distrust Sir Rory because he runs a unit called the Clinical Trials Service Unit at Oxford, which has received nearly £300m ($500m) in funding from pharmaceutical companies over the years.


But Sir Rory’s supporters defend his economic independence and say that he is not directly funded by the industry.

As I say I don’t have expertise to enter this debate at any level.

All I would say is that it is yet more evidence of the need to look behind the headlines when important “independent” research is published.

It is then up to us to decide whether their outside interests harm their freedom of thought to the extent that we question the credibility of their findings.

Above all we need to remain sceptical.

How Smart is Tim being?

Invariably I find myself examining the way in which large organisations seek to deceive us by using evasive and misleading language.

But there are occasions when senior executives speak directly and with clarity – and that, not least because it is so rare, can be just as revealing.

And it is particularly interesting when the senior figures of one organisation change the approach from the former to the latter.

Take what has happened this week at the Southern Health Authority when its chairman was questioned on the BBC about the decision to give a new job to the organisation’s chief executive Katrina Percy.

Ms Percy had been under pressure to resign since the publication of a highly critical report last December on Southern Health’s failure to investigate hundreds of death.

Initially Southern Health resorted to a long and evasive statement in which its lawyers and PR department used every trick in the book to evade responsibility. I highlighted this at the time –

Eventually the trust’s chairman was replaced but, despite robust criticism from relatives of those who died and politicians, Ms Percy remained in her job until last week; then she was moved to a new £240,000 a year job which had been specifically created for her.

What is particularly interesting is the way Smart, who took over as chair four months ago, responded to questions on Ms Percy’s new job.

And I should say here that Smart has worked in senior positions in the public and private sector for many years so knows what he is doing when he appears before a television camera – and he also many lawyers and PR executives to provide him with evasive answers to every possible question.

Look at this exchange with a BBC interviewer.

  1. Did the new job exist before Katrina (Percy) took it?

Smart. The work needed to be done.

  1. That is not a yes or no. Did the new job exist before Katrina took it?

Smart. No

  1. Did you advertise that job so other people could apply?

Smart. No

  1. Was Katrina the only candidate?

Smart. She is uniquely qualified for it.

  1. Was she the only candidate?

Smart. Yes

  1. To many people that is not the case. The case is that over the next few months the work that we have asked Karina to do needed to be done in any event.


There is enough corporate evasion in some of these answers to demonstrate that he had been well rehearsed by his minders.

These answers include phrases such as “the work needed to be done” and also saying that Percy was “uniquely qualified.” The latter remark is meaningless as the job was not advertised – you only find out if someone is uniquely qualified by testing them against other candidates.

But most interesting is the way he only went through the motions of corporate evasion and gave direct answers after only the slightest pressure.

Those of us who have listened to politicians and business leaders answer difficult questions over the years know that even the clearest answer is submerged in enough verbiage to disguise its true intent.

It may be that Smart has decided on a new strategy of openness – probably not. Or that he panicked and blundered – unlikely.

Or it could be that his direct answers are designed reflect his unhappiness at what has been done. His intervention has certainly ensured that Ms Percy will be under much greater pressure that before he gave the interview.

So it is at least worth a sporting bet that there may have been a division of opinion about whether to give Ms Percy her new job.

And there may be some interesting revelations to come about this decision was eventually taken.