Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. The Unite row is a crisis that Ed Miliband could turn into an opportunity (Observer)

The Labour leader needs to act boldly to emerge from his current woes looking stronger, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. Falkirk shows that Labour needs to mend, not end the Union links (Observer)

Ed Miliband pledges openness and reform in carefully worded op ed.

3. I urge Ed Miliband not to play into wrecking Tories' hands (Sunday Mirror)

Len McCluskey insists there was nothing wrong in Falkirk, blames Tories and Blairites.

4. Don't blame women if we ignore what passes for politics (Observer)

A report shows women disengaging from politics. Maybe that's because of the level of debate, ponders Catherine Bennett.

5. Sorry, Ed. It's too late to say you're no Union man (Independent on Sunday)

John Rentoul thinks the definitive moment for Miliband liberate himself has passed.

6. Everything hangs on Ed Miliband's battle with Labour's past (Sunday Telegraph)

Matthew D'Ancona identifies a pivotal moment in the destiny of the Labour party and its leader.

7. Lost in the muddle of the Middle East (Sunday Telegraph)

Jenny McCartney doesn't blame our leaders for hesitating before getting tangled in Egypt and Syria.

8. HS2 was never meant to be real, pull the emergency brake (Sunday Times)

Dominic Lawson joins the anti-High Speed Rail gang.

9. Miliband has got to restore trust or face defeat (Mail on Sunday)

David Blunkett joins the chorus urging the Labour leader to turn his battle with Unite into a leadership-defining episode.

10. Why I've quit the Privy Council after 19 years (Sunday Mirror)

John Prescott is fed up with lack of progress on a charter for press regulation.

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It’s obvious why Thais can’t resist our English footballers. But they want our schools, too

The only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch.

At Bangkok airport, sitting in the Club lounge, as I am a toff, I spotted a copy of Thailand Tatler, a publication I did not know existed. Flicking through, I came across a whole page advert announcing that RUGBY SCHOOL IS COMING TO THAILAND.

In September, Rugby will open a prep and pre-prep department, and then, in 2018, full boarding for ages up to 17. How exciting – yet another English public school sets up a satellite in Thailand.

But I was confused. Just as I was confused all week by the Thai passion for our football.

How has it happened that English public schools and English football have become so popular in Thailand? There is no colonial or historical connection between the UK and Thailand. English is not the Thais’ first language, unlike in other parts of the world such as India and Hong Kong. Usually that explains the continuation of British traditions, culture and games long after independence.

When I go to foreign parts, I always take a large wodge of Beatles and football postcards. I find deprived persons all over the world are jolly grateful for these modern versions of shiny beads – and it saves tipping the hotel staff. No young Thai locals were interested in my Beatles bits, but boy, my footer rubbish had them frothing.

I took a stash of seven-year-old postcards of Andy Carroll in his Newcastle strip, part of a set given away free in Barclays banks when they sponsored the Premier League. I assumed no one in Thailand would know who the hell Andy Carroll was, but blow me, every hotel waiter and taxi driver recognised him, knew about his various clubs and endless injuries. And they all seemed to watch every Premiership game live.

I have long been cynical about the boasts that our Prem League is the most watched, the most popular in the world, with 200 countries taking our TV coverage every week. I was once in Turkey and went into the hotel lounge to watch the live footer. It was chocka with Turks watching a local game, shouting and screaming. When it finished, the lounge emptied: yet the next game was our FA Cup live. So I watched it on my own. Ever since, I’ve suspected that while Sky might sell rights everywhere, it doesn’t mean many other folk are watching.

But in Thailand I could see their passion, though most of them have no experience of England. So the only explanation is . . . our footer must be great and exciting to watch. Hurrah for us.

Explaining the passion for English public schools is a bit harder. At present in Thailand, there are about 14 boarding schools based on the English public-school system.

Rugby is only the latest arrival. Harrow has had a sister school there since 1998. So do Shrewsbury, Bromsgrove and Dulwich College (recently renamed British International School, Phuket).

But then I met Anthony Lark, the general manager of the beautiful resort where I was staying in the north of the island. He’s Australian, been out there for thirty years, married to a Thai. All three of his sons went to the Phuket school when it was still Dulwich International College.

His explanations for the popularity of all these British-style schools included the fact that Thailand is the gateway to Asia, easy to get to from India and China; that it’s relatively safe; economically prosperous, with lots of rich people; and, of course, it’s stunningly beautiful, with lovely weather.

There are 200,000 British expats in Thailand but they are in the minority in most of these British-style public schools – only about 20 per cent of the intake. Most pupils are the children of Thais, or from the surrounding nations.

Many of the teachers, though, are from English-speaking nations. Anthony estimated there must be about five thousand of them, so the schools must provide a lot of work. And presumably a lot of income. And, of course, pride.

Well, I found my little chest swelling at the thought that two of our oldest national institutions should be so awfully popular, so awfully far away from home . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 27 April 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Cool Britannia 20 Years On

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