English and Welsh fans will be delighted and hugely relieved that their teams can finally let football do the talking in this fractious, highly politicised World Cup.
England’s thrilling victory was a welcome blast of positivity after weeks of bickering and recrimination over host nation Qatar’s appalling treatment of its minorities and migrant workers. Wales also achieved a creditable draw.
The matches were briefly overshadowed when Fifa announced that players were banned from wearing ‘One Love’ armbands, on pain of being given yellow cards.
Having made great play of showing solidarity with LGBT people, who face imprisonment in the mega-rich Gulf state, many will think the English and Welsh Football Associations swallowed their principles rather too easily by giving in.
England’s thrilling victory was a welcome blast of positivity after weeks of bickering over host nation Qatar’s treatment of minorities
But there is no question that the real villains are the venal fat cats of Fifa. Their choice of Qatar – one of the hottest and most barren countries on earth – as the World Cup venue was mired in corruption allegations, with delegates on the decision-making committee accused of ‘selling’ their votes.
Ten of the 22 members have since been banned for ethics violations, while another four have either been indicted or convicted of criminal corruption.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino is shamelessly unapologetic. In a rambling speech at the weekend he brushed off criticism and accused the West of hypocrisy in attacking Qatar’s human rights record.
Listening to Infantino preaching about morality, given the ethical vacuum over which he presides, is beyond parody.
However, the games have begun and over the coming weeks we must hope football takes over from politics. Come on England! And come on Wales!
NHS in critical state
Nicola Sturgeon and Rishi Sunak have distanced themselves from a leaked discussion paper in which NHS chiefs in Scotland suggested it may be time to start charging the better-off for treatment.
Both made virtuous statements about their commitment to the founding principles of the service, saying it would always be free for all at the point of need.
But while a two-tier system may not be the answer, isn’t it time we had a grown-up conversation about the future of the NHS?
With 7million waiting for treatment, it is simply not working as it should. Yet politicians of all parties lack the courage to back a programme of real reform.
While medical staff do a sterling job, the organisation is monolithic, wasteful and inefficient. GP services too are struggling to cope, as anyone needing a speedy face-to-face appointment will testify.
Yes, there are chronic staff shortages, but the NHS must also do far better with the resources it has. Record sums have been injected, yet little seems to improve.
Asking patients to pay even a modest contribution towards their treatment would be politically toxic. But make no mistake, something has to change.
As the Scottish discussion paper says, the current NHS model ‘no longer works’.
CBI’s productivity gap
The Confederation of British Industry, which speaks for big business, tells the Prime Minister the answer to low growth and productivity is more immigration.
Its director-general Tony Danker, former head of strategy at the Guardian, urges Mr Sunak to ‘have an honest conversation’ about the need for more migrant workers.
But shouldn’t the CBI itself be doing more to improve productivity, which was scandalously low even with free movement?
Training up more British workers in the skills they need, rather than constantly crying out for more cheap foreign labour, would be a good starting point.