The value of a good nanny

Miss Pringle-Featherby (of the Berkshire Pringle-Featherbys) looked rather worried. She was holding the telephone a good three inches from her ear and The Mole could hear noises suggesting that someone on the other end of the phone was shouting at her.

"It is The Minister?" she mouthed in an exaggerated fashion, without a sound passing her perfect lipstick.

The Mole nodded. It was not really surprising. The Mosley Affair, although perhaps there was a better term for it, was a disaster for the image of motor racing. British motor racing was The Mole's beat. He had failed to spot Mosley's foibles before The News of the World got him. So The Mole was the man who was going to have to take the bullet from the politicians.

"He's rather upset," Miss Pringle-Featherby added, finishing with a little smile, as if in encouragement.

As he walked into his office The Mole smiled at the irony of it. Why was he being shouted at while Mosley still sat in his ivory tower at the FIA? Should he have hunted down Mosley before the disaster? Would that have been in the best interest of the sport? Would future FIA Presidents need to be fully checked out for dubious sexual activities, tax dodging, drug smuggling and all the rest of it?

He lifted the phone slowly to his ear.

The Minister was still ranting and raving (as socialists often do). The Mole listened. It was not good for Britain. It would hurt the motorsport industry. It made a mockery of sporting government. Worst of all, it compounded the widely-held belief that British men like to be spanked.

"I hear the Germans are worse," said The Mole, despite having no knowledge of the S&M world and merely hoping to stop the tirade. It worked. The Minister stopped for a moment to think about what The Mole had said. A rush of cold air must have come upon him at the same moment. The next time he spoke the anger had gone. He sounded weary.

"How did we not know?" he said.

"We did not know," said The Mole, uttering the words no secret operative likes to say. "I mean you hear things, but no-one ever hinted at something nasty like this."

"I thought you had girls to check out this sort of thing?" said The Minister.

"The Penelopes are not that kind of girl," said The Mole, mildly affronted. "They are flirts, not prostitutes. We have always found that flirting produces much better results with racing people. They all feel the need to prove themselves all the time and so blurt out secrets to impress pretty girls. They never think that girls have brains."

"Is there any damage limitation we can do?" said The Minister.

"Well," said The Mole. " Most of the outrage is because he won't resign. If he had gone in the first 24 hours it would not have been a problem. By staying on he has damaged the FIA and the sport. The best thing is for everyone to come out and say what they really think. Get the point across so that he disappears once and for all. That will take the heat out of it.

"I have sent the girls to all four corners of the world to talk to lonely souls in the automobile clubs. We are building up a picture of their voting intentions. The problem is that it is often hard to tell what the clubs are going to do. They all worry about losing their FIA events. Mosley has these guys working at regional level and no-one wants to upset them."

"Can we take out the regional guys?" said The Minister.

"Oh, I think they will take care of themselves," said The Mole. "They support him because he has been the strong man. Now he is weak. They will probably turn on him if there is a sniff of a new candidate. When that happens they know they must jump or go down with him, and they are survivors.

"So until that happens people are frightened?" said The Minister. "It is preposterous. He is a man with no moral authority left and few doors open to him. How could he even consider himself to be the right person to run the FIA? He got caught. End of story. Have you seen the coverage? It ridicules the federation and the sport. F1 boss, it says. Good Lord, it was even mentioned on the Jay Leno Show in the US. And on Jon Stewart's Daily Show. One of the people said that Mosley was 'the head of the Grand Prix association' and added that 'this makes Eliot Spitzer look like a little school girl'. And you know what Stewart said? He said: 'That sounds like something right out of The Producers'. The Producers! A film about two con men who attempt to cheat investors out of money by producing a Broadway musical called Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Eva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden."

"I know," said The Mole.

"The sporting people seem to be worried that the touring clubs might take over the FIA," he went on. "This is considered a bad thing. The sport brings in the money so that should make the sporting guys more powerful but they are worried that a weak FIA will somehow be a threat because of turf wars that constantly occur between the FIA and Formula One Management over areas of control in F1."

"Everyone is just very jumpy," he added. "It is as if even discussing the future of Mosley is something that might result in trouble. And the system protects him. I thought Damon Hill was the most sensible reaction. He said that none of us wants to be moralising about individuals, but one has to consider the image of the sport, and the ability of the premier representative of the sport in the world to continue to engage with a politic concerned about values. It's a practical issue, but it's also a marketing issue. Businesses connected with the sport want a positive image, and politicians want to engage with it because they know motorsport people support those values."

"Bang on!" said The Minister. "I think Mosley needs some grounded people around him, to tell him things straight. Maybe there is some old nanny somewhere who could be pulled in to tell him what to do.

"Old nannies always know what to do."

April 14 2008

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