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Laurie Penny: Why I despise the World Cup

Who cares about a bunch of misogynist jocks tossing a ball around? Football is commodified nationalism that excludes more than half the population.

Much as I hate to disagree with Gary Younge, I can't get on board with his utopian vision of the upcoming World Cup evoking a "collective sense of latent English identity . . . infused with positive energy".

I despise the World Cup. I will not be supporting England, nor any other team.

I refuse to get excited about some wealthy, misogynist jocks tossing a ball around in the name of patriotism and product endorsement. Mistrust of team sports as a fulcrum of social organisation comes naturally to me. I'm a proud, card-carrying member of the sensitive, wheezy, malcoordinated phalanx of the population for whom the word "football" still evokes painful memories of organised sadism and unspecified locker-room peril.

I'm a humourless, paranoid, liberal, feminist pansy who would prefer to spend the summer sitting in a dark room, contemplating the future of the British left and smoking myself into an early grave.

The fact remains, however, that there are more pressing things to worry about over the soccer season than the state of Frank Lampard's admittedly shapely calves. This country is in crisis. Young people are in crisis, poor people are in crisis, unemployment stands at 2.5 million, the labour movement is still leaderless and directionless, and there's a brutal train of Tory public-service cuts coming over the hill.

In short, the left has more important things to do than draw up worthy charts determining which Fifa team is worth supporting on the basis of global development indicators.The British left has an uneasy relationship with international sport.

Liberal alarm bells can't help but start ringing when a bunch of overpaid PE teachers get together to orchestrate a month of corporate-sponsored quasi-xenophobia; however, as soon as World Cup fever rolls around, members of the otherwise uninterested bourgeois left feel obliged to muster at least a sniffle of enthusiasm, sensing that not to do so is somehow elitist.

This is a misplaced notion: football is no longer the people's sport. Just look at the brutal contempt that the police reserve for fans, or count the number of working-class Britons who can afford to attend home matches, much less the festivities in South Africa. Then there's the uncomfortable fact that the World Cup is only and always about men.

Younge is right to celebrate that race is no longer an impediment to his young niece's and nephew's vision of football as a world "in which they have a reasonable chance of succeeding" -- but unfortunately, his niece can forget about it. Even if she were to make it to the big leagues, she would be forbidden to play in the World Cup: the women's league, held separately next year, garners barely a fraction of the media coverage devoted to proper football, where the only significant female figures are footballers' wives.

In South Africa itself, female players are lucky if they are merely dismissed -- barely two years ago, Eudy Simelane, star of the South African women's team, was raped and murdered for the crime of being a lesbian.

There is something suspect about a people's sport that violently excludes more than half the people, and boozy, borderline misogynist pseudo-nationalism is the last thing Britain needs to help foster a badly needed sense of community. George Orwell observed in 1941 that "in England all the boasting and flag-wagging, the 'Rule Britannia' stuff, is done by small minorities . . . The patriotism of the common people is not vocal or even conscious."

Britain itself is a shuffling, gloriously dissipated nation that also includes many people from Scotland, Ireland and Wales. By contrast, the kitsch, horn-honking vision of English identity associated with World Cup-EnglandTM is too easily co-opted by big business in an effort to get us to spend money on booze, branded sportswear and chocolate bars emblazoned with the England flag. B&Q, which expects to make a loss over the season, has even released a range of garden gnomes wearing the England strip, which rather sums up the twee consumer desperation of World Cup season.

Marketing strategists clearly envision the people of England drinking and shopping the summer away, safe in the knowledge that national pride is being guarded by a regiment of xenophobic pottery goblins. This cheery commoditised nationalism runs unnervingly close to the uglier face of engineered "English pride".

Of course, not everyone who displays an England flag is a fascist, but a few of the flags in circulation will undoubtedly be reused at the upcoming EDL rally in east London, which plans to process through the same streets where Oswald Mosley's Blackshirts marched in 1936.

As football season begins, England flags are once more emerging like a welter of giant sticking plasters where social injury is keenest, in areas where the coming cuts will be deepest.

Meanwhile, the left still has no coherent response to Britain's bricolage of troubles. The problem with footie as commodified nationalism is that it leaves the left wing entirely undefended.

The tacky, tribalistic, red-and-white bandage of cheesy national sentiment is already stifling the healing power of political expediency. And as the people gear up to root for EnglandTM, the left's best chance to reorganise and re-energise is deflating like a football, smashed against a wall by idiot children.

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Laurie Penny is a contributing editor to the New Statesman. She is the author of five books, most recently Unspeakable Things.

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Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest in crushing victory

The Labour leader increased his mandate from 2015. 

Jeremy Corbyn has stormed to victory with an increased mandate in his second Labour leadership contest, with 61.8 per cent of the vote.

The Labour leader won 59 per cent of the member vote, 70 per cent of registered supporters' votes and 60 per cent of affiliated supporters' votes.

His triumph confirms for any remaining doubters the party's shift to the left - in 2015, he had won 59.5 per cent of the vote.

Owen Smith, the challenger, received 38.2 per cent of the vote. He was reported to have conceded defeat moments before the official result.

The turn out was 77.6 per cent, with 506,438 valid votes cast. 

Both men ran on a similar platform of opposition to austerity and zero-hours contracts, but Corbyn commanded the support of the majority of grassroots activists and party members.

In his victory speech, he struck a conciliatory note, thanking volunteers on both teams and telling Smith: "We are part of the same Labour family."

He said: "I will do everything I can to repay the trust and support, to bring our party together."

Pledging to make Labour an engine of change, he urged party members to "wipe the slate clean" after a summer of sniping and work together.

"We are proud as a party that we're not afraid to discuss openly, to debate and disagree. That is essential for a party that wants to change people's lives for the better," he said. 

Noting the party had tripled its membership since last spring, he urged members to take Labour's message into every community, and said the party had a duty of care to its members: "Politics is demeaned and corroded by intimidation and abuse. It's not my way, and it's not the Labour way, and never will be."

Smith, by contrast, stepped forward to represent disaffected Labour MPs, who were unimpressed with Corbyn's campaign during the EU referendum and feared he was unelectable. 

Corbyn's victory will at least temporarily quash any rival leadership bids, but it nevertheless leaves the leader with a headache. 

After the vote for Brexit, a wave of resignations emptied Corbyn's shadow cabinet, and he has not succeeded in fully refilling it. He now faces the choice of building bridges with the parliamentary Labour party, or going down the more radical route of reshaping the party itself. 

Much hinges on the decision of the National Executive Committee on whether to allow elected shadow cabinet positions, which could potentially offer a way back in for anti-Corbyn MPs. But if such elections extended to grassroots members, this could also end up isolating them further.