Full English: the MCC's chief executive (centre) and others at Lords 2011. Photo: Getty
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I wear my egg-and-bacon tie with pride – MCC membership is my last link to civilisation

My politics may place me firmly on the left of Labour, but confess to owning an MCC tie and people start looking at you in a whole new light.

As I write these words, England have declared on 575 for nine and Joe Root, the Yorkshireman who became old enough to vote only on the second-last day of 2008, has scored an unbeaten double century at Lord’s. I should have been there, but I have to file this column.

At which point I have a confession to make. I shall do so in a roundabout way. Imagine, if you will, the scene. It is Queen Charlotte’s Hospital in Chiswick, many, many years ago, and an American woman is entering the final stages of labour. Outside in the corridor, her husband clips the end off his third Partagás in a row and, pausing only to give a passing hospital porter a thrashing with his malacca cane, considers his options should the resulting issue be a boy. He has only one firm idea: that he should be a member of Marylebone Cricket Club.

Cut to many years later. That child, now grown to full estate, his marriage and finances in ruins, living in circumstances only two phone calls away from utter destitution, awaits an envelope. It is March; to save money, he has turned off the heating in the Hovel he lives in. Wrapped in several layers of ancient jumpers and moth-eaten scarves, he reads an out-of-date copy of Metro by the light of a guttering candle, which he also uses to heat up the tin of Heinz lentil soup that constitutes his daily meal. He’d burn the piles of review copies of books that surround him in the grate if he were not living in a smoke-free zone of London.

Downstairs, the letter box clatters and he runs down as fast as his joints, now nearly completely seized up by lumbago, will let him. His hands, warmed only partly by his fingerless gloves, tremble as he picks the brown buff envelope from the floor. Most buff envelopes are harbingers of doom, but not this one. He has already checked the franking mark, palpated it, and felt the tell-tale resistance in one corner. It’s here! His last link to civilisation, to the life that was his birthright. His breath condenses in the freezing air as he sobs his gratitude. His new MCC membership card has arrived.

You know, you don’t get a lot of sympathy in some circles when you let on you’re an MCC member. I have a feeling that even coming up with the above, a slightly exaggerated version of the truth (MCC passes are actually posted in April), isn’t going to stop me from getting a certain amount of flak from sections of this magazine’s readership. My politics may place me firmly on the left of the Labour Party, but confess to owning an egg-and-bacon tie and people start looking at you in a whole new light. Which is funny, because it’s like a mirror image of what happens when you sit down in the smoking enclosure in front of the Pavilion at Lord’s with a copy of the Guardian and the latest New Statesman.

“Goodness me,” one of the adjacent members will say. “Is that the old Staggers? I didn’t realise it was still going.” They may then ask if they can have a look. I watch as he flicks through its pages. A slight empurpling of the features may follow.

“Do you really read this?”

“It gets worse,” I say. “I write for it.”

By the afternoon, after a few drinks have been taken, the mood tends to mellow, and once or twice I have even elicited a vague promise from my neighbour to give this magazine another go, because it’s much more fun than it was in 1923, which was when he last saw a copy.

But I do not care too much, because, as I have got older, I seem to love the game more and more, and in particular the long form of the game, with its easy pace, its relative courtliness; the very sound of it and the look of the whites against the green. Also, you can’t see the sponsors’ logos from where I sit; and, as I refuse to pay for Sky TV, and couldn’t afford it even if I wanted to, this is the only way I can get to see live cricket. For a yearly outlay considerably less than that for a satellite or cable subscription, I can stroll into Lord’s for any game I like without buying a ticket. Last year, after a particularly glorious day, during which all cares, and there have been plenty of these, had disappeared, I found my eyes brimming with tears of happiness and gratitude. This is not an exaggeration.

“Do your colleagues ever give you stick for being an MCC member?” I was asked the other day.

“Sometimes,” I say. “But I tell them to go **** themselves.”

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 18 June 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Islam tears itself apart

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The EU’s willingness to take on Google shows just how stupid Brexit is

Outside the union the UK will be in a far weaker position to stand up for its citizens.

Google’s record €2.4bn (£2.12bn) fine for breaching European competition rules is an eye-catching example of the EU taking on the Silicon Valley giants. It is also just one part of a larger battle to get to grips with the influence of US-based web firms.

From fake news to tax, the European Commission has taken the lead in investigating and, in this instance, sanctioning, the likes of Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon for practices it believes are either anti-competitive for European business or detrimental to the lives of its citizens.

Only in May the commission fined Facebook €110m for providing misleading information about its takeover of WhatsApp. In January, it issued a warning to Facebook over its role in spreading fake news. Last summer, it ordered Apple to pay an extra €13bn in tax it claims should have been paid in Ireland (the Irish government had offered a tax break). Now Google has been hit for favouring its own price comparison services in its search results. In other words, consumers who used Google to find the best price for a product across the internet were in fact being gently nudged towards the search engine giant's own comparison website.

As European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager put it:

"Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.

"What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."

The border-busting power of these mostly US-based digital companies is increasingly defining how people across Europe and the rest of the world live their lives. It is for the most part hugely beneficial for the people who use their services, but the EU understandably wants to make sure it has some control over them.

This isn't about beating up on the tech companies. They are profit-maximising entities that have their own goals and agendas, and that's perfectly fine. But it's vital to to have a democratic entity that can represent the needs of its citizens. So far the EU has proved the only organisation with both the will and strength to do so.

The US Federal Communications Commission could also do more to provide a check on their power, but has rarely shown the determination to do so. And this is unlikely to change under Donald Trump - the US Congress recently voted to block proposed FCC rules on telecoms companies selling user data.

Other countries such as China have resisted the influence of the internet giants, but primarily by simply cutting off their access and relying on home-grown alternatives it can control better.  

And so it has fallen to the EU to fight to ensure that its citizens get the benefits of the digital revolution without handing complete control over our online lives to companies based far away.

It's a battle that the UK has never seemed especially keen on, and one it will be effectively retreat from when it leaves the EU.

Of course the UK government is likely to continue ramping up rhetoric on issues such as encryption, fake news and the dissemination of extremist views.

But after Brexit, its bargaining power will be weak, especially if the priority becomes bringing in foreign investment to counteract the impact Brexit will have on our finances. Unlike Ireland, we will not be told that offering huge tax breaks broke state aid rules. But if so much economic activity relies on their presence will our MPs and own regulatory bodies decide to stand up for the privacy rights of UK citizens?

As with trade, when it comes to dealing with large transnational challenges posed by the web, it is far better to be part of a large bloc speaking as one than a lone voice.

Companies such as Google and Facebook owe much of their success and power to their ability to easily transcend borders. It is unsurprising that the only democratic institution prepared and equipped to moderate that power is also built across borders.

After Brexit, Europe will most likely continue to defend the interests of its citizens against the worst excesses of the global web firms. But outside the EU, the UK will have very little power to resist them.

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