Can Starmer do patriotism?

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It was St George’s Day this week, and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he has ‘no time’ for those who ‘flinch’ at the St George’s flag. But how authentic is his patriotism? Katy Balls speaks to Tom Baldwin, former Labour Party adviser and author of new book England: Seven Myths That Changed a Country – and How to Set Them Straight. Produced by Megan McElroy. 

In search of deep England

I am wary of mentioning General de Gaulle in these pages, if for no other reason than remembering Auberon Waugh many years ago arguing against a statue of the leader of the Free French being erected in London. Waugh’s objections were based firstly on the fact that statues only worked with togas because statuary did not favour the trouser leg. His second objection was that this country had fought a long and costly war to get General de Gaulle and his friends out of London. That notwithstanding, I dare to mention de Gaulle here because he has been on my mind. Or at least one aspect of him has been

Am I allowed to make fun of women’s football? 

I’m loath to write about the current Fifa World Cup because criticising women’s football is textbook ‘misogyny’ – at least, that’s what Sadiq Khan thinks. The centrepiece of his recent ‘Have a word’ campaign is a video of young men discussing the women’s Euros, with viewers encouraged to press a button saying ‘Maaate’ when a line is crossed. The idea is to nip such behaviour in the bud before it escalates into violence. One particularly noxious youth describes the Euros as a ‘joke’, clearly marking him out as a potential rapist. She made a complete horlicks of her spot-kick, firing the ball over the crossbar But is that really evidence

The glorious return of the England cricket team

Let civilisation fall apart if it must. I no longer care. The England men’s cricket team is suddenly playing with such swaggering magnificence that everything else – endless culture wars, inflation, even the threat of hypersonically delivered nuclear annihilation from Russia – pales into insignificance. I just want to watch my heroes – Ben Stokes, Joe Root and the rest – play the game I love like deities. If Putin is going to press the big red button then so be it. As the temperature rises to a million degrees celsius here in Putney, I will console myself that at least I witnessed Jonny Bairstow’s transcendentally perfect innings at Trent

The truth about Three Lions

During last year’s European Championship, England football fans switched, for some reason, from ‘Three Lions’ to ‘Sweet Caroline’ by Neil Diamond (‘so good, so good, so good’). If anything can make them switch back it’s the Football Association, who this week said they were thinking of dropping the Baddiel and Skinner anthem as England’s official song, because it could be seen as ‘arrogant’. Football fans are like children, and as any parent could have told the F.A., if you want to make sure someone does something then just tell them not to do it. The F.A. quickly had to issue a statement confirming there were no plans to change. David

Hell is an English train journey

Delayed, on Southern Rail Home From the Hill is a 1987 documentary by Molly Dineen about Hilary Hook, an elderly colonel who after a life in Kenya and the Far East retires to a nasty flat in England. Poor old Hilary has never had to prepare his own food and now, in his twilight years, he can’t even open a can of soup. He is horrified by Britain, its culture and bad weather. When I first saw Molly’s superb film as a young man it struck a chord. Some 35 years later, on a brief visit to England from Kenya, I can almost hear and feel myself becoming Hook. It’s

Why England lost the Ashes

England’s wretched performance in the Ashes – which saw the side lose three tests and so the series to Australia last week – has been more abject than even the most inspired pessimist could have imagined. No sane observer expected England to win against Australia, but to lose the five match series little more than two days into the third test was a pitiful show. Inevitably, even as England continue to play the fourth test this week, there have been calls for a cricketing inquest. The standard of the domestic game, the structure of the English season and England’s pivot towards the one day and T20 formats are all expected

The Italians are deluding themselves about the English

Not content with winning Euro 2020, many Italians have spent the days since the final engaged in a febrile orgy of moral supremacy. Italians are not just much better than the English at football, you see (which is fair enough, although they did only win on penalties), but many Italians are insisting, even more excitedly, that the Italians are much better people than the English. To which I, as a Brexiteer expat Briton who has lived amongst Italians for donkey’s years, have this to say: Si calmino, signori, si calmino! (Calm down dears!). The English football team have been branded as bad losers and cheats; their supporters have been labelled as rude, arrogant,

Britain is a tolerant country and a few football racists don’t change that

The racist messages sent to England football players in recent days are shameful, but to suggest that the UK is a festering hotbed overflowing with racist thugs is a step too far. Out of the hundreds of thousands of social media posts about the Euro 2020 final, only a tiny number contained racist words. Of course, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out against such abuse. What happened is indefensible and the culprits should be dealt with by the police. But the frenzied debate the messages have generated risk giving those responsible the attention they crave and which they do not deserve. As well as failing to see the bigger picture here – that Britain, generally

PMQs: Boris fluffed his response to England taking the knee

Who won the Euros? Race-baiters clearly. Sir Keir Starmer spent most of PMQs trying to label Boris as a bigot. The Labour leader craftily wove several arguments into one. He claimed that by failing to condemn fans who booed the BLM-inspired rite of genuflection, Boris was responsible for the abuse suffered by black players after the match. The PM had many powerful and obvious lines of defence. But he failed to use them. He fluffed it completely. He ignored a BBC report suggesting that most of the online abuse originated abroad. He didn’t mention that BLM is a political movement whose Marxist supporters want to close prisons and abolish police

The apocalyptic side to English football

It had to end this way. Whatever else we might say about the English weather, it is deeply in tune with the national psyche – the emotions of the people over innumerable generations have taken on the grey, leaden cast of their skies – and there could be no more fitting day after that final than torrential rain and thunder driving the few mournful shadows from the streets. The fact that mere defeat has left our faith in football coming home unshaken can be slightly confusing for foreign observers. While American journalists and the Croatian national team seem to believe it’s a triumphalist brag, we know that it’s about always

We still believe: Could England win Qatar 2022?

Here’s a two-pointer pub quiz question: who was Bunny Austin and when, where and why did you hear his name mentioned annually until 2012? The brilliantly-named Bunny was, for an agonising 74 years of hurt, the last Briton to reach the final of the men’s singles at Wimbledon. He didn’t actually win it in 1938, like the better known Fred Perry had three times earlier in that decade. But his name came up in commentary and sports reports without fail every year for decades, in late June or early July, whenever the last Brit was knocked out or, on heady occasions, when one reached the quarters or even semis. Tim

Damian Reilly

Gareth Southgate doesn’t deserve a knighthood

It was some achievement of England’s, frankly, not winning Euro 2020 given the players we had. As I sat down before kick off and began the customary cursing at the inexplicable omission once again of our best player, Jack Grealish, my wife tried to console me. The fact Gareth Southgate very clearly had no clue which was his best starting eleven was really a secret weapon, she said. It meant other managers couldn’t second guess him. Hmm, I thought. The relentless corporatisation of the England football team over the last two decades has been an exercise in eradicating flair – that quality most hated in boardrooms because it is unquantifiable. Putting

Ross Clark

Isn’t it time social media cracked down on racism?

No sooner had Bukayo Saka’s penalty kick thudded into the gloves of the Italian goalkeeper than you could see it coming. Racists were not going to miss the opportunity to attack the England team. And sure enough, within hours the sewer that is Twitter (even at the best of times) had become a torrent of effluent. I don’t know a great deal about coding, but I can’t think it is really all that difficult to pick up certain words and remove them Yes, it does show there is still an underbelly of racism in English society — even if the charge that we are a country of ‘systemic racism’ left

England had it and they threw it away

England: 1 (Shaw)  Italy: 1 (Swarthy cheat) England had it and threw it away. Much the better side in the first half, finding acres of space along the right flank. But the Italian manager, Roberto Mancini, recognised the problem and changed the game. As Italy swarmed forward in the second half, Gareth Southgate had no answer: it was almost a re-run of the 2018 semi final in Russia against Croatia – he cannot grasp when a game is going against him and has no comprehension of what to do to change it. His substitutions were appalling: Henderson horribly off the pace, Saka horribly out of his depth. Two very bad

Nicholas Farrell

England, Italy and the power of national pride

As an Englishman in enemy territory I am lucky that love is a more powerful emotion than patriotism otherwise after a month of Euro 2020, climaxing in tonight’s final between Italy and England, my marriage to my Italian wife, Carla, would be well and truly on the rocks – even though she is a devout Catholic. Carla is so fiercely pro gli azzurri that it is a case of ‘o con noi, o contro di noi’ (either with us or against us) – the clarion call of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Every time the Italians have scored a goal this past month my very fiery wife has exploded from

Rod Liddle

Euro 2020: This game is tailor-made for Southgate’s England

Right now, it’s a bit like you’re five years old and it’s the night before Christmas but you can’t be sure who is going to come down the chimney, Santa Claus or Benito Mussolini. I mean for football fans – not for the public school bedwetters on here who refer to the world’s favourite sport as ‘girlball’. Italy are unbeaten in their last 33 games: good. Runs come to an end sooner or later. This is a game tailor-made for Southgate’s favourite tactics of stifling containment. This may well turn out to be one of the most boring matches in the history of football. I would start with Sancho and

Boris’s cunning has allowed him to share in England’s Euro 2020 glory

You campaign in poetry, you govern in prose. That was the formula of legendary New York governor Mario Cuomo and it served him pretty well over three successive terms in office. But it’s not quite right. Not these days.  What Boris Johnson appears to understand and Keir Starmer does not is that a key factor is whether you know how to campaign in pictures. We are a long way from an election campaign, but the natural Johnsonian flair for a compelling photograph is already being revealed as a massive advantage for him when compared to the dull visual output of the opposition leader. Becoming the leader most associated with the

Have Southgate’s England lost their moral compass?

Back in the 1980s the BBC Match of the Day opening credits featured a clip of Manchester United winger Mickey Thomas prostrate on the pitch. He raises himself up and gives a saucy wink to the camera. The implication was that he had ‘won’ a penalty and was cheekily acknowledging his successful deceit. Contrast with Raheem Sterling on Wednesday night. It’s generally accepted that if there was any contact between the England striker and the body parts of various Danish defenders swarming around him, it was minimal, and not enough to send him tumbling to the ground. And certainly not worth a crucial penalty. But Sterling seemed oblivious, no guilty

Euro 2020: It would have been a travesty if England didn’t win

England 2 (herringmuncher og, Citizen Kane) Denmark 1 (anotherherringmuncher) It was a penalty because the referee gave a penalty and VAR agreed. OK, Denmark? I wouldn’t have given it, mind. But then I would have given the absolutely stonewall penalty when Kane was clattered in the Danish penalty area a little earlier. Either way, it would have been a travesty if England had not won. They absolutely hammered the Danes for the last 75 minutes of the match: the game became a siege. Did the Danes have a single chance after their goal? I don’t remember one. I scarcely remember them attacking. I’ve decided I don’t like them and they’re