OPINION - Keir Starmer's England football kit intervention is just good politics

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Nike to reconsider changes to the England football shirt (PA) (PA Wire)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on Nike to reconsider changes to the England football shirt (PA) (PA Wire)

After another bruising week in British politics, it feels good to end on a note of agreement. Both Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak have condemned kit manufacturer (excuse me: American kit manufacturer) Nike for changing the Cross of St George on the new England football shirt.

I was tempted to lightly mock this story, but on reflection I'd much rather bathe in its reassuringly retro waters. The debate just feels very 1990s. One half expects Tony Blair to show up with a British Bulldog in a party election broadcast. (This is not my imagination run wild – it actually happened.)

One reason it is a semi-serious story is that Labour is always sensitive to the charge that the party is insufficiently patriotic. Or at least sometimes – Starmer's predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, famously declined to sing the national anthem at a Battle of Britain service in 2015.

Prior to that, there was Emily Thornberry, who contrived to lose her frontbench post in 2014 when, campaigning in the Rochester by-election, she tweeted a picture of a white van parked in a driveway under some England flags, with the caption: "Image from Rochester".

Actually, my favourite part of this story is when Ed Miliband was later asked what he thought of when he saw a white van and, summoning every last drop of restraint, deadpanned: "Respect". Which is a deeply weird answer, but there you go.

This Nike story isn't a culture wars issue in the modern sense, not least because both the prime minister and opposition leader agree. While – and perhaps I'm speaking only for myself – a lot of people would not even have noticed, instead saving their outrage for the price Nike is charging for the shirts: £124.99 for an 'authentic' version (whatever that means) and £84.99 for the 'stadium' version.

My secret hope is that Nike comes out fighting, by asking Sunak and Starmer why, when people in Northern Ireland get a bank holiday for St Patrick’s Day and people in Scotland have one for St Andrew’s Day, those living in England don't get one for St George’s Day. (The Welsh don't get one for St David's Day either, but that rather dampens my momentum.)

Ultimately, this Nike story presented Starmer with a free hit to place himself on the broadly popular side of a largely unimportant debate. It is unlikely to shift the polls, but it is good politics.

In the meantime, we can all be grateful for international football, because it guarantees another weekend of Arsenal sitting top of the league.

Finally, *self-promotion alert*, check out my column in today's paper on how Labour and the Tories do take (some) voters for granted – and why they'd be mad not to.

Have a good one.

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