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

Photo: Getty
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The campaign to keep Britain in Europe must be based on hope, not fear

Together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of.

Today the Liberal Democrats launched our national campaign to keep Britain in Europe. With the polls showing the outcome of this referendum is on a knife-edge, our party is determined to play a decisive role in this once in a generation fight. This will not be an easy campaign. But it is one we will relish as the UK's most outward-looking and internationalist party. Together in Europe the UK has delivered peace, created the world’s largest free trade area and given the British people the opportunity to live, work and travel freely across the continent. Now is the time to build on these achievements, not throw them all away.

Already we are hearing fear-mongering from both sides in this heated debate. On the one hand, Ukip and the feuding Leave campaigns have shamelessly seized on the events in Cologne at New Year to claim that British women will be at risk if the UK stays in Europe. On the other, David Cameron claims that the refugees he derides as a "bunch of migrants" in Calais will all descend on the other side of the Channel the minute Britain leaves the EU. The British public deserve better than this. Rather than constant mud-slinging and politicising of the world's biggest humanitarian crisis since the Second World War, we need a frank and honest debate about what is really at stake. Most importantly this should be a positive campaign, one that is fought on hope and not on fear. As we have a seen in Scotland, a referendum won through scare tactics alone risks winning the battle but losing the war.

The voice of business and civil society, from scientists and the police to environmental charities, have a crucial role to play in explaining how being in the EU benefits the British economy and enhances people's everyday lives. All those who believe in Britain's EU membership must not be afraid to speak out and make the positive case why being in Europe makes us more prosperous, stable and secure. Because at its heart this debate is not just about facts and figures, it is about what kind of country we want to be.

The Leave campaigns cannot agree what they believe in. Some want the UK to be an offshore, deregulated tax haven, others advocate a protectionist, mean-hearted country that shuts it doors to the world. As with so many populist movements, from Putin to Trump, they are defined not by what they are for but what they are against. Their failure to come up with a credible vision for our country's future is not patriotic, it is irresponsible.

This leaves the field open to put forward a united vision of Britain's place in Europe and the world. Liberal Democrats are clear what we believe in: an open, inclusive and tolerant nation that stands tall in the world and doesn't hide from it. We are not uncritical of the EU's institutions. Indeed as Liberals, we fiercely believe that power must be devolved to the lowest possible level, empowering communities and individuals wherever possible to make decisions for themselves. But we recognise that staying in Europe is the best way to find the solutions to the problems that don't stop at borders, rather than leaving them to our children and grandchildren. We believe Britain must put itself at the heart of our continent's future and shape a more effective and more accountable Europe, focused on responding to major global challenges we face.

Together in Europe we can build a strong and prosperous future, from pioneering research into life-saving new medicines to tackling climate change and fighting international crime. Together we can provide hope for the desperate and spread the peace we now take for granted to the rest of the world. And together we can show the world a generous, outward-facing Britain we can all be proud of. So if you agree then join the Liberal Democrat campaign today, to remain in together, and to stand up for the type of Britain you think we should be.