Sunak and Starmer wade into flag row

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Behold the burgeoning backlash after US sportswear giant Nike changed the colour of the St George’s Cross on a new England football shirt: one by one, senior figures from the Labour and Conservative parties are wading into the row, disparaging Nike’s decision to do away with the traditional red cross in favour of some purple and blue stripes. (Slow news day, I know).

Launching the Conservative Party’s local elections campaign in Derbyshire — six weeks out from polling day on 2 May, prime minister Rishi Sunak warned against “messing with” national flags “because they are a source of pride, identity, who we are and they are perfect as we are”.

Culture (war) secretary Lucy Frazer has also intervened, declaring on social media: “Our national heritage — including St George’s Cross — brings us together. Toying with it is pointless and unnecessary”. Frazer’s post on X/Twitter came with a link to a Telegraph article that accuses Nike of “[devaluing] 1,000 years of English history with St George’s Cross stunt”.

Elsewhere, Keir Starmer has called on Nike to “reconsider” its decision, as the symbol is a “unifier”.

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The Labour leader delivered his verdict on flag-gate as part of a wide-ranging interview on The Sun’s new politics show, Never Mind the Ballots, last night. Harangued by the paper’s political editor, Harry Cole, Starmer also refused to deny ever taking drugs seven times. There were some more substantive exchanges, that said — such as the Labour leader’s apparent criticism of London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s ULEZ scheme.

Starmer told Cole “we do have to deal with dirty polluted air” in London, but that “we can’t just cane motorists” and that “we’ve got to find a better way of doing this”. (That won’t much trouble Khan, however, who has a 24-point lead over his Conservative challenger, Susan Hall, in the upcoming London mayoral election. Via Savanta.)

The Sun led with Starmer’s comments on the St George’s Cross in its frontpage today — it’s the latest sign, you could argue, of the Labour leadership and the Murdoch press mutually cosying up. It comes amid speculation that Murdoch’s News UK could back the party at the next election, à la Tony Blair in 1997. That Keir Starmer was the first politician to appear on The Sun’s flagship new politics show strikes me as potentially significant.

But, returning to the story of the day, shadow attorney general Emily Thornberry branded Nike’s flag decision as “peculiar” on the morning media round, arguing people would not expect the heraldic Welsh dragon to be swapped “to a pussycat” or the French tricolour to be altered. Thornberry infamously resigned from then-Labour leader Ed Miliband’s frontbench in 2014 after appearing to mock a housing block which had St George’s flags flying from the window.

Capping off a quiet news day, former attorney general Sir Geoffrey Cox has told GB News that a significant Labour landslide would be “bad for democracy”, suggesting that the Conservative Party could struggle to fill its shadow frontbench after the next general election. Full story here.

Have a great rest of your day.

Lunchtime briefing

Geoffrey Cox warns ‘annihilation’ of Conservative Party would be ‘bad for democracy’

Lunchtime soundbite

He is arrogantly taking the British people for granted, assuming that he can just stroll into No 10 without saying what he would do’

— Rishi Sunak urges voters to “send a message to Keir Starmer” at the local elections on 2 May as he launched the Conservative Party’s campaign.

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