It is hard to be categorically sure of BBC football commentator Guy Mowbray’s views on Government social policy because it’s not exactly in his job description to declare on the issue. If you were betting on it, though, you’d put him in the Marcus Rashford camp when it comes to the welfare of Britain’s poorest children.
Mowbray’s description of his view from the TV gantry at Newcastle United’s St James’ Park in June – a few months before the BBC’s new director general Tim Davie stamped on journalists issuing opinions which might be deemed political – implied a scepticism about the some aspects of the Conservative government.
‘You can see for miles and miles,’ Mowbray told Match of the Day viewers. ‘Probably as far as Barnard Castle – if your eyesight’s good enough.’
Match of the Day commentary Guy Mowbray quit Twitter after receiving backlash online having remained impartial when discussing Marcus Rashford’s bid to end child food poverty
Rashford’s campaign is vital and must not be lost amid preposterous abuse at a commentator
He’s a parent. And comments about him offered by a few colleagues these past few days have told us something else. ‘I know what he represents as a person. Gutted he ends up facing the wrath of the people he agrees with,’ said one.
Mowbray incurred that wrath – a social media annihilation – for having the temerity to NOT express an opinion on Rashford’s campaign, during Match of the Day’s highlights of Manchester United v Chelsea last Saturday.
‘Whether you agree with Marcus Rashford’s causes or not, there’s surely only admiration for his continued commitment,’ were Mowbray’s 17 offending words. Not the most elegant ever from one of Britain’s best commentators, but his first draft had been through the mincer – changed at programme editors’ request, to conform with BBC editorial guidelines forbidding the endorsement of campaigns.
Rashford fronts a new child poverty task force to ensure children are fed over the holidays
By Sunday, Mowbray had been driven off Twitter altogether because of his supposed indifference – ‘What is the alternative view to feeding hungry kids, Guy?’ – and unable to take any more hate.
And since this is what you incur for not expressing a view, it requires little imagination to know what the Conservative MPs who voted against a recent Labour bill pressing Rashford’s case have experienced. Blyth Valley Conservative MP Ian Levy told the Newcastle Chronicle of physical threats.
It’s hard to find common ground with Levy and the other Tories who voted down the bill. Rashford is asking for an additional £120m of Government welfare spending at a time when some consultants employed on the Government’s disastrous Test and Trace system are trousering £7,500-a-day.
But that does not mean that those who do not stand with Rashford – or do not issue an unequivocal expression of support – should be hounded into silence and shut down.
The issues Rashford raise are more important than that – and too significant to render a candid public discussion of them unsafe. It is vital, for example, that a 2017 Institute for Fiscal Studies report, which actually concluded breakfast clubs were a better solution for disadvantaged schools than an extension of free school meals, be examined in detail.
Public support for the England international had seen him become a leader among society
The world has changed since 2017. Britain was not in throes of a pandemic back then and the necessary funding can be signed off as a one-off emergency item now. Yet it is still vital to look at the evidence rather than just do the popular thing.
One of the most remarkable, and least appreciated, things about Rashford is that he understands all this. Those from the world of sport with multi-million followers can be sly bullies, if they so choose, and it would have been easy for him to have invited his 3.7 million Twitter to pile in on ministers.
Like the deeply unattractive Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, who lacks the basic decency to propose a meeting with Rashford. But when it became clear last weekend that MPs challenging Rashford’s view, and their families, were on the receiving end of abuse – some of them women – the 22-year-old firmly and politely asked those dishing it out to desist.
Few from the BBC have waded into treacherous waters to publicly discuss the preposterous abuse Mowbray received five days ago, so it was left to Paul Armstrong, a now departed Match of the Day editor, to sum up the invidious position of a commentator who presumably felt that omitting any reference to Rashford’s campaign would not cut it.
‘Like it or not (and I often didn’t), BBC guidelines do not allow a broadcaster to take a partisan political stand on air,’ Armstrong said. ‘Like it or not (and I don’t), Marcus Rashford’s proposal was defeated in Parliament. A commentator cannot show admiration or commitment to a cause.’
Hamilton’s missing knighthood is shameful
Were Lewis Hamilton a tennis player, he would have been knighted years ago and we were reminded once again of that unmistakeable yet indefinable whiff of prejudice he has always contended with, when he surpassed Michael Schumacher’s all-time F1 race record at the weekend.
Hamilton has emerged from a working class background in Stevenage to challenge preconceptions in a notoriously white sport. He has done so with modesty, decency, sportsmanship and made a very substantial financial contribution to those in need along the way.
Others in sport have received a knighthood for considerably less. It is shameful that he has not been awarded one already.
It remains shameful that six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton has not been knighted yet
Scudamore earned his £5m send-off
The Premier League’s former chief executive Richard Scudamore bears out the line about not knowing what you’ve got till it’s gone.
He was pilloried at the time of his departure, two years ago, because of a request that every club chip in £250,000 for his £5m golden handshake. He’d been earning £2.5m a year at the time.
But as Scudamore’s former communications director Dan Johnson relates in a superb discussion for the latest of the Unofficial Partner podcast series – which I recommend – Scudamore had an uncanny way of satisfying the diverging commercial interests of the Big Six and the rest.
The consensus has fractured in his absence. It looks irreparable. He earned that £5m.
The diverging interests of the Big Six highlights how effective Richard Scudamore used to be