David Miliband steps down from Sunderland over Paolo Di Canio appointment

Former foreign secretary cites "past political statements" of the new manager, who in 2005 declared himself to be a fascist.

David Miliband, who resigned as a Labour MP this week, has stepped down from his role as vice-chairman of Sunderland after the football club appointed Paolo Di Canio as its new manager.

In a statement on his website, Miliband wrote:

“I wish Sunderland AFC all success in the future. It is a great institution that does a huge amount for the North East and I wish the team very well over the next vital seven games. However, in the light of the new manager’s past political statements, I think it right to step down.”

Di Canio is notorious for his "Roman salute" in 2005 to fans of his club, Lazio. The football writer Simon Kuper, nominating Di Canio for his "political football first XI", wrote in 2008:

Political symbols do mean something to Di Canio. When he said, "I am a professional footballer and my celebrations had nothing to do with political behaviour of any kind," it was a ludicrous statement. He is a very political man, if a weird and stupid one, who has thought a lot about fascism.

[His ghostwriter Gabriele] Marcotti says: "I think what appeals to Paolo about fascism is the authoritarian nature. He likes the idea of the strong man."Hence Di Canio's self-confessed "fascination" with Benito Mussolini.

A tattoo on his right biceps reads "Dux" - Latin for "leader" - in honour of the late fat clown. Of course, Di Canio combines his authoritarianism with an anti-authoritarianism that attracts him to the offensive gesture.

Di Canio was fined for his salute in 2005, and told the Italian news agency ANSA at the time, "I am a fascist, not a racist."

Paolo Di Canio. Photo: Getty

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo:Getty
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There's something missing from our counter-terrorism debate

The policy reckoning that occured after the 2005 terrorist attacks did not happen after the one in 2016. 

“Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down? That's not my department, says Wernher von Braun.” That satirical lyric about Nazi rocket scientists has come to mind more than few times watching various tech giants give testimony in front of the Home Affairs Select Committee, one of the underreported sub-plots of life at Westminster.

During their ongoing inquiry into hate crime in the United Kingdom, committee chair Yvette Cooper has found a staggering amount of hate speech being circulated freely on the largest and most profitable social media platform. Seperately, an ongoing investigation by the Times has uncovered how advertising revenue from Google and YouTube makes its way straight into the coffers of extremist groups, ranging from Islamist extremists to white supremacists and anti-Semites.

One of the many remarkable aspects of the inquiry has been the von Braunesque reaction by the movers and shakers at these tech companies. Once the ad revenue is handed out, who cares what it pays for? That’s not my department is the overwhelming message of much of the testimony.

The problem gains an added urgency now that the perpetrator of the Westminster attacks has been named as Khalid Masood, a British-born 52-year-old with a string of petty convictions across two decades from 1982 to 2002. He is of the same generation and profile as Thomas Mair, the white supremacist behind the last act of domestic terrorism on British shores, though Mair’s online radicalisation occurred on far-right websites, while Masood instead mimicked the methods of Isis attacks on the continent.  Despite that, both fitted many of the classic profiles of a “lone wolf” attack, although my colleague Amelia explains well why that term is increasingly outmoded.

One thing that some civil servants have observed is that it is relatively easy to get MPs to understand anti-terror measures based around either a form of electronic communication they use themselves – like text messaging or email, for instance – or a physical place which they might have in their own constituencies. But legislation has been sluggish in getting to grips with radicalisation online and slow at cutting off funding sources.

As I’ve written before, though there  are important differences between these two ideologies, the radicalisation journey is similar and tends to have the same staging posts: petty criminality, a drift from the fringes of respectable Internet sub-cultures to extremist websites, and finally violence.  We don’t yet know how closely Masood’s journey follows that pattern – but what is clear is that the policy rethink about British counter-terror after the July bombings in 2005 has yet to have an equivalent echo online. The success of that approach is shown in that these attacks are largely thwarted in the United Kingdom. But what needs to happen is a realisation that what happens when the rockets come down is very much the department of the world’s communication companies. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.