Don’t click on the Daily Mail!

How many visitors to the <em>Daily Mail</em>’s website are angry liberals, peeping at the horrors be

There's a difficulty about writing about Daily Mail columnists without falling into a couple of traps.

It's become something of a cliché, the wringing-wet liberal getting all antsy about something provocative that a Mail columnist has churned out, raising yourself into a sense of righteous anger over someone else's terribly un-PC and controversial views that they churn out, every week, to a deadline and to a word count.

"Oh, there you go again," people will say, shaking their heads and tut-tutting at you, "getting all wound up by the Mail and the sentiments in it. Every week you get surprised by the fact that Richard Littlejohn doesn't vote Labour or that Melanie Phillips hasn't discovered atheism – what do you expect?"

Sometimes it can feel a bit obvious, a bit ordinary, a bit banal, to challenge columnists who are only there to bulk out the newspaper or website with some colour, whose views are bound to vary from your own.

The second trap people can fall into is promoting the very thing you're unhappy about. If you get angry about some terribly controversial and un-PC views, which are nicely laid out every week under the journalist's photo byline and illustrated by cartoons and photographs of celebrities, you might just bring them to a wider audience.

If you get angry about a Mail columnist in the privacy of your own living room, that's one thing. If you do it on Twitter, the power of the hyperlink means that you may well be inviting lots of other people in the echo chamber to get similarly angry about the same thing, who will tell their friends with similar views about how awful it is, and they'll click on the link to look at how vile the views are, and so on, and so on.

Reel 'em in

The Daily Mail's website gets millions of visitors a day. I'm starting to wonder how many of them are angry liberals peeping at the horrors from behind the curtain. It's not recorded in web traffic statistics whether you approve of the content that you've just seen or not; your presence is just added to the total. Advertisers and potential advertisers don't get told that a lot of people who visit Mail Online are swearing under their breath as they read the awful toxic words; they just get shown the numbers.

I say all this because, as I write this, I am reading on Twitter that some people are upset by a piece by the Daily Mail columnist Jan Moir in which she talks about the reaction of "gimlet-eyed" celebrities on Twitter to the death of Amanda Holden's baby.

To my mind, it seems like perfect flamebait: it's Jan Moir, of Stephen-Gately-death-nastiness fame, once again spouting off in public after a human tragedy, except this time there's the bonus idea of sticking the article full of celebrities' names and insulting Twitter. It's a perfect pointy stick to rattle around inside the hornets' nest.

I'm not saying Jan Moir doesn't believe her views about public events, which she has been producing once a week in Word format for a long time now; I'm just saying it would be easy for people to think such articles were designed to provoke the kind of reaction that would see the website swamped with traffic.

But, all of that said, if you do disagree with these articles, what can you do? Thousands of complaints to the PCC did not lead to a massive censure being aimed at the author after the Gately piece. Do you complain anyway, just to put your disapproval on the record? Do you write your own response, detailing your emotional reaction to the piece? Do you walk away and try to forget about it, knowing that something which you find unpleasant has gone unchallenged?

My own view is that this Moir piece isn't terribly offensive, but it is flamebait, and should be treated as such. She isn't unpleasant towards Amanda Holden, and saves her attacks for Twitter celebrities, who may write their own responses if they wish. Perhaps we should put away the flaming torches and the pitchforks until such time as they're needed.

Now, I realise that by writing this, and by tweeting about it, I have drawn more attention to the Moir article than it might otherwise have got, for which I apologise in advance. They win, whatever you do. Perhaps the only thing to do in future is not only not to write about Daily Mail columnists, but not to write about writing about Daily Mail columnists. Or is that a cliché, too? I don't know, but if you want a happier day, don't click on the link. I said, don't click!

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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The decline of the north's sporting powerhouse

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Now, things are different.

On a drive between Sheffield and Barnsley, I spotted a striking painting of the Kes poster. Billy Casper’s two-fingered salute covered the wall of a once-popular pub that is now boarded up.

It is almost 50 years since the late Barry Hines wrote A Kestrel for a Knave, the novel that inspired Ken Loach’s 1969 film, and it seems that the defiant, us-against-the-world, stick-it-to-the-man Yorkshireness he commemorated still resonates here. Almost two-thirds of the people of south Yorkshire voted to leave the EU, flicking two fingers up at what they saw as a London-based establishment, detached from life beyond the capital.

But whatever happened to Billy the unlikely lad, and the myriad other northern characters who were once the stars of stage and screen? Like the pitheads that dominated Casper’s tightly knit neighbourhood, they have disappeared from the landscape. The rot set in during the 1980s, when industries were destroyed and communities collapsed, a point eloquently made in Melvyn Bragg’s excellent radio series The Matter of the North.

Yorkshire historically acted as a counterweight to the dominance of southern elites, in sport as in politics and culture. Yet today, we rarely get to hear the voices of Barnsley, Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham. And the Yorkshire sporting powerhouse is no more – at least, not as we once knew it.

This should be a matter of national concern. The White Rose county is, after all, the home of the world’s oldest registered football club – Sheffield FC, formed in 1857 – and the first English team to win three successive League titles, Huddersfield Town, in the mid-1920s. Hull City are now Yorkshire’s lone representative in the Premier League.

Howard Wilkinson, the manager of Leeds United when they were crowned champions in 1992, the season before the Premier League was founded, lamented the passing of a less money-obsessed era. “My dad worked at Orgreave,” he said, “the scene of Mrs Thatcher’s greatest hour, bless her. You paid for putting an axe through what is a very strong culture of community and joint responsibility.”

The best-known scene in Loach’s film shows a football match in which Mr Sugden, the PE teacher, played by Brian Glover, comically assumes the role of Bobby Charlton. It was played out on the muddy school fields of Barnsley’s run-down Athersley estate. On a visit to his alma mater a few years ago, David Bradley, who played the scrawny 15-year-old Billy, showed me the goalposts that he had swung from as a reluctant goalkeeper. “You can still see the dint in the crossbar,” he said. When I spoke to him recently, Bradley enthused about his lifelong support for Barnsley FC. “But I’ve not been to the ground over the last season and a half,” he said. “I can’t afford it.”

Bradley is not alone. Many long-standing fans have been priced out. Barnsley is only a Championship side, but for their home encounter with Newcastle last October, their fans had to pay £30 for a ticket.

The English game is rooted in the northern, working-class communities that have borne the brunt of austerity over the past six years. The top leagues – like the EU – are perceived to be out of touch and skewed in favour of the moneyed elites.

Bradley, an ardent Remainer, despaired after the Brexit vote. “They did not know what they were doing. But I can understand why. There’s still a lot of neglect, a lot of deprivation in parts of Barnsley. They feel left behind because they have been left behind.”

It is true that there has been a feel-good factor in Yorkshire following the Rio Olympics; if the county were a country, it would have finished 17th in the international medals table. Yet while millions have been invested in “podium-level athletes”, in the team games that are most relevant to the lives of most Yorkshire folk – football, cricket and rugby league – there is a clear division between sport’s elites and its grass roots. While lucrative TV deals have enriched ruling bodies and top clubs, there has been a large decrease in the number of adults playing any sport in the four years since London staged the Games.

According to figures from Sport England, there are now 67,000 fewer people in Yorkshire involved in sport than there were in 2012. In Doncaster, to take a typical post-industrial White Rose town, there has been a 13 per cent drop in participation – compared with a 0.4 per cent decline nationally.

Attendances at rugby league, the region’s “national sport”, are falling. But cricket, in theory, is thriving, with Yorkshire winning the County Championship in 2014 and 2015. Yet Joe Root, the batsman and poster boy for this renaissance, plays far more games for his country than for his county and was rested from Yorkshire’s 2016 title decider against Middlesex.

“Root’s almost not a Yorkshire player nowadays,” said Stuart Rayner, whose book The War of the White Roses chronicles the club’s fortunes between 1968 and 1986. As a fan back then, I frequently watched Geoffrey Boycott and other local stars at Headingley. My favourite was the England bowler Chris Old, a gritty, defiant, unsung anti-hero in the Billy Casper mould.

When Old made his debut, 13 of the 17-strong Yorkshire squad were registered as working-class professionals. Half a century later, three of the five Yorkshiremen selec­ted for the last Ashes series – Root, Jonny Bairstow and Gary Ballance – were privately educated. “The game of cricket now is played in public schools,” Old told me. “Top players are getting huge amounts of money, but the grass-roots game doesn’t seem to have benefited in any way.”

“In ten years’ time you won’t get a Joe Root,” Rayner said. “If you haven’t seen these top Yorkshire cricketers playing in your backyard and you haven’t got Sky, it will be difficult to get the whole cricket bug. So where is the next generation of Roots going to come from?” Or the next generation of Jessica Ennis-Hills? Three years ago, the Sheffield stadium where she trained and first discovered athletics was closed after cuts to local services.

This article first appeared in the 19 January 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The Trump era