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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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn prompts Tory outrage as he blames Grenfell Tower fire on austerity

To Conservative cries of "shame on you!", the Labour leader warned that "we all pay a price in public safety" for spending cuts.

A fortnight after the Grenfell Tower fire erupted, the tragedy continues to cast a shadow over British politics. Rather than probing Theresa May on the DUP deal, Jeremy Corbyn asked a series of forensic questions on the incident, in which at least 79 people are confirmed to have died.

In the first PMQs of the new parliament, May revealed that the number of buildings that had failed fire safety tests had risen to 120 (a 100 per cent failure rate) and that the cladding used on Grenfell Tower was "non-compliant" with building regulations (Corbyn had asked whether it was "legal").

After several factual questions, the Labour leader rose to his political argument. To cries of "shame on you!" from Tory MPs, he warned that local authority cuts of 40 per cent meant "we all pay a price in public safety". Corbyn added: “What the tragedy of Grenfell Tower has exposed is the disastrous effects of austerity. The disregard for working-class communities, the terrible consequences of deregulation and cutting corners." Corbyn noted that 11,000 firefighters had been cut and that the public sector pay cap (which Labour has tabled a Queen's Speech amendment against) was hindering recruitment. "This disaster must be a wake-up call," he concluded.

But May, who fared better than many expected, had a ready retort. "The cladding of tower blocks did not start under this government, it did not start under the previous coalition governments, the cladding of tower blocks began under the Blair government," she said. “In 2005 it was a Labour government that introduced the regulatory reform fire safety order which changed the requirements to inspect a building on fire safety from the local fire authority to a 'responsible person'." In this regard, however, Corbyn's lack of frontbench experience is a virtue – no action by the last Labour government can be pinned on him. 

Whether or not the Conservatives accept the link between Grenfell and austerity, their reluctance to defend continued cuts shows an awareness of how politically vulnerable they have become (No10 has announced that the public sector pay cap is under review).

Though Tory MP Philip Davies accused May of having an "aversion" to policies "that might be popular with the public" (he demanded the abolition of the 0.7 per cent foreign aid target), there was little dissent from the backbenches – reflecting the new consensus that the Prime Minister is safe (in the absence of an attractive alternative).

And May, whose jokes sometimes fall painfully flat, was able to accuse Corbyn of saying "one thing to the many and another thing to the few" in reference to his alleged Trident comments to Glastonbury festival founder Michael Eavis. But the Labour leader, no longer looking fearfully over his shoulder, displayed his increased authority today. Though the Conservatives may jeer him, the lingering fear in Tory minds is that they and the country are on divergent paths. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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