Chelsea fans at Stamford Bridge for the second leg of the quarter final against Paris Saint-Germain, 8 April. Photo: Getty
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David Baddiel: I can’t win when even a bain-marie gag lands me in hot water on Twitter

The novelist and comedian on anti-Semitism in football, a night out in Pocklington and plans for his 50th.

At the time of writing, Chelsea, who I support, are mid-fixture between the two legs of a Champions League quarter-final against Paris Saint-Germain. I’m conflicted about Chelsea’s Champions League campaign this year, as the final falls on the week of my 50th birthday and I have already committed myself to something that means I can’t go if Chelsea get there.

And so, when I watch them in this competition, even though I still very much want them to win, if I see them starting to lose (as they currently are, being 3-1 down in the second leg), I can feel a consolation open up in me, the commiserating thought: “Oh well, I can’t go to the final anyway.” It’s a tiny bit like the way I used to watch England under Graham Taylor and Don Revie, when I sort of wanted them to lose in order for the manager to get the sack more quickly.

Mark of the Twitbeast

Following the first leg, a small group of Chelsea fans ran riot in Paris, chanting racist abuse and doing Nazi salutes. This, obviously, is bad enough – although, considering the levels of neo-fascist support in France at present, I’m slightly surprised they weren’t cheered on by clapping hordes of Marine Le Pen worshippers – but it has an added spike for me. Whenever the scumbag section of the club behaves like this, I get inundated by tweets from Spurs fans. Like this one: “Hey @Baddiel, why don’t you go sort out your own Nazi fans before having a go at our club! #tooscared #hypocrite #peopleinglasshouses”.

For anyone who doesn’t know, a few years ago my brother and I made a film for the Let’s Kick Racism Out of Football campaign called The Y-Word, challenging the complacent acceptance surrounding the chanting of the word “Yid” at football matches – a common chant heard at Chelsea, Arsenal, West Ham and Tottenham – and the associated anti-Semitic abuse. These tweets illustrate how far one of the key points – that the film was addressed to all fans who use the word – was not understood. Some Tottenham fans, who feel that they own the word and that therefore the campaign is a direct assault on them, have never realised that the film shows mainly Chelsea and Arsenal fans chanting the Y-word, including a group of Chelsea lovelies who spin off from the chant into: “Spurs are on their way to Auschwitz, Hitler’s gonna gas ’em again!”

So the answer to these tweets is that the whole campaign has always been aimed, first and foremost, at my own Nazi fans. Every so often, I try to explain this. But such is the nature of social media that all utterance is transient. Nothing sticks. I can spend hours explaining what I’ve just explained to 20 different tweeters and then still get 20 new tweets the next day calling me a hypocritical Chelsea wanker. At which point I give up. At which next point I get a whole series of other tweets saying: “@Baddiel strangely quiet about the Chelsea fans’ behaviour in Paris . . . #hypocrite #tooscared #peopleinglasshouses”.

Maybe that’s the nature of the Twitbeast. I remember a tweet I sent during Michael Jackson’s funeral on noticing that the King of Pop’s coffin looked a bit like a bain-marie (a metal serving container that keeps food warm in buffets at hotels): “Is it just me or does anyone else want to lift up that silver coffin lid to see if there’s a full English breakfast warming underneath?”

It got a lot of responses, some favourable, some not. A tweeter called Shirwan said: “Or even a bagel you Jewish prick, you’re not funny.” In the predictable Twitstorm that followed this awful abusive insult – and also he called me a Jewish prick – I had an epiphany. Shirwan may never have seen a bain-marie, I realised; never even, perhaps, attended a hotel buffet, and thus will have thought the fried English breakfast remark just a random image of Jackson’s body in some awful state of decomposition. Such a version, I agree, is unacceptable; it is tasteless; it isn’t funny. None of which excuses his racism, but it did make me want to unblock Shirwan and explain the joke.

I didn’t, because you can’t explain yourself to everybody. We live now with
an almost surreal level of mass communication, far wider and faster than whoever coined the term could have predicted, and the more people you can speak to, the more you’ll be misunderstood, misquoted, misrepresented. This is something that, perhaps, if you’re going to say
anything at all in public now, you just have to accept.

Small-town boy

On a sweeter social media note, I did a gig at the Pocklington Arts Centre in March as part of my tour. It’s a tiny venue, in a tiny town, but the audience was great and the next day I tweeted about how much I’d enjoyed it. Then I discovered that the local paper, the Pocklington Post, had printed an article about it. Not the show. The tweet. “Popular comedian Baddiel tweets about ‘enjoyable’ night in Pocklington” was the headline. Which sets a new bar, I think, for local news coverage. Having just typed that, I look forward enormously to the satirical online comments on the Pocklington Post’s description of me as “popular” and, indeed, a “comedian”.

Still got the Blues

Late-breaking news: Chelsea have beaten PSG. By the end of the game I was completely unconflicted, completely wanting
them to win and completely thinking about rerouting my 50th birthday plans to Lisbon, where the final is.

David Baddiel’s stand-up show “Fame: Not the Musical” is at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London SE1, from 29 April

This article first appeared in the 14 April 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Easter Double

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Our union backed Brexit, but that doesn't mean scrapping freedom of movement

We can only improve the lives of our members, like those planning stike action at McDonalds, through solidarity.

The campaign to defend and extend free movement – highlighted by the launch of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement this month – is being seen in some circles as a back door strategy to re-run the EU referendum. If that was truly the case, then I don't think Unions like mine (the BFAWU) would be involved, especially as we campaigned to leave the EU ourselves.

In stark contrast to the rhetoric used by many sections of the Leave campaign, our argument wasn’t driven by fear and paranoia about migrant workers. A good number of the BFAWU’s membership is made up of workers not just from the EU, but from all corners of the world. They make a positive contribution to the industry that we represent. These people make a far larger and important contribution to our society and our communities than the wealthy Brexiteers, who sought to do nothing other than de-humanise them, cheered along by a rabid, right-wing press. 

Those who are calling for end to freedom of movement fail to realise that it’s people, rather than land and borders that makes the world we live in. Division works only in the interest of those that want to hold power, control, influence and wealth. Unfortunately, despite a rich history in terms of where division leads us, a good chunk of the UK population still falls for it. We believe that those who live and work here or in other countries should have their skills recognised and enjoy the same rights as those born in that country, including the democratic right to vote. 

Workers born outside of the UK contribute more than £328 million to the UK economy every day. Our NHS depends on their labour in order to keep it running; the leisure and hospitality industries depend on them in order to function; the food industry (including farming to a degree) is often propped up by their work.

The real architects of our misery and hardship reside in Westminster. It is they who introduced legislation designed to allow bosses to act with impunity and pay poverty wages. The only way we can really improve our lives is not as some would have you believe, by blaming other poor workers from other countries, it is through standing together in solidarity. By organising and combining that we become stronger as our fabulous members are showing through their decision to ballot for strike action in McDonalds.

Our members in McDonalds are both born in the UK and outside the UK, and where the bosses have separated groups of workers by pitting certain nationalities against each other, the workers organised have stood together and fought to win change for all, even organising themed social events to welcome each other in the face of the bosses ‘attempts to create divisions in the workplace.

Our union has held the long term view that we should have a planned economy with an ability to own and control the means of production. Our members saw the EU as a gravy train, working in the interests of wealthy elites and industrial scale tax avoidance. They felt that leaving the EU would give the UK the best opportunity to renationalise our key industries and begin a programme of manufacturing on a scale that would allow us to be self-sufficient and independent while enjoying solid trading relationships with other countries. Obviously, a key component in terms of facilitating this is continued freedom of movement.

Many of our members come from communities that voted to leave the EU. They are a reflection of real life that the movers and shakers in both the Leave and Remain campaigns took for granted. We weren’t surprised by the outcome of the EU referendum; after decades of politicians heaping blame on the EU for everything from the shape of fruit to personal hardship, what else could we possibly expect? However, we cannot allow migrant labour to remain as a political football to give succour to the prejudices of the uninformed. Given the same rights and freedoms as UK citizens, foreign workers have the ability to ensure that the UK actually makes a success of Brexit, one that benefits the many, rather than the few.

Ian Hodon is President of the Bakers and Allied Food Workers Union and founding signatory of the Labour Campaign for Free Movement.