Keys and Gray hit the airwaves

The former Sky duo, sacked after making sexist remarks, have made their debut on TalkSport. But did

"You're LISTENING to Keys and Gray on TalkSport," said Richard Keys, almost shouting the emphasis on the second word. Perhaps he wanted us all to know that the medium had changed, as if we hadn't guessed already. Those TV days have gone, maybe for ever.

But here they were, the sexism row behind them, the small hiatus finished; here were Keys and Andy Gray in what many might see as their spiritual home – the unashamedly brassy TalkSport. But if we'd tuned in hoping for any slip-ups, un-PC language or off-mike muttering, we were going to be disappointed. And disappointment was very much the order of the day early on, as they sucked most of the life out of the weekend's Premier League games. Maybe they were nervous. Maybe they were just being careful. Whatever it was, the airwaves weren't crackling.

The pair were introduced with the kind of up-tempo, rococo, ZZ Top-style cock rock that sports programmes like to use to give a sense of (usually misplaced) dynamism, as highlights of the weekend's goals were played. I've not listened to this station much, preferring to stick with the advert-free FiveLive for my Saturday football radio fix (unlike some of my fellow New Statesman bloggers, I have a great love for the beautiful game); but it appears that TalkSport has hired someone to grunt and bark every time a goal goes in. Fancy that.

"We've got a goal! WHAT A GOAL! Oh my word. YOU BEAUTY! HA HA! Oh! OH! Grrrrrrrr! BANG!" were some of the choicer cuts. Compared to which, "Would you smash it?", Keys's infamous off-air comment to Jamie Redknapp, seems like the kind of polite thing you might hear over the gentle clinking of brandy glasses at a gentleman's club. Perhaps, after all, these two were being hired to lend a bit of gravitas to proceedings. Maybe TalkSport needs them more than they need TalkSport.

The show, sold as "unmissable debate and exclusive interviews from the biggest names in sport", began shakily, with the eminently missable Dion Dublin musing over whether Wayne Rooney's goal for Manchester United against Manchester City at the weekend was the best goal ever in the history of the world ever.

"Was it the best EVER? What was it? The best? His best?" roared Keys. "It's up there," said Dublin laconically. And that was that. Gray and Dublin reminisced about Big Ron's Corridor of Uncertainty. And then it was time for "Incey", Paul Ince, to wander through the same topics, telling "Keysy" that Eric Cantona's chip against Sunderland was the best goal he'd seen for United. Peter Reid, Gray's old Everton team-mate, turned up minutes later, and when asked about that Cantona goal, had to remind the pair that he'd been manager of Sunderland that day. "That's how much you've lost the plot since you've been away," laughed Reid.

Lost the plot? They didn't do too badly, to be fair, for a first attempt back at radio since the glory days of Sky Sports. There were only a couple of errors – Keys accidentally cutting off Ince in his prime, and one ill-advised use of the verb "smash" apropos a goal by Matt Le Tisser – but the only way is up. First show done, it can only get better. After an hour and a half, I was beginning to warm to them, despite myself. There was no self-pitying, no angry defiance; they just got on with it. I actually ended up rooting for them.

There was just a moment of sadness, though, a tinge of Alan Partridge, where you could sense it all struck home for Keys. "You're listening to Richard Keys and Andy Gray on TalkSport With WICKES, get down to Wickes for 33 per cent off Palma ceramic wall tiles, now only £14.56 per pack," he said, barely able to contain his excitement.

The heady days have gone, indeed. But maybe all isn't lost.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear