Farewell to the unloveliest newspaper

The <em>Sport</em> and <em>Sunday Sport</em> have gone under, taking their torrent of nipples and ma

Daily Sport

Farewell, then, to the unloveliest newspaper that ever lived, the wretchedly tacky ejaculation of juvenile chortling and tits that was the Sport and Sunday Sport.

Goodbye to the avalanche of breasts. Goodbye to the nipple count. Goodbye to the simian dribbling over bits of people's bodies. Goodbye, too, to the comedy anti-news news articles, which once upon a time jarred against their tabloid competitors, but seem pretty half-hearted compared to the kind of made-up crap we have to put up with now. World War 2 Bomber Found on Moon. Hitler Was a Woman. Bus At North Pole. Oh, how we laughed. But we're not laughing now.

There were slightly less chucklesome things in the Sport down the years, mind you. The court reports about sexual crimes, written in slightly unpleasant amounts of detail, sat in disturbingly close proximity to pictures of half-naked women, there to help you masturbate yourself into a coma. Perhaps it was all just a lot of harmless fun and I am a humourless wretch; I don't know. I just know that it doesn't seem quite so hilarious, in retrospect.

I suppose as someone who calls himself a journalist, I'm meant to be saddened by the departure of another national publication. And I'm not saying I don't understand how devastating it must be for people who have worked hard and who are now out of a job; I feel as sorry for them as I would for anyone flung on to the scrapheap at a moment's notice. But these newspapers were a cavalcade of cheap and nasty tat demeaning news-stands up and down the land by being placed next to real newspapers. For those who worked there, I'm sorry for you, but, on the other hand: welcome to the clean world.

What went wrong to kill off the Sport and Sunday Sport? I suppose the ready availability of porn on the web is the biggest factor. Why go and buy a newspaper for softcore smut when you can access a world of unimaginable filth catering for any kind of taste with the click of a mouse or using your mobile phone? It seems a bit archaic to go into a newsagent and embarrass yourself in the hope of giving your solo sex fun a few go-faster stripes, when you might as well just fire up the laptop and knock yourself out. When you're only flogging your papers on the promise of more boobs than the page threes elsewhere, with only a few ropey articles constituting the "news", you're putting yourself in a vulnerable position. And so it's proved.

At the paper shop on Sunday, there was just a gap where the Sunday Sport used to be, a void in the plastic display, the absence of a gaudy front page with an upskirt photo of a minor celebrity bending over and some paparazzo stuffing a camera into her arse. That wasn't there. And things already looked brighter because of it.

One down, several more to go. But judging by the eagerness with which the Daily Star on Sunday welcomed readers of the Sunday Sport, someone somewhere still reckons there's a market for it. Time will tell if they're right.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
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Labour must reclaim English patriotism if we are to beat Ukip and the Tories

We can't talk about the future of our country unless we can discuss the past. 

I was a parliamentary candidate for Thurrock, but the place which I currently call home is Hackney, London. This distinction is worth explaining. The questions of Labour and Englishness – what exactly is the English problem that we’re trying to solve, why do we need a progressive patriotism, does it already exist, if not why not and if we had one what would it look like? – are, above all, questions of identity and place. We need to build a patriotism that includes and resonates with residents of both Hackney and Thurrock. Currently they are very far apart. 

I’m the little girl who sat on her dad’s shoulders to wave a flag at Princess Anne’s first wedding. And I was also, like Sadiq Khan, waving a flag at the Silver Jubilee in 1977. I’m an ex-Catholic, I’m a Londoner, I’m English and I’m a woman, and all of those identities are important although not necessarily equally so and not necessarily all of the time.

But I’m also a member of the Labour party, not only as a candidate, but now as an activist in Hackney. And that is where I see the difference very strongly between Hackney and what I experienced in Thurrock. 

Thurrock was Ukip ground zero last year - 12,000 people voted for Ukip in a general election for the first time, on top of the 3,500 that had voted for them before in 2010. Most of those 12,000 people had either not voted before, or had voted Labour. 

This isn’t just about being in two different places. Sometimes it feels like more than being in two different countries, or even like being on two different planets. The reality is that large swathes of Labour’s members and supporters don’t identify as patriotic, fundamentally because patriotism has been seized and colonised by the right. We need to understand that, by allowing them to seize it, we are losing an opportunity to be able to reclaim our past. 

We do not have any legitimacy to talk about the future of our country unless we can talk about our past in a better way. We have tried but our efforts have been half-hearted. Take Ed Miliband's call for One Nation Labour, which ended up amounting to a washed-out Union Jack as a visual for our brand. It could have been so much better – an opportunity for an intellectual rebranding and a seizure of Conservative territory for our own ends. Ultimately One Nation Labour was a slogan and not a project. 

There is a section of the left which has a distinct discomfort with the idea of pride in country. It has swallowed the right-wing myth that England’s successes have all been Conservative ones. This is a lie, but one that has spread very effectively. The left’s willingness to swallow it means that we are still living in a Thatcherite paradigm. It is no wonder progressives revolt at the idea of patriotism, when the right’s ideas of duty and authority quash our ideas of ambitions for equality, opportunity for all and challenging injustice. But we risk denying our successes by allowing the right to define Englishness. It’s England that helped establish the principle of the right to vote, the rule of law, equal suffrage, and the fight against racism. 

If Englishness is going to mean anything in modern England, it needs to be as important for those who feel that perhaps they aren’t English as it is for those who feel that they definitely are. And a place must be reserved for those who, though technically English, don’t see their own story within the Conservative myth of Englishness. 

Although this reclaiming is electorally essential, it is not an electoral gimmick. It is fundamental to who we are. Even if we didn’t need it to win, I would be arguing for it.

We need to make sure that progressive patriotism reclaims the visual language that the Conservatives use to dress up their regressive patriotism. Women need to be as much in the pantheon of the radicals as part of the visual identity of Englishness. Women tend to either be there by birth or by marriage, or we are abstract manifestations of ideals like "justice" or "truth" – as seen on city halls and civic buildings across the country. But English women need to be real, rather than just ideal. Englishness does need to be focused on place and connection, and it should include Mary Wollstonecraft and Sylvia Pankhurst as well as Wat Tyler and Thomas Paine. 

We can’t pretend that we’re always right. The most patriotic thing you can do is to admit sometimes that you’re wrong, so that your country can be better. I love my country, for all its faults. But I do not live with them. I try to make my country better. That is progressive patriotism. And I know all of us who want to be part of this can be part of it. 

This article is based on Polly’s contribution to Who Speaks to England? Labour’s English challenge, a new book published today by the Fabian Society and the Centre for English Identity and Politics at the University of Winchester.