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Villains of the Year

Dec 7 2015

We’re back! It’s that time of year when I turn all reflective, don my smoking jacket, pour a small sherry and sit back in a comfy chair to compile my annual list of high achievers and villains for the year. As ever, this is a purely personal list which reflects my own interests, prejudices and opinions. No doubt I have left off plenty of deserving individuals, but no correspondence will be entered into. We’ll start with the villains and then celebrate our heroes tomorrow.

As ever, sport has given us its fair share of villains this year, but for the sheer scale of corruption and brazen two-fingers to the world, the 65th FIFA Congress in May was one of the comedy highlights, beginning a process of early morning dawn raids, threatened boycotts, investigations by the FBI, deportations and resignations.

However, my sports administration villain of the year is no fan of FIFA, but he has hit every wrong note during this scandal. When Sepp Blatter resigned, instead of sounding statesman-like he went into a TV studio and delivered a gleeful rant. He has consistently refused to withdraw the Football Association from FIFA, despite the fact that the organisation has no credibility and is not worth saving. Worse, when nominations opened for the FIFA Presidency he rushed to endorse Michel Platini, President of UEFA, only to find his choice under investigation for accepting a bribe from Blatter. My sports administration villain of the year has shown poor judgement and no leadership at all. Step forward, Greg Dyke, Chief Executive of the Football Association.

Politicians always play a large role in these awards and this year is no exception. This was the year when three-time nominee, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, tried to de-rail the historic US-Iranian nuclear arms deal and a far left Labour Shadow Chancellor quoted from Mao’s Little Red Book at the Despatch Box, despite the fact that the author had slaughtered millions of his own people. What next John McDonnell? Can we expect you to quote from Pol Pot’s “Long live the Communist Party of Kampuchea” speech?

However, my political villain of the year has made a stellar contribution to the American Presidential debates declaring that he wanted to build a wall between the US and Mexico; saying Mexican immigrants are all criminals and rapists, and telling an audience that Senator John McCain, a Vietnam War POW who withstood two years in solitary confinement and torture, was not a hero. Fortunately, the Founding Fathers devised a rigorous selection process for an American President which, hopefully, will trip him up sooner rather than later. My political villain of the year is Donald Trump.

I try and avoid nominating collectives for an award, preferring to nominate individuals, but this year three ‘groups’ deserve special mention. If you are going to make predictions, have acres of newsprint devoted to your work and play a major role in forming public opinion, then you had better get it right. Unfortunately, in 2015, the major polling companies (that’s you MORI, YouGov etal) all got it very, very wrong in the run-up to the 2015 UK General Election.

And by wrong, I mean 6-7 percentage points wrong and 30 odd seats. Instead of heading for a hung parliament, the country had the first Conservative majority since 1992. Worse, it subsequently came out that a number of them had picked up signs of a late swing to ‘shy Tories’ in the days leading up to the poll, but had declined to publish their data fearing it was a rogue sample. So, not only incompetent, but a bunch of cowards as well.

I can’t let the year slip by without mentioning my former bank, HSBC. Money laundering; setting up tax evasion operations in Switzerland; manipulation of LIBOR and playing around in the North American mezzanine credit default swap market, have not dented this bank’s confidence or produced on iota of humility. In fact, Chief Executive Stuart Gulliver is currently trying to persuade shareholders to quit the UK for tax reasons. Close the door on your way out Stuart.

However, the travails of our polling companies and banks pale into insignificance compared to what is likely to become one of the major corporate scandals of the 21st Century. My villain of the year decided it was a good idea to manipulate the engine management system of its cars to detect when emissions tests were taking place and opened itself up to huge reputational damage, Congressional Hearings in the United States, billions of dollars in fines, massive product recalls and class action lawsuits. The fact that a German company did this, one of the birthplaces of the Green movement was, and remains, staggering. My prediction is that the fall-out from all of this could see the perpetrator having to sell-off the family silver in order to pay for it all, namely the SEAT and SKODA brands.

My Villain of the Year is Volkswagen.